In 1937, Hormel Foods Corporation introduced a meat product called Spam, which generally is taken to mean spiced ham, although the recipe remains a secret. It is cheap and doesn’t taste too bad, perhaps because it contains lots of sodium. With all the calorie-rich fast food available, Spam does not seem much of a threat to the national obesity epidemic.
Spam, however, may be seen as a serious threat in the world of the Internet. In his review of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton, Daniel Keyes worries “that we are seeing the diminishment of our public sphere as the Internet becomes one global mall where corporations finely tune their advertisements to our every need rather than a place where we might stumble upon different ways of thinking, and so forth. that help to diversify our world” (final paragraph). Keyes says that in the book the author “makes a forceful argument that the evolution of spam from direct e-mails into various viruses and botnets designed to enslave personal computers exerts a profound influence on the design, regulation, and everyday use of the Internet” (para. 3).
That seems overly dramatic to me. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. Spam blockers are reasonably effective in keeping us from messages for walk-in bathtubs and organ-enhancing drugs. It is harder to prevent pop-up ads, but how much do people pay attention to those things? I’d like to know if there is any good research on that topic.
Perhaps I simply am unaware of the powerful Internet forces influencing my thoughts and behavior. What should we be looking for, and can psychologists do anything to help protect us from these hidden persuaders?
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By Daniel Keyes
PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(19)