Consider the following scenarios:
- A blue whale swims through the Pacific ocean. When food is abundant it eats 8 tons of krill every day. There’s massive loss of life. Is the whale evil?
- A lion has just chased down and killed a small gazelle. Her newborn child is left to fend for itself. Is the lion evil?
- A carnivorous plant attracts a fly by exuding the scent of rotting meat. It’s a dirty trick and the fly dies. Is the plant evil?
Of course not. All of these organisms are hungry. If we saw any of these things on the nature channel we would accept them as an admittedly violent part of the natural cycle of life.
In the world of today’s economic and political systems, we are the krill, the gazelle, and the fly. Every waking moment, someone is trying to persuade us that it is good for us to do something that is good for them. They are our predators. The prey is our attention, our time, our money, our votes, and our minds.
“The Industry feeds off the human biomass of America. Like a whale straining krill from the sea.” – Neal Stephenson in “Snow Crash”
The task for any organism in a food chain is to focus on its own agenda enough of the time to survive, thrive and reproduce. In the case of humans, reproduction can be either genetic or cultural. Total immersion in a sea of persuasive messages that clamor for our attention steals valuable energy and focus away from those most essential tasks.
Yet it may surprise you to hear that I have no quarrel with advertisers, even sneaky ones. Sure they can be annoying, but I believe in most cases their actions are morally neutral. Just like the whale, the lion and the plant, they are not evil – they are hungry. In order for their business or memetic system to live another day they need to make a sale, and in order to make that sale they need to attract another customer.
I not only do not believe advertising is evil, there is a very good possibility that I will put ads on this blog at some point. The reason? I think communicating about this idea is the best way I can help other people right now, and I need to pay my mortgage. Will that steal a piece of your attention? Yes. Is it evil? You decide.
The problem I have with advertising is not the fact that it exists, but that it’s so distracting. The ratio of messages that benefit advertisers to the ratio that benefit us is wildly unfavorable to us. In fact, the ratio is not just unfavorable; it’s a shut-out.
Let’s say that in a given week you see or hear 1000 advertisements of some sort. In a typical week the number of those messages that advocate for someone else’s agenda would be probably be 1000, and the number that advocate for yours would be 0. That’s where I think the problem lies: those are terrible odds.
In the course of trying to stay focused on a goal you have set for yourself, you already have the considerable challenge of trying to balance it against the other necessities of life. At the same time you are juggling all that, you are reminded to eat pizza, buy a car, vote for someone, wear the right jeans, buy diamonds, refinance your house, and select the perfect gift for the holidays. It’s extremely difficult to also consistently remember what you want to be doing in that kind of environment.
We will never stop advertising. It is a fact of conducting commerce in a civilization. What Take Back Your Brain is about is improving the ratio a little bit in your favor. You will learn techniques to create ads that advocate for things YOU want, and use various forms of technology to deliver them to yourself a few times a day.
Going back to our original numbers, if you see 1000 ads in a week and the number that advocate for your agenda is 0, the ratio would be 1000 to 0. If you were able to add just one message every day about something important to you, the ratio would improve to 1000 to 7. That’s still not very good, but it’s better than nothing. In fact, my experience has shown that even that one ad is disproportionately powerful if it is about something I genuinely want.
But if you were able to put your ad in a place where you see it 15 times a day your ratio would be 1000 to 105, or a little better than 10 to 1. The mind that see those 105 ads is beginning to have some space for its own agenda. At that point you might notice some improvement on following through with things you want for yourself.
I just made up the number 1000. For most people the number of ads and branding messages you receive every week is actually much higher. The point is that by trying to insert messages about your own objectives into that message stream, you are becoming an active participant in the battle to influence your priorities. I have found it to be an amazingly effective method to help me achieve outcomes I want.