The Pre-Registration Farce

Of the many ridiculous marketing schemes foisted upon us, the concept of “pre-registration” has to be among the most redundant. This occurred to me after I received a weekly notification from my county reminding me that I am, in fact, pre-registered for my COVID vaccine, and that I would be notified with instructions once registration opens.

The county is sending out these weekly reminders because they are being flooded by questions from people asking if they are, in fact, pre-registered for the vaccine. But it got me thinking what it means to be pre-registered. You can often pre-register for conferences at “early-bird” specials. Aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a different in the over all process. The beauty of the marketing hides the plain truth: you registered. You have completed the first step of the process, and you will be notified when it okay to complete the second-step.

That is the crux of it: pre-registration makes it sound like you are doing something before the actual thing you are doing. But really, pre-registration is just the first step in the registration process. I convinced myself of this by drawing it out on a timeline:

Clearly, the first step in the process is not registering for the vaccine. The first step is pre-registering. But if you take those first two steps as a whole, you don’t register first, then pre-register. Those two steps could be simply called “registration” with, perhaps small-print indicating that registration will be a two-step process.

I suppose someone might argue that pre-registration guages demand, but isn’t the assumption, given that everyone has been cooped up for a year, that the demand will be high? It seems, therefore, that the real value of the pre-registration step is make-work: it’s there to make people feel like they are moving through the process. I’ve gotten a start. I’ve taken that first step. I’ve pre-registered. Of course, we could have skipped the whole pre-registration farce, and registered with equal satisfaction that I am on way.

We seem to like our pre’s. We have pre-boarding getting on the airplane. This verges on oxymoron. How can you board before you board? And yet, that is what happens for some folks: those with lots of frequent flier miles, active military members, parents traveling with small children, and those who need extra time making their way to the airplane. All of them get pre-board. They board before they board.

Sometimes, there is the opportunity to get a sneak preview of something. We get to see it before everyone else. Software companies are notorious for their pre-releases. In the book world, things are more forthright: “preview” copies of a book are called “advanced review copies”, or ARCs for short. No pre- in the publishing world.

You know that something is ridiculous and meaningless when the efficiency of the business world excludes it. I don’t find myself attending “pre-meetings” or doing any “pre-code reviews.” If someone says, “Why don’t you pre-print these slides for the meeting,” it’s time to have a serious conversation with that person.

Call it what you will, I am at present (pre-) registered for a COVID vaccine in my county. I guess I should be thankful for that.

And in complete fairness, and the spirit of full-disclosure (I almost wrote pre-disclosure) I should mention for the record that I pre-published (read: scheduled) this post last night right after pre-writing (read: drafting) it and right before the pre-reading (magazine article) I planned to do before I the real reading (Paul Theroux book) commenced.


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