When Humans Make it LESS Creepy


I was born in the forgotten generation – those not quite old enough to be Gen X, but those definitely too young to be a Millenial, an era some have called the Oregon Trail Generation. As such, I share some traits with either generation, and have some unique ones of my own. And sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees the odd mashups of both.
Here’s my example for today: The “Aversion to Talking to People” of the Millenials versus the “Computers are Tracking YOU” paranoia of Gen X.

I admit that I do enjoy not having to make awkward phone calls or initiate conversation with strangers – I share that with many millenials raised on instant Google gratification. I’ll do it if necessary (or get someone else to, just ask friends of mine that had to ask someone to take our picture at Graceland last week when I chickened out), but I’d prefer to avoid dealing with humans for needs, instead dealing with them simply for wants. (In other words, if you want to become friends, I’m up to chat all afternoon – but if I need to call you to ask what time you close tomorrow, I’m not that excited).

Now let’s contrast that with the “Computers are tracking you” paranoia of many Gen X’ers (and older). I’m not a huge fan of things like loyalty cards that track my purchases, but I begrudingly use them to get small discounts at the grocery store. Recently our local grocery store started sending coupons to us in the mail (I say recently, but it could have been several years ago, my wife would know for sure. I stereotypically leave most of the couponing to her). Upon the arrival of the latest batch, my wife said “I think they track what you buy and send you the coupons you might actually use”. I agreed that this would be a smart move on their part, and that it actually sets up kind of a win-win situation. Store has a greater liklihood of me buying something because it’s something I like and I have a coupon, and if I was going to buy it anyway, I get a small discount (I suppose if I were a big impulse shopper, this would be disastrous, but thankfully I don’t tend to be).

This got me thinking – for many older folks, a local grocer (physical person) who knew them by name, knew their likes/dislikes, and offered them discounts would be a valued shopkeep, something lamented when they were replaced by a big-box grocery chain. Yet those same people find it creepy when a computer tracks their purchases and targets them with coupons or ads, essentially providing the same service. Somehow it’s less creepy if it’s a person doing it. Contrast that with the Millenial attitude that dealing a person is more uncomfortable than a computer, and you have a strange cohort effect. Older generations find it creepy if it’s a computer, younger find it uncomfortable if it’s a person, and vice versa.

I, for my part, shall continue to straddle the two generations, embracing my Oregon Trail-ness while teaching (mostly) Millenials. And continue to notice strange inconsistencies like this one, which I shall report to, no doubt, millions of interested readers!

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