De-branding the Brain

“We are creatures of habit. We tend not to look for alternatives. It’s a lot easier to do the same thing day after day, but do we ever ask ourselves why we do it? Do we ever open ourselves up to alternatives? Why do we do the same things over and over?” (Paul Hegarty)


The ‘Law of Habit’ or ‘Passive Default’ is one nearly all of us are familiar with. It is just so much easier to choose the path of least resistance and default to what we know. It feels safe, comfortable, and does not require expending too much effort. It does not matter how old we are, where we come from or what our background is. This ‘law’ affects us all. There are of course exceptions – and they stand out as beacons who we openly praise but secretly envy. However, it has become increasingly obvious over the past decade that this law also greatly influences our choices as members of an online society. And this, dear reader, is something that the big corporations know all too well. Yes, I said the C word. Yes, this might turn into a rant. You have been forewarned.


Let us look at two specific examples that illustrate this point. If one needs to search something online there is, for most people, one name that springs to mind. I don’t even need to mention it. It has become so ingrained in the collective psyche that the noun has become a verb. We all know that there are alternatives out there, but 9 times out of 10 we will go to that first choice. For some it’s not even a conscious choice. Your browser will immediately open that page as the default search engine and off you go. Seems harmless, right? However, a little digging reveals that this search engine is enmeshed in absolutely everything you do online. It records every page you visit, every purchase you make, and every search you perform. This is in the seemingly benevolent interests of providing the user with a filtered and person specific list of possibilities. And when I explain this to people they often say, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”. Indeed, what is wrong with this? It saves the user endless searching through pages of links. It handily pinpoints your location and shows you to within a few streets where that particular book shop is. It knows where you like to shop and go on holiday and personalises the advertising so that you can buy things that you want with a one-two-click. Nifty stuff!


The same can be said for buying books, ebooks and other handy items online. One name springs to mind, especially when it comes to ebooks. Again, this company has become so ubiquitous that most people are not even aware there are alternatives. I wasn’t. In fact I was under the impression that even if there were alternatives, they couldn’t possibly compete with this giant.


But here in lies the rub. When a huge corporation starts making life to easy for you and makes buying their products so much more attractive, one has to ask the question: at whose expense is it? In the case of corporation A, the results of every search are so specifically catered to an individual that the same individual no longer sees how much more there is on offer. No differing opinions are offered and no comparative options are available. In the case of company B, well just ask any publisher or author how they’ve been treated, particularly those who are based outside of the UK or US.


Furthermore, both of these corporations have on numerous occasions been exposed as having rather dubious business practices. As consumers we can either ignore this or take a stand. Taking a stand is perhaps a little daunting given our penchant for the above mentioned law, but in all honesty it is not that difficult. There are plenty of better alternatives out there and they are not that difficult to find.

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