iPhone Versus Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

After buying an iPhone, I have begun to wonder where consumer purchases fit into Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a system of human needs in his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. At the base level, Maslow suggested that humans have physiological needs -- to maintain homeostasis, breathe, and so on. Once those needs are met, the (sane) human seeks safety, then love and belonging, then esteem, then at the top level: self-actualization -- this is where creativity, morality, and general awesomeness reside.

Maslow's hierarchy makes a lot of sense to me -- it's certainly true that when a base need (for example, "It's awful darn cold in this room") isn't being met, satisfying that need becomes the primary motivator in my life, pushing aside the exciting work of self-actualization. But where I think it gets interesting is examining the effects of advertising and consumer culture on your personal hierarchy of needs. Apple managed to convince me that I Needed an iPhone a few weeks back, to the point that I put all my other needs on hold and stood in a line for several hours (in the hot sun and the rain), just to plunk down $600 and take home a phone. (Granted, a really neat phone that I enjoy, but still, not something that was a need before Apple told me it was.)

It seems to me that effective advertising creates an alternate, commercialized version of Maslow's pyramid -- where instead of attending to the real needs of yourself as a human being (everything from homeostasis to self-actualization), you buy into the desire to attain some new gizmo, eat a certain kind of food, in general meeting your needs by buying more stuff (and particular stuff -- this or that brand of cereal, for instance). In this alternate world, your needs are suggested to you by advertising, often at a specific time and place -- new Harry Potter book coming soon! -- and your experience of fulfilling those needs involves buying stuff and shifting priorities in your life in order to enable purchases.

Somewhere at the top of this commercial need pyramid (for me, anyway) is the iPhone, a device that effectively promised to simplify my life by reducing the number of gadgets I carried (all of which were previous commercial items I decided to buy). Before the iPhone, I already had a phone, an iPod, a laptop, and good internet access -- after it, I still have those things, but I also have an iPhone. Hmm. I was clearly in the target market because I'd already bought all the other gizmos, so now my need was to buy uber- or meta-gizmos to simplify. Ouch.

This experience of buying into a commercial need diverts the buyer into an experience where "must buy iPhone" is the primary need of the moment. The most amazing (and perhaps horrifying) part is, buying the iPhone actually felt like a form of self-actualization. It felt similar to being creative, and I was validated by all the other nerds buying theirs. I've heard stories of those who shopped at Apple Stores where lines of employees would high-five new iPhone buyers on their way out of the store. What's up with that?

I also wonder -- is it all that bad if buying something makes you feel good? It's certainly scary, but is it a valid option for being happy? To some extent, if paying $600 for an iPhone bought me $600 worth of happiness, that's actually pretty neat. I think where this gets hard to hold onto is when you compare my $600 of happiness to putting $600 in the bank (probably making me happier someday in the future), or giving it to someone who really needs it (to maintain homeostasis, for example), or what have you. But I suppose everything is relative -- if I stuck with that line of reasoning I'd probably live in a yurt. And who knows, maybe I'd be happier for it.

So what sits atop your hierarchy of needs? Is it some commercial need masquerading as self-actualization? Is it something personal, creative, or...other?

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How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts
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In a 1997 episode of Seinfeld called “The Comeback,” George Costanza is merrily stuffing himself with free shrimp at a meeting. His coworker mocks him: “Hey, George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

It’s only later, on the drive home, that he thinks of the comeback. But the moment has passed.

The common human experience of thinking of the perfect response too late—l’esprit de l’escalier, or "the wit of the staircase"—was identified by French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was so overwhelmed by an argument at a party that he could only think clearly again once he’d gotten to the bottom of the stairs.

We've all been there. Freestyle rappers, improv comedians, and others who rely on witty rejoinders for a living say their jobs make them better equipped to seize the opportunity for clever retorts in everyday life. They use a combination of timing, listening, and gagging their inner critics. Here are their insights for crafting the perfect comeback.

LISTEN TO YOUR OPPONENT’S ARGUMENT.

The next time you’re in a heated conversation, be less focused on what you're about to say and more attentive to what you're actually responding to. When you spend more time considering what your sparring partner is saying, “you’re deferring your response until you’ve fully heard the other person," Jim Tosone, a technology executive-turned-improv coach who developed the Improv Means Business program, tells Mental Floss. Your retorts may be more accurate, and therefore more successful, when you’re fully engaged with the other person’s thoughts.

DON’T THINK TOO MUCH.

According to Belina Raffy, the CEO of the Berlin-based company Maffick—which also uses improv skills in business—not overthinking the situation is key. “You’re taking yourself out of unfolding reality if you think too much,” she tells Mental Floss. It’s important to be in the moment, and to deliver your response to reflect that moment.

TRAIN THAT SPONTANEOUS MENTAL MUSCLE.

History’s most skilled comeback artists stored witticisms away for later use, and were able to pull them out of their memory at the critical time.

Winston Churchill was known for his comebacks, but Tim Riley, director and chief curator at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, tells Mental Floss that many of his burns were borrowed. One of his most famous lines was in response to politician Bessie Braddock’s jab, “Sir, you are drunk.” The prime minister replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

Riley says this line was copied from comic W.C. Fields. Nevertheless, it took quick thinking to remember and reshape the quote in the moment, which is why Churchill was thought of as a master of timing. “It was an off-the-cuff recall of something he had synthesized, composed earlier, and that he was waiting to perform,” Riley says.

But in some situations, the retort must be created entirely in the moment. Training for spontaneity on stage also helps with being quicker-witted in social situations, New York City battle rap emcee iLLspokinn tells Mental Floss. It’s like working a spontaneous muscle that builds with each flex, so, you’re incrementally better each time at seizing that witty opportunity.

MUZZLE YOUR INNER CRITIC.

Anyone who has been in the audience for an improv show has seen how rapidly performers respond to every situation. Improv teaches you to release your inhibitions and say what drops into your mind: “It’s about letting go of the need to judge ourselves,” Raffy explains.

One way to break free of your internal editor might be to imagine yourself on stage. In improv theater, the funniest responses occur in the spur of the moment, says Douglas Widick, an improv performer who trained with Chicago’s Upright Citizens Brigade. By not letting one’s conscience be one’s guide, actors can give into their “deepest fantasies” and say the things they wouldn’t say in real life.

IF YOU HAVE AN EXTRA SECOND, HONE YOUR ZINGER.

The German version of Diderot’s term is Treppenwitz, also meaning the wit of the stairs. But the German phrase has evolved to mean the opposite: Something said that, in retrospect, was a bad joke. When squaring up to your rival, the high you get from spearing your opponent with a deadly verbal thrust can be shadowed by its opposite, the low that comes from blurting out a lame response that lands like a lead balloon.

That's a feeling that freestyle rapper Lex Rush hopes to avoid. “In the heat of the battle, you just go for it,” she tells Mental Floss. She likens the fight to a “stream of consciousness” that unfolds into the mic, which leaves her with little control over what she’s projecting into the crowd.

It may help to mull over your retort if you have a few extra seconds—especially if you’re the extroverted type. “Introverts may walk out of a meeting thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ while extroverts think, ‘Why did I say that?’” Tosone, the improv coach, says. Thinking before you speak, even just briefly, will help you deploy a successful comeback.

And if it doesn’t go your way, iLLspokinn advises brushing off your missed opportunity rather than dwelling on your error: “It can be toxic to hold onto it."

THROW DIGITAL SHADE ACCORDING TO THE SAME RULES—BUT BE QUICK ABOUT IT.

Texting and social media, as opposed to face-to-face contact, give you a few extra minutes to think through your responses. That could improve the quality of your zinger. “We’re still human beings, even on screens. And we prefer something that is well-stated and has a fun energy and wit about it," Scott Talan, a social media expert at American University, tells Mental Floss.

But don't wait too long: Replies lose their punch after a day or so. “Speed is integral to wit, whether in real life or screen life,” Talan says. “If you’re trying to be witty and have that reputation, then speed will help you."

Some companies have excelled in deploying savage social media burns as marketing strategies, winning viral retweets and recognition. The Wendy’s Twitter account has become so well known for its sassy replies that users often provoke it. “Bet you won’t follow me @Wendys,” a user challenged. “You won that bet,” Wendy’s immediately shot back.

George Costanza learns that lesson when he uses his rehearsed comeback at the next meeting. After his colleague repeats his shrimp insult, George stands and proudly announces, “Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you!”

There’s silence—until his nemesis comes back with a lethal move: “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time best-seller.”

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Why Eating From a Smaller Plate Might Not Be an Effective Dieting Trick 
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It might be time to rewrite the diet books. Israeli psychologists have cast doubt on the widespread belief that eating from smaller plates helps you control food portions and feel fuller, Scientific American reports.

Past studies have shown that this mind trick, called the Delboeuf illusion, influences the amount of food that people eat. In one 2012 study, participants who were given larger bowls ended up eating more soup overall than those given smaller bowls.

However, researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Negev, Israel, concluded in a study published in the journal Appetite that the effectiveness of the illusion depends on how empty your stomach is. The team of scientists studied two groups of participants: one that ate three hours before the experiment, and another that ate one hour prior. When participants were shown images of pizzas on serving trays of varying sizes, the group that hadn’t eaten in several hours was more accurate in assessing the size of pizzas. In other words, the hungrier they were, the less likely they were to be fooled by the different trays.

However, both groups were equally tricked by the illusion when they were asked to estimate the size of non-food objects, such as black circles inside of white circles and hubcaps within tires. Researchers say this demonstrates that motivational factors, like appetite, affects how we perceive food. The findings also dovetail with the results of an earlier study, which concluded that overweight people are less likely to fall for the illusion than people of a normal weight.

So go ahead and get a large plate every now and then. At the very least, it may save you a second trip to the buffet table.

[h/t Scientific American]

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