The hands of the market on the dreams

The commercial use of dream incubation is rapidly becoming a reality.

In ancient times, dreams were the doors through which the gods spoke to men.

In the last century, with the death of God announced by Nietzsche and the affirmation of individualism, dreams stop being messages from God, and with Freud became a way in which the past speaks to the present, the individual speaks to himself and the real self speaks to the fabricated one.

With the advent of postmodernity, the affirmation of neoliberal society, and the coming earthquake of the fourth industrial revolution (Schwab) sleep turns into a frontier land, to convert to the laws of market and marketing.

Since humans spend one-third of their life asleep, and sleep is their core and their weakest part, in which they are unaware of being subject to external influences, the market intends to establish a direct communication with it.

Many studies on dream incubation, which is the presentation of stimuli before or during sleep to affect dream content, proved that the control of sleep and dream is technically possible.

Just to list a few examples:

  1. In a 2014 study, it was shown that associating the smell of cigarettes with that of rotten eggs or fish during smokers’ sleep, resulted in a 30 percent reduction in their smoking over the following week.
  • A 2018 paper demonstrated that presenting the name of a product during sleep could shift snack preferences toward either M&Ms or Skittles.
  • In a 2021 experiment, Molson Coors, a multinational drink and brewing company, teamed up with a dream expert trying to infiltrate people’s dreams. In the experiment, it was shown to participants a short film before falling asleep that shows Coors Light cans with mountains, waterfalls, and snow, then played an eight-hour “soundscape” through the night.

Since sleep represents one-third of humans’ life in which preferences and choices can be selectively modified by external cues, tech giants like Google, Amazon and Apple have all developed smart devices designed to monitor people’s sleep.

While these technologies and the data they collect are presented as tools to improve people’s sleep, it is not difficult to see the slippery slope in which our phones and smart speakers become instruments of overnight advertising and data collection, with or without our knowledge.

Regardless of consequences for the body of handling with sleep, transforming the peaceful time of sleep into a battlefield open to the market, we cannot ignore the risk of making the kingdom of dreams a place where humans could lose their individual sovereignty and become subject to social and political control.

For these reasons, a group of more than 40 sleep and dream researchers signed a document rejecting dream advertising campaigns, while others have drafted a Dream Engineering Ethic to foster discussions on the implications of such studies on the field.

I see the main risk in the fact that In the beginning, these new devices will be presented as tools to become better athletes or artists, to quit smoking, to cure psychological diseases, but they could end up in common marketing tools. Not everyone sees the the slippery slope though. According to a 2021 survey, in the next three years, 77 percent of marketers are planning to use dream-hacking techniques and according to another study, only 32 percent of 500 consumers surveyed, were opposed to the use of dream incubation by advertisers. I hope that the third age of dreams does not turn into a nightmare.

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