I hate to fall into the “good old days” trap, but some moments call for it. Today is just such a moment.
In the good old days – or simply back in 2009 – one could go to the grocery store, buy groceries, pay with a debit card, and have to do only two things at that debit card keypad: Enter a PIN and press the green button to confirm the purchase. If you were paying by credit card, you didn’t even have to enter a PIN.
Fast forward a decade and that former 2-second interaction drags out to about 30 seconds as customers enter the charity gauntlet:
- Would you like to round up to the nearest dollar to save the (name cute animal here)?
- Would you like to donate $5 to ensure (name cute children here) has access to (name something important here)?
- Would you like to contribute to the Save-Our-Old-Golfers fund?
If I was what I imagine normal people to be like, I’d just automatically – and quickly – click “No” to all these questions. But I’m not normal people. I’m a former journalist, and my questioning nature clings to me like a static-y sock from the dryer, so when I see a question, I can’t but help give it due consideration.
The problem is, by the time I reach the register, I’m already exhausted from reading the ingredients on all the special flavored Cheerios boxes to decide if maybe, just this once, I can eat dessert-cereal for breakfast, so my decision-making powers are severely limited. Do I want to give money to the zoo? Well, let me think about that. Zoos are a common good, and I’m pretty interested in the common good, but should I give to this particular zoo effort at this particular moment?
By the time I’ve done my due diligence thinking about the question, I’ve broken out in a sweat because I’m holding up the line and everyone is staring at me. It isn’t a pretty sight.
The check-out test also irritates me because of its public nature. Maybe I would like to save the whales or ensure impoverished children have a good education or – gun to my head – give a donation to save old men in pale yellow pants and weird green golf jackets. But does my local cashier really need to know if I’m doing those things?
I thought peer pressure was unique to adolescence, pretty much tapering off in your 20s and blissfully gone by age 30. Certainly, by the time you require bifocals to read the tiny print on the debit/credit keypads, you shouldn’t be subjected to crowd-sourced donation shaming.
And yet every time I press “No” I feel like I’m being judged. (“That Mrs. Horton never gives to the St. Luke’s Hospital drive, but she always has money for her organic strawberries and fancy-pants prescription toothpaste!”) I feel like I need to carry a list of my charitable giving history to give cashiers to prove I support lots of good causes already.
This life-as-a-test doesn’t just happen at grocery stores and it isn’t just about donations. Many, if not most, online sites now feature pop-up “quizzes” to get access to certain articles.
I recognize pop-ups are often one of the few ways websites have of making money, but the constant querying runs me right to the ground. No, I haven’t bought a house in the past year. No, I’m not interested in learning more about above-ground pools. Well, yes, I do care more about education than golf courses, but since I don’t live in the city doing the polling, does my answer actually matter? All I want is the recipe for that chocolate mocha pecan cake I saw on the home-page teaser!
In many ways, these pop-ups are worse than the charity gauntlet yes/no exams for me because, nine times out of 10, none of the multiple choice answers fit.
For instance, if the question is “What is your favorite pizza topping?” and “mushroom and olive” isn’t one of the answers (it never is), what should I do? Should I just go ahead and pick “sausage” because it is better than anchovies or pepperoni – even though none of them are something I’d choose on pizza? Or should I email the website and tell them to include more multiple choice options?
I obviously need to get past the 12 years of schooling that trained me to be diligent in test-taking so I can stop thinking so much about these questions. Maybe I’ll take a clue from test-prep companies that advise choosing “C” when in doubt on multiple choice tests, and just blindly push the “No” button when asked about donations at the cash register. Bare minimum, I’ll get out of the store faster and home to my breakfast of dessert cereal. Then we’ll all be happier.