The Techie Rich are Easily Flattered

Only the best among you will read this

By William M Briggs Published on September 27, 2017

There’s a commercial for a company whose name I forgot that sells science lectures or videos or some such thing. The key line is that you should buy these items to feed “your brilliant mind.”

I don’t want to be seen as cruel, delicate reader, but given our knowledge of the American public the chance a viewer of this commercial (including myself) is brilliant is low. Plus, if the viewer really was brilliant, then it’s likely he would not need the videos.

Gustave Flaubert said, “The public wants work which flatters its illusions.” Advertisers and charlatans heed this wisdom. Their path is made smooth by an educational system that inculcates the illusion of limitless intelligence in its students. Any child can be brilliant, parents are assured. We are all geniuses.

Who doesn’t want to hear how far above the others one is — or can be, for a small fee?

The question is, if you’re a huckster, what is the most you can charge for selling flattery without your audience balking? Five thousand is not too large, apparently.

Go with the Flow

Here are the opening paragraphs of the New York Times story “How to Hack Your Brain (for $5,000)“.

EDEN, Utah — One morning last month a group of roughly 60 people, including doctors, C.E.O.s and internet entrepreneurs, gathered under a big white dome to hear the mission statement of their host, a 45-year-old man named Jamie Wheal.

As he paced back and forth in front of an altar bearing shiny Buddha heads, Mr. Wheal talked about the perils of information overload in our content-rich era. “A literate person in the European Middle Ages,” he said, “consumed the same amount of content in their entire lives as we do reading a single edition of the Sunday New York Times.”

Only an illiterate person in the modern age would nod in agreement at that “content” claim and flatter himself into believing he was leagues beyond the poor simple folk of yore. This flattery is evidently enough to convince the audience of the need to cleanse their minds. For a stinging fee.

About the supposed content-benighted medieval dwellers. One wonders if Mr. Wheal read any of the books by Thomas Aquinas. Had he even heard of Albertus Magnus? Perhaps he had. But he was sure his audience hadn’t.

Before continuing, re-read the first paragraph. Doctors, CEOs, entrepreneurs. All educated, even highly educated, folks. If that doesn’t teach you the lesson that modern education is sorely lacking in substance, nothing will.

The story continues, “Sinewy and tanned from a life of outdoor pursuits, Mr. Wheal was offering attendees the chance to ‘upgrade’ their nervous systems to meet this incontrovertible information overload. How? With ‘flow.'”

Activate Your Brain Layers

Flow, they say, is associated with unlocking hidden and rarely accessed brain “layers,” by fiddling with not five, but six full neurotransmitters, like the fatty acid anandamide. Well. It is gratifying to read that a “new generation of flowsters are excited, perhaps, that using the advances of neuroscience, they might not have to meditate every day for 10 years to gain access to these layers of their brains.”

Flow was “popularized decades ago by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced, I’m guessing, “SMITH”) has to be some kind of authority, because, the Times tells us, he once gave a TED talk.

Listen to TED

And how much do people pay to listen to TED talks?

Standard members eager to attend TED’s “The Age of Amazement,” which takes place on April 10-14, 2018 in the painfully hip Vancouver, BC, Canada, will drop a cool ten Gs. Ten large. Ten-thousand smackaroos. United States dollars, not Canadian. Money, not credits.

Patrons, that is, the Titans of TED, pay $250,000. For this amount, listeners not only get to hear all about the Age of Amazement, but they will “receive acknowledgment in the conference program guide and on TED.com.” So they have that going for them.

A person curious about the size of the ticket price asked in a public forum, “Why do people pay $8,500+ to attend TED conferences?” This is an excellent question. The answer, by somebody who works for TED, was in part this:

People describe TED as a “brain spa.” People go to TED conferences to think about different problems than the ones they usually face at work, and get a new perspective from across disciplines, to shake up their thinking in an immersive getaway. Compared to other immersive getaways — a cruise to the Galapagos, a week at an actual spa — it’s a surprisingly comparable cost. And compared to some of the conferences we get compared to, we’re kind of a deal.

Kind of a big deal, actually.

My friends ship off on Galapagos cruises on luxury liners complete with actual spas all the time. But when they discover that in the “The Age of Amazement” they can hear how “demonstrations of tech power are emerging almost every day.” They learn that as TED audience members they will be part of “key developments driving this future.” Then it’s so long turtles and hello TED!

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