As published by The Globe and Mail:
Incentive reward games insult adults
We've been reduced to nothing more than consumers and nobody seems to object.
By GWEN RIVERS
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - Page A22
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I still remember my mother's sudden outburst as she suddenly stopped sticking Pinky Stamps into a book and hurled the thing across the room shouting, "Enough's enough!"
While I was momentarily taken aback by this show of anger, I can't say I was totally surprised. I had been hearing for some time her complaints about the "infantilization" of adults by some mindless and faceless fools whose useless job was to sell unwanted goods to a captive clientele.
When the Pinky Stamp idiocy first started, Mother refused to go along. "I am NOT sitting around pasting little pink stamps into little books!" Most of her friends agreed at first, but after a while, one by one, they caved in.
"We're paying for this, after all," they said. "Nothing is free. So we might as well get what we've paid for."
Reluctantly, Mother followed suit. She'd go off to the grocery store and come back with a trunk full of bags -- and a purse full of the hated stamps. They would pile up until she couldn't stand it any more. Sometimes she'd ask my father and me to help and a few times we did but that seemed to annoy her even more. "Great. A whole family licking stamps," she'd mutter.
Eventually the little books piled up enough that she could redeem the stamps for something. If I remember correctly it was CorningWare of some sort, or something that looked like it. That didn't make her feel better. She'd only grumble, "Am I ever lucky. Now I have pots I didn't need and would never have bought."
Finally the whole thing went beyond her level of tolerance. She picked up the stamp books and the stamps still not pasted, stuffed them into a paper bag and marched purposefully out of the house. When she came back she looked decidedly more cheerful. That evening at dinner, Dad and I got the whole story.
It went something like this: She demanded to see the grocery-store manager, who listened patiently while she explained to him that the stamps were an insult and that she had better things to do with her time. He replied, in an unctuously patronizing manner, that she doesn't have to take them but that, of course, most people are pleased to get the bonuses. She then informed him, and by this time a few people had gathered around, that the stuff was not a "bonus," that it was all factored into the price, and that it was only a way of selling more merchandise to an unsuspecting public. She suggested that he should do all the licking and pasting since he profits from it and his customers don't.
Well, she lost that battle, but she did have the satisfaction of shoving the books and the loose stamps into his unsuspecting arms and informing the now even larger audience that, "They're treating us all like a bunch of idiots." It seems she was not alone in her frustration because it was not long after that the stamps seem to have disappeared.
I wish she were around now to take on the non-stop assault on our human dignity. 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.
Like my mother before me, I don't like this. Unlike my mother, I have no idea what to do. How does one protest now? And to whom? How does one get past the firewall that ensures the consumers never actually talk to a grocery-store manager, the way my mother did. I've been trying for three months to get a new Air Miles card to replace the one I lost. The last time I tried, a disembodied voice told me the waiting time was 13 minutes and suggested other options, all options I didn't want. Everywhere I call, I'm instructed to press buttons and listen to endless instructions without any guarantee that any will get me what we want. If I'm willing to wait, I'm subjected to yet another disembodied voice trying to sell me something.
Surely others feel this way. 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.
And to think that the women of the 1950s, those much-maligned housewives of yesteryear, had the guts and dignity to tell supermarkets to take their Pinky Stamps and shove them.
The insulting proposition that they should play children's games to win prizes was an affront to their human dignity. How times have changed.
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