It has to start somewhere,
It has to start sometime.

-Rage Against the Machine

I read a book years ago called Persuasion. I tried re-reading it last year, but didn’t get all the way through it this time. In 2005 I did. (Why I remember the year is not at all important.) In it, Cialidini covers various methods of subtle (and not-so-subtle) persuasive techniques to illicit responses.

Semiotics is the study of sign and symbols, and their use or interpretation. In a way, it’s about cultural norms, how they develop, and how they can be used creatively to illicit responses. It’s a single word representing an enormous concept.

I wasn’t aware of semiotics when I read Persuasion, but since I’ve made the connection and it’s been of interest to me since. Persuasive techniques are greatly enhanced if you understand the semiotics of someone’s life – the signs and symbols that trigger positive emotion. It can be religious, familial, or pop culture. But we are inundated with symbols every day, and more and more we become programmed to respond in certain ways.

For our brains, that’s a positive thing. We were historically able to look at a situation and gauge its safety and potential for satisfactory outcome. But now that can be used against us. If we’re unaware of someone setting us up by creating a sense of comfort, then we may do exactly what they want. And sometimes, the wrong people mean harm.

It isn’t that we have to walk around with a running dialogue of the semiotics of every single input we come across. It’s only we must be mindful that sometimes things aren’t what they seem to be.

For a more in-depth look at semiotics, review this sign salad article