These are some of the definitions of the verb “pigeonhole” – classify, categorize, compartmentalize, characterize, label, brand, tag, typecast
I can still remember the first time that while I was shopping on the Internet a message appeared saying (approximately)
“buy just 9 more items and we will make recommendations for your future purchases; we will know what you want ”
At first I thought this seemed quite clever of them because I frequently go through hours of inner turmoil trying to work out what I want. Soon it was only necessary to buy one product before I was told not only what I might like to buy next but what other people who had bought the same kettle, DVD, ink cartridge etc. had gone on to buy afterwards. Then I was asked not just to provide feedback on my purchases, which I considered a perfectly acceptable request, laudable even, but for feedback on their recommendations. At this point I cried “enough” and checked every ‘don’t send me’ box I could find to stop companies from either putting me in a category or guiding me towards membership of another one by bombarding me with information about allegedly comparable shoppers.
I once agreed to take part in an on-street survey about the clothing and food shops I used and the lifestyle/hobby magazines I either bought or just read on a regular basis; the participants were to be rewarded with an analysis of their lifestyle group. I took part for three reasons a) my lunch companion was late arriving b) the whole idea was so absurd it was strangely appealing and c) because I felt sorry for the poor woman trying to fulfil her daily quota in a frankly hostile environment. However, after five minutes she decided I was having a laugh at her expense and deleted my profile. Why? Presumably because the program did not allow for small grandmas who arranged flowers to also ride powerful motorbikes, had no way of scoring the combination of “The English Home” and “Ms. Magazine” or cheap denim jeans from M & S with handbags from Smythson. I was messing with her tick-boxes, it didn’t compute.
I enjoy preparing food for others to eat, I like sliding between crisp, fresh sheets I have washed and ironed, but, if the call comes, you’ll find me marching banner in hand to defend the right of other women to abstain from these activities without having to justify themselves. I can campaign to stop marine pollution and, in the comfort of my own home, get more than a little merry on a good malt whisky; these things are not mutually exclusive.
I feel I am increasingly expected to fit someone else’s narrow vision of me, that we have not made the expected progress since the 1960’s when I was burning bras and challenging stereotypes. If you read my A to Z posts you will know that I do not discuss my creative writing with local friends ; this post was partly prompted by the incredulous reaction of a local lady when I broke my own rule and gave her a full answer to “what are you doing now?” “All the same old things plus I’m working on the second draft of my manuscript” was clearly not the right answer.
Is it just because I have lived through the 1960’s into my own sixties that I feel abused by society’s continuing apparent need to pigeonhole me? The one notable exception is the splendid insanity of Twitter where I willingly pigeonholed myself in only 140 characters; sadly this does not allow me the opportunity of saying that I have gone back to my abandoned teach yourself basic Italian course in the hope of understanding the two, hopefully charming, Italian gentlemen who decided to follow me and who I followed back because it seemed rude not to.
The bigger the computers get, the more pigeonholed we will all become! (See Jaron Lanier’s latest–“Who Owns the Future?”– for more disturbing details. Sigh.)
I have not read “Who owns the future” but I know it explores Janier’s views on how network technologies affect the world’s cultures and economies. I guess that in the end we all have to make our own decisions about how we interact with companies online but it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain “anonymous” in any aspects of our lives; we are tracked and traced like parcels.
This is so true.
With their desperate attempts to gain more and more information about their customers businesses might end up turning them away! And I love the irony that, coming from a generation that celebrated self-expression and freedom from old-fashioned values, you find yourself once again constrained by others’ perception of who you are.
A wonderful post. 🙂
I’m pleased you enjoyed this post Kirsten. As you so rightly said, big businesses desperately trying to secure our custom, by relentlessly seeking personal information to tailor their marketing, are indeed risking alienating their customers. In England people with enough money to make choices are increasingly buying food from small independent shops but even that is a form of pigeonholing since low-income families do not usually have that choice and are caught in the “monsters” brand wars.
Perhaps on a purely social level the majority of people will always seek ways of dividing themselves into narrowly defined groups; maybe it just feels safer imagining you can reliably predict how certain sections of society will behave.