Lileks: What do you want for Christmas? There’s an algorithm for that
The deluge of catalogs seems less intense this year.
I cant even recall if Ive received five copies of Signal (Were Not Wireless) or Wireless (Were Not Signal). These are the MPR-demographic catalogs that have things like Picasso-inspired clocks (What time is it? Three past nose.) or boxed DVD sets of some British detective show like Father Flarthing Mysteries, in which a kindly priest in a small hamlet solves a total of 78 murders, all of which are quaint and genteel. Heres a scarf inspired by van Gogh: All white with a red stain.
I havent gotten the catalog of old-time stuff they dont make anymore, like candy. Remember the taste of good ol Raibees, the candy that fizzed when you bit it and made you foam at the mouth? Theyre back! Well, we found a crate when they tore down a warehouse, but they still have that great taste of anise and asbestos!
But I did get one from a company that thinks Im one of those people who says Hold my beer and jumps naked off the roof into an inflatable wading pool full of Jell-O. It has a desk globe that doubles as a gun safe, a talking fish mounted on a plaque that recites NASCAR trivia and roadkill sausage. Really. (The copy assures you its not actual roadkill, and that the meat is way too good for vultures. Thats a line every dinner guest wants to hear.)
This catalog also offers an inflatable animated outhouse. The door opens, Santa leans out and waves. Theres probably an option to have a prerecorded voice shout: Ma, git me some more pages from that there Wish Book.
It was all junk. Nothing that tempted me at all. Except that vintage Coca-Cola cooler
If I buy it, though, Im going to get on a dozen mailing lists. And next year, Ill be flooded with catalogs offering collectible Franklin Mint John Deere Genuine Reproduction Miniature Tractor Seats, 14 in the series, suitable for hanging on the wall, each with a signed certificate attesting to their authenticity. Heirloom-quality tractor butt-buckets: something Im sure to treasure forever.
But thats the case with most catalogs. Ninety-seven percent of the merchandise seems made for someone else, but theres one thing that makes you pause.
Still, catalogs beat the electronic alternative: the tyranny of algorithms.
Online, retailers sift through all the data from all of your purchases and conclude that you want exactly the wrong thing. Hmm, he bought a toilet seat and some socks, and a mystery novel. He must want aquarium lights.
They often have little boxes on the websites that say People who looked at this item also looked at these items, which is super helpful. People with whom I went to high school ended up manufacturing dental prosthetics. So?
Thats why Im heading to the mall.
Theres nothing like going to the great bright shed of the MOA at Christmastime, mingling with the throngs, hearing the old familiar tunes, finding just the right thing, asking the clerk if they have it in your partners size and being told no, but you can get it online.
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