Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opt In or Opt Out

To my son Tommy,

Of all the things people have to be outraged about in this day and age, and trust me there is plenty worthy outrage events or topics right now, the most humorous and most trivial one has been dubbed "The U2 Virus". It seems that Apple, in its ultimate wisdom and generosity, attempted to give each and everyone of its users a free album from the band U2. I am sure some mid-level executive somewhere is shaking his head and saying, "On paper, this looked like such a great idea. How did it go so wrong?"

The problem is people want the freedom to opt-in and never want to have stuff forced on them and then later have to opt out. Had Apple offered the album free of charge and said "Come and get it", this would have been the talk of the town in a positive note, instead of the negative it turned out to be. Instead they thought they would be helpful and make it just appear in every users account. When some 500 million users logged in and saw the album sitting in their account, Apple assumed everyone would be thrilled and they also assumed every user heard about it from their press conference because every user obviously hangs on every word they say. Apple was wrong in its assumptions.

Well what would happen if you woke up, went to your refrigerator, opened it up, and there was a U2 album sitting there? You might get a little freaked out. Did someone break in and leave this album here? What else did they do to my refrigerator? Is the OJ poisoned? What else did they do to my house? This is the type of fear and paranoia that struck in the hearts of many an iTunes user.

If they weren't scared, then they were annoyed. They opened their accounts like a guy picking up a free newspaper off his lawn, grumbling "I didn't ask for this. How do I delete this crap?" For the record, I didn't listen to the album so I am not sure it is crap, but I also didn't read the free newspaper that was on my lawn today before throwing it out.

I guess some people were happy or at least indifferent about the free album, but it seems they are in the minority. If someone in the Apple hierarchy knew their age old idioms, they would know that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Apple just forced a gallon of water down our throats. Some thought it poison, but most of us were just not thirsty and didn't appreciate not being given the chance to say, "Thank you, but no thank you."

I don't care how well intentioned you are or how beneficial something will be, forcing people to do stuff is wrong. Hmm, maybe I should put a caveat there and say it is usually wrong, because as a parent I sometimes have to force you to take your medicine and such. So, forcing people to do stuff is usually wrong. It is best to reach them on a personal level and make them want to do it. Make people want to opt in, rather than forcing them to opt out.

This philosophy or rule of life is ubiquitous. It applies to computers, accounts, politics, healthcare, religion, retirement savings, finance, insurance, and yes even parenting. I joked earlier that, as a parent, sometimes I have to force you to do things you don't want to do. In all honesty though it would be better if I can make you understand why you should do something. If I get you to understand the why of it all, then life becomes so much easier. That is my goal as a father, to make you understand why we need to do the things we do and make you want to do them! Funny enough, you now willingly take your medicine and there are very few things that you do reluctantly and almost nothing that I have to force or coerce you to do. Now if it were only so easy in the rest of the world. In the meantime, we can stay outraged that Apple ruined our illusion of freedom by spending a $100 million and by forcing us to take a free album from a premier (though perhaps outdated) band. The nerve of them.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

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