Holiday Home Invasions

I continue to be very disappointed by Big Data, the prophesied ability of the info aggregators to know everything about me. I’m not talking about the prying eyes of the NSA, but rather tech with a Jeeves-like ability to anticipate every whim and satisfy it. Siri on steroids.

Alas, instead I seem to be continually surrounded by the clumsy attentions of small data, petty, cranky, wheedling data wielded by telemarketers and junk mailers. At least twice a day credit card companies call to assure me there is nothing wrong with my credit card, don’t panic.

That’s nice. When I answered the phone I wasn’t planning on being plunged into a panic. But I also didn’t want to be plunged into a sale pitch for improved cards offering a lower interest rate. If the company possessed Big Data about me they would know I learned at my mother’s knee to fear credit, eschew debt and pay no interest except in the direst cases. In short, they are barking up the wrong tree, and after calling several times a day for years you’d think even the dumbest data would get the message.

Same complaint on multiple fronts. I have not gotten any younger and puny data knows it, so I am endlessly implored to purchase medical appliances, funerals, life alert systems, and other nostrums and gadgets that I am assured Medicare would pay for if only I’d get sufficiently sick or feeble. Perhaps their strategy is to erode my joints or cause a blood vessel to pop in my head by making me answer unwanted calls over and over. But it isn’t working and by now I’d rather die than give them the satisfaction of selling me anything.

Since Christmas looms, home invasions based on faulty data are multiplying like an epidemic. Holiday mailings are apparently computed on no other basis than the age, race, marital status and income level implied by my zip code. So tsunamis of junk mail flood my mail box even though I have very little in common with my neighbors when it comes to voting, consuming or most other measures.

The bulk of the bulk mail is unwanted and unwelcome, catalogs for things I would never, ever buy. True, I read books and write this silly blog, but as long as my eyes hold out I do not need what the Levenger catalog calls “reading tools.” Year after year I fail to order wildly overpriced and unnecessary lap desks, designer fountain pens, halogen bed lights and yet the catalog keeps on coming.

Harry and David think I want to join a club to get periodic shipments of designer pears. No. And a company that offers leather goods (or possibly tools for people who make them) sends a catalog to my address every year at this time. But the actual addressee hasn’t lived here for decades. Have they not yet deduced that I am not a cobbler or tanner, nor likely to become one? No. Same story for dozens of clothing purveyors, kitchenware hawkers and hapless marketers of numberless products I do not want, cannot afford and will not buy.

The wastefulness of all this poorly targeted marketing is mind boggling, especially if multiplied by a population of 300,000,000. How can there be any landfills that aren’t already completely filled by discarded catalogs? I can only conclude that dangling unsolicited shiny objects in front of their eyes works on others better than it does on me or the catalogs wouldn’t keep coming.

I don’t know how to convey any more clearly than refusing to buy anything that I am not a consumer of what they are selling. In this regard Socrates is my hero. He is said to have looked in wonder at the bustling Agora, the Mall of America of his day, and said, “So many things I don’t want.” Exactly. And don’t get me started on charitable institutions.

I have no objection to people giving to causes they deem good. There are some I admire too, but choosing them seems like a personal decision. Yet at this time of year the hectoring mail aimed at inducing me to embrace various causes threatens to overwhelm in volume even the catalogs. I am asked to save whales, wildlife, wetlands, stray pets, abused humans at home and abroad, to assure ducks will be unlimited, PBS will stay on the air and diseases I’ve never heard of will be cured.

I’m sorry, my resources are finite and my compassion too. I have decided what to care about and if I make a change, you’ll be the first to know. But until then, your marketing funds could be put to better use by more precisely targeting likely donors. And if you cheerful givers do have holly in your hearts, consider my cause. Please.

I’m calling it The Empty Mailbox, Quiet Phone Fund. It’s easy to participate. Just refuse to give me a call and never again drop me a note. Your contribution will be gratefully accepted. The sanity you save could be my own.

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