Protect Your Mind: Be Careful of Advertising and “News”

Emotional manipulation is the modus operandi of today’s media. Buying decisions are often emotional decisions, so advertising campaigns intentionally appeal to emotion probably more often than they appeal to reason. When you watch TV, go to the movies, or browse your favorite websites, you are basically paying, through cable/internet packages or movie tickets, to be manipulated by the companies who create the content you are experiencing.

 

In some cases this manipulation is not harmful. For example, we can tell by previews when a new movie is out that we know will be a moving human-interest story. Movies like that can help us regain perspective on life and get in touch with emotions we may have become dull to.

 

However, most movies aren’t like this. They thrive on either raising adrenaline or appealing to our baser selves, the part of us that wants to do life our way instead of God’s way, through all manner of lewdness, degeneracy, and violence. As movie genres have developed, we can tell by the preview what kind of movie the newest flick will be, whether action, comedy, sci-fi, horror, drama, or a family movie, and we choose to go see it based on whichever appeal(s) we decide to respond to.

 

But to me, even most movies are less harmful than modern advertising, which is far more manipulative. A movie preview can get us to spend $10-15, not counting a $6 box of candy, plus, the investment is up front, assuming it’s not a movie known to have a sequel in the works. Video games are the same way. You watch a trailer on YouTube or see a commercial, and you decide before using the product whether or not you’ll spend the money. But with TV and internet ads, it’s both a front-end and back-end investment. For example, there are no commercials during a movie. You’ve already spent the money, and now you just get to enjoy the product without the need for further appeals, assuming it won’t have a sequel. But with TV, not only do we have to pay up front, we are paying to watch ads we don’t want to watch while using the product. Facebook is free because there are ads. TV has ads, yet it’s not free. And the ads on TV are, I would argue, much more potent than online ads because they promote big-ticket items more often. TV commercials are designed to motivate us to spend thousands of dollars on big-ticket purchases we don’t really need and may not be able to afford without going into debt. That debt then hangs over us like a cloud, affecting our mood and stress level for the worse. Sometimes we’re so stressed out by finances that we just plop down and…watch TV. The cycle begins anew, and we pay money to even be in this cycle, via our cable subscription.

 

I’m not saying don’t have TV. I’m saying we need to be more self-aware regarding advertising. Like I said, ads are specifically designed to manipulate you—especially your emotions. Yes, I’m a capitalist, and yes, sometimes ads alert you to a product that will actually enhance your life for a reasonable cost. But most ads on TV don’t do that, or you would buy everything you see on TV. There are plenty of things you would have never bought if you didn’t know about, and your life would have probably been just fine, with around the same happiness level as after you bought the item. Heck, you might actually have been happier because you had fewer possessions to manage…less “clutter” and certainly less debt. In the marketing world, the term demand generation or demand gen is used for certain types of advertising. To me, that phrase in itself is very revealing. Marketers know they have to create demand that didn’t previously exist, meaning they have to convince you that your life isn’t good enough they way it is—you need their product. This is obviously a form of manipulation.

 

If a product was really that great, why would they need to use emotional appeals to get you to buy it? Manipulating someone else’s emotions is not a good way to treat another human being. Also, it’s become acutely evident to me that most TV shows (as in, series) are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, by which I mean people who seek escapism and don’t want to entertain much of an inner thought life. Sure, the producers of these shows are answering a consumer demand (one they probably “generated”). But by doing so, they exacerbate the problem because the human brain always seeks the easiest route. This is part of how addiction develops—the more an action is repeated, the more defined specific neural pathways become and the more your brain wants to travel them. Useless, degenerate programming on TV, Netflix, Prime, YouTube, or anywhere else capitalizes on this constantly and has seemingly no qualms about it. I never even heard the term “binge-watching” until about six years ago. Was this really something our society needed, on top of all our other dysfunction?

 

Also, there’s the news. Setting aside the “fake news” meme, much of what is reported on the news is done to drive ratings. News stations trade on heart-wrenching emotional stories on one end of the spectrum, and gruesome, heinous crimes and terrorism on the other. The former is relatively benign, as long as you’re OK being manipulated into sticking around to watch a few more commercials, but the latter is really an issue. The net effect of all these crime and death and destruction stories is simply an increase in paranoia among the population. News broadcasters don’t care about this. They want to drive ratings, and they know people tune in to what is shocking (see previous paragraph). When we see a gruesome news story about what some serial killer did, don’t we think to ourselves upon noticing the slightest deviation in our neighbor’s normal behavior, “they could be a serial killer“? In reality, such incidents are extremely rare and a lot of extra stress is spent on precautions, like not being able to trust anyone, that ended up being unnecessary. Many other countries do not have this problem, and America’s media is somewhat unique in its level of devoting so much coverage to such harrowing news stories. Overall, this is one of the problems associated with having a for-profit news industry. I don’t know what the answer is (it’s certainly not state control of media), but my advice would be, unless it’s a news story about a heinous crime in your own city or region, it’s probably not worth watching because you’ll just freak yourself out, and something that had nothing to do with you will have a sizable negative mental and emotional impact on you.

 

In summary, my suggestion to the reader is to be way, way more thoughtful about what you put into the complex computer known as your brain. Instead of being manipulated and taken advantage of by opportunistic media companies and purveyors of expensive, unnecessary, and debt-ridden purchases, which you pay to see the ads for, take a step back and evaluate your media intake. Even movies should be considered from the perspective of desensitization, in light of the neural pathway phenomenon in the brain. Movies have gotten more coarse, violent, and gruesome over the years because last year’s content no longer shocks the audience enough to create a thrill (adrenaline rush). “The envelope” must be continually pushed to maintain the same shocking effect. The question is, where does it stop? How far will we go in search of entertainment? Ask yourself how and why you are allowing yourself to be manipulated, and if there is something more healthy and constructive you could be doing with your leisure time—and even more relaxing, because as someone pointed out, no one really feels relaxed after watching seven shows in a row on Netflix.

 

Don’t be a cog in these media master manipulators’ machine.

Why Are We In So Much Debt?

In modern society, there is pressure from all sides to achieve a certain standard of material possessions. The big house, the nice car, the exotic vacations, living in the best school district or sending your kids to private school, and so on. These are not bad things themselves, they simply exist, but have you ever noticed how the pressure to acquire these things, usually involving going into debt, seems to come from every direction? The demand is created by advertising, and then, oh look, you receive a credit card offer by mail or your bank offers you a loan when you log in to your bank website. There are so many ways in which society pressures us to use debt to acquire items that project status. In fact, as people wear and drive around and talk about their status symbols, it becomes a way that companies advertise to us without even having to spend money.

 

I bring this up because we as a individuals and as a society need to question the factors working in harmony to harvest consumer debt from us. Too few people question the paradigm of going into debt to buy a car, then going into debt to go to college, and then going into debt to buy a house, to say nothing of other consumer debt. We subconsciously treat these forms of debt as “start-up costs” required to live a typical life. If I was a bank, university, car dealership, or credit card company, that’s exactly how I’d want society to think.

 

Before credit cards, people couldn’t go into debt to buy most things. I’m sure mortgages and car loans existed, as well as business debt, but how much consumer debt was there? Once credit cards were widely available, it became an arms race of who could acquire the most the fastest. From what I’ve read, many high-salary families are also highly leveraged, which means it’s not even a matter of how much money you actually make. The rich are still borrowing above their income.

 

One of the biggest problems caused by debt is that our debt hangs over us like a cloud, restricting our possibilities in life. It adds stress to what would otherwise be a less stressful life. Our debt keeps us up at night, as we lay there wondering where we’re going to find the money to pay it off. “Should I take a second job?” we ask ourselves. Those with family commitments know the answer is usually no. They more debt we accumulate, the harder and longer hours we have to work to stay ahead of our bills. We then work so hard that we need that vacation or new toy or hobby for stress relief, so we buy it on credit, bringing more debt, and the cycle continues. If we hadn’t gone into debt in the first place, there would be no stress to relieve. The question is, how do you create a life that is not stressful enough to have to use debt to escape?

 

If you add up all your debt (we’ll say sans mortgage) and divide it by your annual salary, you would get how many years you have to work to pay it off if that’s all you did with your income. For me, it comes out to 0.55 years, which is over six months of not buying food or any other living expenses at all, just paying off debt. It’s May right now, so that means it would be November before I could buy food again. Obviously this is an extreme example, but this exercise shows you that really, debt is a form of slavery. So much of the work you are doing right now, whatever the percentage is, is purely for the purpose of paying off debt. If we knew how long and hard we would have to work to have the money to buy something beforehand, the odds that we would buy it are a lot lower. If we knew that we could be exempted from the weeks, months, or years of work needed just to pay for something we would otherwise buy with debt, we probably wouldn’t buy it and thereby avoid all that extra toiling. But currently, we buy it and add on all those weeks, months or years without thinking about it!

 

According to USdebtclock.org, on this day in 1980, American credit card debt was about $123B. Our workforce numbered 90,681,763 people, which comes to $1,356 per worker. Meanwhile, today American credit card debt is just over $1 trillion and our workforce numbers 155,219,138 people, which comes out to about $6,590 per worker. Our population grew by 71%, but our average credit card debt per worker has grown by 386%! Clearly, our spending patterns have changed. I know health care has gotten more expensive, but I don’t think that fully explains the increase. That leaves discretionary debt—buying stuff just because we can.

 

I see a relationship between meteoric US economic growth over the past several decades (compared to 1950s and 60s levels) and the increasing levels of private debt (to say nothing of public debt). To me, it’s as if an larger and larger percentage of our economy is based on debt, but the problem is the debt must eventually be paid—it’s impossible for debt to continue on forever. That’s sort of like a fake economy, if you think about it. Accumulating large-scale debt without ever having to reconcile has never worked before in history, so there is no reason to assume it will work this time.

 

Pay off your debt and don’t take on new debt unless you are very confident it is financially worth it (for example, a student loan for a lucrative major or other schooling). Don’t be a cog in the debt machine.