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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Chapter 5. Push and Pull

Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river. —Lao Tzu

What do bananas, text books, and beach sand have in common? No, it's not a joke, though the answer dwells in the borderlands between humor and horror. We're talking about ambient advertising , and it's funny and fascinating, until it crosses the line.

Originally known as fringe, buzz, stealth, or guerilla marketing, ambient advertising has gone mainstream. Specialty agencies such as Ambient Planet and Diabolical Liberties are helping to spread the word into every nook and cranny imaginable. Beer mats, bar toilets, pizza boxes, receipts, floors, cars, parks, and prescription pharmacy bags. Ads lurking in the holes on golf courses. Commercials carved in sand. Logos inscribed on foreheads. Everyday objects and nature itself are becoming channels for push media.

But where is the line? At what point is push too pushy? Our emotions lure us toward the extreme. For instance, I hate spam. It invades my inbox, steals my attention, and wastes my time. It's bad for me, and I'm pretty sure it's bad for society. Some days, I get angry and search for solutions in the shady bazaar of black lists, white lists, filtering algorithms, and challenge-response systems. But mostly, I try to ignore it, control-deleting my way ahead in a state of learned helplessness. Spam is the poster child for the dark side of push.

Spam is also a canned meat product and the subject of a hilarious Monty Python sketch in which two customers ...

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