Addicted to Distraction, Distracted and Disoriented

The Guardian: How the news took over reality
In recent years, there has been enormous concern about the time we spend on our web-connected devices and what that might be doing to our brains. But a related psychological shift has gone largely unremarked: the way that, for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama. The way that journalists and television producers have always experienced the news is now the way millions of others experience it, too.
Society is becoming ever more distorted because nonsense ideas are being continually reinforced by The Narrative. Social media is fracturing society at the same time because media is now a level playing field. The establishment is frantically turning to Chinese forms of Internet repression because it doesn't want narrative competition. It's impossible to stop it though, as competition comes from all sides.

WaPo: With its latest user ban, Facebook is starting to look more like a news organization
It is hard to see how society will be worse now that Facebook has banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and assorted other hateful extremists from its services. Will American political discourse really be poorer for the absence of Farrakhan’s ranting about “the Satanic Jew” or Jones’s warnings about the Pentagon’s “gay bomb”? The question answers itself.

But another question doesn’t: Who will they ban next?
Destroying the Enlightenment Narrative makes society better off, I guess. The argument for banning hate speech is the same argument for banning communist idea, for making blasphemy illegal. I don't think most people have really thought through the message they are sending. To the extent we can classify the 400-year old Englightenment as a narrative, is is now it's own worst enemy, furiously digging its own grave.

Back to The Guardian:
From a British or American standpoint, the overwhelmingly dominant features of this changed mental landscape are Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump. But the sheer outrageousness of them both risks blinding us to how strange and recent a phenomenon it is for the news – any news – to assume such a central position in people’s daily lives.
It's outrageous because of a narrative bubble. They're not outrageous at all to people outside of the bubble, some of us predicted and even bet money on these outcomes if only because the probabilities were skewed by The Narrative. Russiagate was obviously a hoax from the start.
Of course, not everyone has the freedom to spend hours each day scrolling through social media, and to this extent, overidentifying with the news is by definition a problem of the privileged. But the creeping colonisation of our personal sense of reality by “current events” has also seen the emergence of a strange new moral imperative – a social norm which holds that ignoring the news, or declining to grant it preeminence in our lives, is an irresponsible indulgence, available only to the fortunate.

According to a principle dating back to the Enlightenment, responsible democratic citizens are those who strive to keep informed about the nation and the wider world – a duty that has been held to be especially critical during times of rising authoritarianism. Today, though, this principle is often taken to imply a duty not to turn away from the news. The instinct to look elsewhere is treated as both a sign of privilege and an obliviousness to that luxury. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
Neuroticism is also contagious. Psychology Today: Why Is Neuroticism So Toxic?
As both a tennis champion and brain surgeon, my dad understood that having grace under pressure was the key to his success. He also learned that neuroticism is contagious. In the operating room, my father was notorious for dismissing any surgical assistant who was acting nervous or neurotic. In sport and life, I learned from my dad to distance myself from people who are worry warts. l also learned the importance of minimizing these character traits and thought patterns inside my own head.
Psychologists who tried creating self-help groups for neurotics also found the same thing, the patients became more neurotic because they fed on each other's worries. Think of what is going on in social media.

Bruce Charlton wrote a book about the media addiction, how to understand it and break free of it.
Addicted to Distraction: Psychological consequences of the Mass Media
Participation is primary
The modern Mass Media is not in its essence propaganda: it is participation.

It is engagement with the Mass Media that is pernicious; engagement is what fuels and sustains the Mass Media; and engagement is primarily what the modern Mass Media does. It grabs and holds attention; and provokes strong reactions which are shared; and in their turn provoke more engagement and more reaction.

Those who suppose they are manipulating the Mass media for their own ends (such as the Old Left) will be the biggest losers. They are indeed ‘hopeless cases’, since they refuse to acknowledge their own addiction, and therefore live in an intractable state of delusion.

Engagement with the Mass Media leads to more engagement – which is dependence; dependence on the Mass Media confers power on the Mass Media; and power confers authority.
It is being subject to the authority of the Mass Media which is the prime evil.

Propaganda is secondary – because Mass Media propaganda is on behalf of some other social system – with the Mass Media (merely) serving as an amplifier. But even with propaganda, all forms of effective Mass Media propaganda ultimately depend-on dependence; or else propaganda is simply ignored or avoided.

Nowadays, the propaganda is so objectively absurd, trivial, false – so obviously contrived, so obviously manufactured and laboriously squeezed-out – that it would be expected that such surely would be ignored or avoided – yet not so!

This crude and incoherent modern Mass Media propaganda is more effective than ever propaganda was before; for the simple reason that dependence on the Mass Media is greater than ever before. The public mind is colonized and shaped apparently regardless of content.

To show that the Mass Media is evil is therefore not so much a matter of pointing at the specific content – although indeed most of that content is objectively evil, in that it attacks truth, beauty and virtue; propagates lies, ugliness and vice – but that the modern media is primarily evil in terms of its vast capacity to engage and enforce cognitive participation.

(And by so doing, forcibly to empty the mind of other things – as any thing that occupies space and expands, pushes-out another thing.)

The psychology of the Mass Media is such that consumption is perceived as participation – at a psychological level (and no matter what the objective facts of the matter): consumption feels like engagement; and if it is perceived and feels like engagement, then it is therefore, cognitively-speaking, engagement.

Thus the Mass Media affects human psychology just as if it was real social engagement with real people.

(The reality of the individual consumer having negligible impact on the provider – which is a necessary predicate and consequence of media being ‘mass’ – is therefore psychologically irrelevant.)

In this respect, the Mass Media is like modern democracy – it is intrinsically manipulative since it creates fake engagement – a low reward, low cost, high volume (near-ubiquitous in the population) engagement.

The kind of dependence is harder to notice and just as difficult to cure (and to stay cured-from) as the kind of high reward, high cost, low volume (rare in the population) addiction characteristic of the major drugs.
So, how do we resist? ...Or rather, the proper question is: what do we resist?

And the answer is resist engagement.

We need to cut-down on the volume and the participation of Mass Media consumption, to the point that we are so much less dependent upon it that we can begin to perceive it from the outside.

Most people are inside the Mass Media, as a fish is inside the ocean – the typical citizen swims in the water of the Mass Media, drinks it and extracts oxygen from it, and cannot perceive it. The media has become his ‘reality’.

He prefers some parts of the water over others, of course, and therefore prefers to swim in some places and avoid others – but that is the sum of his choices. His preferences have all become within-media preferences.

But he is unaware-of, forgets-in-practice, that it is all water he is now living-in; it is all the Mass Media; and that he has been spending so much time in the water that he has ceased to recognize, or ever return to, the dry land of real reality; or even to remember that it exists distinct from Media representations which purport to be reality.

Perhaps only in his dreams does he do this; but then dreams may themselves become permeated by the Mass Media.

We need – we must – cut-down our participation in the Mass Media to at least that point where the dry land of real-not-media reality is again recognized as the primary reality – when we again become aware that in entering the Mass Media we are leaving real reality behind and taking a swim.
Everyone across the political spectrum suffers from mass media, but mass media is political correctness. It is the engine for progressive politics in America, which is why mass media and social media are waging war on right-wing dissent more than any other. Social media fuels political partisanship and radicalization because the online culture has no brakes. The left becomes ever more leftists in a revolutionary spiral and the right becomes radicalized in opposition, or simply stands still and gets classified as extremist relative to the ever left-ward drift of social media.

AllSides: Political Polarization in America, in Two Fascinating Charts
Looking at this chart helps put Trump, Brexit and the "moral panic" over the far-right in context. The Narrative, the still dominant narrative about the world, is an increasingly narrow slice of the population. It's increasingly detached from reality. It is therefore shocked by formerly normal opinion and works furiously to ban competing narratives. But it's also driving its own adherents crazy. America is almost certain to descend into a major civil disorder, including political fracture and war, if the current trends continue for another decade.

No comments:

Post a Comment