I approached Thaler and Sunstein’s modish book ‘Nudge’ with trepidation. I nearly chose not to continue past the odious epithet ‘choice architect’ which appeared in its opening pages. And it would be misleading to imply that I didn’t almost chew through the insides of my face on a couple of occasions when the co-authors’ references to themselves in the third person became too frequent to bear. Yet, my oceanic reserves of irritability aside, I found the work to be animated by a well argued, worthwhile premise and its central thesis was, I acknowledge, communicated clearly.
The book does impart to its readers a curse which endures months after the volume itself has been consigned to the bookshelf. I’d be surprised if anyone has yet managed to read it without finding themselves impelled to identify and categorise any number of ‘nudges’ which suddenly manifest themselves in various political and commercial situations. My suspicion, in this regard, has been substantiated by Rob Greenland’s post on ‘The Social Business’ blog, which recognises that Tesco has been ‘nudging’ customers towards reusing carrier bags during their weekly shop.
Despite a couple of instances when we’ve spilled fruit and veg over the car-park or street after a particularly tired old bag has objected to being filled yet again with heavy groceries, my girlfriend and I continue to march out of Tesco with M & S, Dunnes and Waterstones bags. It appears that increasingly other shoppers are doing the same. There has been a 48% reduction in the number of new plastic bags used. Apart from asking customers whether they need bags on each occasion they visit the till (which is a ‘nudge’ in itself), the company also awards Clubcard points to those who bring their own.
It’s clear evidence that people’s wasteful behaviour can be altered by relatively simple expedients. It also gives me a pretext to post a Tim Minchin video.