The Information Conspiracy

You think I’m kidding? Okay, maybe just a little. But I swear the most important aspects of this piece are true. Not only do I now have one grocery store card, I have three. Plus matching magnetic keychains.


It turns out I was wrong about the reality of a sinister national conspiracy designed to enslave us all under the ruthless power of a few mindless automatons. However, I was wrong only about the source of it. The real threat to our freedom will not come from the trilateral commission, the illuminati, or the shampoo conglomerates. No, our freedoms are now being eroded by the tyranny of the corporate mailing list.

The truth of this dawned on me unexpectedly when a clerk at a local grocery store asked me very pleasantly (perhaps TOO pleasantly) if I wanted to sign up for the store Super Saver Member Card. After all, she gushed, the card was absolutely FREE. All she needed was my name, address, phone number, social security number, mother’s maiden name, two photo I.D.s, and a small blood sample. Please sign here.

Obviously, I said No. I’m no idiot. Somewhere in the fine print would be language requiring a long-term relationship between myself and said grocer. “Besides,” I added, “next thing I know you’ll want to plant little computer chips in my forehead.”

She said this was ridiculous, because wouldn’t everyone in line look silly bending over the check- out scanner?

But I was not persuaded. The application form looked suspiciously like something generated by a team of insurance executives. “Anyway,” I asked, “Why should I want the card? I have enough cards.”

She pointed to page 3, paragraph 5.A.(ii) and read: “The Super-Saver Member Card provides access to all of the exciting and valuable special privileges available at participating locations for a limited time only to carded members of the Super-Saver Special feature program, but only for persons to whom this special offer applies.” She smiled happily. “Plus, it’s FREE.”

“Does that mean I’ll get a discount on my food?” I asked.

“Not necessarily.”

I folded my arms. “Basically, the idea is to get me to sign up for a card so that you can keep track of what I buy, right? Somehow you’ll use this information in pricing. You’ll sell my name on some database and a bunch of corporate sales types in a smoke-filled room will know that I drink decaffeinated Pepsi. Information is power, and in this case I’m giving the big food companies the power to determine how much of my paycheck I keep when I leave your store. Am I right?”

“Ummmm,” she said slowly.

“Really,” I continued, “What good will it do me? It’s just a piece of molded green plastic. WILL IT MAKE ME HAPPY?”

She flicked her gaze over to her partner in a silent plea for help, but the other employee had suddenly become engrossed in straightening a neatly-stacked pyramid of canned corn. “From the way this conversation is going,” she admitted, “probably not.”

It was then that I noticed the large yellow sign taped to the stack of corn: “Buy one get one FREE! … (with card).”

“Hey,” I pointed to the sign. “I thought you said the card didn’t give a discount.”

“It doesn’t. It’s just that you pay more without it.”

“But that means you’re penalizing people who don’t get the card.”

She nodded. “But if we don’t penalize you, you won’t have any reason to give us your name and phone number.”

“AHA!” I shouted. “The card really IS the important thing! It’s an EVIL PLOT and we both KNOW it! The CARD is INFORMATION and INFORMATION is the CARD!!!”

For now, that’s as far as I’ll go with this particu- lar story, because by the time she went for the mace on her key-chain and began screaming for security she was no longer communicating on an adult level. You see what oppression does to peo- ple. But I think I made my point intelligently enough: knowledge really is power.

As to linking all of this with a malevolent con- spiracy, well … what else can you link it to? The only sane explanation is that the technological revolution has installed a new dictator on the throne of our lives. That dictator is the corporate mailing list, and it is currently fashioning the end- less paper chains by which we will be shackled to a lifetime of coupons, catalogues, and free space- saving appliances with membership application.

Go shopping and see for yourself. I dare you. Just try to get your poodle groomed or your car lubed without someone prying your zip code out of you.

I, for one, have decided to take a stand. I now carry a little black book with me. Whenever a clerk asks me for my name or phone number, I pull out my book, making sure that they can see the skull and cross-bones on the cover. “Okay,” I tell them, “But first you’ll have to give me yours. You see, I’m compiling a list of all the people who know about me for my ‘Enemies of Freedom’ database. Let’s start with your blood-type.”

© Daniel Schwabauer. All rights reserved.
May not be copied or used in part or in whole without express written permission from the author.
danschwabauer.com