Stop Asking For My Email Address. Please, Just Let Me Pay and Get The Hell Out Of Your Store

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There’s this new thing when you go into stores.

You bring your product to the register and you’re ready to pay. And right after the cashier rings up the product, but just before you swipe — or no, don’t swipe, insert — the cashier stops.

They stop, they turn. Then, as if you haven’t really been paying attention, they casually ask: “Hey, can I have your email address?”

If you’re paying attention and hesitate, they might ask a different way.

“Do you have an account with us?”

“Can we have an email so we can send you updates on sales and promotions?”

“We just want it so we can periodically send you nude photos of our staff.”

I’m joking about that last one.

Seriously though, why does every store now need to keep in touch with me? Who am I, exactly, that a store — a store! — needs to keep in touch? And what is it, precisely, that I’m buying that bestows upon me, the lowly customer, such an honor?

I thought I was going into a store, I didn’t realize this was going to be another gym membership. And I’m not sure that buying a pair of socks warrants us having such a close ongoing relationship.

Can we put an email on file so we can keep in touch?

Keep in touch? Uhh… I guess? I suppose? I dunno? Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t even keep in touch with close friends and family. I couldn’t even name some of my cousins. I can’t remember the birthday of a single human being without Facebook, but you, the store, are saying we should stay in touch.

As if I might email you when I am heading out of town, or send you a brief note to let you know my plane has landed, just so you’re in the loop. For that, what are you really going to do for me? If I get tossed in a Thai prison for smoking a joint in public, and the U.S. government is no help because — well, have you seen the U.S. government lately? — can I email you, the store, and ask you bail me out? Probably not.

Look, I get it. Nobody goes shopping anymore. Not in the real world, not when you’ve got Amazon one click away, and not when you can Google anything and find it in seconds. In New York — New York! — there are as many empty storefronts as there are people (and there are a fuck ton of people in New York; I mean, have you been here lately — where are they all coming from, holy shit).

And in the suburbs, shopping malls are dying. Can you blame them? Now that weed is legal, why would you need to go to a mall? You can just sit in your house and smoke, who cares about the parking lot, which was all the mall was good for anyway. I mean, shit is bad out there. So bad, in fact, that at a new mall in New Jersey they had to put a roller coaster and a ski slope inside just so people would show up. And still, nobody has.

With this email business, I’d like to think more positively than I’m probably letting on. The way a business thinks, they’re probably like, hey, give us your email, we want to send you updates so you know about sales, and sales save you money, and by saving you money we’re helping you out. Look, it’s just an email address, it’s harmless!

But is it? The market for personal data these days is bigger than crack in the 1980’s. You may think you’re just handing over an email address, and companies may frame it that way — let us help you! — but the minute you hand over that email, that email gets dropped into a database with millions of other emails.

Really, you’re not just giving up your email. You’re giving up your identity.

Because the email is used to track you, along with a zillion other pieces of data that are being collected on you, through social media, your phone and all kinds of other things that would, years ago, be seen as massive invasions of privacy.

Which is nuts, I guess. But really, my beef with the email thing isn’t even that serious. At this point of my life, and probably yours, so much of your data has been collected that it’s like, who actually gives a fuck? In the grand scheme of things, I’m just a nobody, take my data, all of it, I’m not important!

No, what gets me is this false intimacy, this fake reality, that businesses want to create. With something so simple — asking for an email — they mean to imply that the business and you, the customer, are now closer than you actually are. They are saying they want to help, but in reality all they want to do is get more of your business.

The business is not your friend. Your friend is your friend. And that isn’t to say no business could ever be your friend. We all have businesses we frequent where we know the people working there, heck we might even be friends with the owners.

But I’d bet money that those businesses, and those people, have never asked for your email address. Why would they? They’re your friends. You’re going to see them again, because that’s what you do with places like that. You go there a lot, you see them all the time, you talk, you bullshit, they know your order, you know when they work, that sort of thing.

So, yeah, businesses — please, stop. I know that American business is broken, but I don’t want to give you my email address. I’ve already got a crowded inbox. It’s filled with sales I don’t pay attention to, newsletters I don’t read, and friends and family I am desperately trying to avoid.

The next time I’m at your store, let’s do things the old-fashioned way. I walk in, I find the shit I want, and I pay. The cashier doesn’t ask me anything — not for my email, not if I have an account, not even if I want her hand in marriage.

I simply pay and I leave, the same way business has worked for centuries. That is, unless you’re really sending nudes. In that case, where do I sign up?

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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