For me, the nicest thing about long weekends is I get to catch up on reading. I have stacks of books and magazines, plus articles I've saved that I want to share with others or write about in my blogs. With the holiday shopping season officially underway, this seemed like a good time to mention a couple of recent Wired Magazine pieces that pertain to quirks in human behavior -- quirks that retailers and online companies capitalize on.
The concept of "feedback loops" came to mind yesterday while I was shooting the introductions for the Career Changers TV episode that will start running on Dec. 1. We did the segment intros at the Strictly Christmas/Yarn & Needlecraft shop in Kailua, and I asked owner Sylvia Kruse how business had been. She said it's been great, the best it's ever been in spite of all the negatives you hear about how terrible things are. It's funny, but every time I go to Ala Moana or a shopping mall, it seems like they're all crowded and doing pretty well. Last week, I wanted to buy Bose noise-cancelling headphones for an upcoming trip, and I could not find a parking space at the Ward theater complex where the Bose store is located -- and this was in the middle of the day during the work week.
After I finally found a parking space in the adjoining shopping complex lot (which was also filled) I was chagrined to learn from the Bose staff that those $299 headphones never go on sale. Other headphones and products were being offered at 10 percent off though. The thing is I had been holding out for years even though every review I had read says Bose makes the best noise-cancelling headphones. Instead, I bought cheaper brands that were supposed to be pretty good... and they didn't last very long. Normally, my wife and I will put off buying certain products until they go on sale -- we can wait, is our mantra. In this case, Bose knows they have the highest-rated product, so they figure they can wait us out. Well, they won. I bit the bullet and bought the expensive headphones because there is nothing worse than being on a six-hour flight with wailing babies and loud seat neighbors.
Anyhow, getting back to the Wired articles: the one about feedback loops gave a great example of how drivers will slow down when they see those digital read-out signs on the side of the road that show your approaching speed. There's no camera, no cop standing next to it, and the information is actually redundant. Most of us glance at our speedometers and know how fast we're going -- which is generally a little over the speed limit. Yet when we see that read-out, we tend to slow down. Why? Researchers theorize that people are inclined to respond to positive feedback -- it's similar to the feeling of getting a "reward" when you play games. And that kind of subtle behavior modification is being used in everything from online sites such as Facebook to retailers like Amazon ("free" shipping if you spend a certain amount).
Getting back to Sylvia, she noted that the past couple of years have been tough largely because the media keeps telling us how awful the economy is. It becomes a self-fulfilling negative feedback loop. Consumers hear over and over that unemployment is up, so they cut back on spending, which causes businesses to go into cost-cutting mode -- starting with job cutting and freezing wages... which forces workers to further reduce spending, while creating anxiety and fear that things will get even worse. Meanwhile, look around at the shopping malls and in Waikiki. Sure, it is a very tough job market for many, many people. But is the media overstating the negative?
What's a little scary is how easily feedback loops -- even positive ones -- can be used to manipulate us into spending more time doing things that have questionable value for society. Look at Facebook and Twitter, or how there are new rating systems to measure your social networking reach. It's as if you don't have a certain quota of followers and people in your network, you are somehow deficient. But you can always make up for it by buying a lot of great gifts at specially-discounted prices!
Here's the link to the Wired articles:
How Online Companies Get you to Share More and Spend More
Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops
You can still catch the November episode of Career Changers TV until next Thursday. For daily viewing times and other links, please visit our website or check out videos from past shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and mahalo for watching!