Driving down the road one day, I was thinking of things to use in a story when a billboard caught my attention. It had nothing of real use to me, but now my thoughts were on what kind of events radio stations put on and who goes there and why. My mind had gone completely off track from what I’d been thinking about.
Make no mistake. Thinking is work. We input information, we process is, and we output it. It burns up calories and it can make us tired. When we must take information we’ve received and decide what to do with it, we’ve used up a little brain power. Too much of this, and we’ll get tired doing it.
And that’s what advertisers are counting on. After a certain number of viewings, we may choose not to reject it. But no matter what, we are having a choice put upon us that we don’t necessarily want. We never wanted those chicken nuggets, but we’re seeing it every day on a billboard. And every day our brain is trying to prioritize the info: is it trash, or something of use? If something of use, then what do we do with it? Click click, whir whir. You can think of every bit of information we take in as a load that our brain must bear.
But that’s not the worst. Advertisers are using other methods to gain our attention. They use social convention, which is even harder work to overcome. It stresses us out, or gets us excited – when there is no real social gain to be had except a business transaction.
Unfettered advertising is information pollution. While we may need some, I don’t think this widespread distribution is very healthy for us. With the increase in stress and mental exhaustion, we’re less likely to retain information we want, less likely to make rational decisions about things not even being advertised for, and our self control goes down.
We are what we eat, goes the saying. But it’s bigger than that. We are what we input. We seek out much of the input, but much of it is put upon us.
Advertising, the output of information in order to gain a profit, tries to change us. It uses sense of wonder, story, questionable statistics, social pressure, manufactured scarcity or difficulty, and sex to sell things to us – and to our government.
It is true we are responsible for the decisions we make. But in many cases, individuals aren’t even taught the critical thinking skills and the awareness of manipulation that we need to decide against information which is trying to get us to make a choice which will harm us while giving a profit to some company. Then this adds up into many individuals making poor choices, which in turn becomes peer pressure, which in turn influences an entire culture. Once corporations get the government on their side, this effect is greatly increased – even if we see no direct advertising. How many of us are taking in food, supplements, or medicine that we trust because the government has labelled it as okay? We are counting on them to make certain decisions as a single entity, so that millions of us don’t have to do the work over and over again. It’s efficient, but dangerous when hijacked by profiteering or power hungry organizations.
Do we need to know information about things we may want to purchase? Yes. And there may be some things very useful to use which we don’t know about. Advertising is necessary not only for sellers, but for buyers. But I question the methods and ask, do we really need to buy the fatty hamburger being held by the supermodel?