As you like it

One of my favorite quirky books is Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, which discusses the unconscious factors that influence the way we drive (driving drivers, if you will).

The author is out with a new book entitled You May Also Like, whose central argument is that there are things that we truly like – and things that we like mainly because other people like them, or because they have symbolic meaning, or because of some semi-conscious contextual factor.

Vanderbilt discusses his latest work in an interview for the FiveThirtyEight blog. The blog features an excerpt from the interview but you also can download the complete audio.

We often shape our preferences to distinguish ourselves from other people.  I like BMWs in many ways.  They are good-looking cars that perform well. However, I’ll probably never drive one because one of the most condescending prigs I have ever known drove a BMW; so the car, unfortunately, is linked in my mind to that very unpleasant person.

Other times people claim to like things (foreign films, perhaps) that they never actually consume.  When we say we like something, it’s sometimes because “liking” it helps us feel more like the kind of person we want to be.

Also, context plays a big role in whether we like something or not.  In this interview, Vanderbilt mentions the concept of “lawnmower beer.”  It might not be a beer with a complex taste profile that you would drink in a fine restaurant, but it tastes pretty darn good a 90 degree Saturday afternoon after you have mowed the lawn.

Vanderbilt is a gifted writer and the topic is of great relevance to our work.  I can’t wait to pick it up.