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Month: November 2006

Freakishly Personalized

We talk a lot about personalization, and about how personalization improves the user’s experiences, and about how personalization makes the user feel appreciated. Well, I’ve just found out that you can take personalization too far. My dad got a birthday card from the dealer that sold him his car several years ago. This is freaky.

It’s funny because we give dealers all sorts of information about ourselves when we apply for loans, but there’s a level of politeness which assumes that the dealer will a) only use the information for the purpose we intended when we handed over that information, and b) pretend not to know the information when they’re in situations outside of that originally intended information exchange.

I remember learning this lesson when working at a small, independent bookstore for several years. We were expected to watch what our regulars bought so that we could recommend books to them that they would like, but we had to pretend not to know that one regular was reading up on divorce after having spent a year or so buying “fix my relationship” books. And we were certainly never to know why that same person later bought the books on managing finances after divorce…

We also collected phone numbers of the customers who signed up for our charity program (buy a book and 1% of the sale goes to a charity of your choice). But we weren’t supposed to “know” their phone numbers even when, after years of ringing up purchases and entering the phone number which served as their account numbers, we could rattle off the names and numbers of several dozen of our regular customers.

There is decency in asking our patrons to provide us directly with information we use for their accounts, or let them know what information we collect about them. But I think there is even greater decency in “forgetting” even readily remembered personal information when we’re interacting with our patrons in contexts outside of the personalized services we provide.

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Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

Last night my car stopped shifting gears. It’s very hard to go places when you’re stuck in first or second gear. If I had a manual shift car, I’d think this was a slipping clutch. But I don’t have a clutch, just a mysterious box where gears float around in viscous fluid.

So this morning, bright and early, I got out my owners manual and figured out how to check the transmission fluid only to find that the fluid is fine. So I called my car guy only to hear that he thinks it’s electrical (which he doesn’t do) and he’s full anyway. But he gave me the name of another guy nearby whom he trusts and who will be able to do this type of thing. So I called the second guy and was able to drop off my car. Unfortunately, I was so stressed out and generally disheartened by this time that an hour long walk beside a highway seemed far preferable to asking for a ride. I’m not quite sure why that was… but there was no way I could force myself to ask for a ride.

So I set off on my highway adventure, thankful I’d worn comfy shoes. It’s funny what you notice about the outskirts of your own town when you take it at 4 miles per hour rather than 55. It forces you to stop and smell the roses that would be there if a highway weren’t belching exhaust fumes. I saw little shops that I’ve never noticed before, and I particularly noticed that the roofing and siding shops looked like they’re doing pretty well after the summer hail storm that tore up the town. I’ve never seen little shops look quite that well groomed before.

I also found a roll of art paper that must have flown out of a passing car and landed among the crushed beer cans, soda bottles, and cigarettes. Inside was printed with a reproduction of coastal scene originally done in pastels or colored pencils.

Trudging along, carrying my work bag, purse, and now a large roll of art paper, I also passed the veterans’ memorial that I’ve never walked through before. It was completed last year, but it’s in an out-of-the-way part of town. No sidewalks lead to it, and only the bike trail passes nearby.

Just before arriving at work I stopped in at the local coffee shop and got a large hot chocolate. Mmmmm.

So, it was actually a fairly pleasant morning, supremely peaceful and quiet. Now, if I can just hold on to the feeling of peace right through the moment where they tell me that my transmission is shot, it’ll cost a bazillion dollars to fix.

[Update: They called. It’s shot. It costs a bazillion dollars. And they can’t get it fixed for a week. No more peace is left.]


Reading and Vulnerability

I used to read a lot. I lived for library trips when I was growing up and would read almost anything I could get my hands on. I was lucky in that my mom was also an avid reader and had a good sense of what I would enjoy, so she would stretch me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise have picked up on my own. Then I went to college, and reading “good” books became a chore that it had never been before. I still enjoyed it immensely, but didn’t often do it on my own (at least, not during the school year). I was majoring in literature, though, so it’s not like I was starved for reading material. This continued through grad school, but there, again, I was studying literature, so I didn’t really notice. But I did notice that after I graduated, I had to train myself to enjoy unassigned reading again.

Unfortunately, I had just finished my re-training when I moved here and suddenly found that I couldn’t sit down and read. I was too stressed, lonely, and generally unsettled to concentrate on the flow of language, to let my mind wander into the prose and see the scenes presented to me, or to open myself up to feel what the characters were feeling. Reducing my strict control over my imagination made me vulnerable to too much that I wished not to think and feel in my daily life.

But now I look back over the last year and a half and realize that I’ve only made it through a handful of books since I moved. 11, to be exact, 6 of which were required by my participation in campus activities. I don’t think I’ve ever read so little in my life, and I’ve never read so little fiction (my preferred pleasure reading). I’ve heard many more books than that because I listen to books on tape whenever I’m in the car, which is a lot. But this is an entirely different kind of reading experience. I have to listen to books that don’t require complex thought because, well, I’m supposed be concentrating on the road, and I also have to stop listening whenever I arrive at my destination.

But now that I’m more stable, I’m trying to retrain myself. I’ve started playing with Library Thing (which I’ve been avoiding because I’d heard it was addictive…. which it is), and in doing so I’ve come across all the books I’ve read and loved, and all the books I expect to love when I get around to reading them. I’ve reacquainted myself with the smell of books, the feel of their paper, and the taste of the air around me when they are open in my lap. Now I just have to convince myself that I won’t fall apart if I let go and let my imagination play over intricate scenes and in and out of people’s lives.

I’ll probably have to start easy, with a fast-paced thriller or mystery. No sense in making this hard. And I’ll definitely have to persuade my cat that he really doesn’t have to continue with his habit of putting one fang neatly through the upper right-hand corner of each page as I read.



Have you ever noticed that librarians often tag things using plurals for countable nouns, just as if we’re creating subject headings? I’ve noticed this in my own tagging, in other librarians’ Flickr tagging, and on Technorati. I smile every time I see other people who have the same habit I have. It’s so … cute. :)

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