Monday, October 26, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
Thursday, Lord willing, will be my 69th birthday. There are ample sources of quotations to inspire us as we journey in life. Obviously, some resonate more than others on a personal level. It is with that in mind that I’ve decided to share of few of my favorites that give me pause to reflect and, in several cases, act upon.
I’ll begin with a treasure from William Gladstone, who was a British statesman and politician. During his 60 year career, he served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His four terms began in 1868 and ended in 1894. Here was an example of his wisdom:
"To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does, but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is still wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.”
Next is a powerful reminder from John Newton. Having had early religious instruction from his mother, who passed when John was a child, his religious convictions had faded. His father was fond of sailing the seas, and young John followed in his footsteps—eventually becoming captain of his own ship profiting from the slave trade.
On a particular voyage, while attempting to navigate through a violent storm, Newton would experience what he termed as his “great deliverance.” At one critical moment all seemed lost. Confident that the ship would surely sink, he cried out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” His journal tells us that later reflection about his mercy plea led him to believe that God had reached out to him through the storm and that grace had been bestowed to him. Newton’s conversion was dramatic, calling him out of the slave trade. He is known for penning the words to the song, Amazing Grace. I love this quote from John Newton:
"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer, His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”
Les Brown is given credit for this next gem. Leslie Calvin (“Les”) Brown was born in 1945 and held a variety of jobs. He’s a former Ohio politician having served in their House of Representatives, also an author, a radio DJ, and former host of The Les Brown Show. Brown is also a motivational speaker, often using the catch phrase, "It's possible,” as he encourages people to follow their dreams, as he had learned to do. This quote reveals the way he sees life…
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” Love it.
I’ve been unable to trace the source of this next maxim—but I’ve pondered the significance of it on many mornings.
"All men are created equal. At birth and at death all men are the same, all are equal. It is life that is not equal. Life is the time given each one of us from our first breath to the last. To live life all we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given us. Will you live life or let life live you?”
I will end with this one. It is, in essence, something of a life verse I recite almost every day. It gives me hope: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (ESV)
Perhaps you will agree with my assessment of the quality of these quotes. Pearls of wisdom can take us a long way.
May you be blessed.
Monday, October 12, 2020
“Oh look, honey, somebody is sending free money!” And indeed! Sometimes it happens. For example, I recently received a check from Melania Trump. Unfortunately, it wasn’t made out to me. The $45 was to be endorsed by the political party of her husband. Dang it.
Occasionally, we get an envelope with a crisp, new $1 bill tucked inside. This is an “incentive” gift encouraging us to multiply it many times over and support some charity. The smaller version of this comes from the March of Dimes which sends us—you guessed it—a dime.
We’re thankful for this free money. And we graciously keep it. Helps to pay for our coffee habit at Starbucks.
And then there are the address labels. I think at last count I have 8,327. Unfortunately, some company got my middle initial wrong so I now have 1,641 of those with an “R” instead of a “J.” But I save them. You can never have enough return address labels. Or note pads. Gobs of note pads.
’Tis also the season for free Christmas cards to arrive. Just received a package the other day. Useless. They’re from a respected charity—one to which I have previously contributed. Three of the cards say “Seasons Greetings.” One says, “Let it snow.” (Please, no.) Another has a quote, “The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.” None of them said… “Merry Christmas!!” Watch my lips, “No moolah for you!”
The most extravagant freebie mailing came a week ago. It was from a national organization whose mission is “saving children and healing families.” I like that. To my recollection, I’ve never given them a dime. (Not even the one we got free in another mailing!)
Inside the 1 1/4 inch mailer was a treasure trove of un-requested items. There were eight cellophane wrapped Christmas cards. All but one offered true Christmas greetings. There were multiple calendars of various sizes. A crossword puzzle booklet was enclosed. More mailing labels. And…a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, slight exaggeration.) I have never received so much free stuff to tempt me to give. But I resisted.
Why? Is it because I am a heartless penny-pinching heathen? I hope not.
No, it’s because all of these gimmicks—and that’s what they are—are intended to create an implied obligation. Since the organization has blessed me freely, perhaps I should pony up a return cash gift to say thank you. Plus, my name is now added to the Mailing Lists From Hell which are sold or traded among these groups. That’s why I keep getting offers to Mark “R.” Elfstrand!
Another mail manipulation is the so-called free shipping. It’s explained in the article, “The Email Strategy that Made $47K+ by Giving Away Free Stuff.” Here’s an excerpt. “There’s no denying the power of the free shipping campaign when it comes to getting new new customers…People love free stuff. It’s why so many companies have simply priced shipping into their items and then claimed ‘free shipping.’"
Here’s a twist. A small item is offered to a client’s email list for free. The customer just needs to pay shipping. Say it’s a $5 “free” item. You charge $10 for shipping and handling—$3 more than the cost. You get the profit on the item AND $2 bonus on the shipping. As the writer explains, “the psychological desire for free stuff fuels incredibly successful sales campaigns.” A mind game in which you lose.
Even that “free test drive” invitation from your local car dealer is a quasi-obligation incentive. The dealer and salesman know they’ve not only increased the temptation to buy, but you’ve taken up their precious time and used their vehicle to drive around. Don’t ya kind of feel like you owe them? Most likely, they do!
Not all incentives are evil. But all “great offers” are designed to move your mind toward something you may or may not have been thinking you need or want.
Manipulation. Watch out! The wicked witch is calling. “Come here, children. I have some free candy for you!” Riiiiiiight.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Last Monday, my blog challenged the “wisdom” of some that manipulation in selling is a good thing. No one likes to be manipulated. Face-to-face sales transactions give us the most direct way of feeling sales trickery—if we’re aware of it.
The Internet, however, has given us a whole new world of abuse. A ministry friend passed along an eye-opening article on this topic from a technology expert named Tristan Harris. The article is titled, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind—from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist."
Let’s start with the magician perspective—Scary Thought Number One:
“Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this is exactly what (technology) product designers do to your mind.”
Harris now moves us along through specific ways this happens with his “Hijack” points. His article (linked below) provides details. Here is Scary Point #2: “They (site designers) give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose.”
Mr. Harris posits that app developers have mastered the skill of keeping people “hooked.” He sees it like you have become a form of slot machine. The tech designers create a link to a user’s action similar to a slot machine lever that offers a variable reward.
Tristan claims that an average phone user checks that phone 150 times a day. And when you check, who is feeding you the sites and links and data you see? It may seem like conscious choices are made. He argues it’s not so.
Humans are particularly vulnerable to social approval. Belonging, approval, and appreciation by peers ranks very high in human motivation. Today, this social approval comes through tech companies. Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat can manipulate people getting tagged in photos by suggesting all the faces people should tag.
A second insightful glimpse into tech manipulation can be found in the Wired magazine article, “The Facebook Defectors Turning Trump’s Strategy Against Him.” James Barnes is with the political nonprofit Acronym. Formerly working on the Trump campaign, he now meets each week attempting to move voters away from Trump toward Joe Biden.
How does this work? Acronym uses a custom-built tool they’ve coined Barometer. With it “they micro-target ‘movable’ voters on Facebook, run randomized tests to see what kind of ads work best, and then adjust them to taste.” Sin
ce about 75% of U.S. adults use Facebook, it’s quite a political playground.
Barnes claims that two types of voters exist: Those who know whom they're voting for and those who don't. Most fall into the first category, committed long before Election Day. This means candidates must work hard to get their most dedicated to the polls. The bigger challenge is "to sway the very small pool of undecided, ambivalent, or otherwise out-of-touch voters that remains.”
Target messaging is what works here. A campaign might identify conservative voters with religious leanings by, say, mining the public records of hunting licenses, purchasing membership lists from mega-churches, and looking at home ownership in specific zip codes. Earlier research found that people who watched TV Land reruns were less likely to have a presidential preference.
The new tech platforms are precision driven. For example, today’s political advertisers use “geofencing technology” to locate Catholics who have been to mass at least three times in the past 90 days. Damon McCoy, a researcher at New York University's Online Political Ads Transparency Project puts this clearly in perspective: “It's very easy for these political advertisers to partition and very narrowly message and tell different people different things. It definitely has an element of manipulation.”
So there you have it, my fellow victim.
Manipulation may seem like dirty work. The techno types see it like a game. And you are the pieces with which they play.
(Next week: Manipulation in the mailbox.)