The production of media content is casual and in the hands of the interactive user. Everyone with a Wi-fi connection can contribute to the online world, and as many of you might have noticed, a lot of the content online is complete shit.
Although the idea behind open communication and the opportunity to share information is a nice one, like all ideals, it’s one-sided, and exploited.
The concrete consequences of media production are often forgotten. Someone said that the Kardashians are the reason behind the downfall of contemporary intellectualism. I don’t believe that. They’re the front figure raised to bring the attention away from the actual snag, much like a magician’s gestures are intended to guide the audience’s eyes away from the wires and magnets.
A tricky aspect of online media is that it can be difficult to determine what is real, and what isn’t. You can edit anything beyond recognition, placing pictures, people, statements and events out of context. The phenomena is also known as censorship, propaganda, editing and/or media production, the lines between blurred and overlapping.
When surfing online we should always ask ourselves: what is real? Finding sources and context for content can be hard bordering on impossible. Our immediate surroundings still give a us a hint on why content looks the way it does.
Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist and philosopher, wrote Simulacra and Simulations, an essay on the state and parameters of reality, and how we build and keep them (a complicated, but good, read). A simulation is a copy of an existing mechanism or system, while a simulacrum exists without origin, based in untruth. It’s not necessarily a lie, because since it exists and is acknowledged, it’s now part of our reality.
One can and should wonder whether what one sees online is a simulation, a poor simulation, or a simulacrum; is the content real, real but without context, or a complete bamboozle?
Still, once content is published, does its origin really matter, since it already exists? The damage, so to speak, is already done. Once something is on the internet, you can never get it back. It’s there, it’s said, and you’re done.
Or are you?
Combining the corporeal and digital realities
Most public services are digitized, everyone has several social media accounts, everything has a web page, and personalized commercialized content is seen everywhere.
This isn’t necessarily a negative development. Many services are faster and more efficient this way; there’s less paperwork, and communication is faster. There is also a demand for online media. We are, however, unaware of the long-term ramifications of this change that’s happened incredibly fast. Most of the users don’t even realize what happens in the ether once they’ve visited a page, posted a picture, or commented on a thread.
The online world is built in binary code (0-1-1-1-0-0-1-0-1-0-0-0-1) that is translated into languages or codes (htlml5, css, c+, Ruby, Java…) that’s easier to understand for the trained eye than the binary code. These languages are like the skeletons of the online world, while what we see is the outside; the skin, the body shape, the face and the clothing. The outside, the shell, is the user interface: it’s what we actually see and interact with online.
When you move online, you leave digital fingerprints on everything, so that your movements and most of all your habits can be traced, collected and stored. We live in the age of information, where information is the foremost currency companies make millions of.
We need to know more. Survival isn’t our key human instinct anymore; we crave information, knowledge, to connect and to understand, and we crave it immediately. You can track almost anything – and anyone – digitally. Search engines, location satellites, cookies and the dreaded “read at 2.14 PM” function in most communication apps.
Despite our innate desire to find information and connect, we’re mostly focused on seemingly useless information like funny dog videos and eyebrow tutorials while facts and news on history and science never collects as many views, shares and likes. It’s the magician’s hands distracting us from the wires and magnets.
Although I’d love to blame the Kardashians for this, they can’t be held solely responsible. They’re just one drop in a cyber ocean where all internet users are hydrogen particles.
The modern message
Facebook has 2.23 billion monthly users, Google has 3.5 billion daily searches, Twitter hosts 6000 tweets per second on average. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos was recently made the world’s richest man by running an online business. One’s everyday life is made increasingly more difficult if one hasn’t a smartphone, or an online connection at most times during the day.
When Marshall McLuhan wrote The Medium is the Message in 1967, he intended to shed light not on the actual use of modern technology, but the social, societal and global ramifications new technologies bring. Seeing the magnitude of digital technology, not even he could have predicted our current state.
His message, though, is that the technology we use say more about us than it does about the actual technology. For instance was television a preview on how images were becoming a mean of communication, putting the written word on the back burner. What then, does our emoji, meme-filled, Instagrammed world say about us?
In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1969) wrote Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, about the mechanization of man. Benjamin wondered a lot about the nature of art, when and how it can be forged, and the soul of art and technology.
(Speaking of souls, if you haven’t read Tim Freke’s Soul Story, please do; it’s a well articulated train of thought that will comfort and inspire you.)
This mechanization simply means that when for instance using a camera, the camera becomes the audience’s eye, instead of letting the audience themselves see (comparing live theater and cinema). The focus of the camera directs our attention to a specific object – images show us what we should be looking at, serving a ready platter to eat what is presented to us as reality.
Basically, it means that the content we see online are just highlighted fragments of much bigger entities, as well as that the more we use the digital world, the more dependent are we on it insofar that it becomes a natural part of our existence.
The magnets and wires
So far, we’ve established that content can exists both as real and as unreal at the same time. The online world is filled with metaphorical cats of Schrödinger’s. The validity of the digital world is unquestioned; it’s part of our existence and society.
Still, like Dr. Frankenstein, we might not realize how much our creation influences us. We existed before it; the online world is a simulation of us. Now, with artificial intelligence and virtual reality evolving fast, at what point will we become a simulation of the digital world? And can simulacrum occur in something man-made? (Westworld style.)
Pierre Bourdieu, another French sociologist, wrote about the pressure on modern journalists in On Television, Part One, and the pressure to keep news appealing and fresh at all costs. The capitalistic idea that whatever a competitor produces, one must somehow top with a new angle or fact that makes the same product seem new and fresh, or at least newer and fresher than the product the competitor has to offer, echoes all over the internet today.
It’s an ongoing bidding war over the consumer’s attention. Instead of producing quality content, chock value is increased, and trends are encouraged for the sake of capital gain. Instagram for businesses, cookies for user information, and the biased Google search are just a few examples of how online content is designed and rigged to catch your attention.
Ultimately, content that isn’t capitalistically appealing, isn’t that easily shown to the user, so popular content becomes one-sided and shallow. The personal, individual user then follows suit and tries to simulate what is considered valuable. Eventually, all content starts to look alike, and intellect decreases. Nobody notices the wires and magnets as they applaud the skilled magician.
Unless the user starts to produce his/her own content. Bourdieu posed a few question to ask before publishing anything, questions I believe every media producer could consider before publishing;
do I have something to say? Can I say it in these conditions? Is what I have to say worth saying here and now? In a word, what am I doing here?
Since the digital world is a simulation of our corporeal reality, it’s capitalistic as well, but much more difficult to monitor than traditional markets since it’s global and unfathomably deep and large. No one can keep up with all the content found online, but there are keywords that can be flagged and tracked. Information is still the number one product in today’s world.
Marx predicted the fall of the bourgeois, of the rich controlling the means of production and the rise of the proletariat, the workforce. In modern terms, we should be talking about censorship on a global and governmental level versus the users. Although 2018 has seen a rise of feminism and a new awareness and admittance of global warming, we still have a terribly far way to go in case we want to truly decrease the crevice between the classes (yes, modern society has social classes still), and achieve true equality.
The main responsibility for producing quality content lies not with the ones supposed to moderate the line of production, the content itself and the legal issues concerning it. The individual is, or should be, responsible for what he/she produces. Harmful, thoughtless, false and illegal content will only produce more governmental restrictions, new forms of cyber crime and further development of the same dysfunctional cycle.
The problem is not that we have access to this advanced technology. It’s how we use it.
As usual through the course of human history, someone finds a way to abuse the systems of communication and science for their own gain. Greed is rightfully one of the seven deadly sins, and the 1% that owns most of the Earth’s resources would disappear like fruit flies into a vacuum cleaner if there was such a thing as divine intervention.
Unfortunately we’re currently stuck in a capitalistic system that will continue to greatly benefit that 1%, while malignant content is spread at the hands of users that do not fully understand how limited and, at the same time, unlimited the power in their very hands are.
The means for a concrete change are at our hands, but we’re distracted by the magician’s hand gestures because it’s more convenient. This autopilot brain syndrome is no longer a valid excuse to not take responsibility for oneself and for others. The responsibility for a better tomorrow for yourself and for others lies with your own actions. If we don’t start taking responsibility for ourselves as well as for others, working together and leaving massive greed and personal gain in the past, we won’t see a change.
That’s how you produce quality content; by producing it yourself, with a clean conscience and good intentions.