Past Issue

Use and Abuse

By Stefan Budricks

03/01/17

It’s becoming ever more difficult to keep up with technology. It is also becoming ever more necessary to do exactly that. The facility and cost advantages that modern communication methods provide both individuals and businesses, for example, are just too valuable to ignore. Anybody with a computer or smartphone (or any number of other mobile devices) can, in an instant, make the world his or her audience. Reach can be as indiscriminate as a tweet, or as narrowly directed as the messenger desires.

Anything this powerful is bound to attract abuse and, sadly, it has. The Twittersphere is filled with extremists of every stripe, harassing those they have disagreements with. It’s the one medium that affords everyone the luxury of “speaking” before they think. The results are deletions, retractions, and, on the rare occasion, an apology.

Texting has become ubiquitous. It’s leaving e-mailing in the dust, and its use has, in large measure, replaced voice communication among the younger smartphone-toting set. But it, too, has fallen victim to misuse. Texting and driving has become a real menace. Less lethal, but possibly with wider implications, is the isolating effect the practice has on its participants.

Of course, these effective communication methods have not escaped the attention of marketers. Texting to spread the word, so to speak, is quick, easy, and cheap. Perhaps because of these three benefits, the temptation to overuse commercial texting is difficult to resist. Share your phone number with a business and you’re in danger of being added to its texting circle.

For example, I receive text messages from my dentist to remind me of appointments that are due. Lately, the dentist’s office has been promoting the idea that periodic cleaning and evaluations should take place every four months rather than twice a year. I understand the motivation. Alas, they are trying too hard. My last periodic appointment was at the beginning of November. On December 21, I get a text to go in for preventive care — the very thing I was there for six weeks before. January 5 brings another text noting the availability of “hygiene” appointments. Again, see November. On January 26 another text: “call us for a hygiene appointment.” On February 8 I’m informed via text that it has been five months since my hygiene visit. No, it’s been three months. Again, on February 15, I’m advised of available hygiene appointments.

And just this easily a welcome and convenient tool becomes an irritant. I could, of course, simply opt out of receiving texts altogether. But I appreciate being reminded of appointments that are actually due, especially as I usually need a little push to make that date with the dentist. The danger here is the boy-who-cried-wolf phenomenon: I’ll eventually become so fed up with this text largess that I’ll ignore everything they send.

If you are receiving commercial texts, you probably wound up on a business’s database by simply providing your telephone number. For many data collectors, that’s not enough.

I recently purchased a coffee machine.

The product registration card asked not only for my name, address, phone number and details of the product I bought, but also my date of birth, marital status, occupation, income, interests, etc. Nowhere was there a distinction drawn between what was required and what was optional. This is simply asking too much.

We have these powerful marketing tools at our disposal. Used judiciously car washes can employ them to great effect. The watchword is moderation. 



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