Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Internet, advertisements, and the mind

I'm often amazed how easily I take the internet for granted, even though it's a stupendous achievement of technological endeavour.

For example, when I'm playing EVE Online (a space-based massively multiplayer game), I'm in constant contact and/or conflict with 40-50 people. In my corporation alone we have both American and British pilots, and one of the alliances we frequently have conflicts with most frequently has members from all over Eastern Europe. The guy whose industrial ship is going through jump gate ahead of mine might be sitting at a computer next door or in Japan, and it makes very little difference.

I can read the exact transcriptions of debates in the House of Commons, mere hours after they're spoken. I can get up-to-the-minute news from the remotest parts of the planet, and eyewitness accounts a from people who post commentary on their weblogs.

When I sit at a computer that is connected to the 'net, I have at my fingertips more data than I could possibly imagine -- literally -- yet the majority of the time, it doesn't even occur to me to think of it as remarkable to me at all.

I'm equally suprised how little I notice advertisements any more. Even without using ad-blocking extensions to my browser, I can totally ignore banner ads, for example, to the point that they don't even register on my concious mind any more. I do of course notice pop-ups (when they don't get automatically blocked) and also those incredibly annoying scripted images that float on top of the page body, but the only effect that they have on me is to make me determined not to buy the product being advertised.

I think that this indicates something interesting about the human mind's ability to subconciously filter out material that is irrelevant to the task at hand, and I think this might be one of the reasons that television ads are generally more successful than internet advertisements: for TV advertisements you've got a captive audience, whereas internet ads are usually a distraction from somethingmore interesting that's going on at the same time. Another example of this unconcious filtering is network logos superimposed on the video stream being broadcast -- most of the time, they're just subconciously ignored.

Both of these things seem to me to be good examples of just how flexible and powerful the mind is -- but also how malleable.

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