Thu, Jan 17, 2013
They come from different worlds. Davecat is a gangly, quirky and shy introvert. Sheshawn is the brunette bombshell with the softest, deepest brown eyes. Staring into them fosters the calm inner tranquil of a warm caribbean sunset. Were she seated next to a baby, you’d likely punch the baby and focus your attention instead, on her eyes. When she’s in a room everyone stares, even the brunette bombshells.
Davecat and Sheshawn have nothing in common.
Not in a million years would the odds predict any chance of them being together. But not in this story.
You know the rest. Boy speaks to girl; girl is unresponsive and uninterested; boy tutors girl in math (boy is Asian); finally a spark. She sees something in him; they spend time together; they enjoy each other… before you know it, they’re a couple!
Then heartbreak strikes. They’re torn apart. Each spending their days without the other. They’re miserable. Time passes. Later, faith in its infinite wisdom brings them back together – they live happily ever after.
You know the plot. You’ve seen this story a hundred times in a hundred movies. But you fall for it every time! The story I’m about to tell… show you rather, shares the same plot. This time, it’s the real life version.
It’s between a shy, dorky introvert and a stunning brunette. Sex doll.
I’ve often sat in wonderment watching people with their iPhones. Always fiddling, always listening for that ding, always next to or in-hand. But this phenomenon is not limited to cell phones and sex dolls. It’s the same with any little girl and her favorite teddy bear, with you and that old t-shirt in the drawer and with my buddy Brad who travels with a hundred year old (looking and smelling) blanky.
As humans, we crave attention. We have an innate desire to form bonds. Develop connections. We’re so eager to do so, we imbue inanimate objects with feelings and personalities.
In the 1950’s, American Psychologist Harry Harlow carried out a series of (what today might be seen as pretty cruel) experiments using monkeys, to better understand the effects of social isolation.
Adapted from Jonah Lehrer’s, How We Decide:
Newborn monkeys were taken away from their birth mothers and placed in cages with pretend mothers. One mother was made of wire mesh and the other, terry cloth. To make it more interesting, milk bottles were placed in the hands of the wire mothers.
His question – what was more important, food or affection?
In the end, it wasn’t even close. No matter which ‘mother’ held the milk, the babies always preferred the cloth mothers. They would quickly eat then run back to their cloth mothers. By six months, they were spending up to eighteen hours a day with their cloth mothers.
Even more than food, these baby monkeys craved the attachment, the soft (literally), comforting feeling of ‘affection’.
The further experiments and findings get a bit dark:
Pushing the limits, one group was placed alone in a cage – with nothing. Not even a wire mother. The outcome. Exceedingly sad. The isolated babies were completely unable to express emotion. They became vicious. Ripping their hair out. Harming other monkeys and even their own children.
The isolation. The lack of even a bit of wire mesh to form a bond with had devastating effects.
In one of my favorite posts on his blog Nir and Far — which I find myself frequenting more than I did torrid triple-x sites at 15 years old seeking wanking material — Nir Eyal explores the world of habits and the role they play in our addiction to things like facebook and instagram. Apps and services like these form habits. And like any good habit, is built on repetition and frequency — you turning on the TV first thing in the morning, posting to instagram your stupid picture of a tree stump, wanking, for my adolescent readers – (there is a lot of masturbation references in this paragraph isn’t there? Just thinking of our young people folks); or posting your take on the weather on facebook that we really don’t give a shit about.
How many times have you logged into facebook today to see the exact same posts you did when you last logged in? Driven by internal triggers stored in your basal ganglia (a brain area associated with actions that require little or no cognition), you have no idea why you did. But this habit must be fed. And given your active, socialite status and matching lifestyle, you require constant contact on-the-go.
Enter our friends, iPhone and Android. Not you Blackberry. You Go. You suck.
As perverse as we may perceive it, Davecat’s relationship with super hot Sheshawn, (you know the one, whose relationship with him was initially based on, “sex, sex, sex” but that is, well, not alive). Which by the way makes noteworthy, blondes clearly don’t have ALL the fun.
Sheshawn really is just a medium for emotional satiety. Providing the attachment that we saw in the aforementioned experiment, biologically crucial for us, near primatic beings.
In a sense, she is to him what (in this example) Brad’s nasty parchment of overworn cotton fibers barely clinging together — much like the muscles and tendons on James Franco’s arm in that movie 127 Hours — is to him and what your Android/iPhone is to you.
Your instantaneous connection to the addictive neurochemical dance in your brain that begins when the music of your phone’s alert informs that – Mike likes your Chipotle lunch photo and remarked “ooooh lucky!”. “No! No Mike! It’s a fucking burrito! One of maybe a million sold each day in America. There is nothing remotely lucky about those odds! The only luck anyone is experiencing here is you Mike. You for still having friends, though you make inane comments like exclamations of luck for possessing an object that requires only $7.50 and zero luck!” — is what I would reply to Mike, had you friended me. Please friend me.
That validation via facebook is the drug responsible for those pleasure chemical surges in your brain, the app is the syringe, and the iPhone is the dealer that facilitates your habit. A near perfect symbiosis.
These unconscious habits drive a lion share of your daily rituals and behaviors. In his book “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business“, Charles Duhigg, write’s about how companies like Apple, and Target understand this and even help you to form new habits.
In Davecat’s case, Sheshawn became his habit. Though we judge this ‘relationship’ at the surface level, it’s actually governed by very powerful nonconscious impulses. For you and me, one of those things might be facebook, masturbation and the cell phone. One of its most powerful features, is its ability to be almost transparent. Just sitting there innocently with that “who me?” look on its screen, yet critical in your daily life, as a medium for your habit satiety without you even knowing it.
Thinking about how to improve your product? Help your customer develop a healthy new habit or facilitate the satisfaction of an existing one? Well, one way might be to start hanging out with a drug dealer, observe carefully his habit formulating tactics, then thank them for the lesson.
This article was written by Marc Narine.
Marc works with companies to elevate marketing performance and profitability by going beyond the feature/benefit approach to instead assessing the consumer’s emotional and cultural imprints and subconscious attachments to a product. He is the primary author at 3BrainMarketing.