Randi Kreiss

Opting out is all the rage, but isn't always smart


It makes psychological sense that in a culture where we are gradually losing control of decision-making and privacy, people would glom onto any power play that offers the illusion of autonomy. These days, the ability to push the “opt-out” button offers such pseudo-self-determination in various arenas.

Some choices seem better-thought-out than others. Too many people, I fear, are opting out just because they can.

We read stories all the time about people opting out of telemarketing lists, refusing inoculations for their children, deciding to reject standardized testing for their school kids, forgoing careers outside the home in favor of raising children, deciding to move off the grid, refusing medical testing, or trying to disappear in a data-infused universe.

One of my kids has opted out of life on the fast track. Her family has moved to a rural area where the nearest food store is 30 minutes away and snow chains are the law of the land from October to May. They escaped from Silicon Valley, the epicenter of connectedness and big money — and a suicide epidemic among teenagers who can’t take the pressure. I understand my kids’ choice to opt out of the craziness; if all the peace and quiet drives them screaming out of the woods some day, they can always opt back in.

The concept of opting out, which presupposes a choice, gained traction when we all started getting telemarketing calls at dinnertime. Would we take a brief survey, buy insurance, sign up for a Medicare supplement or get the chimney cleaned?

In response to the flood of phone calls at inconvenient hours, New York state set up a website and a telephone number where one could opt out of the call lists. Known as the Robinson List, it was reasonably effective.

But as the Internet expanded, privacy contracted in other ways.

We all understand the passion for privacy in an increasingly intrusive world. And there are numerous companies that promise to make that happen, to erase one’s identity from cyberspace. Companies like DeleteMe, www.MyLife.com, www.Verify.com, www.PeopleSmart.com and at least a dozen others exist just to remove your name and vital information from random websites.

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