ARE YOU ABLE TO REMAIN DISPASSIONATE DURING YOUR RESEARCH? OR HAVE YOU DEVELOPED POLITICAL FEELINGS ABOUT GAMBLING ALONG THE WAY? Not gambling. My husband is an avid live poker player. I have nothing against gambling, drinking — any of these kind of consumer pleasures. I’m often asked to speak by more right-wing conservative groups and it’s always very odd for me because I don’t really support any of their other agendas.

Where I become quite political is in feeling that there needs to be more regulation of the gambling industry. . . [similar to] many larger industries, whether it’s Big Pharma, Big Tobacco. Basically, this is a symptom of the lack of corporate regulation more generally. Specifically [in terms of] consumer protection, I think there is very little of it. In the book I show very concretely how so many deceptions and manipulations are designed into these devices and these consumer environments, of which the consumers are quite unaware.

There are these machines that allow you to bet on many, many lines [at once]. So you’re betting like 100 pennies and . . . you’ll likely not lose everything on a spin. You’ll likely put in 40 coins, win 30 back; put in 100 coins, win 20 back [or] 90 back. Even when you’re winning just 20 back, which is a net loss of 80 coins, it’s giving you all of the sounds and the signals of winning. So you sit there and you get the exact same feedback as your money is being slowly eaten away until it’s gone. Brain research has shown that people who play that game have the exact same physiological reaction as they do to really winning.

It’s things like that really intimately affect the consumer experience and I would say their ability make choices. So it’s really hypocritical when all of this emphasis is put on “responsible gambling” and how it’s consumers’ job to behave themselves better and there’s no regulation whatsoever of features like that. A lot of these machines [allow you to play] 1200 hands an hour. I don’t know how anyone can be expected to be rationally making decisions when you’re playing 1200 hands an hour.

MOST AMERICANS HAVE EATEN AT A BUFFET AT LEAST ONCE IN THEIR LIFETIME, IF NOT MUCH MORE FREQUENTLY. WHAT KIND OF CULTURAL ACTIVITY ARE WE TAKING PART IN WHEN WE DO THIS? I think you’re right that, as Americans, the buffet is something that we’ve all tasted. And it’s not just food buffets, it’s also the pharmacy buffet and staggering array of choices that we’re presented with at every step. And all of us know that kind of decision-making zone that we go into when we’re confronted with this seemingly infinite abundance of product, whether it’s soap or food.

But particularly food triggers this sense of longing, desire — that certain nervousness and agitation. And if you go to a buffet you can really watch people experiencing this and then predictably watch them. . . maybe not really fully enjoying [themselves] because of this anxiety about “How do I. . .? There’s all this stuff at my fingertips. How do I get it all?”

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