Do you know why supermarkets put all the things you usually buy at the back of the store and all the things you rarely buy at the front? What about why some stores don’t put mirrors in change room stalls so you can only see what the clothes look like on you while others are watching? Or why do some stores call themselves “outlets” and put inflated “retail” prices on their tags right beside the much more realistic “our price?” The answer is obvious: It is to get us to buy more stuff and spend more money in their stores. It is to use our psychology against us so we do what they want us to do. When we step into a store, we understand what they are trying to do and, by understanding, it helps protect us against unnecessary and even unwanted purchases.
But what if stores aren’t the only ones who are doing this?
In recent years it has become common to speak of the “anger epidemic” that is not just gripping American or Canadian culture but has become something of a global phenomenon creeping into all of its many corners and even creeping into us – the Church. Many have tried to explain this rise in anger. They point fingers at root causes like economic and cultural pressures, globalization, social and political fragmentation, or just a decrease in the ability to demonstrate empathy. I am sure all of these things play a part. And, what if there is also something more going on? What if it is also like the stores that we shop in? What if it is some who are also trying to use our psychology against us to get us to do what they want without us realizing what they are doing?
In his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, Ryan Holiday talks about the radical shift the media industry has experienced since the advent of electronic and now social media. In addition to talking about the manipulative way in which news becomes news in the “blogger” era, he also talks about how much of what we now consume as news is intentionally, emotionally manipulative as well. Internet news sites are driven by the number of views they can generate, as their number of views and advertising revenue are directly linked. He cites stats that show how articles written with overtly happy or sentimental headings are viewed 40% more than ones that are simply informational like the media we grew up used to. But if that heading is an angry, hostile, or potentially fear inducing one? It will generate, on average, 300% more views. So, if you promise people heaven, you increase your profits by 40%. But if you scare them about hell, you increase it a full three times. So which do they choose? Well which would you choose? As a result, we find ourselves bombarded by angry, threatening, fear-inducing messages that are meant to get us to do what they want us to do – click on their articles – regardless of the overall impact of their actions. And so we find ourselves angry. Angry about the things we hear. Angry about the things that are going on around us. Angry about what So-And-So just said or did or didn’t say or do. And we keep clicking and viewing and doing what the writers want us to do for a fraction of a penny per view, never mind the personal and social fractures it may be causing.
So why are we so angry? There are plenty of things that worth getting angry about. Earning a blogger at the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed or even, increasingly, a more traditional news agency that fraction of a penny hardly seems worth it considering the personal and social cost involved. But, maybe, if we understand what they are trying to do, it can also protect us against unnecessary and even unwanted anger and make the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves a little easier to do.