Paying For Batteries in Cash & Dignity

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September 2010 OpenSalon Editor’s Pick

“Okay…8 pack of  double A batterieeeees…Anything else?”

“Nope, that’ll do it.”

“Okay, phone number area code first?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your phone number, area code first.”

“I just want to buy some batteries.”

“Yeah, we have to enter everyone’s phone number for every sale.”

“Why?”

“Um…Cuz.”

Luckily, like most girls, I’m practiced in the art of giving out a fake number when need be. I just never thought I’d have to do it to buy batteries.

I am thankful for the Information Age. We’ve got dating sites and this new thing called “social networking”. We’ve got twits doing tweets and we never have to leave our house for Christmas shopping. Amazon.com is my personal savior.

I love online shopping. Buy those shoes you need while on your lunch break, without even getting into your car.  I only buy from sites I know, sites with those security insignias all over, long established sites and only sites that promise my information will not be sold. But I often wonder if these sites can be trusted. I only ever enter information when I’m purchasing something and I only enter the information necessary for billing and shipping; I generally don’t have a problem with it.

I do have a major problem, however, with stores that request personal information when I’m checking out in person. If it’s not being mailed to me I don’t understand why any of my personal information is necessary or why I should be expected to give it out.

After my trip to Radio Shack, to which I gave the number 867-5309, and received both my batteries and a dirty look, I went to Payless Shoes, where I was requested for the same information.

“I don’t give out my phone number.”

“Not a problem,” replied the sales woman and continued with my purchase.

At least she was able to finish without having to enter anything false.

At lunch my husband and I went to a chain Japanese restaurant.

“Two for lunch, please.”

“Sure! First and last name and zip code.”

“Is there a wait? It looks empty.”

“No, no wait. Name?”

I raised an eyebrow. Had I missed a memo? In an age when identity theft is both relatively new and on the rise, why are we so pleasantly expected to give information everywhere we go? Perhaps there was a criminal on the run, the local authorities only knew her name and that she liked to frequent fake sushi places. Surely that’s the only reason anyone would need personal information to sit you at an empty restaurant.

“Kate Doe. 78704.” The hostess typed it in.

“Birthday?”

“I don’t give that out.”

“Would you like to give your email to rece-“

“Actually I would just really like some lunch.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Okay.”

Lunch? In a restaurant?!? What a novel idea!

Though I was asked for information when ordering, it was just salad dressing preferences and type of rice, data that actually had relevance to eating. At the end came the bill and… an info card, which we received a full debriefing on by our waitress: Give them our information to do whatever with and we’ll receive coupons periodically…amongst other wank in our email box.  That was the last straw.

I just laughed.

“What?” My husband asked me. “We’ll get coupons and it says they won’t sell our information.”

“No, they won’t. But the third party that holds our information, archives it for them, does.”

I used to work for a bookstore while I was in college, we’ll call it Edges. Shortly before I quit, they implemented a customer card system. I watched coworkers get fired because they did not push this card enough. Edges’ policy was that there was no reason why anyone should leave the store without one. I watched customers get into fights with managers that wouldn’t drop it, I watched people complain and scream to workers young and old  – and make them cry – during the heart of the holiday season because Edges forced their employees to push this past the point of “No.” According to them “no” never means “no” because “there is no reason why a customer should leave the store without this card as it saves them money for free”. This policy means, of course, that Edges has the personal information of everyone who has ever shopped there.  And, sure, as stated, Edges doesn’t sell the phone number, name, address, and email of those shoppers who signed up for the card. But the company who handles the information sure as hell did and does. That’s what’s known as a loophole.

Part of the problem is that we live in the age of corporations. I went to Payless because it’s all I could afford. I went to Radioshack and the lunch place because they were near the other locations we had to visit. We could dive into facts, conspiracy theories, etc. denouncing the faceless corporations for feeling entitled to the personal information of those it keeps living in hovels. I know my information is out there and it makes me nauseaous. The fact of the matter is that I made the decision to shop where I did on this day and if I want to keep my information private I now have to consider that in where I buy the days necessities.

It’s an acknowledgment of a ridiculous truth and it’s completely infuriating.

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