Sunday, March 7, 2010

Control or Communicate?

I recently read a short article in the February issue of Wired Magazine, entitled "Brain Candy." The article is about a fledgling company called MindSign Neuromarketing, who wants to use fMRI technology to map movie viewers' brains in order to fine-tune the editing to achieve a certain [emotional] response. Writing with a general spirit of disgust, the author sarcastically promotes the idea. While the potentials for abuse are enormous, the information produced could be of great value if (and only if) it is used moderately.

My first question is how universal are fMRI results? Can a general mapping of stimulus response be a sufficient example of every human's response? As with any mass approach to information, there is the question of the bell curve. People, as we all know, are different. For every generalization, there is a portion of the population that falls as outliers. These outliers—both above and below the standard—represent those that are unreachable by a mass message tailored to the generalization. The degree to which the fMRI tests vary by the individual, is the degree to which any generalization would produce a murky result. If, on the other hand, the results of the fMRI tests are a spot-on standard for all humans, then there would be no outliers.

The less outliers there are, the less resistance there would be against sales campaigns that border on mind-control. That being said, those who are susceptible to the emotional message of a Hollywood movie, a TV commercial, etc. still have the free choice to run contrary to their emotions in the favor of logical conclusions. The need for rational mentors and role models would become more important than ever. Like any drug to which the body can become acclimatized, the mind can develop similar modes of defense with help. This would have the effect of promoting logic—the opposite of what MindSign seeks to exploit.

Mind control aside, this technology represents the possibility of building a mountain of data for use by media creators to more effectively communicate the truth of their message. Part of the problem with any medium is its inherently static nature. It is what it is, and generally cannot be custom-fit to the individual. Even if the content is founded on universal truths, the expression of those truths might get lost in translation for some people. A universal language of expression would work wonders to tear down these barriers.

All in all, new technology comes with both strengths and weaknesses, and therefore only constitutes progress to the degree that the sum-total of its effects is positive. If "neuromarketing" has a chance to replace all other forms of marketing, we must make certain that it is because it is more effective in communicating truth, and not just because it is easier to make people comply with commercial ideology. The value of a skilled marketer is in his ability to tailor the message to the individual or small group. What do you think would happen if technology replaced this?
FEATURED MEDIA: The Matrix - (I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek with this one.) A computer programmer who believes it is 1999, finds out he is actually plugged into a computer matrix and only dreaming his life. Every aspect of his "life" is controlled by a computer program, designed by robots so they can use people for their bio-energy.

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