PM Pick

Manufacturing neuroticism

I am on the record as being against customer service. It seems to me a trick to get us overinvested in shopping as a place where we can exercise our will to power. So when Yves Smith asks, in this post about a few ideas for new consumer-service businesses, "Do we want to foster customer neurosis?" I believe the answer is yes. Of course we do. Retailing is essentially the art of making insignificant choices seem paramount, and getting people hooked on the "thrill" of making such discriminations. Total neuroticism is the art practiced at its highest form and is a state of mind marketing in general is always preparing us for, stoking our fantasies of omnipotence and our insecurities about not belonging to group of preferred customers or whatever. (That is part of the logic behind retailers' loyalty programs -- those stupid cards you have to flash to get the sale price on items, like you are part of some elite cadre of special shoppers. Though the main reason for them, I always thought, was to track what you purchased and use that to compile demographic data to sell to manufacturers and advertisers.)

Perplexed by services for helping customers get the best rooms or seats within a hotel or particular flight, Smith asks "Is this much information really empowering, or does having such fine grading merely make some people unhappy when they don't get what their little website says is the best?" It certainly supplies the illusion of power and an opportunity to discriminate. I think it allows for the pleasure of making petty judgments, becoming ersatz insiders, and scoring insignificant victories over peer shoppers on a scoreboard that the insecurity mongers conjure out of thin air. Basically, when we as customers become fussy children, the retailers become our parental authority figures, granting or withholding the love we crave, even as we foolishly believe we are in control because we are being fussed over.

In a consumer society, shopping isn't about satisfying some set of wants extrinsic to the market arena -- it is about entering the arena and having our wants stoked and then satisfied, with our competitive juices stoked and our fantasizing mind fully engaged. Shopping is itself an experiential good; anything we take happen to take home from us is often just a souvenir.

Like Vaughn at Mind Hacks, I'm generally skeptical of neuroscientific research of the brain-lights-up-therefore-it's-true variety, but for what it's worth, this WSJ piece today explains that shopping is like crack smoking:

Research shows that people often do get a high from shopping -- the brain releases chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin when a person is stimulated by discovering something new, such as a handbag. Sometimes, aspects of the shopping experience such as friendly sales clerks, eye-catching displays or aisles that are easy to navigate can trigger brain activity that brings about these "euphoric moments," says Dr. David Lewis, director of neuroscience at Mindlab International, a United Kingdom-based consultancy whose clients include athletes, retailers and advertising companies. "The brain is turned on by novelty."
The writer sums up that "For the consumer, such studies serve as an important reminder that these euphoric moments do exist but they aren't necessarily triggered by the desire to own a particular item." I'm starting to believe that we convince ourselves we want some specific thing as an alibi so that we can enjoy the shopping experience as a whole. Like when I would sit down for some "writing" because I knew that would lead to cigarette breaks.

To a larger and larger degree, the wants occur after we have already decided to go shopping; they are not the impetus. So we don't start by wishing we could be "getting a better room" but we enter the sphere of services and discover that we can and then want to. The key for marketers is to keep us in that sphere -- a mental space more than a physical space -- where we are searching for things to buy, with buying becoming how we remind ourselves of our being.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.