Every once in a while, I have an experience that drives home the fact that my mind works a bit differently from what’s considered “normal.”

I’m taking a class in marketing this quarter.  (When I was registering for classes, I thought it was a required course, but it turned out that it wasn’t!)  I wasn’t sure how well this course would go, not because I thought the work would be hard (thankfully there are no essays in this class), but because I have an antagonistic relationship with marketing in general.  Every marketing method seems to be all about manipulating people’s thoughts and actions in a way that’s often intrusive and sometimes outright deceptive.

Here’s an example.  A while ago, I was sorting through the mail.  About 50% of it is what’s considered “junk” mail, things trying to get you to buy something.  Because there was an election coming up, there was also a lot of political junk mail looking for money or votes.  There is mail that’s very important to keep track of, like bills or bank statements, and every once in a while, there’s a letter from a person.  I can usually pick those out because the address is hand written rather than printed.

Sometimes, I can tell pretty quickly which pile a piece of mail goes into.  But a lot of the creators of junk mail, political and otherwise, try to fool you.  For instance, one of them was using a printed font that was trying to look as if it was hand written; I could only tell the difference by looking very carefully at individual letters and realizing that all of the E’s looked exactly alike.

That’s marketing.  And it achieved its goal.  I looked at that envelope longer than I did any of the other junk mail, because it was harder to tell what it was.  It may be an effective strategy, and it’s far from the most intrusive thing that marketing does, but it still bothers me because it’s deceptive.  The company that printed that envelope knew that handwritten text seems more genuine and trustworthy because it implies that someone took the time to write it with a pen.  In reality, they printed thousands of envelopes just like this one, but they wanted to give a false impression.  Maybe someday soon, a computer will be able to cheaply simulate the variations of human handwriting so that all E’s will not look the same, and it will be even harder to tell the difference.

Okay, so sorry for complaining about something so minor there, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t like marketing.  I like for the labels on things to be correct.  Marketing does not seem very friendly to people with Asperger’s who like to categorize.

Anyway, I was in marketing class last week, and my teacher was talking about all of the psychological factors that go into the presentation of a product– shapes, colors, space, sound, and even smells can be used to try to grab people’s attention in ways they won’t notice.

The teacher explained that all of us have filters in our brains that are always working to allow us to concentrate on one thing while filtering out the things we’re not focusing on. He said that we usually aren’t aware of all of the things around us until they are pointed out.

I thought about the sounds I could hear in the room.  Besides my teacher speaking, I could hear the rustle of clothing from students fidgeting.  Some were picking up and setting down the plastic bottles they had brought to drink from, and some were tapping the floor or the legs of their desks with their shoes.  I could hear the more muffled sounds from out in the hall as groups of students came and went, sometimes stopping to have conversations.  Under it all was the steady hum of the projector hanging from the center of the ceiling.

“For instance,” said the teacher, “you don’t notice the noise that the thing on the ceiling is making, but now you suddenly notice it, because I pointed it out.  Isn’t that weird?  Especially those of you sitting right under it.”

Students seemed to react as if they hadn’t heard the noise until now, looking up at the projector.  A chair in one of the neighboring classrooms made a loud noise as it was scooted across the tile floor.

“Or like how a chair just made a noise there, but you didn’t notice it because you weren’t listening for it,” my teacher said.

I really wanted to tell the teacher that my filter was broken.  Then I remembered the first thing he had said about these mental filters:  “If we didn’t didn’t have them, we’d go insane.”

I wonder if this explains why I don’t like marketing very much.  Everything that’s for sale is screaming for the attention of people who filter most things out, but my filter is broken, so I hear it all (or at least more than the marketers expect me to).  I notice it the most in places like bookstores.  Every book’s cover is trying to stand out against all other books’ covers.  Some use bright colors, some use intricate designs, some are stark and minimalist, some are oddly shaped, some use disturbing images, and some use shocking titles.  The result is a garish cacophony that can be a bit dizzying from my point of view.