Coercion: Why We Listen to what "They" Say
by Douglas Rushkoff
Rushkoff spells out a number of disturbing ways in which people are manipulated. He points out the psychological techniques used by salesmen. He describes the ways that shopping malls program the atmosphere to get you to buy. He describes how stadium events are used to activate mobs. He discusses spin doctors, advertisers, and commercial cults such as Amway. He discusses the consumer profiling on the Net.
An example of the type of detail he provides is on p. 96:
"Grocery shoppers respond best to Muzak that has a slower tempo, making a whopping 38 percent more purchases when it is employed. Fast-food restaurants use Muzak that has a higher number of beats per minute to increase the rate at which patrons chew their food."
The book is not without its flaws. For example, on p. 208 you find this sentence:
"By adopting the postlinguistic currency of an iconic culture, marketers can reposition themselves and their brands in a manner consistent with the operating system of today's point-and-click marketplace."
Maybe I'm too old to appreciate "post linguistic," but to me this is just babble. I wish that a Neil Postman or a Wendy Kaminer would knock some of this nonsense out of him.
Rushkoff's disrespect for language can be found in the book's title. The dictionary definition of "coercion" is restraint by force or governmental power. He is talking about something that falls short of that. Most of the time, what he means by "coercion" is what I would think of as "manipulation."
This is not an insignificant issue of terminology. By calling so many things "coercion," Rushkoff overdoes it. I mean, while I find it very interesting and provocative that Rushkoff draws an analogy between the cult-style brainwashing of multilevel marketers and the fanatacism of Apple Computer owners, I was not persuaded to equate the two.
Although the flaws in this book should not be overlooked, they ought to be forgiven. He gives us a great deal to think about.