The American consumer is an impulsive beast. One minute you'll be watching QVC and the next minute you'll be the proud owner of five electric food dehydrators and two cans of that spray-on hair. One minute you'll be waiting in a grocery store line, the next minute you'll be home reading a Weekly World News article about an illiterate Arkansas boy who had a holy vision of Elvis and is now Hooked on Phonics. Those few people who continually act on their shopping impulses became known as compulsive shoppers and are lucky enough to make the talk-show circuit. The rest of us, though, just have to rub our zirconium rings and pray we learn to control our impulses. We also have to keep an eye out for people who try to get us to act on impulse alone.
Last week, as I was walking into the Student Union, a guy came up to me and asked in a peppy voice if I was interested in 30 minutes of free long-distance phone calls and a free shirt. I noticed the Sprint phone table by the door, said no, and went down to the Wildcat newsroom. A couple of hours later I was leaving the building when the guy got in front of me and asked if I was interested in free stuff. I said no and kept on walking. Within a two-day span, I was accosted by the same guy five times. Each time he promised free stuff. Each time I said no and hoped that the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese girl would magically appear and say, "You, sir, are the cheesiest."
The salesman really got under my skin. I looked around the Student Union and saw several different credit card tables and the phone card table. Their tactic is to lure students over to the tables with the promise of "free stuff" and have them fill out a quickie-form. We are all attracted and excited by the prospect of free stuff Ä free hats, free T-shirts, free movie passes, etc. One time I got excited when I won a free car wash and I don't even have a car.
Many of the credit card tables don't allow you to walk away with the forms. You have to fill out the forms at the table. This is so the person who is selling you the card gets a commission and also so you don't think about what you're getting. In general, college students have the highest amount of disposable income out of all demographic groups in the U.S., thus making them ideal targets for credit card companies.
I don't think credit cards are evil. I have a couple myself. But I think people should take some time to look over credit card applications and consider if they really need that ninth credit card. It amazes me how many people suddenly need credit cards when they are passing by a random table in the Student Union. I've never been somewhere on campus and said to myself, "Omigod, I need another credit card!" and bolted to the Student Union. It's nice to get the free stuff from the offers, but when you're saddled with your monthly or annual payments, the free stuff may not seem so free.
Credit card companies and other corporate advertisers should be banned from the Student Union and the surrounding area. University administrators are supposed to be looking out for our interests. Providing a forum for students to impulsively get multiple credit cards does not fall under "protecting the students." The economic benefit from allowing the advertisers to have tables is minimal Ä only $125 per day. It's fine to allow credit card companies to put applications up in the classrooms. At least then, students have time to look over the forms and think about if they really need a credit card. Plus, I should be allowed to walk into the Student Union and not be harassed by a salesperson. If the university is so hip on bringing in corporate dollars, why stop at the Student Union? Imagine, before every class, your teacher could be paid to plug products. "Today this section of English 101 is sponsored by Rolaids. It's how you spell relief."
Back to the salesman who was plaguing me. After the fifth encounter, I decided to confront him. I put my reporter's notebook in my back pocket and started walking out of the Student Union doors. He stopped me and made his pitch. I said I was not interested and identified myself as a writer for the Wildcat. I asked how many people he had stopped in the past two days. He boasted that he talked to at least 800 people. I asked how many people had signed up. He grinned and with braggadocio said, "All 800 people." Then I popped the question.
"Don't you feel guilty being so openly obtrusive?" I asked.
His smile dissipated. He said, "About 90 percent of the people walk by. I don't force them to sign up." He turned his back to me and walked away. He went behind the table and glared at me. I thought that maybe he had finally gotten the hint that students were tired of being hassled. Maybe I had saved some of my peers from being annoyed. Satisfied, I went back to the newsroom.
Two hours later as I was leaving I saw the same salesman talking to two students in front of the doors. The students looked young Ä they were probably freshmen. I'm not sure if the salesman recognized me or even saw me, but I could have sworn that he smiled at me as I passed by.
Think before you act. A thousand lemmings can always be wrong.
Jon Burstein is a senior in journalism and political science. Like it or not, his columns appear every Tuesday Ä or at least should appear every Tuesday. He writes his columns as he bides time waiting to win the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
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