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COERCION by Douglas Rushkoff

COERCION

Why We Listen to What “They” Say

By Douglas Rushkoff

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57322-115-5
Publisher: Riverhead

Populist chronicler of cyberculture Rushkoff (Cyberia, 1994, etc.) moves here from his usual optimistic futurism to a somber depiction of a modern society in which everything is a commodity and the only interaction among humans is commerce. In the past, Rushkoff has been a cheerleader for the liberating potentialities of the Internet and other interactive technology. He now has second thoughts as he takes the reader on a tour of the various means used to coerce us into buying or simply doing what we might otherwise reject. His basic premise is that professional persuaders in myriad ways attempt to manipulate to their advantage our basic emotional needs for trust, support, and empathy. Automobile salesmen concoct elaborate ballets of manipulation to control our purchasing decisions, while on the reverse side, the “soft sell” of car advertising is simply more subtle manipulation, this time of our distrust of the hard sell. Superstores, through a bewildering onslaught of sight and sound, break down our defenses and rebuild our desires so that we will buy their products. The very architecture of stores, of malls, the careful construction of sound and even smell—all are designed to break down our will and get us to buy. Yet such coercion is not restricted to the usual world of commerce. Social movements such as the “Promise Keepers” do demographic research on the psychological needs of prospective members and structure rallies accordingly. Even Wall Street and the stock market, claims Rushkoff, are giant shell games of manipulation and control. Finally, the Internet itself has been transformed from a relatively simple technology for communication into a selling medium worth billions. We are alternately “taught” to fear the Internet for its supposed complexity and danger (i.e., pornography) and to worship it for its ability to sell us things. Some of what Rushkoff contends may be wildly speculative and overly alarmist, but on the whole he offers a convincing view of the constructed and controlled world in which we live.