Richard G. Epstein













Are We Getting

Jacked Around?


George Welby

Marketing and the Morphic Field
by Anne Bankman
John Wiley, New York, 547 pp.

During the 1980s, William Gibson wrote a visionary novel, Neuromancer, which depicted life in our own twenty-first century. Mr. Gibson is generally credited with introducing the term "cyberspace". He understood how a global communications infrastructure, such as the Global Landscape, could promote and intensify selfishness. With the introduction of self-projection technology, Gibson's vision of cyberspace has become a reality.

In Mr. Gibson's novel people are constantly "jacking in" and "jacking out" of an entity called the matrix, which corresponds to the virtual space capabilities of the modern Global Landscape. Mr. Gibson's book came to mind as I read Ms. Bankman's wonderful book, Marketing and the Morphic Field. I was wondering whether Ms. Bankman might have found a more catchy title for her book. Finally, I came up with "Are We Getting Jacked Around?", an oblique reference to Mr. Gibson's notion of jacking in and jacking out. Ms. Bankman's central thesis is that we are getting jacked around. Unfortunately, the title of her book is misleading. Marketing and the Morphic Field is more exciting than its title suggests. I highly recommend this book for all readers who are interested in the social implications of computers and computer technology.

Ms. Bankman is an accomplished and versatile writer. She has written several competent biographies about difficult subjects, including Raymond Kearsley, the eccentric and sometimes unapproachable developer of the Helmet. She has written widely on the economy and she has several books that do an admirable job of explaining difficult scientific concepts to the lay reader. It is clear that these earlier works were preparation for this current work, which must be considered her magnum opus to date.

Marketing and the Morphic Field is not only about marketing, it is also about biology and human destiny. It is about the forces that drive technology and the social implications of those forces. Ms. Bankman has done a wonderful job of investigating and explaining how businesses create the desire for new technologies. Her main focus, however, is how major corporations are attempting to exploit the morphic field as a means of influencing the marketplace. This may be the first time in history that human beings are consciously manipulating the morphic field in this manner, and the implications for the evolution of human culture is staggering. Mrs. Bankman communicates the subtleties of her subject with great clarity and with ironic humor, when appropriate.

Ms. Bankman's book is divided into five parts. Part one is about conventional marketing. Part two is about the marketing of technology. Part three is about biological fields, and the morphic field in particular. Part four is about how marketers are attempting to manipulate the morphic field in order to "hook" people into the use of technologies that they might otherwise reject. Part five is a meditation upon and a synthesis of the four earlier parts, including some speculations about where we go from here in terms of the interplay between the world of technology and the world of biology. In this last section of the book, Ms. Bankman raises some provocative questions about the ethics of morphic field manipulation.

Ms. Bankman not only lays out the theoretical foundations for these subjects, she gives copious examples, especially when it comes to the marketing strategies that are being used by several of the world's most important technology companies. The usual cliché is that this book is a who's who of the marketing of technology, and this cliché certainly applies in this instance.

In part one Ms. Bankman describes fundamental theories of marketing. Since I am a research biologist with no real world business experience, I brought nearly no knowledge of marketing to this book. Ms. Bankman expertly and patiently takes the reader through the basic theories and strategies of modern marketing. In her presentation of conventional marketing, she intentionally omits mention of the manipulation of the morphic field. This subject is developed in full in the last three parts of the book.

Using detailed case studies with copious endnotes and references worthy of an accomplished scholar, Ms. Bankman describes the conventional marketing techniques. These focus upon gathering information about customers using the resources of the Global Landscape. She discusses how marketers use powerful inferencing engines to gather detailed knowledge about individual customers despite the pretension of privacy that is provided by the Global Landscape Freedom of Information Act. It is common knowledge that marketers know an awful lot about each and every one of us and that there is not much that we can do about it. Even I, a fervent critic of the Freedom of Information Act, was shocked at the enormously detailed portraits of consumers that marketers have at their disposal.

Ms. Bankman explains how the introduction of softbots has greatly increased the precision with which marketers identify prospective customers. Once they have identified a prospective customer, they then use the tremendous information gathering resources at their disposal to develop increasingly personal relationships with those prospective customers. Everyone who is reading this review knows full well that marketing has become ever more personal. The dependence on mass marketing has given way to the personal appeal. The ultimate development in the direction of personal appeal is the use of non-entities as advertisements in cyberspace. These non-entities develop personal relationships with prospective customers only to "morph" into an advertisement for some product. The general philosophy of modern day marketing is to get to know your customer until you know him better than he knows himself.

Ms. Bankman also discusses the use of genetic information, which marketers are eager to obtain and exploit. She mentions the amazing American Marketing Association genetic database, called AMAGEN, whose resources are available to all subscribing companies. This database contains detailed genetic information on many millions of Americans. If you donated blood or have had any kind of blood test, then the chances are that you are in the AMAGEN database.

Ms. Bankman uses the example of a woman from St. Louis, who helped the author to investigate the contents of the AMAGEN database. Ms. Bankman obtained a detailed marketing profile of this woman, who works for an advertising agency, from the database. That profile gives an astonishing listing of this woman's genetically predisposed likes and dislikes. The database tells us that this woman likes Colombian decaf coffee, that she indulges in nonfat cherry vanilla frozen yogurt almost daily during the summer, that she likes specific kinds of comedies and adventure films, that she is not likely to take vacations away from home, that she does not read very often, that she is vain about her appearance, that she is extremely health conscious, that she is an enthusiastic consumer of vitamins and herbs, and so on and so forth. The detailed description that the AMAGEN database gives concerning this women runs for four pages. This woman confirmed that the information about her, provided by the AMAGEN database, was right on the money, so to speak.

In the second part of the book, Ms. Bankman focuses on how technology is marketed, mostly in this country, but also abroad. Ms. Bankman's subject is so ambitious that I cannot fault her for not devoting more attention to marketing in foreign countries, but I am curious if there are differences between cultures. The universality of the Global Landscape would make one think that marketing strategies are universal.

Ms. Bankman explores the role that marketers play in the development of new technologies. The life cycle of a new product runs like this: marketers research consumer propensities and desires. Then, they consult with computer scientists and technologists in order to identify technologies that can cater to those specific propensities and desires. Then, feasibility studies are conducted. Finally, specific products are targeted for development and sale. Most people think that the computer scientists just sit around and dream up new ideas, but the fact is, at least in recent decades, that the ideas come from the marketing people, who have a tremendous amount of insight into what people like and what people want and what you can get people to buy and how much people are willing to pay for it.

The marketing people thoroughly and exhaustively investigate every possible avenue of technological development in numerous fields of human interest. Then, they go to the computer scientists and technologists and they say, "Can you do this?"

Ms. Bankman looks at how this process works in practice at several major companies, including Microsoft, Marvel Softbot Systems, and Merlin Entertainment. She presents a number of case studies involving virtual reality, cyberspace, and perceptual prostheses. An entire chapter is devoted to the history of the Helmet, which is drawn from her earlier biography of Raymond Kearsley. She devotes most of her attention to virtual reality and cyberspace, especially to the entertainment business. As we learn the details about how these fantastically successful companies create demand for their products, Ms. Bankman constantly reminds us that the best is yet to come.

The story of how Microsoft targeted unhappy couples for the marketing of the Helmet is typical of how marketers operate in this age of ubiquitous information. Many readers will be surprised to learn how easy it was for the marketing department at Microsoft to identify millions of unhappy couples using Communications Sampling Theory. This radical theory of statistical inferencing, a theory that only a handful of people understand completely, allows statisticians to infer properties of a population from the contents of their communications. Certain keywords, certain kinds of phrases, correlate highly with certain behaviors or proclivities or psychological states. By a process of constant sampling and refinement, statisticians can identify populations that consist almost entirely of people that satisfy some particular criterion. Using this technique, the marketing department at Microsoft was able to identify millions of people who were part of an unhappy marital relationship. These are the people that Microsoft first targeted in offering the Helmet for sale.

Part three of the book introduces the concept of the morphic field. At first, this may seem like an outlandish jump, but Ms. Bankman makes it clear right from the start that the most sophisticated and audacious marketing strategy of the 2020s involves manipulating the morphic field in order to increase the probability that a new technology will be acceptable to the general public. In part four of the book Ms. Bankman cites numerous examples, including the Microsoft Helmet, the Panorama visual prosthesis, the Berkeley Ethics Advisor, and Merlin's Gladiator multi-player virtual reality game. In each of these cases, the success of a revolutionary new product may have been due, in part, to the manner in which their vendors intentionally manipulated the morphic field.

Although my research involves the morphic field, it never occurred to me that marketers could actually manipulate the morphic field in order to manipulate the marketplace. Now I find out that not only are people thinking about it, they are actually doing it. By publicizing this practice, Ms. Bankman is performing an invaluable service.

Biologists have long suspected the existence of biological fields that serve as matrices that guide the development of biological organisms and tissues. For example, scientists now agree that the morphogenic field guides the development of the human fetus. This field provides a framework that guides the individualization, differentiation, and specialization of cells, as the fetus grows in its mother's womb. Other biological fields have been postulated and are being investigated.

The morphic field, first postulated by Rupert Sheldrake in the 1980s, is a field that mediates human learning and consciousness. Modern biology sees the morphic field as a universal matrix that guides the development of brain tissue and the nervous system. It governs the detailed development and physiology of the human brain. Each species has its own morphic field, which governs the consciousness of that species. The term "morphic field" almost always refers to the human morphic field.

The basic assertion or modern morphic field theory, which is very much like the original theory put forward by Dr. Sheldrake, is that human learning occurs on a planetary level and not just on an individual level. When a sufficiently large group of people learn a new behavior, this learning is imprinted on the morphic field. This makes it easier for other human beings to learn that same behavior. In fact, the theory asserts that new human beings can develop that new behavior without being taught by traditional means. Furthermore, as the morphic field strengthens with respect to the new behavior, human beings will find it easier to learn the new behavior by conventional means.

An example that is often cited in the literature is from a study of monkeys during the twentieth century. This story certainly helped to stimulate my interest in the subject of morphic fields when I was an undergraduate about twenty-five years ago. According to the story, some zoologists were studying the behaviors of a species of monkey on some islands off the coast of southeast Asia. These monkeys dug up yams for food. The zoologists who were studying the monkeys observed how the monkeys would dig up the yams with a stick and also how mature monkeys would teach younger monkeys how to dig up yams in this manner. It is not obvious that the morphic field has anything to do with this kind of learning behavior.

The zoologists found something truly amazing. On one of these islands, isolated from the other islands, a monkey learned how to wash off the yams, which was a new behavior that had never been observed before. This monkey showed the other monkeys how to wash off their yams, and soon the other monkeys on that island were demonstrating the new yam-washing behavior. The zoologists observed the following: at some point in time this knowledge of yam washing jumped from this one island, where the behavior originated, to the other islands. That is, monkeys on the other islands began to wash their yams without having been taught to do so. This kind of learning at a distance was interpreted as evidence for the existence of the morphic field.

According to the theory, the propagation of the yam washing behavior from one island to the other islands, occurred when a critical mass was achieved. That is, when a sufficient number of monkeys on the original island were into this new behavior, it spontaneously spread to the other islands. Achieving a critical mass of participation is important for the morphic field theory and for the morphic field marketing strategy that Ms. Bankman describes.

A few final words about those monkeys. Once the yam-washing behavior spread to the other islands, the yam-washing monkeys could engage in the usual demonstration method of teaching in order to spread the practice. That is, the new behavior spread in two ways after the critical mass was reached. First, it spread spontaneously by means of the influence of the morphic field. Second, it spread by means of the conventional teaching by example method that a mature monkey uses to teach a behavior to a younger monkey.

Ms. Bankman recounts this story concerning the monkeys and then she presents a synopsis of the scientific studies that have tended to verify the existence of the morphic field. Some of these studies have shown that it becomes easier for people to learn to use a new technology once that new technology has reached a certain level of acceptance. Researchers have constructed some clever experiments that show that the improved learning performance has nothing to do with improved teaching techniques or other factors of that nature.

In the fourth part of her book, Ms. Bankman reveals how major computer companies and even smaller computer companies with sufficient capital, have utilized the theory of the morphic field in order to help (or, induce) human beings to accept a new technology. Ms. Bankman presents evidence that many corporate leaders are convinced that the morphic field is a reality. These corporate leaders are convinced that the way to get people to use a radically new technology is to introduce that new technology to a critical mass of people. Once that critical mass is reached, acceptance of the new technology will proceed much more easily than might otherwise have been the case. These corporate leaders are promoting the morphic field marketing strategy even before modern science fully understands the nature of the morphic field. These corporate leaders are establishing "morphic field marketing groups" within their companies in order to explore the possibilities of morphic field marketing.

Morphic field marketing is the brainchild of Dr. William Nefari, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. Professor Nefari believes that morphic field marketing strategy may eventually allow companies to gain market share for specific products against rival companies that are selling similar products. However, morphic field marketing is being used today primarily to introduce radically new technologies, that is, to create entirely new markets where none previously existed. This is because a radically new technology may be rejected by the public unless a critical mass of people learn how to live with that technology. Morphic field marketing involves introducing the new technology gratis to a group of human subjects, whose participation with the new technology changes the morphic field, making it easier for other human beings to "jack into" the new technology, if I may borrow a phrase from Neuromancer.

The most obvious example of a radical new technology is the Helmet. When Microsoft first introduced the Helmet, the response was minimal, despite their sophisticated targeted marketing. People were reluctant to use a perceptual prosthesis for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this was a totally new concept, not just a virtual reality entertainment or education experience, but an attempt to radically alter the manner in which people interact with one another. Microsoft's morphic field marketing group targeted ten thousand couples for experimental use of the Helmet. These couples were drawn from among the millions of couples having marital difficulties that Microsoft marketing had identified.

The ten thousand chosen couples were given Helmets and they were trained in the use of their Helmets free of charge. The training sessions were held at several expensive resorts in Hawaii. Within months, the demand for the Helmet rose dramatically around the world. Although this has not been proven rigorously, the Microsoft morphic field marketing group is convinced that twenty thousand human users of a new technology represent the critical mass that is needed in order to introduce that new technology into the mainstream of human life. Ms. Bankman is cautious not to accept this assertion without rigorous proof, but she admits that the marketers have good cause for optimism. One possible explanation for the rise in the demand for the Helmet is that the ten thousand couples returned home and influenced their friends, neighbors, and relatives. However, the marketing people at Microsoft point to data that indicates that the new demand for the Helmet was not limited to people who knew the original "seed group" of ten thousand couples. "Seed group" is the morphic field marketing term for the group of people who are introduced to a new technology in order to achieve the required critical mass.

Brent Cornwall, the eccentric multi-billionaire who developed the Panorama visual prosthesis, is a fervent believer in the morphic field marketing strategy. Because Mr. Cornwall has so much money, he was able to create a seed group of ten thousand users of his Panorama system. Like the seed group for the Helmet, Mr. Cornwall's seed group was treated royally. They were provided with free Panorama systems, free training, and two weeks at luxurious resorts in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and in the Virgin Islands. The data that Mr. Cornwall and his associates gathered would seem to support the validity of the morphic field theory. Although demand for the new visual prosthesis was almost nil at first, soon after the seed group took to wearing the prosthesis, demand rose dramatically. In this case, Mr. Cornwall and his associates deliberately chose his subjects from the south Florida area. While this may not have been the optimal strategy from a conventional marketing point of view, their main interest was in testing the morphic field marketing strategy. The new demand arose spontaneously across the US and even internationally, showing no obvious relationship to the ten thousand people he chose for the morphic field marketing venture.

These are just two of the case studies that Ms. Bankman presents. She is not so much interested in proving the validity of this new marketing strategy as showing that major business enterprises are employing it in the belief that it works. Ms. Bankman does believe that the marketing strategy works, but she adds that scientific research is required to establish this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Part five of the book is a meditation upon the implications of morphic field marketing and the social implications of technology generally. This meditation is more a series of questions than a source of answers, and many of these questions are troubling. I would say that Ms. Bankman has opened up an area of investigation that will occupy social and biological scientists for many decades.

Here are some of the questions that Ms. Bankman asks and explores in the final chapters of her book: What are the implications of large corporations attempting to manipulate the morphic field in order to open the way for new technologies that people might otherwise not accept? What does it mean that you and I are helpless in the face of this kind of manipulation? Are there any historical precedents for this phenomenon and what can we learn from the historical precedents? Does morphic field marketing represent a threat to human freedom and what should we do about that threat? If human beings can consciously manipulate the morphic field, by learning new behaviors and introducing new technologies, then how can we assure that the morphic field is manipulated for the betterment of all of mankind? Should we have guardians of the morphic field and who should they be? What forces in society are likely to affect the evolution of the morphic field? Can we define ethical principles to use for the conscious manipulation of the morphic field?

These are momentous questions. In the early days of morphic field research, idealists, such as myself, saw this theory as a doorway to the betterment of the human race. If we could get a critical mass of people to believe in peace, if we could get a critical mass of people to believe in protecting the environment, if we could get a critical mass of people to believe in love, and charity, and caring for one's neighbor ... . Many of us who were drawn to biology and morphic field research were hoping that our research would help human beings to realize that humanity could achieve the great ideals that have long been a part of human aspiration.

The reality we now face is much different. Ms. Bankman's book has forced me to see that modern technology may be having a devastating impact upon the morphic field, at least in terms of the youthful ideals that I still cling to. Modern technology is destroying the sense of community and unity that is necessary in order for us to promote the conscious evolution of the human race, which requires the conscious manipulation of the morphic field in order to improve the human condition.

The human reality now is a fragmented one. If you can form a community of one thousand people who are devoted to peace and justice and love, then you will find tens of thousands of communities out there in cyberspace that have a completely contrary agenda. There is no voice that speaks for all of humanity. There are billions upon billions of splintered voices. No religion or ideology is dominant. Even the voice of the individual is splintered into a myriad of cyberselves.

The chilling reality of our age is that the only common thread that unites all of mankind is technology. So, the use of technology and our subservience to it are the most powerful forces operating upon the morphic field. We cannot say that the desire for peace, justice, and love are powerful forces shaping human destiny. This is the decidedly bleak picture that Ms. Bankman paints at the end of her book.

If there is any hope for the human race, it must come from a new sense of community and a new sense of common purpose. In some strange sense, the extreme individualism of cyberspace, has become a form of mindless conformity. The only way to escape notice these days is to be truly bizarre. We need a "seed group" that will emphasize goodness and purity of purpose at the expense of technological wizardry and marketing. Otherwise, future generations will become mere consumers of technology, completely devoid of heart, compassion, purpose and integrity. Each and every one of us is manipulating the morphic field, whether we realize that or not. We are each affecting the other in a myriad of ways, not just the obvious. We each have tremendous obligations of kinship with one another. I would agree with Ms. Bankman that the cyberworld presents tremendous risks and challenges for the future evolutionary development of the human race.

Marketing and the Morphic Field is a seminal work. In her final chapter, Ms. Bankman lays out a framework for developing what she calls "the ethics of morphic field manipulation". On one hand, this is a philosophy of personal responsibility. Each of us affects the larger humanity because of our actions. On the other hand, it is an economic and political manifesto, asserting that the public needs to be aware of how a small elite of wealthy and powerful people can manipulate the morphic field to perpetuate their power, wealth, and influence. Ms. Bankman makes a powerful argument that it is dangerous to allow just a few people to have such a tremendous influence on the evolution of the morphic field, which is the evolution of the human race. The antidote to the current situation is for each human being to develop their own consciousness and to become aware of the forces that are influencing their own decision making.

In all of my years as a book reviewer I have never felt so strongly that a book had to be read. The final chapter should be required reading for all college freshmen, for our educational system must be devoted to raising this kind of consciousness, if it has any serious purpose at all. Ms. Bankman raises critical questions concerning the relationship between the biological, the social, and the technological. We need to study her words and we need to gather the empirical and scientific data that will enable us to study this phenomenon carefully and thoroughly. We all owe Ms. Bankman a huge debt for bringing this serious matter to our collective attention.



© 1997, 1999 Richard Gary Epstein

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