Friday, August 15, 2014

shoplifters of the world, unite and take over (or: why online advertising is mostly a flop)

Yes, we can do several things at once, but only if they are easy and require little in the way of thinking.

We are mostly reasonably skilled at performing a number of 'automatic' or 'system 1' type processes - chatting to a passenger and listening to the radio while driving, for instance.

However effortful mental activities activities that interfere with each other, multiplying 17 x 24 while making a right turn into dense traffic - the example Kahneman often uses - is much more difficult and should probably not be attempted.

On occasions when I have to interrupt a colleague to answer a question or something, I ask - as they are typing or whatever

'Can you multi-task for a moment?'

'Of course' is the reply.

The subject then either stops what they were doing to listen to my request.

Or continues to type, more or less ignoring me as I speak.

Either way it goes I derive some psychologist humour from the situation.

The truth being that no-one can multi-task particularly.

Magicians and illusionists understand this better than most, particularly those who practice 'close-up' magic of the kind that is often performed at restaurant tables.

One of our favourites is the famous Derren Brown example. In one of his TV shows Derren was able to 'pay' a Hatton Garden jeweller with blank pieces of paper for a 1000GBP watch, by sufficiently distracting the vendor's system 2 with complicated questions about London bus routes.

I was once inspired by this trick and managed to get an Australia Post employee to bag two imported British music mags worth about $50 for free by confusing him with questions about domestic Australian vs overseas stamps.

As I am sinply an enthusiastic amateur psychology geek rather than a habitual shoplifter, I returned to the counter within a few moments and coughed up. The smugness of winning was reward enough.

The term for this is inattentional blindness, and is most famously demonstrated by the famous invisible gorilla experiment.

Inattentional blindness occurs when selective, focused attention towards one task renders us 'blind' to other peripheral happenings around us.

However both mine and Derren's experiments are dwarfed by this example of real world shoplifting skill as reported by ABC news.

A Texas woman has succeeded in stealing $57,000 worth of iPads from various Wal-Mart stores by loading up her trolley with various sundry items, allowing the cashier to scan the ipads, placing these items in her own handbag then informing the cashier that she needs to nip back to aisle 3 for teabags or something then marching straight out of the store while the hapless Wal-Mart employee is busy scanning the rest of the items in the basket.

So we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.

This could go some way to explaining the general failure of online advertising versus the continued effectiveness of, less fashionable, outdoor advertising.

It is simply far more easy - extreme creativity allowing - to get a tiny bit of attention from people who are not concentrating on doing something else that is more important.

Tried living in the real world instead of a shell.

But... I was bored before I even began

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