Yes, I Am A Number...

posted Mar 11, 2004

We've been reduced to the status of consumers and nobody seems to object. Think of the imagery: a creature with a huge mouth and an enormous gut, no brain and no soul. Consumers get points for consuming junk, the more they consume, the more points they get. They can retrieve these if they can remember their PIN numbers because unlike the customers of another era who had names, consumers have numbers. When they've gorged enough, they can consume more, and they seem to believe that these points are bonuses....

And yet, there is no consumer rebellion. Men, women and children all press buttons and follow instructions like robots with nothing better to do. They're not customers demanding service, they're consumers attached to some enormous electronic teat that will feed them what it wants, when it wants.

I Am A Number, and I Don't Care.

In fact, I quite like it that way.

I went to college at Michigan State University, the largest single campus in the world (I think). (There are many other Universities with more students, but they are spread out onto multiple campuses. MSU is several square miles of unadulterated University.) Of course, this being 1996 and a huge University, we were subjected to both Political Correctness Indoctrination and forced "ice breakers".

In particular, I recall this one activity where we counted off to 10, and this ringleader with a megaphone up front paired off each group in succession, "forcing" us to run up and meet the next group in an attempt to get us to meet a large number of people quickly.

Now, I don't mind having this opportunity. I do resent being forced. But... the entire incoming freshman class was there. This is literally thousands of people, being managed by at most 20 or 30 people from MSU. I put "forcing" in quotes above because in reality, there was absolutely nothing stopping me from finding a friend, which I did, crawling off into a corner, which I did, and sitting the whole thing out, which I did. Regrettably and infuriatingly, we couldn't get out the main exits (though in hindsight I think we could have escaped over the fence, I wasn't quite that bold yet), but nobody ever noticed that we didn't jump through the hoops for them.

The fact that to a large degree, I was a number, and that there are benefits to that, is one of the most valuable things I learned at University, and I'm glad I learned it so quickly, as it was to come in valuable over and over again. If the only reason you're concerned about skipping class is that you don't want to offend the professor, but you're in a class of 500, who cares? (I always only skipped classes I didn't need, and always got a 4.0 (or one isolated and regrettable 3.5) in the classes I frequently skipped, so I was responsible. ;-) )

Being a relatively sensitive person, why don't I answer Gwen River's call and revolt against my consumerist masters? Because frankly, I'm not looking for socialization from my grocer! I don't care if they know my name. I don't care if they know my favorite foods. In fact, I'd kind of rather they didn't. I don't care if they do stupid, demeaning promotions, because as "just a number" I am perfectly entitled to not participate in them.

(And I only rarely do, because a game theory analysis shows the expected return for most of them are so bad that they are literally not worth the time to enter them. If it takes you one minute to fill out a form that might return a million dollars, but at the odds of one in ten million, and you value your time at an extremely conservative six dollars an hour, roughly minimum wage, then you spent ten cents on an expected return of ten cents. If you value your time more then that, skip the form. That also ignores the cost of handing out your privacy sensitive information.)

Personally, I get plenty of socialization from friends, family, and yes, the Internet, so that I don't need to be socialized by the grocer, or my mechanic, or my local DMV worker. In fact, since such socialization is not free, I don't want it, since I don't want to pay for it. Socialization requires having a smaller customer base, which means that more people have to be grocers and such, which means less economic flexibility and choice all around. I'll take the impersonal grocers, fewer grocers, and greater economic flexibility (which directly translates into people having more money, and more people doing work they want to do instead of what they have to do) any day, thanks.

And this, dear Glen Rivers, is why I don't revolt. Because I don't care. Because I deliberately and conciously don't care. Because I know what I'm "missing" and still don't care. Because I actually prefer it to the alternative.


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