It’s likely you are too young to have heard of a book called The Hidden Persuaders.
Originally published in 1957 and now back in print to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, The Hidden Persuaders is Vance Packard’s pioneering and prescient work revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to “persuade” us to buy the products they are selling.
A classic examination of how our thoughts and feelings are manipulated by business, media and politicians, The Hidden Persuaders was the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Through analysis of products, political campaigns and television programs of the 1950s, Packard shows how the insidious manipulation practices that have come to dominate today’s corporate-driven world began.
It was considered highly unethical and, although there was no social media to spread the word, people were vocally upset enough that many companies stopped doing it.
Gone but not forgotten.
The behavioral social science behind Hidden Persuaders continued to grow and became a driving force underlying the deliberate addictiveness of video games.
60 years, continued research and a name change to “gamificaton” and it has become the basis of today’s management approach for gig economy companies like Uber.
Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.
Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.
Is it ethical to manipulate a workforce to produce more work at less cost to their non-employer?
Of course, Uber and “ethical action” seems an oxymoron, but psychological manipulation does appear to be on the uptick in many companies.
This article should be required reading for anyone who works in the “gig economy” or is thinking about doing so.
Hat tip to KG for pointing it out.
Image credit: Geoff Simon