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Hidden Heart

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We live in an age of instant gratification.  We want it all, we want it now, and quite often, we want it for free.  In many cases, we’ve come to expect it for free.

But invariably, someone has to foot the bill for all the free things we receive.  Quite often, we ourselves pay for things we only think are free.

A classic example of this that we’re all used to is free media – broadcast television, free publications, free to use websites, etc.  The model established to cover the cost of all this free media is established and well known – advertising.  I even use it here – those little links from Google Advertising subtly placed at the top of the page and in the sidebar.  They’re non-prominent because I’m not spectacularly interested in turning a profit from this blog, I’m just happy if the advertising can subsidize the cost of the domain registration, hosting and bandwidth.  Beyond that, this is essentially a hobby and a great big thought exercise.

For me then, in this specific case, “free” is worth the cost.  I get to think out loud, get a bit of personal gratification from knowing my thoughts are read (and once in a blue moon, agreed with).  My only personal investment is time, and when you consider I look at this as a hobby, spending time on it is sorta the point.

But for you, the reader, who gets this “free” content, is it worth it?  Not just in the case of this blog, but in the larger sense of all the free media we consume in these modern times?  Because believe me, you pay for it, in was deeper than just monetary (although it costs you some cold hard cash as well).

First, how it costs you in terms of cash.

Advertising costs you money in essentially two ways.  First, whether you want to admit it or not, advertising works.  It induces you to buy things you might never have otherwise.  Don’t believe me?  Take a walk around your house or apartment, and do a 20 minute inventory.  How many things do you own that have no practical use, things that you bought merely on the belief that they would somehow make you happier?  Be honest with yourself.  I can guarantee that unless you live the life of an aesthete, you found quite a few things in your short tour.  If you could look back through your subconscious, you would find that your desire for that object was planted by advertising, or by the influence of your peers.  In the grander scheme, your peers were most likely induced to their desire by advertising, either directly or indirectly.  Some of the most insidious advertising is borderline subliminal – think product placement in movies, where the studios receive significant amounts of money to ensure that the actors are seen drinking specific brands of beverage, smoking specific types of cigarettes, and wearing designer/brand name clothing.

You can deny it all you want, but study after study have shown that, in essence, the model works.  And no matter how strong willed you may be, you’re subject to it at some level.

The second way advertising separates you from your Benjamins is somewhat more indirect.  Corporations spend huge amounts of money advertising their products.  They commonly devote 30-50% of their annual budgets to advertising and marketing.  That’s right, nearly half the cost of many of the things you own is a result of the need to market it – to make the public aware of the product, and to buy it preferentially over a competitor’s product.  Sure, some companies devote less than that, but some devote much more, and the 30-50% mark is a pretty good base line.

So, if it was a matter of just buying what you need, and the people who made those products could get the products to you without having to blow all that money on marketing, you could get the products for significantly cheaper.

Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.  Advertising spurs competition, which forces efficiencies as companies vie to get the best product to market at the best price.  But day to day, you pay for those marketing budgets.

Second, the non monetary cost of all this advertising.

This one is way harder to define, but is the cost that worries me more than the financial one.

This constant bombardment shapes our worldview in subtle ways.  It shapes our desires, the things we aspire to achieve for both ourselves and our families (You Too! Can Live the Good Life!  For only 3 easy payments of $19.95!!!).

Mostly, it doesn’t bother me.  I’m content in life (most days), I don’t succumb to my “wants” more than I can afford (actually, I succumb to them far less than I can afford), and I’m self aware enough to know the difference between need and want.

But I find myself thinking on things like this as my 2 year old becomes more aware of the world around her.  I know that, in spite of my best efforts by doing things like limiting the amount of TV she watches and as she grows older, carefully monitoring her internet access (I’m an IT guy, so I have way better leverage here than most people), I know that, in the end, she will control the way she sees the world.

And the advertisers will be there to make sure she sees what they want her to see.

I’m just trying to think of ways of preparing her for that.

Well, I think I’ve strayed far enough from my original thoughts for the post, so I’ll sign off for today.  And enough philosomifizing for the week.

Something to say?


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