Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can we beat the (somewhat sleazy) language of sales?

I am feeling smacked around by sales language today.

It seems that from when I was a boy reading X-Men and New Mutants comics (the latter an underappreciated gem about adolescents who feel like misfits) and saw Charles Atlas's "dynamic tension" ads and wished I was bigger and stronger, I (we) have been preyed upon by people who make us feel bad in order to sell us stuff.

Have you seen Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff"? As I immerse myself in marketing and sales literature and try to learn more about social media (dammit technorati, why can't I claim my blog?) I feel myself in the loop Annie describes. You work, you come home, you watch TV, you feel bad, you buy stuff, you work...

That is not at all a description of my life. And yet. There's no escape from some of it in this part of the world. And I am particularly vulnerable to it right now, because I am trying to find a girlfriend and trying to think about that in terms of skills - overcoming anxiety, dressing better, improving my body language - rather than outcomes. Just like the boy who was reading comics and found ads that promised to make his muscles big, I am now a man who is scouring the internet for answers about how to find a girlfriend, and am finding, instead, ads that promise to TAKE YOUR GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL! I bought three books ("The Game" by Strauss, "The Mystery Method" by Mystery, and "Natural Game" by Gambler) but I didn't buy any of the e-books or products or CDs, because that whole side of industry has always struck me as kind of sketchy (even as a kid, I never quite sent out for the Charles Atlas books. Not that I had money to). I came close. Probably closer than I've ever come, last week when I met with the so-called PUA who was going to relieve me of over a thousand bucks to learn stuff there was no evidence that he knew, let alone that he could convey.

A few years back I taught a journalism class and introduced the students to a book called Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams. McWilliams's conclusion is that spam exists because it works - even if the success rate is tiny, there are enough suckers out there to buy the products that keep these organisms alive in the ecosystem. I'm saying this, I suppose, as a sucker. Not that I click on spam, but I do buy into some of the self-help and pickup stuff more than I probably should. Probably because my inadequacies are there to be preyed on. I suppose the spammers and sellers and pickup gurus who sell these things would argue that the "sucker" part of me is the best part, the part that's ready to "commit" and "take things to the next level", and the part of me that walks away from these bad deals and is suspicious of everything from Charles Atlas to nutritional supplements to repurposed publicly available content is the curmudgeonly part that wants to be trapped and settle for the mediocre.

But I don't want to settle for the mediocre. I just think that squeezing outsourced workers on one side and lonely suckers on the other has an ethical cost associated, even if some of what is offered makes sense (for example in pickup, the 3-second rule, doing many approaches, building comfort first, showing intent...). I suppose I have been hooked by the free software/open source/Richard Stallman view of the world in which information wants to be free. Repurposing information that's free and making someone pay for it seems to me... wrong. Doing work that contributes something is not wrong. Getting compensated for it is not wrong. Is that some kind of internalized 9-to-5 work-ethic limitation? I don't think so. If it is, I think I'd rather keep it, along with my moral framework, rather than trying to unhinge it all.

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