The store clerk asked the customer ahead of me the query we have all learned to expect:
“Are you a rewards member?”
He mumbled that he was not, as if there were some shame attached to it. Perhaps he’d applied and was turned down because he’d failed the background check.
“Would you like to become one?”
Here a fellow faces a choice: Sign up now and just get it over with, or hasten the end of this interaction by declining, even though it will make the rest of the transaction seem oddly frosty. You don’t? Well, it’s your life.
Now it was my turn. To save time, I said, “Hello! And no, I am not.”
“Would you like to become one?”
“I would, some day, when I have been worn down by repeated requests and have become resigned to the inevitable, and give in with shoulders slumped and brow clouded with fatigue — but even on that day, I suspect my hand may waver at the last minute, a spark of rebellion will flicker in my breast and once again I push away your offer.
“Why? Not because I am some nonconforming rebel who defies the pressure of modern society to enter every detail of his life into the all-seeing, all-knowing computers that grind our data day and night into atoms to be sifted for sale to marketers. I mean, I bought underwear on Amazon the other day, and now Amazon sends me ads asking me if I want to buy underwear. Do they think I set fire to it when it arrives? No, what I don’t want ... is an e-mail. From you. About anything.”
That was playing in my head while I muttered, “Maybe some other time.”
Rewards are nice. But the program always ends up generating a million e-mails. Offers, bargains, special deals — my entire personal e-mail box is nothing but advertising. Here’s a standard week in my inbox:
• E-mails from every single cruise-ship line with whom I have sailed, informing me that they have several large ships that head off to various destinations. You don’t say.
• A daily e-mail from an online glasses provider, which seems to think I am on the run from the law and require a wide variety of eyewear to conceal my true appearance.
• Three e-mails from a spirits retailer, offering liquor in such astonishing quantities that I must be signed up for the Winston Churchill tier.
• At least two e-mails from a travel agency in Brazil, sent in Portuguese, which I do not speak, and there’s no tiny link that says “unsubscribio” or whatever the word is.
Mind you, I’ve unsubscribed to countless sites, even though I know the “unsubscribe” feature was built by the company that makes the button you press at the stoplight to hasten the crosswalk light. The response is always the same:
“We’re sorry to see you go! Could you take a moment to tell us why you are unsubscribing?” It’s like breaking up with someone who doesn’t get the message. But at least they give you options:
1. “These e-mails are no longer relevant to my interests.” In other words, it’s not you, it’s me.
2. “The e-mails are too frequent.” You know how they’ll take that: Yeah, sorry I guess I’ve been a bit too intense and I can see how you feel smothered but I swear I’ll lighten up and maybe come around once a week and we can hang out. OK? Maybe twice a week?
3. “I never signed up for these e-mails.” Oh, really. I thought you wanted me when you didn’t uncheck the box that opted out, but now I see you were leading me on.
4. “Other” with a text box where you can explain.
This is where the spurned lover gets all spiky and hurt and sarcastic: No, tell me, I really want to know what I’ve done wrong. So I can be, like, you know, a better person. Because obviously I have a lot to learn and you’re just the sort of perfect person who can teach me. I’m just a guy who thought he was doing you a favor by offering 20% off these holiday place mats with free shipping, but I guess you want someone who’ll never give you a special code for a discount at checkout, and that’s fine, I hope you’re happy — I’m sorry. It’s just hard. If you want to resubscribe, I’ll be here. I’ll always be here.
Yes, I have set up rules on my e-mail box that shunt the junk into a spam folder. I don’t even dare look at that one, because it’s an overcrowded madhouse screaming about Mexican Viagra. But why should I have to take precious mortal time to tweak the rules to divert Brazilian airfare discount offers?
I remember when e-mail was new, and the cheery voice that announced “You’ve got mail!” was special and exciting, as if a rare exotic bird had alighted on your windowsill. Now e-mail is a crow. That’s why I don’t sign up for rewards programs. It turns into one more thing to trash, one more reminder that e-mail is work.
Except when it’s a nice note saying how much you enjoyed the column! Those are, one might say, rewarding.