I used to be impressed by the technique of automating a personalized greeting on fund-raising letters and other mass appeals. It seemed so smart, when these things were new, to make it more likely that someone would read and respond to a fund- raising letter by automatically addressing it to someone by name. But over time, I came to dislike the false implied political intimacy from people, especially candidates, I had never met, or even heard of.

But like just about every other transgression that occurs in the name of commerce or political expediency, I got used to it, and didn’t think about it much anymore.

And then I had a seeing-the-matrix-moment in my email in-box.

Here is what I saw. The personalized line intended to hook my attention read:

Dear Unsupported global dynamic element: index=1, parameter=first_name,

Yep, I copied and pasted that greeting right from the mail into this diary. Clearly something went wrong when the machine attempted to call me by name.

The email also revealed a second aspect of the confusion of the machine, and its blown attempt at manipulating me into sending them electronic monetary units.

The organization (which shall go unnamed) was sending me a second notice for renewal of a membership that I never had. My sole relationship this organization is that I have previously signed-up for and continue to receive useful email.

Dear Unsupported global dynamic element: index=1, parameter=first_name,

A few weeks ago we sent you your 2011 Renewal Notice and I’m concerned that we haven’t heard back from you yet.

Clever that machine. And concerned. Almost human!

These things said, I accept the need for fund-raising and for automation in pumping out appeals for this and that; and that list building for mass e-mailings is part of political mobilization. But I’m sure I am not alone in finding aspects of this offensive, alienating, and counterproductive, and not just when the machine screws up. I am also sure that I am not alone in thinking that an overemphasis on electronics over actual long-term on-the-ground organizing of human beings with a vision of a better world — can lead to political errors that are not easily undone, and political results that are not what they could have been.

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About the Author

Frederick Clarkson

Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.

2 Responses to I Am: Unsupported Global Dynamic Element

  1. Jeff Bryant says:

    What non profits are up against is that the “old media” which is about “automation in pumping out appeals for this and that” still drives most of the income while the new media, more socially driven and differentiated to individual interests, has yet to contribute substantially enough to funds raised. One reason is that most of the $ contributed to nonprofits comes from people over 60 who are not always tech savvy and “with” the new forms of communication. Furthermore, on the ground organizing is extraordinarily expensive (dude, you’re self-referencing). And based on the goals of the campaign, that expense is not worthwhile in context and could lead to an organization’s demise due to poor allocation of resources.

    • Frederick Clarkson says:

      Actually, I am not self-referencing. The organizing I have done in recent years, and that of most of the best people I worked with, was all volunteer.

      Part of the joke of this post is that it is so not about me.

      But to address the point of on the ground organizing, it is not expensive if it is not managed by out of state interests with short term paid staff and squads of consultants. I would rather see more resources allocated to building permanent organizing capacity in communities than to parachute in out of staters when the battle is already underway or even already lost. Senator Martha Coakley, anyone?

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