Friday, September 7, 2012

Is it thingism, stuffism or salesism?

Whatever we choose to call it, this seems to be the pan-planetary ethos of the day. Human acquisitiveness is choking the planet. At the same time, increasing numbers of people earn a living intruding on the privacy of strangers to pressure them to buy more stuff.

Pushy consumerism has become unbelievably pervasive. So much so that we barely notice it. Worse, we allow ourselves to fall victim to its excesses. Pressure to buy takes up not only an inordinate amount of our money, but more and more of our time.

Case in point: soon after I had some car repairs done, I got a call on my cell phone. My guard was down; usually my cell is safe from rubbish calls. The lady finessed me into talking to her by giving me her first name and then telling me what work I'd had done and by whom. Before I had a chance to say a word, she launched into a lengthy questionnaire about the firm.

How would I rate the service, the speed, the professionalism, would I recommend my friends, and on and on. But this was not rocket science. Not politics. Not education. Just a new windshield.

Finally I interrupted. "Who are you?" I asked. "Who do you actually work for?" I didn't get a straight answer.

"I'm calling on behalf of (firm that did the work)." Sure, it's nice that they ask, but would it not be sufficient just to ensure that I was satisfied, and if not, why not? Who decided that imposing this lengthy questionnaire on all their customers is a good way to spend our time and their resources?

"Just a couple more questions," she insisted, burning away my initial willingness to talk by going on and on with a series of redundant questions that wasted at least five minutes of my day.

Since the telephone debacle before the last federal election, I no longer talk to political pollsters. With that telephone campaign, conservative political organizations turned a corner. From being mere phone salesmen, they turned to harassment of known supporters of other parties. The ensuing scandal was big, and it was nasty, but not surprisingly, the government denied all knowledge of wrongdoing. In effect, they got away with it.

The lesson for voters was clear. Tell nobody which political party you support. That phone debacle demonstrated how easy it is for unscrupulous people to sell this information on to who-knows-who to use for who-knows-what nefarious purposes.

I'm also fed to the teeth with the telephone sales pitches. Because of the constant stream of sales calls, of which some come from robot dialers and some from inside prisons, I no longer pick up my home phone unless I recognize the number. But today I got caught. It was Fabrice, calling on behalf of a bank that rings at least once a month. "Is there a problem, or are you selling me something?" I asked.

I guess my alternatives were to stark for him to respond to. He hung up. Perhaps he's not allowed to deviate from the sales script. Unfortunately, I can't stop such calls from coming in without spending a lot of time and effort for limited results.

It's no longer enough for purveyors of objects, credit cards and ideas to use public space and public media to pressure us to consume. Now personal time and space, which used to be private, is constantly being invaded by a full range of the proselytizers of salesism.

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