It all starts innocently enough. In the tenth grade, it was suggested that I show up to school on a Saturday to take the PSAT. Superior performance on the exam was said to qualify students for National Merit Scholarship as well as open the door for college recruitment. Coming to school on a Saturday to do something academic was definitely not my style, but the word around the hallways was that if you took the PSAT, you’d start getting TONS of mail from colleges. SOLD. I imagined my possibilities as endless. I would get back to my familial roots by way of a cozy liberal arts college in Appalachia where I’d wear really cute clothes and meet a whole new cast of friends eerily similar to the ones I had at home, but cooler. In the end, I achieved a slightly above average score on the PSAT and only applied to one uncompetitive school about three hours away… where I attended classes for a total of two days before calling mom to come get me. But oh, the stacks of glossy oversized postcards, warm, crisply folded letters of introduction on fine stationery, the thick viewbooks that should alone have made the price of tuition obvious by the cost of sending them out to scores of mild over-achievers. For the first time in my life, I was getting something in the mail besides credit card applications addressed to my zine. (Dear Ms. Fleas, we are excited to make you this offer..) I’d hit the junk mail jackpot.
A few years and six colleges later, I was finishing my BA at FIU (ouch, Shit Miami Girls Say, that was cold!) when my long-time live-in often jobless boyfriend became my fiance and instead of making a solid plan to start paying back the mountains of student loan debt we had amassed by living on our own in a house in the suburbs while trying (with various levels of success on his part) to go to school, I planned my wedding. The moment I signed up with TheKnot.com, the flow of shiny postcards resumed. Bought a dress at David’s Bridal and the mailbox became even more packed. And thank god this was in the time before I had a smart phone, and I only had to deal with e-mail when I sat down at an actual computer.
So if you looked at my life up to this point, you’d see a pretty normal pattern. High school, college, wedding. But here’s where things get a little sticky. I got laid off from my job teaching after my first year. Moved back in with mom. Husband’s characteristic job instability still intact. I started apprenticing at a tattoo shop. I refer to this time in my life as when I pulled a little bit at the end of this ball of yarn and it all came unraveled. I realized that my husband had just been starring in my fantasy of a neat, cookie cutter life. No matter how hard either of us tried to fit into a mold, it wasn’t going to work. I broke the spell, we broke up, I found someone new, but apparently my “consumer record” hasn’t realized I’ve changed my plan.
Who didn’t get creeped out when that story started popping up all over social media about how the ubiquitous megastore Target predicted the pregnancy of a teenage customer? It seemed completely hokey until I realized that it was happening to me. When this new batch of shiny postcards started showing up, I started getting crazy side eyes from my mom (who, yes, I live at home with yet again) and “Is there anything you need to tell me?” Initially, I was pissed off from a feminist, recently divorced perspective, and I blamed the baby mail on the fact that four years ago I signed up with The Knot and had a wedding registry with Target and well, they assumed that I should definitely be knocked up by now. But after reading the article and learning more about the consumer tracking and data aggregation being done by these stores, I became very weirded out and a little sad.
Whoever it is that is tracking my consumer habits is most definitely, not just “theoretically”, but definitely, unequivocally, selling information about my predicted pregnancy to third parties. I’ve gotten so much baby mail that honestly, I don’t even remember if anything has actually come from Target. I’m sure it has. But here I am with boxes of Enfamil, advertising from local offices offering discounts on 4D ultrasounds, a stack of Gerber coupons, living at home feeling like a fucking loser because apparently all sources point to the fact that I should have my shit together enough right now to be breeding, and I’m not.
Look here, Target. And Walgreens, you listen up, too, because I know you’re in on this shit. Yes, I got married. I buy a lot of stuff for my house and I move a lot. I buy A & D three and four tubes at a time, tons of hand sanitizer, and a lot of other strange stuff due to my occupation as a tattoo artist. Oversized bags, yes, because I’m also a teacher, not an expectant mother. I work too damn much and I need big ass bags to hold changes of clothes and snacks and all the stickers and pencils I impulsively buy from your stupid dollar sections. Maybe there were a few pregnancy tests thrown in my cart from time to time. Maybe a cluster of them. And I ring up a lot of Hello Kitty swag, gummy fruit snacks and kids socks but that’s mostly all for me. And sure, my friends are also all getting married and having babies, so I’ve bought a bunch of cute baby stuff… not for me. But, bitch, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.
If you don’t want Target to market to you after it has collected your data, you can “opt out” by calling 1-800-440-0680.
(via Anita Ramasastry, Justia.com)
“It Happened to Me” is an amazing regular feature over at xoJane.com with way more interesting and important stories than the one you just read, so you should probably go check them out.