Tag Archives: Opinions

This program is brought to you by mind control

Let’s take a moment to think about what an advertisement is. The goal of an advertisement is to encourage consumers to behave in a certain way, predominantly to encourage purchase of a particular product or service. Decades ago, they did this by appealing to a logical customer acting in his or her own narrow self interest. Commercials focused on the new features of each product and how it would make life easier.

Does that commercial look strange to you? Slow and needlessly technical? Well, chances are good that you are more used to commercials like this:

Or this:

First, they’re more engaging. You probably didn’t make it through the first commercial, but did the second two tell you anything about the product? Anything at all? Excepting the unlikely scenario that you didn’t know that Kia was a company that made cars or that Coca-Cola was a product that you could drink, these commercials are devoid of information that would interest homo-economicus. Well, I suppose she’d learn that Coca-Cola contains added flavors and no fruit, but that’s hardly likely to encourage her to make the purchase.

These commercials appeal to parts of our brains outside our rational decision-making. That is, they want to circumvent the parts of our brains responsible for what most of us would think of as free will. What’s that called? Is it a free exchange of ideas? Or is it  something else?

If you were offered the opportunity to see an episode of your favorite show in exchange for seven shots of a laser that beams associations such as “COCA-COLA :: FRIENDSHIP” and “COCA-COLA :: HAPPY LIFE” into your head, would you take it?

What if the laser was the entertainment? What if it told you “PHYSICAL THREATS :: EVERYWHERE,” and gave you a little chill of excitement to enliven a dull evening? Do you think it would be wise to take that laser? It’s free.

How about a laser that repeats opinions to you you already hold? You feel good for the validation, but there are other people whose lasers artificially validate their own opposing opinions. Good luck with the free exchange of ideas when mind lasers are making everyone utterly confident that their own opinion merits no examination.

What does it mean for democracy that so much money and talent is invested in controlling the minds of purchasing and voting Americans? Even if you personally avoid commercials and apply careful criticism to the other media you consume, what can you do about people who don’t? Buy your own mind laser and try to shoot them until they are ready to see reason? How has that worked for you in the past?

In a nation founded on trust in the individual’s ability to make the best rational decisions for himself and for the collective, the fact that private industry founds its strategies on the absence or weakness of public rationality should be deeply concerning.


Junk Redistribution Systems

Christmas is a time where we all come together with our friends and loved ones to share each other’s company, remind ourselves what’s important in life, and distribute junk. Distribution of junk is part and parcel with Christmas. In it is bound up the joy of sharing and the familial desire to show one’s love by providing for one’s loved ones. The junk itself is commonly understood to be less important than the act of distribution itself. As they say, ’tis better to distribute junk than to have junk distributed to one’s self.

The conventional method for distribution of junk is to purchase it from an organization that manufactures junk and then give it to a friend or loved one as a surprise. This method forms such an important part of Christmas that in the United States alone there are hundreds of organizations dedicated to it. Junk distribution is so important to these companies that some of them even run a loss for most of the year only to make it all up at Christmas.

Is this the best way of distributing junk? Certainly the element of surprise is valuable, as is the joy of receiving just the right junk for you. To know someone has thought carefully enough about you to give you the perfect gift can be a wonderful feeling. There’s nothing so terrible about a mismatched gift, either, so overall it’s great, right? Just the act of opening a present can be fun, even if it turns out just to be junk.

After Christmas, however, the warm glow wears off, and what happens to distributed junk? What percentage of the junk you receive would you say are such good matches that you cherish them for the rest of your life? Let’s make a generous estimate and say that 75% of gifts are pleasant to receive in the first place, and that 10% of gifts you receive remain always valuable to you, will never become junk.

So there are two questions, really. Is there a better way to give gifts to increase the percentage of gifts that get matched to an ideal recipient, and what should we do with leftover gifts, gifts that are no longer of value, or never were of value, to their recipients? The simplest solution is to lift the ban on re-gifting, or as I would like to rename it, junk redistribution. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and if we can get the excitement of distributing junk using junk that’s already been distributed, well, that’s only a win, isn’t it?

So, to review, we’ve introduced the concept of junk distribution, an umbrella concept referring to all forms of giving and receiving items of varying worth among friends and family. The most common form of junk distribution is found at Christmas, where each member of a group gives his or her hard-earned money to finance the fashioning of raw materials into junk and then gives the resulting junk to other members of the group. Because of strict rules on the repurposing of gifted junk, much of the distributed junk ends up after some amount of time surreptitiously placed in garbage bins, and the next year the cycle continues.

Now I will present some alternatives methods of junk distribution. The first is already rather well-known – the white elephant gift exchange, henceforth known as a white elephant. In white elephant, one wraps one’s pre-existing junk in wrapping paper and places it in a pile in the center of the room. Each person who brings a present selects a different one at random from the center pile or steals one from a gift that has already been unwrapped. In this way, we can combine the mystery and surprise of secret gifts with a certain amount of self-selection that improves the matching of gifts to people. Wrapping it all in a silly game allows people to let go of the expectation of fancy presents, so there’s no concern with reusing old gifts laying around the house.

The next alternative is one of my own invention: the community stocking. The community stocking is even simpler than white elephant, and is aimed mainly at satisfying children with the forgotten junk of other children. It is inspired by another American tradition: Halloween candy. I used to think I would never miss Halloween candy because as an adult, I can buy whatever candy I want. However, as I learned when my co-worker dropped off the extra candy from his children’s last halloween plunder, no experience compares with rummaging through all the bit-o-honeys and smarties to find the one hidden box of nerds. The community stocking presents the opportunity to experience the joy of rummaging during Christmas as well as Halloween, and it’s dirt cheap and dead easy.  Take a bag and let everyone place whatever child-appropriate junk they have in it. Then children may line up and each select something from the bag. If the bag is full of things no one wants, that makes it all the more exciting for each person to find that one perfect gift for him or her hidden among all the useless junk.

My extended family doesn’t give gifts to adults anymore. With white elephant and the community stocking we can distribute junk and spread Christmas cheer with a fraction of the waste, and let everyone, even those without disposable income, join in on the fun.

Cover image credit: catpix.com