The Marketing Companion

I received a pretty big shock recently, a discovery that made me re-think who I am and what I know. For many years I have enjoyed digging into my family history. For many of us in the U.S. -- nearly all of us immigrants -- our family tree has tangled roots and uncovering where we come from can be an obsession. Most of the Irish side of my family came over during the potato famine of the mid-1800s. Some of my German ancestors where actually craftsmen in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. But one Dutch side of the family seems to have the longest history with America and in some way, the most sad. I recently discovered that one ancestor from this line of the family was a slave-owner in Virginia.

The mind game

This possible scenario for many Americans who have a long heritage in the country, but to actually have this ugly fact staring you in the face is unsettling, at least to me. To think that something in my distant blood had something to do with slavery just makes me shiver. And the mind game I pay is ... if I lived in that era, would I have been any better, or would I have just gone along? Psychologically, the justification for slavery was upheld by the leaders of the community, businesses and even the church, in some cases. In a rural Virginia village of the early 1800s, there was really no place to go for a dissenting point of view. There was no Internet, no Google, no television, no radio ... I probably wouldn't even have had access to a major newspaper. If I was cut off from the outside world, would I have any opinion beyond what I absorbed and repeated from the leaders in my isolated community? I'll never know if I would have had some sense of justice or if I would have fallen in line with the family business. I only have hope, and maybe sympathy, for the struggle of my made-up 1800s self. But what about today? That sort of information isolation is a thing of the past. With access to unlimited information, knowledge, opinions and insight ... is it any easier to be a a critical thinker and make an informed decision? The answer might surprise you.

Social media and critical thinking

Here is a grand irony. In this modern day, we have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of our hand, and we use this device primarily to rant about politics or share cat pictures. Although we have the infinite opportunity to learn and consider opposing views, the level of critical thinking may be no better today than the people who had access to no information in the 1800s. We're too busy to think, too busy to dig for truth.

  • A recent study showed that in general, people use social media to connect to like-minded people in their local communities instead of learning about other views and cultures.
  • Patricia Greenfield, a developmental psychologist, found that any screen-based technology we use, including video games, will certainly enhance our visual-spatial skills, but only at the expense of developing other mental abilities, including critical thinking, knowledge acquisition, and imagination. She said the rapid-fire reward of video games and text messaging could be a cause of the three-fold rise in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) over the past 10 years.
  • Researchers at Stanford gave a series of cognitive tests to a group of heavy social media multi-taskers and another group of light users. The heavy multi-taskers were found to be more easily distracted, less able to control their working memory, and less able to concentrate on a task when compared to the light multi-taskers. 

What does this mean to marketing?

So this very weird thing is happening. We have more information at our fingertips than at any other time in history and the technology may be depressing our ability to think, process, and think critically. Technology does not give without taking. Tom Webster and I have been discussing some of our observations in this area. It appears to us that people simply believe -- and repeat -- almost anything they hear from business gurus without thinking. We're seeing this lack of critical thinking so often that we decided to address it on our podcast. Also, in this episode we take a stab at upgrading our Millennial reach by introducing a Would You Rather segment. You'll learn why Tom would prefer to crap his pants in Starbucks and Mark can rock a thong. You are probably gripped with anticipation for this Marketing Companion episode and thankfully relief is in sight. In fact, it's right here.

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Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his amazing newsletter The Full Monty and his new podcast available here:,

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Direct download: The_enigma_of_critical_thinking_and_marketing_today.mp3
Category:Social Media Marketing -- posted at: 11:34pm BST