Things to be suspicious of
By Janice Lindsay
While contemplating the arrival of 2013, I came upon a few cautionary notes I had written to myself but not yet compiled into a useful document. The beginning of a new year is a good time for “Things to be Suspicious of in the Coming Year.”
(By the way, you might wonder why I don’t write about New Year’s resolutions instead. I believe that January is no time for self-improvement. It’s time to hunker down, stay warm, and survive the winter, like any self-respecting mammal living in northern climes. The urge for self-improvement rightfully returns with the spring birds.)
So: things to be suspicious of.
In the new year, be suspicious of any product whose name includes the word “miracle.” Probably real miracles do occur from time to time. Most likely they do not involve divine intervention on behalf of, say, dust cloths.
Be suspicious of any bird feeder, bird house, or bird bath whose ad depicts it harboring fake birds. Maybe the manufacturer can’t be bothered to put the thing out and wait for real birds to show up, though this probably wouldn’t take long because some birds are naturally curious. So maybe they also can’t be bothered making something that will attract actual birds. In any case, they’re guessing that you, the bird-thing consumer, won’t know the difference between real birds and phonies. Since bird-watching is one of the country’s leading hobbies, they would probably be wrong. Aren’t you insulted?
Be suspicious of any gizmo that does something “virtually.” Maybe the ad says the oven is “virtually” self-cleaning. The oven-maker hopes you’ll fly past the “virtually” and come in for a landing on the “self-cleaning.” “Virtually” means “almost, nearly, for all practical purposes” and can cover a pretty wide range. One person’s “almost” could be another person’s “not even close.” You and your personal elbow grease will have to span the gap between “virtually self-cleaning” and “self-cleaning.”
Be suspicious when any big company - supermarket, airline – tells you it’s making changes “to serve you better” or “for your convenience.” This is likely to mean that you’ll pay more, receive less, and be expected to do more of the work yourself, like self-checkout at the supermarket, or self-check-in at the airport.
Be suspicious of a touted “free gift.” A gift is free by definition. The unnecessary “free” is a powerful adjective inserted only to get your attention. A true gift has no strings attached. Look for hidden strings. Think of those personal address labels you receive in the mail from nonprofits. You can’t see the strings, but they tug at your guilt all the same. You’ve received something but haven’t, yet, given anything in return.
Be suspicious of “new, improved.” How often have you found some product – shampoo, a pair of pants, canned soup – that suits you perfectly? Did anybody ask you if it needed to be improved? Probably not. But they went ahead and “improved” it anyway, and now it’s not perfect anymore.
Be suspicious of TV ads that promise a more jolly life. Did you ever notice that people in TV ads have lots more fun than you do? If only you served and/or consumed the proper beverages, your social life would soar. You would be surrounded by beautiful, entertaining, and happy people instead of your current boring grumpy friends and relations.
Finally, be suspicious of writers who tell you to be suspicious. They’ve probably put themselves into a January funk because they neglected to make a New Year’s resolution to write only uplifting columns.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to describe what you’re suspicious of.
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