The other day I was reading a post on Ernie Dempsey’s blog where Ernie discussed the disturbing trend of ingratitude in our society these days. The example he cited was Apple’s recent launch of the iPhone 6, where Apple execs simultaneously gave away rock band U2’s latest album – to every iTunes user on the planet.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty magnanimous gesture, not just for Apple, but more especially for U2. They’re the ones who put in the work to produce an entire album of new music, only to give it away completely free.

Publicity stunt, you say?

Okay, yeah, that’s probably their angle. Apple technology launches are still a pretty big deal worldwide, so this would give U2 heavy exposure to that demographic. What U2 and Apple may not have anticipated was the amount of negative response the release generated.

Many iTunes users were not only unenthusiastic about the freebie, they were downright ticked off about it. Some examples from Twitter:

The U2 record has just *appeared* among all the albums in my iTunes, as though I actually wanted it there. Which I definitely didn’t.

Well, after listening to the whole album, I can see why U2 decided to give it away on iTunes. 

I wish I could use my U2 iTunes credit on music I wanted. #nobono

How do I upload the new U2 album back to iTunes?

By putting U2 on everyone’s iTunes Apple are now like a rubbish DJ who plays music you don’t like at your party.

Ernie addressed his dismay at this outcry of ingratitude, saying,

“The planet would be better off if those people would just say, ‘Thank you.’”

According to Ernie, the folks who complained about having an uninvited freebie installed on their iTunes account are putting negativity into the world and doing nothing positive themselves. He may have a valid point, but his take got me to thinking about the attitude of the givers of freebies, rather than just those on the receiving end.

My question is, if someone offers you something for free that you neither want, need nor asked for – are you then compelled to accept?

I would say no, you are not.

Most of us already have entirely too much extra crap floating around our homes without adding someone else’s crap to the pile, so how do you politely decline?

I think that sometimes we feel obligated to accept things simply because they are free or at a steep discount – but that’s the hook that is meant to get us to accept whatever the thing is as something necessary or desirable – when we really didn’t need or want it at all.

I once got a letter from Nielsen Ratings – the company that tracks audience numbers for television shows. They told me that I was very fortunate to have been selected as one of their data-gathering homes – they wanted to track my TV watching habits as a representative sample of my local area. They even included a small check for my trouble – it may have been as much as five dollars, I can’t recall the exact amount.

Now, I really don’t like unsolicited anything coming into my home. If I want to buy something, I’ll get online or go to the store and find what I want on my own. People randomly calling me or showing up on my porch offering me magazine subscriptions, alarm systems, overpriced chocolate, coupon books for businesses I never patronize, heating duct sucking services, etc., really tend to annoy me. I always try to be as polite as possible, but typically what is going through my mind when I answer the door is,

“Can’t you read?”

“How is it possible that you missed the big red NO SOLICITING sign hanging half an inch above the doorbell?”

“What is it going to take to get you off my porch in the next two seconds?!?”

So with that in mind, you may understand my response to the ‘exciting opportunity’ offered me by the Nielsen company. I tore up their letter – and their check – and continued with my day.

I thought that was the end of it.

I hadn’t reckoned on Nielsen’s tenacity.

About a week later, I got another letter, reminding me what an amazing opportunity I was being given to represent my local area by allowing Nielsen to track how often I watched Gilligan’s Island reruns.

Now mildly irritated, I tore this letter up as well. My mild irritation grew into a simmering peevishness a couple days later when a lady showed up on my porch, blatantly ignored the NO SOLICITING sign, and rang my doorbell, interrupting my dinner with my lovely bride.

When I opened the door, the lady introduced herself as a representative of the Nielsen Company, and had I received the two letters and the check they’d sent me?

I unconsciously started to grind my teeth.

“Yes, I got your letters. I threw them out. I’m not interested. Have a nice day.” I moved to close the door. She took a step closer, as if she intended to force her way right into my house. Blocking the doorway, I raised an eyebrow at her. Lady, are you outside your mind?

“You don’t understand,” she told me. “You have to participate. We sent you a check!”

Now my dander was fully up. “Lady, I don’t have to do anything. I don’t care what you sent me. You’re interrupting my dinner, you’re trespassing on private property, and you’re not welcome here. Now, get off my porch!” I closed and locked the door, and returned to glare at my dinner, my appetite now completely destroyed.

But Nielsen still wasn’t finished.

The next day, the same lady pulled up in front of my house. I saw her getting out of her car, carrying a fruit basket. This time, I met her at the top of my front steps.

“Ma’am, I told you yesterday I’m not interested. Please leave my property and don’t come back.”

She held the fruit basket in front of her. “You don’t understand,” she said.

There’s that phrase again, I thought.

“You have to participate,” she said, acting as if she was offended that I should decline such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “We’ve selected your home as the representative for this area. If you don’t participate, we won’t have the data we need!”

“Not my problem,” I said. “Now, get off my property.”

“But we got you a fruit basket!”

“Lovely. Get off my property, and take your crappy basket with you. I don’t want it.”

“But you HAVE to participate!” She shoved the basket at me.

At this point, the only thing I really HAD to do was control myself. The animal urge to adorn her forehead with her fruit basket was almost overpowering.

Struggling to contain myself, I forced a smile. “I’m going inside to call the police now. You should probably leave before they get here.” I turned my back on her and went inside. She stood in my driveway for a few moments, looking befuddled. Then she finally got back in her car (with her fruit basket) and drove off.

I didn’t actually dial 911 to report a drive-by fruiting, but I was very close.

I tell that story to illustrate my point: Just because someone offers you something, you are not required to accept.

Ernie’s point that the world would be a better place if people just said ‘thank you’ is valid, but not all-encompassing. There are instances where saying ‘No, thank you’ is every bit as acceptable – and saying no doesn’t automatically increase the universe’s negativity quotient.

People who don’t respect other’s boundaries and refuse to take no for an answer cause more angst than those who politely say no in the first place.

Apple and U2 didn’t commit an unpardonable sin by uploading U2’s album to hundreds of millions of iTunes user accounts without asking permission. But it was unsolicited, and they (at least initially) didn’t give people the option to decline, which puts their action squarely in the rude category.

Maybe some people on Twitter made too big a deal out of it, but the fact is that they had music added to their account that they now had to take action to avoid hearing. Unsuspecting non-U2 fans who hit ‘shuffle’ on their playlists would now have to skip to the next song whenever U2 popped up, which means that ‘their’ playlist would now be a little less their own. Maybe that’s what we get when we agree to living with most of our media floating around in somebody else’s cloud somewhere, but personally, I’d still prefer to choose what I consume.

Now, maybe if Apple had included a fruit basket…

Nah. The answer’s still the same.

No, thank you.