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Marc Blitz
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Everywhere you write "Kindle" in the above post, you can substitute lots and lots of other things: laptops (both Mac and PC), iPhones, electric guitars, digital cameras. I'm guessing my kids will have ordered over 100 apps for my iPad, most of them with a princess theme, before I even get to open the box. Moreover, a lot of this will continue to be true after they're 4 years old, except by then they'll have figured out how to turn the wireless connection back on by themselves.
Thanks Martha! I'll be happy to act as official DJ, and to share that job with anybody who would prefer not to have the program monopolized by my musical tastes. I've learned after many years of making music mixes for others, that even songs I'm convinced are undeniably the best songs ever written sometimes mysteriously don't sound as good to other people as they do to me. I'm hoping some of the neuroscience research we review at the Boot Camp can help me better understand why that is. Thanks also for letting me know about The Amygdaloids. My 6 year old daughter wants to be both a neurobiologist and an artist (recording and otherwise) when she grows up, so that band can serve as a terrific role model for her.
Thanks very much for both of your comments. They both seem to highlight what is perhaps the key question here which is, when does an advertisement or other instance of speech leave an individual with sufficient freedom to question or resist a suggestion or message within in? At one extreme is the still-fictional possibility represented by the imperius curse, the hypnosis of the Manchurian candidate, or a human robot. At the other is the kind of reaction to commercial speech we exhibit now when -- upon saying a commercial for a computer or other electronic device -- we don't immediately purchase the advertised product, but rather investigate its claims by reading Consumer Reports, or by looking for more neutral reviews in CNet, Wired, or the NY Times technology pages. There's clearly a lot of speech that falls into the latter category. Especially in the age of the Internet, it's relatively easy for a Web surfer to double check claims about a product by seeking out counter speech on Google or other search engines, or looking at user comments about the product on Amazon.com or elsewhere. I think speech that is subject to such questioning and investigation (including commercial speech) should generally receive a very high level of First Amendment protection. The more difficult question, I think, is: When is our response to a certain stimulus is predictable enough (even outside of laboratory conditions), and when are the effects of that response harmful enough (to our autonomy or some other important interest of ours) that some kind of restriction on that speech might be justified? There are, after all, times that the government may restrict speech even though it is within the realm of possibility for us to question or investigate it: The US Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, can penalize companies for misleading shareholders or potential investors. This isn't to say that all commercial speech should be subject to the same regime. But it does underscore that there are times that the mere possibility of independent audience questioning and investigation does not rule out speech limitation, especially where there is a lot at stake for the audience relying on that information, and where questioning and investigation of it would be extraordinarily burdensome. (Indeed, nit-picky readers of Harry Potter might point out in response to my imperius curse example that even that horrible curse can be resisted with an extraordinary amount of will power). So my question is -- even neuromarketing can never get all the way to the imperius curse or the human robot example, and some of your remarks above provide hope that it likely won't be able to -- are there still some circumstances where the predictability (and the harm to interests it entails) are nonetheless too close for comfort, and thus require some autonomy-safeguarding or restoring measure (preferably one not involving government intervention) that can increase our capacity to question or resist responses that would otherwise very likely be automatic? Again, I'm not suggesting that all speech with automatic and unconscious effects should fall outside the scope of the First Amendment, since that exception would clearly swallow the rule. The question is rather are any such unconscious effects significant enough in the threat they present to autonomy or other personal interest that they require different treatment under the First Amendment? In any event, many thanks for your thoughtful questions and comments, and the Web links to additional information. They'll be of great help as I think and write about this.