I recently bought one of those hand-held vacs, let's call it a Dust Demon, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I envisioned a mote-free living room, a cleaner car, and fewer cracker crumbs on the sofa.
But when I went to fill out the warranty registration card, I was asked to answer what seemed like a dozen questions. You could make a career of filling out those little cards. I can understand why the people who make Dust Demons need to know my name and address in order to activate my warranty, but after that I thought the questions got kind of personal. For example, they wanted to know how much money I make, a subject I don't even discuss with my mother.
They wanted to know my three favorite hobbies. Then: How old are my kids? What credit cards do I carry? What magazines do I read? Can you think of why Dust Demon would need to know whether I plan to take a plane trip in the next six months? I have no idea, but the Demon would make a nice carry-on, and I could tidy up the coach cabin after lunch.
It's all about market research, of course. The company wants to know everything about everyone who purchases a Dust Demon so it can ... do what? Figure out if purple sells better than red? Whether to increase suction?
A few words for the manufacturers of vacuums and other small appliances. First, the bank that holds my mortgage can ask me how much money I make because they're lending me a lot of dough. But if you're selling me a $40 appliance, what's your worry – that I can't make the payments?
Second, if you want help figuring out why I bought a vacuum, then put a stamp on the reply card. While you're at it, write the serial number on the card. I don't have time to reverse engineer all these appliances looking for the clever place you've hidden it. Honestly.
Third, unless you're selling me an automatic weapon, or alcohol, don't ask how old I am. Is there an age requirement for operating a vacuum? Do I need some kind of license?
To avoid just being a complainer, and because I like the way the Dust Demon sucks up small food particles, here are some questions that would get customer information that really matters. (Please circle your answers.)
1. I bought this Dust Demon for (a) business, (b) pleasure.
2. Are you a member of a satanic cult and, if so, was this a factor in your decision to purchase a Dust Demon?
3. What is your annual household income: (a) less than $1 million, (b) more than $1 million, (c) none of your business. (Please attach most recent Form 1040 with schedules.)
4. Where is Osama bin Laden? (Use additional sheets if necessary.)
5. Are you a friend or acquaintance of ABC News correspondent John Stossel or any members of his immediate family? (a) yes, (b) no, (c) maybe. (If (a) or (c), please return Dust Demon immediately in postage-prepaid box.)
6. Which have you used in the past 12 months: (a) alcohol, (b) marijuana, (c) cocaine, (d) LSD. (If (d) please read warnings about using Dust Demon under the influence of hallucinogens and sign the attached liability waiver.)
7. How did you learn about this product? From (a) your hairdresser, (b) your dentist, (c) George Foreman, (d) a little voice in your air conditioner.
• Peter Zheutlin is a writer in Boston.