Monday, April 23, 2012

Groupon, Coupon, or Poupon: Super-Sizing, Discounts and Our Twisted Notions of Value

I live in a small town that has a Parent’s Network List Serv. Being on a list serv like this is a wonderful way to find out things by email. For example, I found out that there has been a sharp increase in stolen vehicles in recent weeks, and what neighborhoods have been hit. Dogs manage to escape from their yards at unusual rates; the nice thing is, if you are on the network and you have seen the announcement, then later spot the dog (while out and about) you can do a rescue and be a material part of the happy ending.

Today, one of the members of the network posted about Groupon “deals.” She had seen one for the local theater, and thought about using it, until she looked at the limitations (can’t use on weekends and can’t use in first three days of a new screening, as well as some others). What it boiled down to was there was not that much in the way of savings and these savings could not be had at a times that would work for her and her family, and so it was hardly with the effort to use.

The internet has to earn its keep to an extent more than social networking and electronic gaming, and the primary way is through advertisements and offers, such as Groupon. Most of the time, these offers are for things, events or services I would never actually be interested in, and that has made me wonder how many people actually avail themselves of such offers. If offers are of a type that no one would use, there is really no sacrifice actually being put forward by the business making the offer—so the Groupon is not really a discount coupon, just a cheap way of making yet another advertisement for the business. Either that, or the offers of discounts are not really discounts, at all, as the critical thinker discovered when she thought about the theater Groupon.

Whether or not what I have just said is true, I think the more important issue is the systematic psychological training of the public toward a certain slants on “value”; namely (1) no one should pay full value for something or (2) it is better to get more for the money you do pay because more is better. So, this is why the pizza joint offers free breadsticks with your pizza order; you get more dough for your dough… Of course, for everything that is really important, we are forced to pay what we are told is full value; when was the last time you saw discounted offers on medical, dental, veterinary, banking, investment or accounting services? Conversely, since when did medical, dental, veterinary, banking, investing or accounting services get super-sized?

The societal trend toward “devaluing” almost everything has ultimately made it difficult (or even impossible) for the average person to receive decent wages or have health coverage or be accorded basic dignity and respect. This devaluation has extended so deeply into, for example, the realm of education that the entire system is being destroyed. The need to make a profit comes before the need to care about or for people. Conversely, the trend of demanding more for less has promoted all that is unhealthy and unsustainable; all you get is junk (junk food, cheap plastic toys, watered down drinks, flimsy products and incentive gifts that go to landfill); this is also a devaluation.

It is not such a huge leap to say that people have come to respect stuff more than people. I found a colleague recently expressing shame that he didn’t have an iPhone. I was appalled that a person would use stuff as a yardstick of self-worth. I can only hope that this highly intelligent and talented man was joking when he made the comment…

It should be no surprise to anyone that a public that says “I want more for less” is also a public that says “no fees; no taxes.” The meta-message is “we do not value ______ [fill in the blank] enough to contribute as a community to keep ______ available so that everyone can enjoy or otherwise benefit from it.”

Disturbingly, you could fit the word  “people” in those blanks, and if you do, it gives one additional food for serious thought about business trends and value. Particularly since the biggest businesses have been at least partially subsidized (both visibly and not so visibly) by our tax dollars for generations, and most people who say “no fees; no taxes” have likewise, each and every one, benefited from at least one, if not dozens of, publicly funded programs.

I like to find deals when it makes sense to do so, but I also love our public libraries, our parks, our vibrant arts programs and museums... I don't mind paying a few cents more for the French mustard I like, and I don't mind paying taxes.

More importantly, I value people, and I wish everyone did.

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