Monday, October 3, 2011

What Is Love?

In his September 30th op-ed piece, "You Love Your I-Phone.  Literally," Martin Lindstrom notes that, in his work as a branding consultant, he has observed the extent to which the iPhone can light up your life--or your brain, at least.

Well, maybe.  Sort of.  (But actually, not really.)

According to Lindstrom, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that human brain activity is (allegedly) "uncannily similar" when viewing images of the Pope, a Harley, a rosary and an iPhone.

Although this is perhaps true for all of those motorcycle-riding, Apple-toting Catholics out there, various neuroscientists have expressed extreme skepticism at these findings.  In particular, they caution against associating any one particular region of the brain with any one particular emotion.

In fact, as David Dobbs points out in his (highly irreverent and therefore thoroughly enjoyable) Oct. 2nd blog post for Wired, "fMRI Shows My Bullshit Detector Going Ape Shit Over I-Phone Lust," although Lindstrom's post is strong on popular appeal, it's very weak on science--if you even want to call it science.

This is a position supported by quite a few other science bloggers, including The Neurocritic,Tal Yarkoni, and Russ Poldrack, all of whom clearly spent a portion of the weekend feeling thoroughly disgusted at Lindstrom's article and at The New York Times for publishing it.

Ironically, as they all point out, these feelings of disgust are also likely to light up the same area of the brain that Lindstrom associates with iPhone "love."

I'm reminded of a comment made by the writer and activist Elie Wiesel.  He once noted, in the entirely humanistic and overtly unscientific way that is his wont, that "The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference."

Still it is reassuring to know that I am probably right to open the op-ed page of The New York Times and find it highly suspicious that, four days before the scheduled release of iPhone 5, someone specializing in neuromarketing for Apple has (coincidentally, I'm sure) contributed an op-ed piece about how much we love the iPhone.

And that The New York Times is eager to publish it.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.

Good to know.

I mean, come on.  Why not just put a profile for the thing up on and be done with it?

Lindstrom concludes, of course, what all anti-techies out there will want to hear: that we should put the (new) iPhone down and go find the "real" thing.

This strikes me as ironic and entirely in keeping with a recent trend in advertising that I've been noticing lately: the anti-technology approach to selling technology to the thirty- and forty-somethings out there who remember the good old days before computers and corporations ruled the world.

I like to think of it as The Golden Age advertising strategy.  Remind everyone of the good old days when corn flakes were, you know, corn flakes.  (See, for example, "The Power of Nostalgia in Advertising," published in January of 2010 on, or Stuart Elliot's Nov. 7, 2010 article in The New York Times, "Mr. Peanut's New Look? Old School.")

Old is the new young.  Old is also the new new. 

So, a recent TV ad shows a daughter bewailing her parents' lame presence on Facebook while repeatedly cutting to their exciting experiences out in the "real" world.

They don't need a computer: they have a car.  And probably an iPhone, with which they may very well have a love-hate relationship.  (One not unlike their relationship with their co-dependent, twenty-something, house-bound daughter.)

Although my thoughts on this phenomenon are still rather vague and off-the-cuff, it seems to me that we are being played upon by an ongoing oscillation in a lot of the current advertising out there.  They entice us with technology and then remind us that we don't want to get so dependent on technology that we lose sight of what's important (cut to pictures of trees and babies and kittens and grandparents).

This strategy is then followed by reminders about how we can have even greater access to all of these important entities if we simply purchase the advertised technology.

From a marketing perspective, it's the best of both worlds. Soft- or mushy- or pseudo-science cloaks itself in touchy-feely humanism, while the hard sciences are dumbed down and transformed into advertising's window-dressing.

So who do you love, and how?  Let me count the ways.

Meanwhile, my iPad arrives on Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. I guess they figure that if half the world can be convinced that a rise in carbon and rise in temperature = global warming then they can be conned into anything as long as you call it science.

    Michio Kaku wrote a great piece in the WSJ last weekend (I think).

    "Has a Speeding Neutrino Really Overturned Einstein?"

    It basically says there is no such thing as settled science. Or at least there shouldn't be.

    Stay skeptical professor!


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