Dummied to Death?

Posted on January 20, 2011 by Marian Salzman

As I reflect on the brain more than ever this year, I’ve been thinking about how dumb we’ve all become in the hopes of getting smart.

It all started with those Dummies books that used to be wildly popular (although there are 753 of them listed on Amazon and they keep coming, so someone must still be reading them). If you didn’t know how to use Excel or cook a chicken back in the ’90s, it was no problem to simply consult those lovely yellow-and-black Cliffs Notes for Living. Now we google for absolutely everything we need to know (from the proper way to cut bok choy to why my dogs like to spin three times before finding a spot on my bed). Are we smarter or dumber because of all this easy, instant how-to access?

In an article in The New York Times last week, we found that all sorts of how-to tools are popping up online to help the testosterone set, especially dads. Procter & Gamble’s new website Manofthehouse.com, for instance, gives advice on that hottest of topics: sex. Not what you’d typically expect from P&G, but a quick cruise of the site shows all kinds of other advice, too, from how to eat and how to work out, to how to dress—with an article called “You’re Too Old to Wear That.”

If you’re not a dad, fear not; there’s plenty of advice out there for every man. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the Boy Scout handbook…the Art of Manliness teaches guys everything from how to make introductions like a gentleman to how to start a fire with flint and steel. Manly stuff, for sure. And Esquire, that bastion of all things Renaissance man, will teach you how to cook the perfect steak, how to have sex in the car and, when you’re done with all that, how to make the perfect Tom Collins.

Women’s magazines have been doling out advice for years, and there are plenty of websites doing the same for women today. But the rise in advice for men is especially noticeable today. As men try to redefine themselves in this post-metrosexual world, there are increasingly more instruction manuals floating around (have we really forgotten how to tie a knot?).

From Dummies books to Google to sites devoted to how to do just about anything, the question isn’t only whether this information is making us smarter or dumber, but also how are our brains affected by information overload? No matter the questions, or the answers, look for many more how-tos to make our lives less of a mystery in 2011. Smart—and dumb!—marketers might want to investigate ways to get in on these instructive and prescriptive conversations, to assert their brand’s POV.

I, for one, need all the tutoring I can get on every topic, so—passé or not—I will be plugging through Wine for Dummies, 50 Great Ideas for Dummies and Retirement Planning for Dummies. Any recommendations?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Daveynin

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