I’ve noticed a trend in the history of advertising and media. The tendency is toward a goal of maximum distraction, maximum emotional impact– the meaning of the words and their relationship to fact tends to be secondary. And over time we’ve seen this become more and more extreme.
It’s basically Aldous Huxley and the Brave New World– over time the people who do this for a living are getting better and better at essentially pushing a button which stimulates the animal pleasure/pain/fear/joy response so that more and more people spend less and less time paying attention to how their behavior actually affects the world around them in a concrete way. Instead we are focusing on how we feel about it.
I used to be much more cavalier about ads– my attitude was essentially that I knew they were lying to me so I just didn’t pay attention.
Well I realized that I do pay attention– it’s inevitable. I just don’t have that level of control over my attention, and ads are everywhere. And of course even sober articles have various emotional cues, the author adopts some sort of attitude or tone.
The idea of “groupthink” is that people all adopt the attitudes, behaviors and beliefs of the group, no matter how ridiculous or even destructive, because they want and need to fit it, to be accepted by their peers. Well I think this is much deeper. Over time as media have come to dominate our experience of the world, direct unmediated person-to-person relationships inevitably bear some imprint from that. You talk about TV shows or the football game. Or a book you read about the history of New Guinea. It’s all a step removed from direct experience, as well as from matters pertaining directly to the relationship between you and the person you’re talking to.
I think this has both negative and positive social implications. On the one hand it means there is pressure and temptation to exist in a world to some extent removed from reality where you can avoid responsibility and just play games or read books. On the other hand I think it takes pressure off of our relationships because with all this stimulation you can avoid them for a while. And maybe more to the point it provides a way to save face and more safely navigate emotional tension. Instead of arguing about who stole whose sandwich or who is more equipped to be the boss or wear the pants, you can release that energy more safely by playing mortal kombat against each other or arguing about the coach’s decision in the seahawks game.