Note: This could be considered a companion piece to the post “Debankle”. I don’t know why communications from banks make me want to blog so much, they just do.
Chase Bank has sent me bubbles in the mail. That is, they have sent me a letter saying that while they’ve noticed I am currently listed as wishing to receive no offers in the mail from them, they are updating their files and want to make double sure that I am receiving all the offers I want to receive from them and none of the ones I don’t want, and to make sure everyone is clear about all this, they helpfully included a list of products and services with an open, friendly, expectant bubble next to each one, waiting to be filled in. A signature and date were required for my choices to be valid.
As irksome as is the pretense that they need me to reaffirm my intention to be left alone, I wasn’t about to spend mental energy on it. I don’t share Chase’s confusion as to my wishes regarding offers from an organization I don’t bank with anymore, and since the letter obviously was not created to serve any need of mine but some oily stratagem of theirs, I was about to recycle it. But then I saw the sentence that said that if I did nothing I might begin to receive offers from them. I backtracked and read more closely. The instructions said I must completely fill in the bubble next to each product or service that I do not wish to be notified about. The words “do” and “not” were underlined.
I could hardly believe it. I was being blackmailed. Bubblemailed. Does this seem as wicked and snakey to you as it does to me? Doesn’t this make you want to consider taking a workshop in arson?
Let us pause and reflect for a moment about the thinking behind bubbles. The idea is that computers, which think binarily (one or zero, on or off, this or that, yes or no, etc.) can visually “read” them, perceiving that a bubble is either filled in or it is not filled in. This was true in 1969 when we first-graders were being tested for whatever we were being tested for — maybe Marxist tendencies. You were warned that you must fill in each bubble completely because supposedly if the computer saw even a tiny speck of paper-hue showing through inside the border of the oval bubble it would read that bubble as “not filled in” and your answer would not be counted. Conversely and inexplicably, if even a small spot of errant pencil lead (later ink) was found in a bubble other than the one you completely filled, it would count as a second filling and your answer would be thrown out because you had chosen two.
These two facts seem to contradict each other and I suspected even at age seven that the whole business was a test of something else besides our knowledge of the right answers, or not even a test really so much as an exercise in social programming. That seemed to be what it was about. The test-makers were keen to create a society of people who understood from an early age the importance of completely filling in just one bubble and not getting any ink or lead in any other bubble. Why that was important I cannot speculate.
But even back then, the bubbles were small, about the size of a grain of rice. The bubbles on this mail from Chase are the size of lima beans. I strongly doubt that any imaging technology will ever be applied to the document no matter what I or anyone else does about the bubbles, but if it is I would think that the bubbles need not be ten times larger than they were BEFORE WE HAD PUT A MAN ON THE MOON (“for cryin’ out loud”, etc.). This is “Century 21” is it not? Can’t the bubbles be smaller now? How about a checkbox?
But this is all intentional. In the even larger bubble above my head, in which I imagine scenarios, I have pieced it all together.
At a table in a conference room in an office building several marketing types are brainstorming a new campaign to get people to invite Chase’s blizzard of advertising into their mailboxes. Maybe the Chrysler Building is visible off in the sunny blue distance out the big plate windows. Some of the males wear ties, the women are smartly dressed but not too colorfully. Various containers stand on the table containing the macchiatos or the spring water they bought on the way back from a working lunch.
One of the young men, slouchy but with a look of focused attention through squared, thick-framed glasses, has just said, “and let’s make it opt-out, so they have to fill all ten bubbles in if they don’t want to hear from us. Most people won’t want to bother and won’t do it.”
A second guy with much product in his hair so that it stands up and a British accent says, “Or they’ll assume that they’re to fill in the bubbles of the ones they do want and so they won’t fill in any. We should underline the words ‘do not’. They still won’t read it correctly because they’ll be skimming and they’ll assume it’s opt-in, but our butts will be covered.”
The woman who called the meeting, dark-haired and sitting upright, responds, “Sa-weet, and let’s make the bubbles really big, like lima-bean big, so that if they do notice and start filling them in, they’ll give up right away because they’ll see it’ll take forever”.
A second woman says, “I like it. We’ll need to put in a note that warns them to fill in the bubbles completely.”
The sloucher starts laughing, imagining with impressive accuracy — in a reciprocal imagination bubble above his head — someone like me, late for the bus and bent over their kitchen table with a pen, swearing under their breath while trying to make sure no paper shows through any of the bubbles. It is a cynical, dry, lazy kind of laugh, as though the young man has just seen his friend open a can of beer that has been shaken. The reverse imagining nearly creates a calamitous rupture in the space-time continuum but disaster is averted by the piping up of the Information Technology guy, who has been sitting somewhat apart in jeans and a tee-shirt.
IT guy: “Did I miss something? Why the bubbles? These things won’t be read by a computer.”
The meeting-caller woman: “We’re not saying that they’ll be read by a computer.”
“But it’s implied by the bubbles. Why would you make them fill in bubbles unless you want them to believe that their responses will be read by a computer?”
“We DO want them to think that. That’s the point.”
IT guy: “But it’s not true.”
Sloucher: “Dude, you’re not going to get all ‘consumer advocate-y’ on us again are you?”
Brit: “Yeah, this is about lead generation. Are you going to go along with us or are you going to flip out like you did with the graffiti campaign?”
Anyway, the vision goes on like this in my head until I finish filling in the bubbles.
That’s right, you heard me. I filled in all of them. Completely. And I’ll photocopy the document, too, and even keep it on file. These people have no idea who they’re sending bubbles to. To whom they’re sending bubbles. You know what I mean.