The standard meanings of “neoteny” are
- the retention of juvenile characteristics in an adult of the species
- premature reproductive maturity.
I adopt the word because I know no other term for this concept: the appearance of youth, sexuality or novelty applied to a person or thing that lacks those characteristics. A few common examples are
- face makeup
- rapidly changing fashion trends
- logo, label, and web site redesigns
- irrelevant images of attractive people, children, animals or things.
Due to the work of Sigmund Freud and his nephew, Edward Bernays, the field of marketing has specialized in controlling your attention by one simple and devious trick: manipulate the subconscious. This is as easy as placing an attractive object next to the product. You buy without knowing how far your decisions are influenced by the fallacies of association by proximity and animal attraction.
Be on the lookout and do not fall for deceptive neoteny in any form. It is a way of taking advantage of your animalism (instinctive behaviors and tendencies you have in common with animals). Do not consider yourself too advanced or enlightened to be so easily manipulated. Vestigial it may be, but you can’t unwire it. Anyone who says you’re above this instinct is getting ready to take advantage of you.
When you notice deceptive, artificial neoteny–you must train yourself and try hard to notice it–count it as a strike. It does not mean they have acted immorally. Still, you must even the score before you can make a fair evaluation. The only way to balance the indelible marks they have made on your subconscious scoreboard is to penalize them consciously.
Gratuitous imagery may be its most obvious incarnation but deceptive neoteny isn’t only about sex. Its other face is novelty. Just as thoughts of sex stimulate changes in your brain chemistry, any unfamiliar visual element can awaken and arouse you. Any novel color, shape, or arrangement has a chance to draw your attention. From neon-colored “Sale!” stickers to actual flashing neon signs to drastic web site redesigns, everything that was once new and exciting becomes old and boring after a while and must be refreshed.
When you see a box on the shelf touting its new label design, or a web site that brags about its new style, or a clever new commercial, first acknowledge their success in grabbing your attention and tally the penalty. Then ask whether the actual product has been improved, or has the quality or economy of the product actually suffered to accomodate the new design? Are you the type of consumer who would opt to pay extra for your usual brand of soap so the producer could redesign the logo every year?
Invariably, all novel designs in any profit-driven enterprise are aimed at benefiting the producer or publisher. Whether its function is to attract new customers or to affect the behavior of loyal users, its purpose is to increase profit. The question that should be foremost in your mind is whether it benefits you, the customer.
So beware of allegations of freshness. Learn to discriminate between the sexy and the allegedly sexy, the new and the allegedly new, the improved and the allegedly improved. Cultivate suspicion against those who pull the lever of neoteny for they have shown their willingness to lie to you.
None of this is meant to call you a fool, nor to say you should always be jaded. However, if you wish to wear wool over your eyes from time to time, at least you can know about it.
Disclosure: It should be plain that the message above in no way works to my personal advantage. However, you can choose to advantage me financially by shopping at Amazon after following this link to my favorite detergent. [sexy photo goes here]