Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Until recently a cyber-optimist who, in popular books like Cyberia and Media Virus, augured a digital revolution, Rushkoff now warns that the promise of the Net as an open-ended civic forum is fading as relentless corporate marketers peddle their wares and capitalize on shortened attention spans. In a scathing critique that extends far beyond cyberspace in scope, Rushkoff identifies the subtle forms of coercion used by advertisers, public relations experts, politicians, religious leaders and customer service reps, among others. Retreading territory covered by critic Neil Postman and others, Rushkoff provides additional examples of how the ordinary person is often unsuspectingly manipulated, whether in the shopping mall, at a sports event or in a Muzak-drenched store or office. This analysis is particularly strong when deconstructing the "postmodern" techniques of persuasion that advertisers use to reach increasingly cynical target audiences, including commercials that self-consciously mock the marketing process. Rushkoff also argues that mass spectacles (e.g., rock festivals, Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, Promise Keepers rallies) foster "tribal loyalty" but are often contrived, commercial or downright destructive. He devotes a chapter to pyramid schemes used by cults, infomercials, Internet con artists and get-rich-quick marketers. His freewheeling survey underscores the social cost of these coercive strategies, which, he says, tend to make us see one another as marks. Despite his up-to-the-minute examples, however, his overall analysis is not fresh or original enough to take the place of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
According to Rushkoff (Cyberia, Media Virus!), advertisers and marketers are becoming increasingly adept at finding new ways to coerce consumers into buying unwanted products. "The more complex, technological, and invisible coercion gets," he writes, "the harder it is for us to rely on" our ability to detect the hard sell. "As soon as we become familar with the new terrain--be it the mall, the television dial, or the Internet--it is the goal of the coercion strategists to make it unfamiliar again, or to lure us somewhere else." Rushkoff is particularly interested in the ways that corporations and other for-profit institutions have drawn on underhanded techniques developed by cults, pyramid schemes, dishonest salesmen, and the public relations industry. The good news is that ordinary people "have the prerogative to stop, to think, and to disengage." Lively and well researched, this is recommended for public and general libraries.--Kent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...[L]abored phrasing, combined with the book's dark theme, makes it a downer to read. But the effort is ultimately worthwhile. Vance Packard told this sad story more artfully 42 years ago in his classic The Hidden Persuaders, which Rushkoff cites. But Packard was writing before the widespread use of computers, before the advent of the online culture. Rushkoff's update of Packard is a good warning about the coming century's technological hucksters.
The Christian Science Monitor
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 smellall 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. Weare 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.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
“With immense force and inimitable style, Douglas Rushkoff takes us on an engaging, frightening, and oddly exhilarating journey into the boardrooms where compliance professionals hone their skills. Coercion is destined to be remembered as a watershed in the battle between the marketing industry and the public it means to manipulate.” –Wired
“An important book… a clear warning to Americans who are unaware of the power of words to intentionally mislead the reader, listener, or viewer. Read this book, and nobody gets hurt.” –Senator Bob Kerrey
“A scathing critique that extends far beyond cyberspace in scope.” –Publishers Weekly
“The most disturbing book of the year… Be careful where you log on.” –The New York Post
“Unmasks a culture of hype and deception.” –Vibe