At my bank the other day, I noticed the countertop namecard for my teller included the following bonus information: where she was born (city and country, which in this case happened not to be the U.S.); how many years she’s worked for the bank; how long she’s been married; the ages of her kids; and her favorite food.

I was flabbergasted. So flabbergasted I’m using the word flabbergasted which I rarely do because I can never remember if there’s an “h,” as in flabberghastly idea, which this surely is.

Why on earth, in these security-conscious times, would an employer encourage the sharing of such personal — and irrelevant — information? My teller was friendly, helpful and competent. That’s plenty. Knowing she likes Gummy Bears doesn’t enhance my “banking experience.”

Are these Get to Know Us campaigns everywhere? When I accompanied my husband for a CT scan (he’s fine, thanks), I noticed info bits about doctors posted in the reception area, along with their headshots. To be clear, given the context, I’m talking about photos of doctors’ heads.

Undoubtedly, marketing consultants are behind this bogus bonhomie: Let’s see, what would make patients feel all positive about a clinic visit? Got it! Knowing the doctor skis and collects Hummels.

Now I’m fairly relentless when it comes to checking out my doctors. I insist on knowing where they went to med school, where they completed residencies and whether they’re board certified. In other words, info possibly relevant to their ability to keep me alive. Whether they write haiku or dance the flamenco or write haiku while dancing the flamenco — don’t care so much.

Yes, banking and healthcare interactions are inherently stressful, relating as they do to our fear of 3D — Death, Deductibles and Destitution. But the buddy-buddy stuff doesn’t help. Really, it doesn’t. You want to impress me? Save me money. Communicate with me in language I understand instead of Bankerese and Medicalish. You, bank, lose the disclosures in 2-point fonts.

As for my concerns about protecting the bank teller’s privacy, a lawyer friend suggested a nefarious take of the kind that comes naturally as breathing to attorneys. “Maybe,” he mused, “it’s not her real name and information.”

Okaaay, this had not occurred to me. “You mean, uh, like the customer service guy in the TV commercial? The one who talks in a deep voice with a Russian accent but insists his name is Peggy?”


The conversation left me stranded, as I often am lately, at the intersection of Paranoia Street and Consternation Avenue. At least he didn’t hand me “10 Fun Facts About Lawsuits.”


Five years ago, a magazine cover touting “7 Tips for Landing a Jumbo Jet If You’re the Only One Left Conscious on the Plane (Really, You Can!)”  might have flown. Today it would have to be 77 tips, if not 777.

I’ve been tracking a creep at magazine racks. More accurately, less sensationally, I slump over my grocery cart at the checkout counter and scan the ballyhooed features, awed at the new normal in tip counts.

The marketing strategy is obvious. Consumers today need to be reassured we’re getting our money’s worth, right down to the number of tips we expect a magazine to deliver. A paltry six home-improvement or skin-care tips? Do we look like chumps?

Operating on tip steroids, the April issue of Men’s Health promises the “1,078 Best Health, Fashion, Nutrition & Sex Tips — Ever!” I especially like the “Ever!” from a magazine that in March offered 1,742 Ways to Get Better at Everything.” In other words, guys, don’t embarrass yourselves by continuing to use tips that are so last month.

Also at a magazine rack near you: “203 Cute Outfit Ideas for Spring” and “164 Steals Under $50 (InStyle); “65 Ways to Go Green and Save Green” (Good Housekeeping); “358 Recipes, Tips & Tricks” (Every Day with Rachael Ray); “450+ Dresses, Shoes and Bags at Every Price” (Elle); and “586+ Style Ideas” (Inside Weddings).

What’s with the plus signs? Did somebody lose count on deadline and say screw it? And I’m intrigued by the use of non-round numbers. Why did Harper’s Bazaar stop at “549 New Fashion Ideas”? They couldn’t come up with one more idea to make it an even 550? It’s that scientific?

This surge in tip numbers runs the gamut of magazines. The April issue of PC World offers “112 Apps and Services You Shouldn’t Live Without.” Now that’s putting it to us. Not to be left out, Quilter’s Home weighs in with “55 Rad Blogs.” (I’ll leave to your imagination what a rad blog for quilters might be.)

Discover magazine has Albert Einstein as its cover boy with the feature “3 Radical Theories Challenge His Ideas of Space and Time.” Okay, maybe 3 doesn’t seem like a big number, but look at it this way: how many could you come up with? It’s all relative.


Don't look for a place to click "Yes, I like this poster." Feel free to like or not.

“You can’t choose your family.” Ha! Kleenex says otherwise. On its Web site you can choose a mom for yourself from an assortment of moms displayed — most of them, I guarantee, more disturbing than your own mom in every way.

“Veronica” boasts that not only can she find a needle in a haystack but she will organize that haystack by straw color and thickness. “Magnolia,” with her overbearing good ol’ mom ways and screechy Southern twang, put me off grits for life. Then there’s “Jessica” who offered to be not only my mom but my BFF. No BFF-en way.

It’s a clever marketing gambit to encourage an ongoing brand relationship (your Kleenex mom will send you to-do list reminders) and inevitable in a culture where we are encouraged to rate, vote, opine online on everything from news stories to a Facebook friend’s updates (“you and 6 others like this”).

The insidious nature of all this judgy-ness hit me one night while visiting one of my  favorite guilty-pleasure Web sites,, where, on a real-time interactive map,  I can watch — gender assumption alert — a woman in Florida buy red patent pumps and click the thumb up-thumb down icon to express my opinion on her purchase.

Normally, I wouldn’t dream of weighing in on someone’s accessory choices without first walking a mile in her strappy sandals, but  it had been a long day and there may have been a glass of wine involved. Giddily enthusiastic about a particularly cute handbag that popped up on the map, I intended to click approval but accidentally hit the thumb down. Against all reason, all that is rational behavior, I felt bad. I checked to see if I could undo my vote. No. I wanted to apologize to the shopper (“Ma’am, you don’t know me but…”) and to Zappos for having fed them the wrong marketing information (“Hello, marketing research trackers, you don’t know me but …”).

Suffering suffragettes, what good can come to anyone from this incessant voting on life’s every experience, our own and those of others? It’s enough to make me weep. That would require a Kleenex. Exactly.