I bought a car. This was back in 2009, so applause isn’t necessary. The purchase wasn’t recent, by which I mean there were episodes of Parks and Recreation that first aired before I bought it. But ever since, the maker, Scion, has been asking me to participate in surveys. Sometimes I remember to before they’ve expired. They promise everyone who finishes the survey has a chance to win a $500 gift card to somewhere. I don’t believe them, but that’s all right. They know nobody believes them anyway. It’s just fun to be part of the ritual.
One of these surveys claimed the Scion division of Toyota was interested in my values. It asked me to rate how important in guiding my life I placed, for example, “an exciting life”, “protecting the environment”, “curiosity”, and “a world at peace”. I don’t want to say anything against “a world at peace”, which they explained as “(free of war and conflict)”. But I’ve seen more than one Twilight Zone episode with wish-granting. Still, what does all this have to do with me buying a car in 2009?
I don’t know what Scion’s values are. I bought the car because it met my requirements of “having a moon roof” and “not costing more than $20,000” even though somehow it did cost more than that. Is the Scion corporation going through a crisis of conscience and looking for the advice of its friends? Then why does it think we’re friends? They made a car I bought, that’s all we ever did together.
It’s not just Scion begging for my approval. Every company except the bagel shop in the strip mall wants an evaluation of their performance, and they’re willing to promise they’ll pay someone for their opinions. It’s a superficially weird need for approval. And it comes just as finance capitalism manages to almost crush people out of the economy altogether.
I get what’s going on here. Some well-meaning soul hoping to hasten capitalism’s demise has convinced companies they need to have relationships with their customers. That sounds good if you’re stupid, which your basic corporation is. It misses the entire point of the modern economy, which is to not have to have relationships with people. If we wanted a relationship with the people who do stuff for us, we wouldn’t have invented money.
If you want me to help you move you could call on me as your friend. But befriending me takes time, since I’m not very good at talking with people. And it takes emotional energy, because I’m all full of prickly edges and barbed comments delivered in a low voice. Plus I cough disturbingly often even when I don’t have a cold. And you only have till the 30th to get out of the place. Give me enough money that I’ll go along with it, though. We’ll get you to the new place whenever you want and you never have to see me again. It’s a nice arrangement and neither of us has to care what the other thinks of “respecting parents and elders”.
The thing is a corporation is already the imaginary friend of an adult who had money. And the adults don’t even consider using their imaginary friends for something useful, like setting up a teleportation network between the full-length mirrors in different places that share names, like from one Somerset to another. They just want to get their imaginary friends to accumulate more money. The current game for these imaginary friends is to get more money by making real people think the corporations are friends. And since we’re all connected in one big global village this’ll be easy. Just act interested in us and that’s as good as being friends.
Where this goes wrong is if you’re even a tiny little bit weird, then a village is the place you flee from. You go to a city, where if someone asks you questions you don’t feel like answering, you’re free to respond with a ten-minute stream of obscenities, to the approval and ultimate rousing applause of an amused crowd that will then disperse. If you want. Me, It’s hard enough to have the relationships I want to tend. The ones that spring up by accident — the cashier at Burger King recognizes me? — are terrifying — I’ll never go there again. I don’t want to be the friend to any imaginary friends I didn’t have a hand in imagining. If a corporation wants to buddy up, it’s just going to be disappointed in the circles it moves in.
Did you like this blog-reading experience? Would you stick around for a quick survey to give your impressions? There’s a free copy of a Marvel New Universe comic book in it for someone who answers. Restrictions apply, and it might be the comic book about a superhero football team.