Ever wonder why certain new ideas stick while others don’t? We often hear a lot about innovation when it comes to new ideas, but really that’s only part of the equation. Psychology, marketing, neuroscience - and yes - anthropology can help us make sense of why some new ideas stick while others fall flat.
On this episode Adam Gamwell talks with neuroscientist Dr. Matt Johnson and Professor of marketing Prince Ghuman about the fascinating role neuroscience plays in our evolving consumer lives. Matt and Prince have a new book out called Blindsight: the (Mostly) Hidden Ways Marketing Reshapes our Brains that explores the emerging field of neuromarketing.
This is a fascinating conversation that gets into the neuroscience, marketing, and psychology of why we consume, why certain kinds of advertisements work for different groups of people, and -something long time listeners of This Anthro Life know - the need to clearly communicate our work as human, Neuro, and social scientists to other disciplines and people in general. And speaking of that, we dig into one of Adam's favorite subjects of all time - Star Wars - to figure out why nostalgia marketing can be so powerful.
on LinkedIn: Prince Ghuman and Matt Johnson, PhD.
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Adam Gamwell: [00:01:06] Hey everybody. And welcome to This Anthro Life. I’m Adam Gamwell. You ever wonder why certain ideas stick while others don't. You know, we often hear a lot about innovation when it comes to new ideas, but that's really only part of the equation. Psychology, marketing, neuroscience and yes, anthropology can help us make sense of why some ideas stick and others fall flat.
So on this episode, I'm talking with neuroscientist, Dr. Matt Johnson and professor of marketing Prince Ghuman.
Bringing it together, their expertise in neuroscience and marketing Ghuman and Johnson have written a fascinating book called Blindsight: The (Mostly) Hidden ways Marketing, Reshapes our Brains
So, this is a fascinating conversation that gets into neuroscience, marketing and psychology of why we consume, why certain advertisements work for different groups of people and something longtime listeners of this anthro life know, the need to clearly communicate our work as human neuro and social scientists to other disciplines and to people in general.
And speaking of that, we dig into one of my favorite subjects of all time. That's right, Star Wars to try to figure out why nostalgia marketing can be so powerful. I'm super excited to share this conversation with you and let us get into it.
One of the things I find anthropology suffers from is because we're so contextual. Like, I did my PhD research in Peru with quinoa production, farmers conservation commercialization. So we can, we can nerd out about food too if we want, a super cool space. But it's like, it's hard to then take that and pull it out and say, how do we think about this you know, in a broader sense? I mean certainly with behavioral patterns and things, but that's why I find marketing and neuroscience so interesting because like it kind of mixes the pieces together cause we're able to pull pieces out and kind of think what are the commonalities in the human brain?
Prince Ghuman: [00:02:53] I mean, I'm, I'm so glad that you brought up. How do you apply this in a broader sense? So I started off, so it wasn't a tiny startup and then worked on to bigger companies, but I would always read as much research and so my head exploded. And that was, I have a much lower threshold of reading abstracts then both of you guys do I guarantee it, but I would just suck up all the pop psych material that I could, and then working at a startup, you apply it right away the next day, what works, what doesn't work. You get immediate feedback doing that for about 12 plus years. And then I ended up teaching somehow and I met Matt, and then Matt was the exact opposite. Matt was similar to you, Adam. I'll let Matt tell it, but his, his is the other way around.
Matt Johnson: [00:03:31] Yeah. So, I definitely feel your pain all too well, Adam, of just having research and research and research and the science process being just excruciatingly slow. I, you know, produced research back when I was in, I mean, when I first went into it, I was like, Oh my God, I'm going to cure, you know, autist. I'm going to find universal truths about the brain and change the way the world thinks about the brain.
Cause you know, you had it in there when you're 22, 23, and that's how you think of it. I don't know. When you publish some research you get some findings first. You send it in, two and a half years later, you know, passing the peer review process a year after that, you know somebody other than your Mom and Dad read it. You know two years after that maybe somebody ‘s like, Hey, you want to come talk to our, you know, clinical ward about, you know, how to apply these things. And I mean, that's like literally seven or eight years from when these ideas first came to be.
And so what Prince and I really have a deep passion for consumer neuroscience, but we come at it from really completely different angles and you know, I was really coming from the standpoint of academia really, how can we understand that the truth as universal as we can get? How do we get it? These like very, very nuance. Get into the weeds, get into the minutia which is a noble pursuit maybe, but you know, what do you have at the end of the day in terms of application? Prince is the complete opposite. If you can't use it, if it can't be applied, it really doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.
Adam Gamwell: [00:05:02] There's no impression. Right, It doesn’t stick enough.
Matt Johnson: [00:05:05] Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Prince Ghuman: [00:05:10] Matt, did Matt had this, you got to tell Adam about the $50 bill. I bet you it's still there.
Matt Johnson: [00:05:15] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you had this experience probably as well when you finished your PhD is you get the actual proper bounded edition, and I sort of understood at this point just how little people read these things. I mean, they really exist as a vestige of history, as sort of a badge that something happened.
But in terms of an actual readable document, I mean, you know, no one, no one's really going to pick it up. So when I was actually given my dissertation there's this sort of routine where you go into the special branch library, you put it in a, and you put it on the bookshelf. When I did that, I put a $50 bill in by bounded dissertation, and I almost guarantee that $50 bill is still in there to this day.
Just, you know, to me it was the perfect sort of crystallization of, you know, just how divorce sometimes academia can be from the, the real world per se in terms of how these ideas are, are applied. But that being said, I mean, it was a completely joyous experience for me. So yeah, that's the angle that I come at from.
Adam Gamwell: [00:06:16] Oh, that's super cool. And it's fun too because I can totally see, both reading the book and then talking with your book. Now it's like, I can actually see how and why this,you know, neuro marketing has to be written by two minds, right? And two perspectives. And I think that actually,the idea of drawing from deep science and then the application of it is a really compelling way that we should be thinking about how we put scientific thinking into the mainstream.
because I mean, the example I'm thinking of is an anthropologist who wrote this really wonderful book. That's actually called The Technocratic Antarctic, that's actually about the Antarctic, in scientists in Antarctica and like how they develop scientific information.
It's a really wonderful ethnography of science in Antarctica. But the challenge is like, she did her research I think around 2007, 2008 and the book didn't come out for 10 years. And that's nothing against her but just especially when it comes to something like environmental change, you know, melting ice caps and stuff, that 10 years can make a huge difference too.
So it's like. How do we balance the ratio of needing to get information out there and having it be applied, having it be peer reviewed and like, we understand that it's safe and good information to have, but also like, kind of fighting the clock a little bit?
Prince Ghuman: [00:07:20] I know when we started riding Blindsight, just hearing you say 10 years, it gives me anxiety. We submitted the book, and it was like almost a year before it's published. So that gave me anxiety after we had finished it. And there's two pieces of original research in there on top of all the other stuff.
I learned that lesson through Blindsight and it was the ultimate marshmallow test as Matt would tell me, but how do we do it? I think you're part of it, Adam. I think there's too many people getting YouTube degrees and thinking they know better than people who have spent a lifetime learning it.
And yes, a lot of this stuff is stuck behind the cycle that is academic, peer reviewed, journal writing, but then there's podcasts, right? Writing a casual blog that taps into other people's stuff that's published. Or just in general, I have someone nerd out and do collabs because there's the actual pursuit of knowledge that is its own intrinsic drive for very special people. But something about that group of people is not as intrinsically driven to spread it. It's just culturally not a fit. It's like, I don't feel good about talking about myself on a radio show about my research.I just want to be in a lab and do my thing. I think there's that little switch and I think, I wish all universities would just have like a giant PR department to shout from the roofs, all the cool stuff they're working on and it's not, I'm looking at abstracts and my head hurts after a while.
Adam Gamwell: [00:08:41] Yeah, right.
Matt Johnson: [00:08:43] Yeah. I think even when it comes to research, really there's, there's always this balance between trying to really dive into the weeds on something very specific and potentially esoteric. And you, you know that all too well through ethnographic research where it is, something that's one thing at one point in time.
And then the other side of that, which is trying to really identify what are the universal truths insofar as they exist. And of course they both have their advantages. Both have disadvantages. You're doing very, very specific research. You're getting into, you know, all the nuances and very, very specific knowledge.
But you know, you don't know how much this extends. You can't say that this is true, 10 years later of this same group of people. Or you can't say it's true of a neighboring group of people or anybody else. But then of course, on the other side of things, if you're diving into just one of these universal truths, then you get very reductionist about it.
And you have all of this beautiful, wonderful, nuance and variability and diversity that you're completely glossing over. So there is always this tension I think between, and it's a good tension. There needs to be a sort of balance between the really, really specific and esoteric and then trying to extract the universal principles there as well.
Adam Gamwell: [00:09:56] Yeah, that's super fascinating. And one thing you've got me thinking about with this is, we might say the science of marketing is, it's got a history, you know, at least a hundred years, if not more.
And then neuroscience is newer, but that's kind of, because we have technology that's different now, like, and you know, but they still comes from a lot of psychology and, and consumer thinking that we might see from marketing too. So I guess like. On one level, it both seems obvious, like good anthropology that we understand how and why neuroscience and marketing would intersect with each other and actually create really illuminating connections.You know?
As an anthropologist I appreciate that cause it's all about connections. Right. And how do these different pieces align or not align? Right? And I don't know, I guess like, I'm also curious about this idea of like, if we think of the history of marketing, I think of like the rule of seven, like, you know, you see something, seven times it will stick in your brain right? And they're like, no. But that was like that was God's gospel for a while. Right? You know.
Prince Ghuman: [00:10:51] That's like, that's like the Gordon Gekko sales book marketing book that comes straight out of that. I mean it's, I love that you're talking about the history, so I think, I think it might be great to draw this parallel because Matt and I were talking about the history of marketing and history of psychology and this weird relationship they have I think Matt, I think it would be great if you could like tell Adam a bit about the history of psych and how it's evolved and how. And I'll, I'll jump in with a marketing piece, but I think it's super curious.
Matt Johnson: [00:11:18] Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, this is one of the things that Prince and I really first kind of nerded out on when we were discussing just all the overlap, the unappreciated overlap between neuroscience and marketing is really how similar of a historical trajectory they've really been on.
So if you look at the history of psychological science, especially Western psychological science, it takes this very specific path you have. You know, basically we're basking in our own ignorance. We have no idea what's going on. And then all of a sudden it was Freud and had this great insight about the mind, which is that what we think in terms of a conscious mind is that we think we are, isn't a whole story.
There is something of the subconscious. This was Freud and Jung and sort of that 1920s, Austrian movement and Freud had some also pretty crazy ideas in there and a lot of hiss ideas weren't viable, but we all owe Freud a big debt on that he identified the subconscious and that was some of the dominant view for quite a while, and then forties and fifties roll along, and this is the dawn of Behaviorism, and this is, everything can be predicted. Behavior can be predicted in terms of the, what, what proceeds that in terms of previous associations, classical conditioning, and also what's going to result afterwards.
What are the consequences, good or bad? So reinforcement learning. If you give your dog a treat, every time they sit, they're going to sit again. You're going to, you can alter behavior by virtue of operating conditioning, reinforcement learning, and reinforcing behavior. So this, this gets into sort of classic trying to navigate people's behavior by virtue of the types of rewards you're giving them.
You can study an animal and study humans using these very general behavioral principles. And interestingly, this is really when psychology lost its mind. This is a stimulus to behavior and everything in between was totally neglected. All the insights from Freud and everything that preceded that were collected, it's all about trying to predict people's behavior based on these very, very simple animal learning models.
And what's really interesting is we see an almost identical parallel with that in terms of what's happening with the history of marketing. Prince, you want to pop in?
Prince Ghuman: [00:13:23] Yeah, I mean, you know, I love that line too, psychology lost its mind. We think about, you know, psychologists, earliest psychologists basking in their own glory. You think about mad men, you can fricking picture, you can basically smell the cognac and the cigars. That's what they did, right? Like they couldn't be financier. So they moved to Madison Avenue and created ads, and over time they became hot. And of course, it's easy to validate when there's three fricking TV channels.
In 90% penetration in the U S compared to now. Now there's more channels than we have time to look at them. So yeah, so marketing also was basking in their own glory initially. And that's the mad men era. Right. And eventually they would integrate focus groups and surveys. That was like the big, big thing.
And that was sort of the next evolution. And then we've been doing that for so long. And then the next evolution after that was. The AB testing era. Oh man. The AB testing, I was part of this. And I think AB testing definitely has a scientific angle to it. And I think it's gone from providing proper value because now we live in a place where consumers can tell the difference between good and bad UX. And AB testing is a big way to get there. But AB testing applies so many other ways. But now I think we're coming full circle. We are not basking in our own ignorance once again, a hundred years later because we think AB testing is a B all, end all. With AB testing, we're forgetting about the C through Z, right? We were just like, well, blue add to cart button, get someone to buy a vodka bottle, but why the hell are they buying vodka are they sad? Are they happy? Are they celebrating or they're drinking with someone else? What's the psychological impact beyond just superficial behavior on top?
And I think. I'm confident that's a blind spot right now. And I think that's sort of the next evolution for marketing so that, you know, when you said history immediately I'm like, Oh man, I'm very curious what you think about this Adam. That's basically the last hundred years of marketing and psychology.
Adam Gamwell: [00:15:19] Hmm. No, this is, this is great. I mean, thank you for that. That was a wonderful, succinct history, which is something anthropologists could learn to do better. It's like, here's the history of like five sentences, you know, I mean, comparatively, I am just going through my head with like. You know, when anthropology was founded, kind of in the very late 1800’s, early 1900’s and then once it emerged out of like, it's colonial enterprise of helping, basically Western governments study exotic quote, unquote, people's, right?
Once it kind of came a little bit out of that and it was like, actually, let's get to know people on their own terms. You know, it was kind of Franz Boaz and the original anthro schools. And it itself was interesting because a lot of anthropologists, like they're trying to catch up to psychology in terms of being a known consumer entity that people like, they may not know psychology, but they know about psychology and like there's some things, something psychological about why we buy the things we buy, but they don't realize there's a culture to it too. Right?
But it's funny too, cause like anthro and I, kind of got stuck in the Academy actually, like after World War II, a bunch of, people came back from from the war, and there's an interest in understanding different cultures and part of a bunch more people go to school, there was a boom in like we need anthropology departments.
Peoplethen started teaching it, but then we escaped out of a kind of like consumer mentality as we had begun doing. And so there were a couple of anthropologists, I mean Margaret Mead's, one of the main ones who wrote in Red Book for years and she had a cultural column. She was one of the most well known, women writers in helping us understand basically modern, what we call it from 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s onwards, domestic culture writings and in this crazy like, that's like one anthropologist.And so part of it too is like, it's, it's so much like how do we bring on these conversations together?
You know, but knowing that history is super important, right? Cause it's like, where did we come from and how are we getting to where we're going? I mean, I also work, I'm a design anthropologist. I do work in user experience and visual design stuff too.I hear what you're saying, like AB testing is kind of one of the spots that design went for a while too, and it's like, it's still there, but now we recognize things like dark UX patterns, right?
Prince Ghuman: [00:17:13] You know? Yeah, I mean, it's a, I think the design aspect is, I think one of the things that we get lost in, and I'll answer this through the scope of marketing, but it's fun to say this can be easily applied to social change, not just for marketing purposes or PR purposes, but in general public policy, governments, anytime an organization is interacting with their people, I think marketing. If you really like distill it down its trading value, and we talk about this in the book, but really it's trading value. You can go back in the day, it's a shopkeeper giving, you said good and you trade him and other goods until we invented currency. And you fast forward to today, the trading value has evolved, but the concept is still the same.
You know? And, and I think, you know, this is human centric design could in many ways be the next. Way of companies providing better value to their own customers and, and of course companies then you gotta think about profits, but there's ways to do it without doing the black hat, UX stuff.
Matt Johnson: [00:18:14] Yeah. So I mean, I think, you know, really when it comes to human centric design, it really is, based a lot of times on AB testing and what really drives behavior.
And. Yeah. Obviously we can critique AB testing, but it's a huge leg up in terms of, you know, it's not just a bunch of mad men style dudes, you know, with their cigar instead of just basing their decisions based on commissions. Now we have actual firm data to what actually works. But really when it comes to AB testing, what works is really just purely defined in terms of behavior.
But I think really where the conversation should go is expanding that. And so we can get into the semantics of it, but I think it's really human invested design. So you're not just optimizing for the behavior and putting yourself in the shoes of the person, and then how they're going to operate in this environment and the behaviors that result. But really are you investing in their long term best interests and that takes, I think, a slightly different approach than just AB testing in that.
But I think it is at least that the promise of the application of neuroscience principles. And I also think what you said earlier, Adam, that really getting to know people on their own terms, which is one of the goals of anthropology, is really gonna make a massive contribution here. So neuroscience can certainly inform us, in terms of general principles in which the brain operates, and you can use it to understand how any individual brain is processing information in a given time but there still is, I think, a, a great need for us to sort of understand this on a qualitative level, which I think anthropology is, is very well suited for.
Adam Gamwell: [00:19:54] Yeah. I mean, and it's interesting too, cause that's like one of the, I would say a frontier is we see in market research. I mean, imagine, neuroscience too.
It's kind of like how do we mix the qualitative and the quantitative forms of data, right? Like we need numbers you know, partially because they help us anchor, we might say, right. But at the same time they do give us something we can measure against. Qualitative data we can measure too, but it's, it's measured differently. Right? And it's of course the quality of something. How I feel about something. Let me, my narrative, my experience.
Which is why, you know, it's encouraging to me to see fields like marketing and neuroscience or anthro, like come together, more design and anthro too. It's like we're taking seriously that we all, we are all creating different forms of both value in terms of like move something generativity forward but at the same time, we are creating a more holistic set of knowledge by doing this, And so, and as you all know too, like there's always a siloing problem, right? Lik, I'm the marketer and the answer, I'm neuroscience, we don't really go over there.
And it's like, you see it to the extent I'll see like cultural anthropologists not talk to archeologists that the material scientists, and it's just like, what the hell guys? Like we’re literally from the same womb as it were.
Prince Ghuman: [00:20:56] There's something to be said about me. I mean, you're the anthropologist expert, right? But the study of culture and academics, I mean. Yeah. I would be the first one to say AB testing is not a scientific way to do marketing. It is more, it is more scientific than we've known thus far so, but at least marketers are trying to learn from the scientific community. And sure. In the eyes of real researchers, like you guys, AB testing is so step one. Right? But I would love to pose a similar challenge to academics. Marketers are trying to think like you cause we respect you. We just know that knowledge is locked inside of your heads and in scientific journals. What are you doing to better market your ideas without getting turned off by the word marketing?
Because to be honest. That's part of the culture of academics. And I let you guys take it from there. Lean in a little bit in my way, cause I don't even like reading abstracts. Well, I love the work you're doing and if anything, I want to be the bridge between Matt and the consumers. Right? Between you and the consumers. You know, I'm very curious how you guys think about what that was like while you were getting your PhD. It's not cool to talk about marketing your stuff.
Matt Johnson: [00:22:03] Yeah. Obviously I'm not, I think one of the biggest issues is actually linguistics. So a lot of times these sort of separate academic silos, they generate their own sort of little psycho linguistic lexicons to talk about their ideas in a very specific type of language that only they could understand. And we found this ourselves for really diving into the book. I can talk about Leon Festinger, you know, social comparison theory and people search for value and, for you that's intuitive. Luxury marketing is status. And you know, we're talking about fundamentally the same thing.
That's the same fundamental human motivation for a purchase. But it's a completely different set of vocabulary, which is basically describing roughly the same thing. And so I think that's really one of the challenges is just having a shared vocabulary to talk about, which still has the depth of the nuance to capture sometimes these somewhat complex ideas.
Prince Ghuman: [00:23:04] Yeah. Matt, I'm glad you brought that up. That was our tenant when we started to write this book. No jargon. The value of all this scientific research and business case studies, right? People intuit that they understand marketing, but nonetheless, you don't want to go ham on all the jargon and marketing. You don't want to ignore that.
That was our, that was the number one tenant can't be jargon heavy, and I'm telling you right now, Adam, this is, I thought, I think it's embarrassing. I think it was, it was a labor of love. It took us weeks, plural. To come up with a definition of memory that was accurate enough and it communicated without being jargon heavy.
And I'm proud of it, but it also was like, dude that's what it took. But you know, like I would sit there and ask Matt, Matt defined memory, and you go to statistical learning and this that. I was like, no, no, no. Try again. Again, again, and it was just like that scene from Rocky. You know, your job, your job is not fast enough. Your job's not. But that's what it took, and I think Matt is right, and I've never, you know, we worked on it for so long, I didn't think about that. Yeah. Linguistics is a big reason why we just get lost in translation.
You, we speak the same language, you know, and maybe there's, maybe there's ego involved in, in dumbing it down. It's not dumbing it down. It's figuring out the Lego piece fits in the ears of the listener so that while your message can make a difference.
Adam Gamwell: [00:24:21] And it's like I both. Like I'm OK with, and also not okay with the idea of dumbing things down because like, we're not really doing that. And I'm not saying like you’re doing that, we hear it all the time, right? It's like we got to dumb it down for taking it out of the Academy in this case. And so then also for the same reason that we're saying this, it's like actually when, when we first began This Anthro Life, we had a rule. We called it the theory swear jar if you, if you mentioned theory on the podcast, you got up, put some money in there, but like, especially we said like,you can't use jargon because if we're going to talk about it, you have to be able to say it. And if I can't say it, and they were saying no and like, so like it's funny this entire podcast has been a test. It's like, how do we talk about complex things? Like actually to talk about them, you know.
Prince Ghuman: [00:25:00] Yeah. You wouldn't call it dumbing it down. You wouldn't call it, because it's hard work to make it, to make stuff that you're a specialist in, be received by people who are not a specialist it's not dumbing it down. It's actually a craft. It's a full on craft.
Adam Gamwell: [00:25:19] It's like the opposite of dumbing it down. It's like, right. You're just making a third language to make these things talk to each other. and that's why it's like, maybe that's why it's like, maybe we just don't appreciate the fact that actually it's more work to do that there's, as you found out, it's like we have to like, okay, say it again. Say it again. Don't say it again. It's like a hundred percent. It's too hard to do that.
Matt Johnson: [00:25:36] Yeah.
Adam Gamwell: [00:25:40] Now you've got this, like you have this, this book in this treasure trove of like vocabulary that's like easy to get, that we can now pull up and say, Oh, memory, bam.
Prince Ghuman: [00:25:53] Got it. I mean, I'm glad you feel that way. You know? We tried really hard. And I'm curious, I got a question for you, Adam. Was there something in the book that you saw your anthro brain popping up and you're like, I think there's a connection here between how they're connecting neuroscience of X with the marketing in this way.
And there's something, maybe it was a cultural piece, the storytelling piece, the centralism piece. I wonder if there's anything in the book that immediately made your anthro ears perk up and said, there might be something here.
Adam Gamwell: [00:26:17] Yeah,I was definitely struck by a number of things. For example,when you were talking about why we liked the things that we'd like,and it came at a good time towards the end of the book. And. what was interesting about this, to me, it was like these, like we both want like the new yet safe ideas.
And as, as a mega Star Wars nerd, I was super happy to see Star Wars sneak its way in there. Just like the cultural impact that Star Wars had both on the film industry and on, how do we talk about sci-fi and how do we take things like Joseph Campbell mythology and put them into this very easily digestible format like it did. It did so many of these things. So it's, it's a super interesting culturally salient example. Anyway, so for me, that definitely perked my ears of like, who the hell? cause I've always been fascinated about why Star Wars works, not because I just like the jedi are cool, but like, why does it work?
And y'all really like tacked into this idea of, it hits on these like neurological and these marketing moments of, this like newness, the safeness. We've seen it before. But not quite, you know like, it came at the time in the seventies, people were thinking culturally, we're, we're coming out of war.
We want to have a more peaceful time in society. We want to like, have a return to something that feels good and like, you know, so it was all of these pieces that like, kind of fell together. And so it hit this cultural moment, right, that we can look at it in a form of marketing, in a form of neurology or neuro-science. That really spoke to me.
Prince Ghuman: [00:27:35] Yeah. Well I'm glad it did. Cause we love writing that piece. We really, I mean George Lucas to be able to take as an artist, to be able to just throw away the THX concept of I bet he bunch of other pieces that he had written and then go down the Joseph Campbell route and make it.
And I think so much of our impression of space at that time, you know, and you're right. Like, yes, we want him to come back to safety. And in the context of that time outside of just him finding the best NAS, you know, new and safe, besides that, there was also the fact that that was probably the peak of our curiosity about space travel, landing on the moon.
And we're just space, space, space from music to movies. Space was a big thing in the way that it's maybe not as much now cause we know about space a bit more now, and I think it was almost yet another little angle or the reason why Star Wars just immediately goes right straight to the heart. Straight to the heart and the imaginations. Yeah,
Matt Johnson: [00:28:34] No, definitely. I mean, I think that that's particular instead of a strange way. It gave us both a deeper appreciation for art history. Which I know is as a field is often derided because when you think about it, it's like you have a piece of art. It just exists at this, this amazing creative idea. Somebody just thought of it. This burst of inspiration. Then you put this idea out and people love it. You really have to understand the greater context of which they took place and, and where people and, and how people were receiving these things. And going back to you know, the seventies and that era and what culture was like, and the types of what was new and safe to people in the seventies is not new and safe to people now. What are the greatest examples of that? I remember my dad telling me the story, he’s a musicologist, and by that I mean, I think he's, he's a former jazz player and he just loves music. Yeah, so he told me the story of the first time ever that the Rite of Spring was played in public, and at this concert, this live concert, people rioted. It. People threw tomatoes at each other. There were fights that broke out in the crowd. This is a classical piece that doesn't have any words in it.
You know, you listen to the song and you're trying to get it, and it's like, yeah, I guess there's something just very like organic and moving about it. And at that time that really pushed the boundary in terms of this is not so safe anymore. This is really too new. This is making me feel things I shouldn't feel in, in public.
And it's crazy to think about how culturally specific these things could be. Imagine that crowd in the 1890s, you know, listen to Eminem or, you know, NWA or death metal. You know, I mean, it's just crazy. And now, you know, we're not, you know, we don't flinch when we hear these things. So,yeah. It's just incredible how potent the cultural context can really be..
Adam Gamwell: [00:30:22] No, totally. And it's,to me, and they'll be fascinating still, so we don't have to talk about star Wars that much more. But why this just came out from Disney is so differently received than the, than the 1970s and eighties original trilogy or the prequels even after that. And then like each of these have been received quite differently. And it's like, to me, I don't know.
Prince Ghuman: [00:30:40] I know you said we don’t have to talk about Star Wars anymore but I have to interject something about the first trilogy and the next round, and we talk about this in the book a little bit, nostalgia. So the reason why Disney is remaking all these damn movies into live action, Lion Kings, and of course Star Wars, the second round of the, and the third trimester of the third, right?
It's because it's nostalgia. So parents feel nostalgic taking their kids to experience Star Wars for the first time, like they did when they were 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. So, Oh yeah I don't pretend for a split second that, you know, internally at Disney, they were fighting over Star Wars, it should come out and then finally someone won the war 8 years, 12 years later. No, it's magical. Yeah. And nostalgia is everywhere. It's everywhere. There's a reason why Friends t- shirts are at Urban Outfitters and Fresh Prince t-shirts are in Urban Outfitters is because people are selling nostalgia, and nostalgia just sells. It is what it is.
But to pivot to the next favorite topic, reggaeton. Matt hates it. I am on the fence about it. But the reason why I bring up reggaeton is cause I want to get your input on it as an anthropologist, right? You studied culture for a living. Something about globalization has affected our consumption of music in a uniform way. And I don't mean to say that in a bad way. I think people listen to Eminem or Kanye or whatever, insert example here over lyricists, in parts of the world that don't speak English and they still like it. And we as Americans listen to reggaeton and a ton of use have no idea what they're saying, probably why you're listening to it and nonetheless, it's like, it's a global phenomenon. And I think as culture is getting more melted together, I think maybe we're seeing new and safe examples that would be way more unsafe before, and I think the internet and globalization is probably part of that sort of cultural evolution.What do you think?
Adam Gamwell: [00:32:20] Yeah, no, I think that's a hundred percent correct. In terms of that we have so many more channels, right. Especially the internet. It's one of the main things too and on top of that, the consolidation of platforms like Spotify, I mean, you know, we all remember Napster or When AMP orMP3s, right? Because suddenly I can now have songs I wanted, not just a CD and like that began changing the paradigm of what I have access to. Right? and yet, I mean, you know, when I was hanging out in Peru, I saw I was doing field research in 2015, 2016. and, it was still very common to have music on a USB stick. You could go to the public computer cafe, pop in your USB stick, you know, people were not Spotifying. And so, but nonetheless, like there is a ton of different kinds of music you'd find all those USB sticks that people would have, you know, and so, like, even in spaces, you may not necessarily expect it. you are seeing this really incredible diversity of music intake, and. Whether or not you understand what people are saying. Right? And the same thing, kind of, I hang out with a lot of my Peruvian friends who don't speak English and they would be hanging out and listening to some English songs, you know, they'd be kind of mouthing the words.
It's interesting too because it's like that there is this push to globalization is spreading. We're seeing like reggaeton passing between different kinds of places and being consumed differently though. Right? So when it gets local, it still becomes, it's like glocalized, right. Where it becomes localized from this global context. And so it's like McDonald's doesn't mean the same thing everywhere. Right? Even though it is global and you know, simplest examples of that is you'll see katsu sauce as part of, of the, one of the sauces offered in Japan that we don't see here.
Or you might see falafel offered in the Middle East as part of the McDonald's package that you don't see elsewhere. You know? And so it's like, interesting. So glocalization is like this weird mix of the two. So it's like. It's cool to see, like it'll parachute it in from, from globally, but then when it lands, it does something else.
And so, what that means for reggaeton, I don't totally know. But, it's endlessly fascinating because it's like, it never goes where you expect, you know, cause we're buying Fresh Prince t-shirts now from urban Outfitters, right? However, if you go somewhere else where you might just see, the, the not great practice is basically clothing dumping, you know, in poor countries and you'll see t-shirts that were not as cool. They're not nostalgic t-shirts, but you'll see like, track and field 1994 that's actually from 1994.
Prince Ghuman: [00:34:37] Now that we're talking about this weird impact that globalization can have on culture, I think it's what I mean, we see this all the time because we teach gen Z, right? We teach young millennials and we teach, we teach these two generations that are a. mixed together and b. often criticized by others for being soft. And my take on that is, I don't know if they're soft, they feel more empathetic than maybe what I was, and maybe the previous generation was at that age. And my hypothesis, I'm speculating here, you know empathy research, and the book didn't touch into this, but I'm very curious what you think is, I wonder maybe if this globalization be able to see everything that's happening everywhere else in the world has impacted like walking up a different level of empathy that just feels more natural for them that we simply didn't have when we were 12 years old
Adam Gamwell: [00:35:25] Yeah. that there is definitely having access to seeing more, I mean, even thinking about things like the Arab Spring, , that we had access on Twitter to see live streams of the protests was insane, right? The fact that Occupy Wall Street, the same thing that we could like kind of participate in even though digitally, totally changed how people thought about, like, what is happening?
Like what is the Middle East, you know, we can watch people that are just like us, you know, being like, we want freedom, we want to be treated with respect.
And we're like, man, so do I? You know, and that's totally different. And so like that I think totally changes how we have a sense of empathy today was really crazy too. I think you're about gen Z versus millennials versus baby boomers cause I mean I think it's totally fascinating to, with these kinds of digital natives, right? Gen Z is much more commonly online, with mobile applications and stuff I was doing research on this recently about communities in that there's kind of this decline of social media as a platform for sharing and a move towards online communities, which may be slightly more anonymous.
Things like Reddit, it seems like Gen Z is more wary of sharing personal stuff, right? Because they saw millennials kind of get screwed over by different ways, you know, and like the idea that your, your potential employer can go look at your college drunk photos and like, you lose a job. It's like a horrifying idea. But then the other flip side is this, I'm thinking one of the other pieces that, in the addiction chapter that y'all wrote about, struck a cord to it as working in design. Like this is an important thing, especially digital wellbeing and what it means to. What's keeping us on these websites?
Prince Ghuman: [00:36:50] Yeah. The social addiction part is one of those things where, you know, I hate being on both sides of that. I am on the marketing side and lots of fingers get pointed. Sometimes rightfully so to shady marketers who do shady behavior design tactics to keep you hooked. But I'm also a consumer who loves to use products, digital or otherwise.
I think we're going to get to a point where. There's more of a transparent, healthy relationship between marketing and consumers, right?
We ultimately want the same thing. I want to enjoy it without being awkward and creeped out or even having to worry about that stuff, right?
We just can't get there in the current business model. Or at least we can't get there fast with the current business model. It's too easy to point a finger at what's happened or Facebook and say, you know, you're, you're creating an addictive product, which they are, right.
Anything less than that is not a fair assessment of the situation. They are. But they're doing it because they're not a nonprofit. Right? Snapchat is not a nonprofit. and, and we're not paying, we're using it. And Adam, you probably remember, cause we're all the same age. This is great to just talk like old dudes for a second.
When we were kids, I remember my parents having to call back home to India. And guess what? This paid like $2 a minute for a phone call with trash quality, call collect. Now I call it collect, collect, right? And now we're like, I want Facebook for free. I want WhatsApp for free. I want that Slack for free, even though it shouldn't be.
I don't want to pay for it. Yeah. They're not nonprofits. So until you start changing the ways, they're going to find ways to survive. And unfortunately the way to survive right now is. Creating addictive products, calling it engagement, measuring it as a metric and making money off of it. So, we kind of have to have a holistic approach, cause pointing fingers and just yelling doesn't work, you know? I really wish we had a better relationship between marketing and consumers, and maybe it'll cost you a dollar a month for your WhatsApp, and maybe you should really think about why you should pay that, you know?
Adam Gamwell: [00:38:50] Yeah. It's a great point. I mean, that's a really good kind of, holistic or a little bit of a wrapping question is like, one of the reasons that you, you kind of say in the book that you wrote the book is because we need ethical guidelines around marketing and around neuroscience and how they can like work together actually.
And so I'd love to kind of talk a bit about that. And. one of the examples that you have in addiction chapter was, was Tristan Harris’s “Time Well Spent”, which is an interesting, you know, he went from being an addiction designer to like Google's chief ethicist, to now doing time well spent.
It's a hard word to say, but like,how do we bring kind of ethics into this equation in a useful way, right?
Prince Ghuman: [00:39:30] One philosophy that Matt and I truly believe is trading value. I think if you as a consumer and as a marketer,just accept that you'll be able to have one step towards having a better relationship. Treat companies that you love or hate, like your friends or someone you're in a relationship with.
Matt Johnson: [00:39:45] Yeah, I mean, I think trading value pieces is a really great framework and I think really the relationship is a great sort of concept of you in this, because you know, think about it in terms of your social relationships. If you are friends with somebody named Facebook and you're just getting value from them all day long, all day long, all day long, every day,mooch, mooch, mooch, mooch, mooch, I mean, you're naive to think that they're not in some way going to try and extract value from you.
And I think we've been attuned. especially older consumers, I would consider us as all the consumers that that really value is through opening our wallet. But if we're paying this company money, they're giving me a product for service. That's an exchange of value. But with data, with our attention, these things are extremely valuable to these companies, and we just don't know about it.You know, especially in the digital field, the cure to bad marketing or unethical marketing isn’t no marketing, it's better marketing, right? I mean,the cure really is, is good marketing and part of that is transparency, but I think that's sort of interesting nuances that has its wrinkles as well. So clearly when it comes to digital products, there needs to be transparency. There's been study after study showing that people want transparency in terms of the data that is extracted. So that is something that consumers value and that companies have been a little bit hesitant to bring up.
So yeah, it's, it's a sticky question because we as consumers want amazing products. Marketers want to deliver them. There has been distrust, especially in the digital sphere, but we both want the same thing and both people need each other. We need consumers, and we have to figure out a better way to come together.
Adam Gamwell: [00:41:27] Hmm. Yeah, no, right on that. That's great. and I agree with you, trust is such an important piece of that too. Like kind of human centered design as like and a long term investment is really.
What we need, you know? And you're really one of the ways that would actually help us move forward, if forward is the direction that we want to go, as a society that is based on some semblance of trust, and that we have similar interests for ourselves and for each other, you know, in place.
Prince Ghuman: [00:41:50] I just think it needs to be explored a bit more. I think culturally, the U S we're all about innovation and like consumer rights come later. And then you look at Europe, look at, as you look at France and the UK, and it's like nope, consumer rights first. And then, you know. And then there we are, right? There's gotta be a middle ground there. And I think, yeah, it'll, it'll take, it'll take some time, but I think when, when people ultimately realize how valuable their free data is. There's going to be, business models are going to rise and fall. And I think it's this rise and fall of business models comes in five to seven years, and just sort of all, let's just accept life after free, life after social media and life after the browser, and a mobile phone.
Adam Gamwell: [00:42:30] We're going to bring out the check in before then for another podcast. Within five years after, did we make it? There will probably be something other than podcasting at that point too.
Matt Johnson: [00:42:40] probably be another trio of star Wars.
Prince Ghuman: [00:42:51] Thank you for having us, Adam. This was great. This is fun, man. Matt and I do love these conversations. We try to do as many of these as possible. the book is its own thing and, and I really hope that I'm so happy that you found value in the book. And, and you said to yourself, your ears perked up.
I hope your listeners find value in it too. It's called Blindsight, just Google Blindsight on, on Amazon. And if you don't want to buy the book, that's fine. We do a blog that's free, just go nerd out on the blog. I mean we're, you know, we love having this conversation. And then I think last piece before I perform, I'll shut up. If the work you're doing is just, I think this is important. It's arguably as important as the research work you're doing because research locked up in a basement somewhere is a sad thing.
And I think opening up these conversations in the casual form actually has a lot of value. So seriously, thank you for playing, because I think it's and this is coming from an application person, so I'm biased but I think, but I'll be the first one to admit. We need more of that Adam, so thank you.
Adam Gamwell: [00:43:49] Cheers. Thanks. Thanks y'all. I mean, this has been super fun, amazing conversation again, I said the other book is super fun. I'll point folks to it. you know, popneuro.com and, yeah, I mean, thanks. Thanks guys for taking the time.
Matt Johnson: [00:44:00] Thank you so much, Adam.
Adam Gamwell: [00:44:11] And once again, many thanks to Matt and Prince for joining me today on This Anthro Life. This has been a fascinating conversation, and now I'm going to go rethink every single ad that I see online now. Right? I imagine you will too. So if you enjoyed this conversation, please reach out and let me know. You can find me on LinkedIn just as my name, Adam Gamwell, or you can find This Anthro Life on Twitter or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I've actually heard from a number of you recently and that's been really, it's been really cool.
So appreciate you reaching out and letting me know what works for you. What else do you want to see more of and just hearing about your stories, it's great to hear what it is that you're working on. If you're working on an undergraduate degree or have just recently come into anthropology or you're interested in thinking about going to graduate school or what does it look like to get a job as an anthropologist out in industry?
All these are great questions and conversations that I would love to have with you.
I want to thank Luciane Schons da Fonseca for helping me with production of this episode and editing it.
So if you have any experience in audio production and, or you'd like to learn a bit about it, Feel free to reach out and let me know. I am testing out the idea of having guest editors on episodes, and Now we might even work into the idea of having folks produce original episodes as part of the TAL Family. So if production is something that you're interested in, reach out and let me know and let's see what we can figure out. The idea is to build this army. And so let's, let's build it up. So for now, we'll see you next time. This is Adam Gamwell and you're listening to This Anthro Life. Have a good one.
Here are some great episodes to start with.