As Cook notes in his book, the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year. On the other hand, people in the bottom three deciles don’t drink at all, and even the median consumption among those who do drink is just three beverages per week.
The shape of this usage curve isn’t exactly unique. The Pareto Law states that “the top 20 percent of buyers for most any consumer product account for fully 80 percent of sales,” according to Cook. The rule can be applied to everything from hair care products to X-Boxes.
But the consequences of the Pareto Law are different when it comes to industries like alcohol, tobacco, and now marijuana. If you consume 10+drinks per day, for instance, you almost certainly have a drinking problem. But the beverage industry is heavily dependent on you for their profits.
“One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry,” he writes. “If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent.” [bold added]
— Christopher Ingraham, “Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you.”
This is a good reminder that it is the very nature of marketing and business to promote and exploit addictive behavior.
Much of the conversation around problems with social networking and smartphone technology concerns this exploitation. After all, if an app can keep you coming back repeatedly and often, then that app will better gain from your compulsive behavior.
Hence why many adults talk about “tech-free” vacations to try and go cold turkey from compulsive usage of Twitter or Facebook, or about utilizing “mindfulness” techniques to defragment their hyperconnected minds.
Our public schools need to strengthen the ability of our children to fight against the addictive and shallow pull of illusory and short-term compulsions. We must do this by equipping children with the knowledge and understanding of the world necessary to buffer them from forces that seek to exploit their ignorance.
This knowledge and understanding is best gained from reading. If you are going to be addicted to something, become addicted to reading.
Whenever I talk with students about my love for reading, I end up referencing Frederick Douglass, who deeply understood how the power of knowledge, derived from the written word, can provide opportunities never before imagined. And how this knowledge also brings pain, and loneliness.
It’s easier to allow ourselves to be exploited. Or to allow others to be exploited yet more. To allow our overriding concern to be our sneakers, or our latest love interest, or different angles of selfie shots.
How much harder to give oneself to a book, or any other pursuit of the mind, in which we are challenged to be something so much less, and so much more, than ourselves.