Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Destroying The Consumer Mind

I dropped into a Commonwealth Club lecture yesterday by consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.  She elaborated on points from her book Decoding the New Consumer Mind.  I don't know how much consumer psychology has changed since Edward Bernays figured out how to push people's buttons. One of Dr. Yarrow's main points was that humans haven't changed much since we stumbled out of jungles into settled civilizations, but our desire for the latest and greatest technology has led to big changes.  Those broad facts don't do justice to the ease with which humans can be manipulated into thinking something they merely want is really some "need" they can't live without.

Tricking humans is a skill as old as spoken language.  The erosion of written language, critical thinking, and common sense in the digital age makes manipulation easier.  I don't think I have to recap a century's worth of propaganda to tell my readers that simple messages are powerful.  Humans are still tribal and we look to our tribe's totems and shamans for validation of personal identity.  The so-called "civilized" people I see shopping at Union Square's high-end outlets would probably go into severe depression if they couldn't get that latest Gucci handbag.  I'm pretty sure San Francisco's cognoscenti experience withdrawal symptoms if they can't release their frustrations through conspicuous consumption.

The iPhone is a classic example of a luxury want that humans think is really an indispensable need.  My idiot co-workers lined up all night in 2007 to impoverish themselves by paying a premium for the first iPhone.  It's a phone with a computer processor, folks, but Steve Jobs convinced lame non-thinkers that they couldn't live without one.  The masses use their iPhones in the same banal ways they've always used innovation.  They just do the same things they've always done, like solve crossword puzzles and waste their friends' time with random chit-chat.  No one really needed a smartphone and hardly anyone used it to invent the longer lasting light bulb.  Everyone wanted one because one of our techno-tribe's chief shamans, the late great Mr. Jobs, turned it into a new cultural totem whose possession determined one's intrinsic human worth.  No one who bought an iPhone had to actually think about the choice they made.  Thinking is so unnecessary these days.

I would like to see a follow-up treatment of Dr. Yarrow's insights titled "Destroying the Consumer Mind" because that's what repetitive use of pre-rational stimuli does to human cognition.  It should be a quick read because it must ideally be a how-to manual on turning bland thoughts into action items for the masses.  I would write it myself but I'm quite busy destroying all of the dumb things I can find in modern culture.