I took my sons to Cost Cutters for haircuts yesterday. The young lady behind the counter asked for our names, which makes sense, since we would have to wait for our turn and she would need to know who to call.
“Andy, Geoffrey, and Dylan,” I replied.
“Telephone number?” she asked, oh-so-casually.
“You don’t need that.”
“You don’t need that, either.”
“Well,” she explained, “we need to know the name to call.”
“You can just call Andy, Geoffrey, and Dylan.”
She then entered three customers as “No Name” in the computer, as I watched, but I could tell from the look on her face: I was “difficult.” As we sat waiting, another employee came to the computer and said, loudly, “what’s with all these ‘no name’ entries?” I raised my hand, “that’s us.” The look on her face was a combination of confusion and disapproval.
About five more customers came in during the next ten minutes. All of them gave full names, telephone numbers, and addresses, without hesitation, even spelling out names and streets that gave the employees trouble. The same people are no doubt annoyed with the quantity of telemarketing calls and junk mail they receive, but are evidently unable to think enough to connect the two, or even to ask the obvious question: why do you need this information to cut my damn hair? The punch line is that every one of the stylists has prudently covered her address on her framed State Cosmetology License, which is displayed on the wall as required.
Best Buy and Toys-R-Us are two stores I occasionally buy from, where the cashiers ask for a telephone number from each and every customer at the checkout. I used to give random fake numbers, but a couple of years ago I decided that this didn’t properly communicate my disapproval of the process, so I started simply responding with a firm “no.” The first few times, I received dumbfounded expressions, protests that “well, it’s the computer that needs it,” (answer: “oh, the computer needs it, why didn’t you say so?… no,”) and semi-panicked calls to a manager because the cashier didn’t know what to do. Lately, though, they don’t do more than just look a little affronted, before going on with the transaction. I don’t shop at either store enough to fantasize that they remember me specifically, so they must be getting enough “difficult” people, who aren’t going along with this silliness, to have an official procedure now.
I’m not, by any means, trying to portray my refusal as some kind of protest against the state. It isn’t. However, I think that there is a relationship in the reverse direction. The state has, through its petty bureaucrats at the DMV, IRS, Social Security Administration, and similar pointless wastes of time, created a populace that simply doesn’t question requests for such information. Refuse one of these mini-tyrants a piece of information, and you know you won’t get your driver’s license, construction permit, or whatever piece of paper you’re trying to get today. They have no motivation to work with you (unless you’re bribing them appropriately, of course.) It simply never occurs to most people that, conversely, Best Buy will still sell you the printer, Toys-R-Us will still sell you the bicycle, and Cost Cutters will still cut your hair, even if you refuse to add yourself to their database. Sellers in a free market know that if they won’t, someone else surely will.