The tranquil flood of information died after CNN introduced the 24-hour news cycle. But the internet brushed on a new type of disorder onto the information canvass that prevents us from thinking straight.
We consumed mindlessly, eating more than we could chew. Our brains got overloaded, dulled out, memories stymied by Google and images that told us everything we needed to know.
The good news is that while no one reads anymore, those who do are choosing quality over crap. Premium content is back because it’s trustworthy, well-written, detailed, and shareable.
Of course, the non-traditional sources are there like me. I blog to step back from the chaos and to absorb its connections. I refuse to let the Kardashians and other buffoonery colonize my brain. Blogging is like self-medication, but you can easily do it with a private journal or spending five still minutes reflecting on the day behind or ahead.
The Pilgrims didn’t have to deal with attention seeking missiles, misinformation, and click-baiting darts. Otherwise, they might have stayed home assuming the worst. Now offers the chance to dance with the intrusions by putting novelty aside and embracing the imagination for periods at a time.
“We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.” — David Lynch
Less news equals more news, squashing stimuli along the way.
The Financial Times sat down with “musician, artist, thinker” Brian Eno in the studio of his Notting Hill home. Here are my favorite snippets from the interview:
On the transactional value between art and bitcoin:
It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.
On fusing music and art vocations:
I had this real struggle inside me, on whether to do music or art. I worried about it a lot. And then one day, I decided I didn’t have to do one or the other, I could do both. I glimpsed the possibility of making each one more like the other, a sort of fusing together.
On ‘how simplicity can produce complexity’:
When I first came up with the idea of utilitarian music, it was very, very unpopular. It meant muzak. It was music reduced, stripped of its fundamental cultural importance. And that was my biggest hurdle. Artists were supposed to want people’s 100 per cent attention.” What interested him instead was, “what was the least that I could do with music; how much could I leave out? What if I made music that was just like an atmosphere?
He criticizes pop musicians for being too close-minded, using the metaphor of a light bulb: “nobody looks at the bloody bulb. And that is what has been happening in music. We’ve been looking at the bulb.”
Eno illustrates the complexity from simplicity theory on paper by drawing out what it isn’t. He draw a pyramid and inserts lines from top to bottom:
This is God, or the Pope, or the orchestra conductor. And information flows this way only. There is no feedback, other than something dramatic like a revolution.
The symphony: it is inspired by the divine; it enters the composer’s head; he writes it down and passes it to the conductor, and then the leaders of the orchestra, then the section principals, and then down to the rank and file. There is this idea that the music is already in existence, in the mind of God or the composer, and it is our purpose to realise it.
Now, as a working musician, I know it doesn’t happen like that. I have seen a lot of music come into existence. It is a mess. It is a lot of complex things bouncing off each other, until suddenly something beautiful and intricate exists. It wasn’t in anybody’s mind. Nobody had conceived it up to that point.
On the left’s provincialism and the urge to speak out against the rise of nationalistic tribes:
“But now there is engagement with politics. I have so many American friends, they were so apolitical. Politics was something you never admitted to doing, like masturbation. But that has changed now. We all thought these [Trump and Brexit supporters] were this little bubble of weirdos. But we discovered that we were the ones in the little bubble.”
The race to the bottom begins when what you think you know, you know. I am once again reminded of this Seth Godin quotes from All Marketers Are Liars:
The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.
The stuff we want to hear sticks.
Confirmation bias and stereotyping are just the appetizers. Beware a blind spot, or better yet, the ostrich effect.
Biases are shortcuts. The truth never expires.
ORIGIN: The notion of cognitive biases was first introducted by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the early 1970s. Their research paper, ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases‘ in the Science journal has provided the basis of almost all current theories of decision-making and heuristics. Professor Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002 after further developing the ideas and applying them to economics.
Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova sat down with WordPress in the Own Your Content series to discuss evergreen ideas and rethinking the meaning of content.
Popova writes about timeless topics. “I am drawn to ideas that remain resonant across time and space, across cultures and civilizations.” If you read her blog, you know that she excels in digging up little-known gems from primary sources and combining them in an interesting way.
Her talent reminds me of what professor Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania said about education in the internet era: “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”
Maria excels in making old content relevant again. Following her blog is a direct line to her insatiable curiosity.
In this sense, then, it naturally inclines toward what you call “evergreen” — which I take to mean enduring ideas that hold up across the years, decades, and centuries, and continue to solace and give meaning undiminished by time.
I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.
While tech may be the cigarette of the century, the internet does provide space for writers like Maria Popova to demonstrate combinatorial creativity in the name of the hyperlink. If used properly, the internet can be a learning machine rather than a propaganda tool.
Outside parties were abusing stolen Facebook data to develop psychological profiles of voters. The data-mining company Cambridge Analytica was central to the information warfare. They allegedly worked with Russians to stoke fears in the UK and America on immigration and other polarizing issues. So people got fake news and conspiracy theories in their feeds which led to Brexit and Trump.
If data is the new oil, social platforms are the biggest propaganda machines.
Facebook is like an adult video game. People are obsessed with the sensational. And reality pays the price of fabricated events.
‘Move fast and break things’ may be a popular hacker’s motto but it’s shown to breed more carelessness than good. Thankfully, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are facing up to the truth that while their tools bring us closer together but they also tear the world apart.
The damage has been done. The question now is how will they fix it? Some argue that the crackdown on Cambridge Analytic is just the start. Others like Om Malik are less optimistic. Pumping users and engagement are in Facebook’s DNA regardless of the consequences. Om writes:
Facebook is about making money by keeping us addicted to Facebook. It always has been — and that’s why all of our angst and headlines are not going to change a damn thing.