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Thinking about Signaling - King Rat
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Thinking about Signaling
A lot things people do aren't rational in the sense that we get a tangible benefit from the action. However, these things are important because they allow us to send messages to other people about who we are, who we want to be, and who think we are.

For instance, we don't get a tangible benefit from putting bumper stickers on our cars. But the Star Fleet Academy label in the window signals to other people that are one of your group.

In the world of reading, it's not uncommon to have books considered classics on one's shelves. We may not enjoy them, and sometimes may not even read them, but their presence signals to other people that we are well-read.

I don't do a lot of signaling. At least not that I can think of. But there are some things. I keep many of my books. There's not a lot of tangible value for me to have a wall full of books. I won't re-read all of them. There's a bit of tangible value in that I have a stock of books to give away or lend (which is what happens to many). But mostly I have the books to signal that I like to read.

Dressing up to go out is a form of signaling. There's no tangible benefit to wearing dark spooky clothes. There's some benefit to it in that I may like a particular look. But most people don't dress for their own viewing pleasure. They are dressing for the signals the clothing sends to other people: I am one of you, I am wealthy, I am attractive, I am good in bed, or I am a freakazoid (Keenan).

I'm trying to think of what else I do that is primarily for signaling reasons.


11 comments or Leave a comment
burgunder From: burgunder Date: October 24th, 2007 05:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Tag: economics. How so?
gkr From: gkr Date: October 24th, 2007 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)
One of the lynchpins of modern capitalist economics is that people do things for rational reasons. In particular, that we do things for our own economic benefit. But this isn't true. We largely do, but then we also do things like donate money to charities or buy bumper stickers. And we may get some genuine utility from these things. But it's hard to explain all of this behavior from a utility perspective. There's utility in signaling, but it's much harder to measure. And it's much harder to determine if you are getting what you are paying for, essentially. Which is why I'm thinking about what I do that is signaling.
thugg1ns From: thugg1ns Date: October 24th, 2007 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Says the man with the pineapple shirt.
foote3 From: foote3 Date: October 24th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd say that brand preference and loyalty is almost always a form of signaling. Why does one buy a BMW instead of a Mercedes, Mac vs. PC (not really intending to start a mac v. pc argument, it is just a very "signally" category in my opinion), Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts or Sevens vs. Levis?

Often there's no real difference in quality or value between the myriad of choices for a particular product (actually, in some cases, the product with the better value has a lower cachet precisely for the fact that it isn't perceived as "luxury").

These decisions are based on how you want to be perceived; what you think being a consumer or owner of that particular brand says about you to others.
burgunder From: burgunder Date: October 24th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Once I'd thought about, I'd say brand preference, too.

Like the Whole Foods best ingredients option that we (Phil and I) talk about sometimes.
efebruary From: efebruary Date: October 25th, 2007 12:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Being one of those high-maintenance gals, I'd like to make a small point about Sevens vs. Levis...

Levis don't make my ass look luscious, while Sevens do...
I am more than happy to pay for any extra help in the hot-ass-department ;)
gkr From: gkr Date: October 25th, 2007 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)
You'll need to come over here and show me.
foote3 From: foote3 Date: October 25th, 2007 02:31 am (UTC) (Link)
That's a whole 'nother kind of signaling!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 26th, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nice post..

nice work, dude
gkr From: gkr Date: March 26th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Nice post..

Thanks, dude.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 5th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

well done

thanks much, bro
11 comments or Leave a comment