In a few days, my new Persol sunglasses will arrive. They are merely obscenely expensive -- as opposed to immorally expensive -- because I shopped for them very hard. It was an expedition across the Internet, touching down in five countries on three continents and focusing on at least five of the brand’s 100-plus styles.
Did I say expedition? No, it was so much more. It was a journey… a journey of discovery.
One of the things I discovered is that while I am constantly complaining about having no time to do the things I need to do in my work and family lives, I managed to find seven solid hours for sunglasses shopping. This to save $150 over the local mall price. (If you do the arithmetic, that amounts to $21.40 an hour, which is what a Canadian night-shift welding-shop laborer fetches or a mental-health community services specialist in San Jose, Calif. Please understand that I am a major, major multimediocrity, and those positions -- though I am qualified for neither -- are below my pay grade. So the sunglasses hunt was not a great value proposition.)
But a journey isn’t about the destination, is it?
Okay -- most of the time a journey is exactly about the destination, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, not to mention countless tattoos and fortune cookies? Let’s just say it was an experience that will never leave me.
No. Really…never. Because everyplace I go on the World Wide Web, the sunglasses are following me. Like a bad penny or a very good National Security Agency. In the ad industry this practice of following a shopper’s digital footprints is known as “retargeting.” Elsewhere it is known simply as stalking.
Yo, creepy dude with the sunglasses, please leave me the hell alone.
Nope, I go to NewRepublic.com to read about Gov. Chris Christie’s dubious use of federal Sandy recovery funds, and there are my sunglasses. I go to The New York Times to learn about the Malaysian pilot’s deleted flight simulator data, and there are my sunglasses. I go to Boston.com about Crimea, to the Associated Press about the Comcast-Time Warner merger, to the Washington Post about the Megamillions jackpot, to BloombergBusinessweek com about Internet governance, to Philly.com about pitching ace Cole Hamels’ tired left arm…there they are.
A damn fine-looking pair of sunglasses, distinctive and cool without being so obnoxiously Italian chic that someone will want to punch me in the face. But excuse me, WORLD OF INTERNET COMMERCE: I BOUGHT THEM ALREADY. THEY ARE RIGHT NOW WINGING THEIR WAY FROM ISRAEL. I HAVE THE RECEIPT TO PROVE IT. SO PLEASE STOP SELLING ME AN ITEM I ALREADY OWN. I BEG YOU.
Not only are all these e-retailers wasting their own money, they are ruining my journey of discovery. I really fell in love with those sunglasses. (Not spiritual forever love. Not donating a kidney/cleaning up vomit love. But definitely a long period of “Oh, how I want you in front of my eyes” love.) But already the glow is fading. In fact, I’m getting sick of looking at the damn things.
Seems to me that the same data mining that allows marketers to see where I’ve been can inform them that a transaction has taken place. As long as these people are leaving cookies on my browser, can’t they add a crumb that says, in effect, “dead end?” Or, as the old saying goes, “I gave at the office.”
Weirdly, the one place I have visited on the internet that has not tried to retarget me is the world’s dominant e-tailer, Amazon.com. Those people have more data than anyone, yet they have made zero attempt to interest me in my sunglasses or anything in the entire eyewear category. No, they have followed me around the Web, taken note of my site visits, crunched the numbers of my transactions, and repeatedly served me an ad for a consumer packaged good that offers not a whiff of Italian designer chic:
Quilted Northern toilet paper. Ultra plush, of course. Silkier than ever.