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Previously in Web Citations:

99.04.01
Wheeling and Dealing

It all comes down to this: Would you buy a used (or new) car from these Web sites?

99.03.17
Lifetime Achievement

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was a filmmaker who kept his distance from Hollywood. His vision appears ever more original -- and lonely.

99.03.04
Modem Bride

Wedding planning made so easy even your mother can handle it.

99.02.25
Be Fruitful and Multiply

When it comes to modern reproductive technology, many are turning to the Web for a helping hand.

99.02.17
Democratic Vistas

"I sing the body electric," Walt Whitman wrote. Little did he know what he was prophesying.

99.02.03
Something for Everyone

As more and more live video comes to the Web, there's always something on -- but is there anything to watch?

99.01.27
The Law and Spirit of the Letter

The digital age may (or may not) spell the death of print, but it has breathed new life into the art of type.

99.01.20
Be-In Digital

In some quarters, the spirit of Haight-Ashbury is still kicking. Should we care?

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.





Someone Who Cares Wants You to Know
April 8, 1999

"The surest way to lose your position," Emily Post once cautioned workers,
is persistently to announce your presence to others by any of the odors of the careless -- whether from eating garlic and onions daily, or neglecting frequent bathing, or because of digestive or chemical defects.... This is written in all seriousness: If you ever have the slightest impression that others withdraw at your approach, ask someone -- or more than one -- for the truth.
Gentlehints.com Yet to provide truth of such a socially sensitive nature can be daunting. (Even Post recognized that "it's often more than hard to be tactful and truthful at the same time.") For this reason, Anne Ford, an investment banker in Los Angeles, and two longtime friends -- a high school teacher and a registered nurse -- recently launched gentlehints.com. "We all know someone who offends in some way but we're not always able to find the right words to bring the problem to their attention," the site explains. "gentlehints.com stands ready to apprise these individuals."

To the ever-expanding range of products available online, then, add anonymous letters notifying, say, a friend of his body odor, a co-worker of her halitosis, an uncle of his unsightly nose hair, or an aunt of her open-mouthed food-chewing tendencies. Upon request, gentlehints.com will send tactfully worded notes (each beginning, "Someone who cares wants you to know") via first-class mail, along with a suggestive palliative -- a stick of Dry Idea, a bottle of Scope, a battery-powered ear- and nose-hair trimmer, or the Tiffany's instruction manual on table manners, to name a few. Prices range between $12 and $16. Ford reports that gentlehints.com is now filling 500 orders a week from customers in the United States, and orders from abroad are on the rise.

The site is simple and straightforward. Is your sister's boyfriend a little heavy-handed with his cologne? Or have you noticed that your boss seldom bothers to wash his hands after using the bathroom? Hints are available at a click for these situations -- and for the friend, colleague, or relative who talks too much, or whose dandruff has others talking too much. The menu currently offers thirteen hints in all -- though special requests for others addressing situations that are not represented on the menu are welcomed and valued, Ford says. Owing to such requests, the menu will soon, by popular demand, include five new hints, all of which will address common conflicts among neighbors. Does the guy next door refuse to mow his lawn or quiet his barking dog? Or has that new couple in the apartment upstairs turned out to be a little loud in their late-night lovemaking? Ford and her partners are at work finding the right ways to bring such problems delicately to light.

May I Suggest.com Given the rising tide of e-commerce, it is not surprising that gentlehints.com already faces some competition. A slightly newer site with the same aim (and remarkably similar presentation) is mayIsuggest.com, the creation of the Thoughtful Solutions Company, a two-man outfit based in Boston. "There are some things in life that no one likes to discuss," the site declares. "Let us help you help someone you care about." As with gentlehints.com, the help comes in the form of anonymous notification, and again each letter includes an item to aid the addressee. The suggestion menu at present is slightly longer than that at gentlehints.com -- including, for example, words to enlighten the inconsiderate smoker -- and the prices are lower, generally around $7.50. The class of some of the gifts, however, appears to be lower as well: for the nasally hirsute, for example, mayIsuggest.com forgoes the battery-powered trimmer for a pair of tweezers.

Rudeboss.com The fellows at the Thoughtful Solutions Company have taken the idea of anonymous notification a bold step further at a companion site that doesn't bother with niceties. At rudeboss.com, frustrated underlings can order anonymous missives to be sent to bosses they perceive as any of the following: lazy, cheap, sexist, abusive, thankless, egomaniacal, or utterly lacking in a sense of humor. "Let rudeboss.com tell your boss exactly how you feel," the site urges. Again, part of every dispatch is an item to drive the point home. Egomaniacal bosses, for example, receive a mirror, accompanied by the following message: "People around you think that you should take an honest look in the mirror, and stop acting like you're god's gift to mankind."

Anne Ford has been running gentlehints.com for long enough now to have gathered some preliminary sociological data. The least popular of the offerings on her site are the notes concerning dandruff and greasy hair -- a reflection, Ford surmises, of the miles of aisles of hair-care products available in this country. By far the most popular note addresses, yes, flatulence. ("Orders were off the charts the week following Super Bowl Sunday," Ford reports. The hint arrives enclosed with a package of Gas-X.) Holding steady at numbers two and three, respectively, are the hints for halitosis and body odor. All of this plainly suggests that smells are the source of the most social discomfort -- which is something Emily Post knew all along.

--Allan Reeder


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More on Technology and Digital Culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Allan Reeder is a staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly.

Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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