It was way back in 1965 that Charlie Brown first appeared on TV screens at Christmas time to decry the commercialization that was creeping into our holidays and into our daily lives. Good grief! He was way ahead of his time. He had no idea how much worse it was going to get as the years went by.
As the 1999 holiday season approaches, my normally complacent Christmas attitude is being aggravated by the blizzard of cynical holiday press releases that have covered my desk. "Shop shop shop! Buy buy buy! Spend spend spend! Enjoy the jingle-jangle of the virtual cash register as online shopping gets set to break all records!" Yes, yes. I understand how important the holiday shopping season is to all those retailers out there, and I understand how important it is to the economy. But do we have to be so crass about it?
And it's not just the holidays that have me riled up. Every week, I meet with or have a teleconference with four or five new online stores, each one more "fun, amazing, and shopper-friendly" than the one before. I also hear from lots of community and service sites. Build your church a Web site. Let Grandma view your online photo album. Chat with other women about female health issues. My conversations with these online entrepreneurs are always the same. We spend about 25 minutes talking about what a great and useful service they're providing, and then I ask the inevitable question: "So how do you make money with your operation? What's the business plan?"
"Well, Don," they invariably say, "We have several ways of monetizing our audience." What an ugly way of putting it. Even worse, they sometimes say, "Obviously, we need to monetize the eyeballs." Yuck. See? No matter how warm and fuzzy the Web site is, don't be fooled. It doesn't like you. It doesn't care about you. It only cares about your eyeballs--and your credit card.
I realized things had reached a new low when one family-friendly site referred to the birthdays and holidays it stores in its online calendar as "gifting events." Gifting events? Can you imagine?
"Happy birthday, Mom!"
"No, dear. It's not my birthday. It's my gifting event. Are you going to gift me today?"
"Sure, Mom. It's my pleasure to gift you. Here. Consider yourself gifted." Sheesh. Who comes up with this stuff?
I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. The Web is just expressing what we already know about our consumption-driven society. We exist to shop. Everything we do has some financial bottom line. Sure, you can go to an art museum and spend hours pondering truth and beauty and the meaning of existence, but you'll feel better about yourself if you stop at the museum store on the way out and buy a Magritte tie or a Monet jigsaw puzzle.
The latest trend: wish lists. Just about every online store is tacking on a spot where you can list every single thing you want and then broadcast your choices to all the people in your life who might "gift" you with something. Imagine tens of millions of expressions of desire clogging up the Web. Gimme this. Gimme that. I wonder if the URL www.gimmegimmegimme.com is already taken?
I've always been ashamed of my own material desires, most of which aren't shared by people of my parents' generation. Where did they go wrong? Where did I go wrong? (I usually blame television. Why not?) Funny thing is, the onslaught of Web marketing that I find myself buried under is having a paradoxical effect. I find it so off-putting, so repulsive, that I'm starting to repress my natural, materialistic tendencies. I guess I'm just stubborn. No, I don't want the latest best-seller FedExed to me. No, I don't want a last-minute car rental. No, I don't want to join the luggage-of-the-month club. No, I don't need any discount ink cartridges. No, I don't want to bid in your auction. No, I don't want to refinance my mortgage. No, I don't want to "Click Here to Shop." I refuse to be monetized. I just want to be left alone, which probably means I should turn off my computer.
E-commerce may be hot and trendy, but in the end it's just plain old commerce that happens to blink (usually in shades of red and yellow) on your screen. Yep. The Web is a reflection of our society, and it's an increasingly accurate reflection. Click here for big discounts on mirrors.