If you haven’t read it already, Dan Gilbert’s New York Times op-ed piece Compassionate Commercialism is worth a look. It took a couple of sites in NetNewsWire to mention it before I bothered reading it, so maybe this will be that site for you. Jason Kottke asks “How long before these ads train us not to do anything nice for anyone for fear of being messaged at?”
How long? You mean you weren’t already?
It all started with Nobby. Nobby isn’t his real name, I don’t know his real name, but he’s a regular on the Perth public transport system. He’s tall and extremely thin, he walks with a limp, and I met him on a bus at Stirling train station.
It was a 99 — the bus that took me from Stirling to the University of Western Australia for three years — and I was seated, reading a textbook. As Nobby boarded, I looked up and my eyes met his. Accidental, yeah, but I’m not so impolite as to pretend he didn’t exist. If he were a pretty girl I might’ve been inclined to hastily avert my gaze (I’m only a proficient flirt when I’m loaded) but instead I smiled — a friendly, polite smile — and went back to my reading. Nobby figured this was an invitation to sit down next to me and sell me on Jesus.
I listened for as long as could be considered polite, listened to his story of how the lord visited him, flying through his bedroom window on a rainbow, and healed his legs. But in the end I had to give him my best “thanks anyway” and stick my nose firmly back into my book. That day I decided it was in my best interest to avoid smiling at strangers on public transport.
After that came the motley assortment of surveyors, environmentalists, panhandlers, buskers, beggars, and spruikers. They’d always been there, but I realized the reason I was plagued by them was that I was being too friendly. Just making eye contact was enough to have them shuffle over and speak to me at length about their exclusive offer.
I ignore billboards, I toss junk mail. Intrusive marketing has taught me to disregard even the most basic of human psychological responses. I probably should pay attention to the big yellow-and-black striped sign, but it’s just the new ‘Dangerously Spicy’ Tex Mex Burger. I probably should talk to the guy on the corner who wants my attention, but he just wants my money and my time, and doesn’t really plan to enrich my life any.
Ignoring the Nissan Altima keys I see on the park bench can’t be too far a step from here.