information assymetry in a media overloaded world

Per la boca by L'Ham de Foc on Grooveshark

some awesome (pipe) music from valencia, though they mix many sounds from all over

for a long time i felt the information overload was somehow focused, as if the overload wasn’t an overload of everything, but of specific things. i’d like to look into this in terms of asymmetry of information. i’ll go through some examples, including one of my pet peeves, social media

one of the main things about the way we perceive things is that our understandings of those things make us induce extra things about what we’re seeing. simplifying, if someone is wearing a lab coat, we will instinctively think that they somehow know more about something because it looks like they do. say, an actor with no training in pharmacy can be hired to do an ad for a bogus product, but since they look like they have a say, we will feel they have a say. since we are dominated by our emotions rather than reason for the most part, we will then attribute that feeling of authority to a real projected authority. if something looks like it is something, then it must be. it’s a common way we simplify the complex world around us, creating on one hand prejudices and biases, but on the other hand, very efficient ways of dealing with the world. say, if it looks like a door, it must be a door, so i will try to use it as the previous doors i’ve seen. we’ll see how this is important

i’m focusing on feelings because for a long time i’ve believed (though for the most part i can’t prove) that the way we feel about things defines more about our actions than the way we think about things. feelings decide, then we rationalize. obviously, critical thinking protects us from this, but then again, one can’t be critical 24/7

one of the feelings that is incredibly interesting for me is the one that marketing and advertisement exploits, in the form of smiles, beautiful faces and engaging scenes and actors. if you have a billboard with a beautiful half naked person looking straight at you the feeling we get is immediate and real. it is a beautiful person looking at us, maybe we’re special, maybe that person wants to do something with us. in reality, it is a beautiful person that was made up to be beautiful (by lighting, make up, surgery, etc), looking into a camera and pretending to be engaging with that camera or the photographer. it is someone that was hired by a panel, stood in a room for hours posing in fake engaging scenes that will be perceived as a real human connection. when someone stares at a camera that will broadcast something to millions, be it a billboard or a tv, we are creating a one way asymmetrical connection between the actor and the targets. asymmetrical because the actor didn’t engage anything but the camera and did their job, but on the other hand, everyone that will see that ad or video will feel engaged by that very same actor. they will feel there was something there even though there wasn’t, and that feeling will be multiplied and copied thousands of times. each one of these individuals will feel engaged by someone they will never meet, never really engage with, but already feel connected to them, creating a strange sense of on one hand familiarity but on the other hand isolation and loss (there’s that beautiful person looking at me again, but i’ll never meet them and they’ll never be mine). funny enough, this can go to extremes as far as making fans go crazy over being touched for a few seconds by one of these actors (i’ve been calling them actors, but performers in general, celebrities, etc). the power of this asymmetry means that all these fans have a feeling of being connected to someone who doesn’t know (and most of the times, doesn’t care) who they are or how they feel about them. in my opinion, this emotional asymmetry creates a permanent feeling of ineptitude, of loss and of longing – ideal characteristics for a consumer and a submissive citizen. a property of this asymmetry is that it will always create an imbalance and a craving on the masses for that particular feeling that was being sold. again, if it looks like that singer really loves me, they must, so i’ll love them back. never mind they were singing to a camera and only interested in the sales

applying this same reasoning to the way social media works in most platforms, one sees that this same idea of broadcasting something an audience will “individually” connect with is there too. if i tweet “i love you” and have one million followers, each one of those will feel the message was for them, even though it’s a form of diluted love. one might ask, if someone writes something like that to one million people, how could they ever express it? probably they won’t. but since social media is about sharing thoughts and things that matter, but also about popularity, what are the things that are most guaranteed to be successful? the very same individually engaging things that tap into those good feelings, but can be told to anyone. we encounter this pressure to share things that are going to be perceived as engaging and that will make people want to read and connect with. but the vast majority of things we encounter every day aren’t like that: most of what we do and what we encounter throughout a day are menial, boring, uninteresting things that don’t matter, so we won’t share that. we will just share what “matters”. but if everyone broadcasts only what matters, to someone listening it will seem that things that “matter” happen all the time, and that each individual’s life in comparison is lacking. if we have 10 friends online and each shares one meaningful thing in one day, and we had one meaningful thing happen to us, that day will have 10 times more goodness happening in other people’s lives than in ours. and again, if someone else looks like they have a lot going on, then we feel they do

when we cater to this paradigm of individual broadcast and consumption, filtered to make each shared item more popular, we are creating a mass of airbrushed and made-up lives for an audience to see. if all we share are meaningful and interesting things and hide the menial and downright banal things we do, we are effectively doing “plastic surgery” on our lives so they fit this paradigm of popularity. and since there will always be more “meaningful” broadcast messages than our own, we will always feel we have done less, felt less, lived less, because it looks like everyone is living more

the issue here is both asymmetry, in that we are looking at multiple shared things as an individual, which pretty much guarantees that things that happen to us will be fewer just out of sheer numbers, and the problem of inducing things based on biased data. if our sample of other people’s lives is social media, we will be basing ourselves on a doctored, media ready version of people’s lives, not a real historical account

the challenge will always be, in my opinion, to see the through the billboard and realize that this is all part of a poorly conceived marketing ploy to make us want to sell our lives for the highest bidder, liker or follower. popularity is hardly a good measure for quality or meaningfulness, and above all, every time someone in a photo or a post is engaging us “personally” in a broadcast message, they will continue to contribute to the erosion of the feeling that life is being lived fully, since in comparison to this mass media broadcast, it is lacking in many ways

no wonder we feel uglier, lonelier, less apt and less skilled. in a mass media world, only the masterful and popular are promoted, so in proportion, we will always be lower on that pyramid. it seems the bias for popularity has overcome the fully horizontal nature of networks, and that has made us live in a strange made up plastic world where lives are incredible and we will never be able to get there

how can we protect ourselves? how can i live my life without being “engaged” personally by scantily clad men and women whose looks are surreal? how can i live without being told i should have more, be more, do more? how can we let urbanization turn our lives into this terribly oppressing environment? if we are to be a city species (as it seems we are becoming), how can we build cities so that they empower and nurture each individual, and not make them feel like a cog in a machine?