We know what you’ll buy

So there I’ll be, surfing on McDonald’s new wireless network, perhaps at the retro Golden Arches next to Shoppers Square. I’ll buy a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (200 calories) with Newman’s Own Creamy Garlic Dressing (190 calories) and Butter Garlic Croutons (50 calories). A pop-up window will appear:

Dear Valued McDonald’s Customer, We’ve noticed that diners who enjoy Grilled Chicken Caesar Salads also enjoy Fruit’N’Yogurt Parfaits—now with only two grams of fat. Order a parfait now for just $1.50 by clicking on the link below.

Of course, I’ll click. I’ll enjoy the 190-calorie yogurt (with granola) and know that by now I’ve consumed the caloric equivalent of a Big Mac (600 calories). Since any corporate database worth its weight in grease would contain my personal ratio of Big Macs to McSalads, the next pop-up I’m sent should appeal to my all-beef craving.

The minutiae of our consumption become plethora marketing factoids.

I don’t know about McDonald’s yet, but Safeway knows how much milk I buy. The airlines know where I’ve been and accurately predict where I’d like to be next. Northwest regularly e-mails me travel deals, and, each time, I can’t resist wasting at least a half hour dreaming about a few tequila-soaked days on the shores of Lake Michigan.

I consider myself impervious to marketing. I don’t take coupons from strangers. I hang up on callers offering long distance. But there’s something irresistible about spam from companies that know my preferences. In the past three days, I’ve spent $80 online on unnecessities.

I’ll be sitting here writing and tha-dum, I’ve got mail. My subscriptions to Rolling Stone and The New Yorker expire soon. It takes 10 seconds to renew. My credit card information is stored handily on the site. And wouldn’t I also like to sign up for Atlantic Monthly and Harpers?

Then tha-dum, again. It’s Amazon.com:

Dear Amazon customer, We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, also enjoy books by CALVIN TRILLIN. For this reason, you might like to know you can order CALVIN TRILLIN’s Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme at a savings of 20% by following the link below.

I order Trillin’s latest—and two other recommended titles so I qualify for free Super Saver shipping.

Have you heard of Google’s new G-mail accounts? The search engine giant is beta-testing a free e-mail service that gives users a gigabyte (1,000 megabytes) of message storage.

Google will sell ads to be imbedded in your e-mail, specifically targeted ads that relate to your e-mail content. Googleware scans your mail, looking for key words in order to attach related marketing messages.

So mention how much you’re looking forward to going to Century Theater this weekend and an ad linked to Fandango’s Web site might end up attached. Or a popcorn coupon.

This invasion of privacy bugged some. A couple of California legislators fretted about but approved the concept—as long as Google doesn’t sell its lists of marketing info to companies that are relentlessly interested in us. Like those pesky feds.

Most of us don’t mind. Invade our privacy! Give us free stuff! Google offered a limited number of accounts, by invitation only. Those left behind are desperately trying to tempt G-mail users out of their invitations. At a G-mail swap site, drooling wannabes offer to trade everything from “a place to stay in Brazil” to “one ice cream sandwich” to a “tractor ride on a 1944 Farmall” to get G-mail.

Tha-dum. It’s Columbia House, and look at the DVDs I can order for 49 cents! I love those movies!