Today, I’m going to explore the concept and practice of unsubscribing, and I want to go beyond emails and look at the various ways we can choose what we want to have access to our time, attention, and money.
There are two types of things you might unsubscribe from and myriad reasons why you might want to.
Let’s get into it by starting with an important question we’re frequently forced to ask.
“How did you get my ____?”
Using myself as an example, every person on my email list has explicitly opted-in to receive my emails.
I don’t buy lists. I never add random people to my email list.
Everyone got here by entering their name into a form and then confirming their subscription in their email. This is known as a double opt-in.
However, because some people opt-in to my list through guides, ebooks, and other content that is not hosted on my site, like this, this, or this, I get the occasional nastygram insinuating that I’m a spammer. I’m not, but I understand the confusion.
As I see it, there are two types of subscriptions and the dividing line between them is consent.
- On the one side you have products, services, and communications that you explicitly granted access to your email address or credit card.
- On the other side, you have unsolicited, products, services, or communications that you were subscribed to without consent.
Then there is the fuzzy space in between the two made up of the things we sign up for but forgot about or weren’t entirely clear we’re signing up for. This is where some people on my email list get confused and while I’m not quite sure how to resolve it, I continue to work on it.
“How do I get off this f***ing ______?!”
By law, every email marketing communication must contain a clear and obvious way to opt-out.
Most emails, like the ones I send, have a clear link at the bottom that says unsubscribe. If you subscribe to Christopher Penn’s excellent Almost Timely newsletter, which I strongly recommend, you would see the following GIF. He makes it profoundly easy to get off his list.
There are lots of reasons why someone may want to opt-out or unsubscribe from something.
- Maybe they changed their mind or lost interest
- Maybe they learned something about the subscription that is in conflict with their values
- Maybe they can’t afford it anymore or just don’t have the time for it
Unfortunately, services don’t always make it so easy especially since there is money involved, and in some cases, a contract. Instead of an unsubscribe button, you may need to call a customer number, pay off a balance, or go through lengthy escalations to recoup money that should have never been charged in the first place. It can suck.
The good news is that in nearly all cases where consent was given including content subscriptions (unsubscribe), social media (unfollow), and paid subscriptions (stop payment), there are typically, relatively easy, ways to get off the list to stop future communications and charges. Unfortunately, stopping the flow of unsolicited mail, spam email, or fraudulent credit card charges, we’re stuck with a game of whack-a-mole that may never cease.
“This is not the world I envisioned”
Nearly everyone has unsubscribed from an email. Nearly everyone has cancelled a service.
But, there is another unsubscribe that many of us fail to consider.
- We can cease to give our time and attention to toxic or harmful ideas.
- We can cease to be in bad relationships, either at home or at work.
- We can change our environment for the same reasons we would switch from Spotify to a competing service.
We can choose what gets our time and attention. We can manage our subscriptions.
Now, I want to note that this is not easy, nor even possible, for everyone, in every situation. To suggest that would be naive, and a nauseating and dangerous display of privilege. Obviously, the world is not so simple nor equitable as to allow for everyone to have complete control over their circumstances, both internal and external. Some people have little control over their external circumstances as they are trapped in a fight for survival. Some people have little control over their internal circumstances as they may be trapped in a mental and emotional fight for survival.
With that caveat in place, I want to suggest that there are a truly staggering number of ideas that we are exposed to every single day, that we do not have to believe, simply because they showed up in the inbox of our attention. We can unsubscribe. Much like our email, or a charge on our credit card statement that we notice 3 months later, the first step is awareness.
I check my promotions tab every so often and go on a mass unsubscribing spree. I check my credit card statement every so often and inevitably find a charge or two that I don’t recognize. Similarly, we gain the ability to manage the ideas we subscribe to through the process of learning more about the world around us including how we relate to others, and how the systems we consciously and unconsciously take part in function to align or misalign with our values. Furthermore, regular analysis of our own internal monologue can reveal changes in our values, or unsolicited messages that we would do well to ignore or abandon.
Unsubscribing is not reserved for our magazines, email newsletters, and streaming video services. By understanding what we are subscribed to, whether by choice, through forced intentional propaganda, or absorbed through the ambient noise of our environment, we give ourselves a choice of what continues to get our attention.
Life doesn’t come with a one-click unsubscribe (like my emails do, see below). However, we still have some control, and I think far too many of us forget that, or fail to recognize we had that option in the first place.