Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Feed Your Head

The phrase for today, kids, courtesy of The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, is availability heuristic. Can you say it? Oh, I knew thatcha could! (Say it at your next staff meeting, just to impress the boss.)

Okay...so what is it? It is the psychological phenomenon that makes us give inordinate weight to one piece of information over another just because it's easier for us to mentally retrieve that information. An example would be living in a small town with a statistically tiny crime rate, but a local TV station with a tendency to go into "We're all going to die!" hysterics over every local criminal infraction. Even though you and your neighbors might never experience a crime yourselves, and even though your other local media might provide detailed, accurate data underscoring your area's low crime rate, if the image that first comes to mind when you think of criminal activity in Outer Podunk is some frothing TV reporter standing next to a strobing police car, breathlessly breaking the bad news about your 'hood, you may perceive that living in Outer Podunk is on a par with living in Baghdad. Another example might be trying to figure out which digital camera to buy, doing a valiant job with your consumer homework, and leaning toward Brand X -- until someone shares an anecdotal account of a poorly performing Brand X camera; statistically, you are inclined to give that one anecdote more weight than all the other objective information you've accumulated on Brand X.

Marketers, advertisers and politicians go to great lengths to make sure the availability heuristic works in their favor. (Once upon a time, God help me, I majored in advertising, and every so often for old times' sake I visit Reveries , an online marketing magazine that also offers some interesting insights into how marketers play with our heads.)

I was thinking about this dynamic today. If it's true that we are hardwired to retrieve and evaluate information in this "shortcut" way, wouldn't it stand to reason that, the more we feed our heads and souls with the sort of spirituality that is immediate and evocative and meaningful to us, the more readily available those thoughts and feelings and associations will become to us -- the more real that way of living in and relating to the world will be to us? Can this be a way to buffer ourselves not only against the constant barrage of marketing chatter, but also against what theologian Walter Wink calls "the powers and principalities" of this world, before they all suck the life and faith out of us? Did Paul get it right about "thinking on these things"?

Not sure where I'm going with this. Just moodlin'.

2 comments:

Purechristianithink said...

Kind of like a congregaion that has done a careful study of their own demographics and those of the surrounding neighborhood in order to discern where their growing edge in ministry might be. Then ONE elder who has read Rick Warren charges in . . .

LutheranChik said...

Yes -- the vividness and immediacy of the message tend to leave the big impression.

Which also has implications for worship planning...how we communicate "the story" in our worship. I really think we need to pay more attention to "sacred choreography" and creating sacred space in our churches.