Yesterday, a plain #10 envelope appeared in my mailbox, with the usual presort information in tiny print in the upper-right corner and the ominous warning "DO NOT BEND," which I of course violated at my earliest convenience. In an envelope of this size, "DO NOT BEND" generally implies some kind of card or bumper sticker; I disdain bumper stickers, all the organizations who send me membership cards have already sent them for the year, and surely no one is sending a credit card, so what could it be?

And it turned out to be nothing at all: two pages of text, constituting an offer of twenty issues of People magazine for something like $20. This is cheap as such things go, but not quite as cheap as ignoring it altogether, and really, I am one of those people who doesn't need People: the only two subjects they ever wrote about that were remotely of interest to me have since been spun off into Entertainment Weekly and InStyle, both of which I have paid for at least through mid-2016. (In fact, I was one of the earliest subscribers to EW, starting with issue #1 in 1990; #1351 arrived in that same batch of mail.)

Still, I realized with a sinking feeling that they'd gotten what they wanted: their damned envelope was opened instead of immediately discarded. I very likely would have caught it had they used the standard Time Inc. address block that appears on both those other mags, but they were too smart for that.

The Postal Service, of course, is not going to be interested in curbing this minor bit of deception; they rely on stuff like this — so-called "third-class" mail — to almost pay the bills. And really, it's all one should expect in an economy powered by advertising and beset by desperation. ("Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it," said Stephen Leacock.) Getting those eyeballs is the first order of business, and probably also the second and a goodly portion of the third.

Because it's not just so-called "snail mail" that practices stealth techniques, as every Internet user knows by now. My email client — Windows Live Mail 2011, since you asked — is set to receive everything in plain text, as God and RFC 822 intended. But some mailers have figured out a way to persuade the client to display reduced versions of their graphics in a bar above the text. I don't expect Microsoft to do anything about this in a future version; in fact, I don't really expect there to be a future version, since everything's going mobile and mobile users have no particular reason to give a hoot about POP3.

As always, though, the Web has it worst. We got used to Interstitials version 1, in which you go to the site, get 15 seconds or so worth of ad, and only then is the site delivered. Forbes.com is famous for this; more recently, Forbes.com is famous for those same ads being used as a conduit for malware. This, if you ask me, is bad enough to warrant inclusion with the more recent version 2, in which the site you seek suddenly disappears in favor of something else you didn't ask for, which may or may not have good intentions. Purveyors of this sort of stuff ought to be hanged at sunrise, and the hanging should be livestreamed. I wouldn't even mind if the stream contained an occasional ad.

The Vent

#905
  15 February 2015

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