They know that they’re on their way out of the picture, eventually, but they also know that it has not happened just yet. The huge new media conglomerates still have considerable power over public opinion and they do not shy away from exercising it.
Most people simply can’t help themselves from checking the news. The sensationalization and delivery of eye-catching attention-grabbing headlines had been mastered over decades. It hits you right where it alarms your brain that there’s something dangerous that you must know to be safe or something outrageous enough to elicit an emotional response from you, and it’s usually anger.
It’s the very same lesson that social media platforms built upon when designing their engagement algorithms. It all comes down to building a behavioral pattern with the consumer, a habit that the public can be trained to follow, to hit the like and share button automatically, and to succumb to the urge to add one’s own thoughts to the matter.
Oh, how I hate so and so, or how ridiculous is such and such, or I cannot believe this person or that did this thing or that thing the other, and so on.
And it’s powerful. Once your thumb gets used to hitting that like/love button automatically shared by that share button, and you’re hooked to it, they’ve got you. Applying that addiction to a trained behavior to respond to polarizing, divisive, fear-mongering, and anger rousing news headlines and posts from your favorite news outlets is simply like adding gasoline to fire.
Media platforms adapted to the social media environment and used it to burrow a new hole into your attention that’s actually more powerful than before with the aid of the most sinister of features: “Push Notifications.”
You no longer have to purchase the newspaper to get the news, which is always and invariably yesterday’s news. You no longer have to gather around the radio on the hour and tune in to the latest news, which is usually hours late. Same thing with TV with its 24-hour news cycle which is basically an eternal perpetual non-stop cycle of breaking news.
All you need to do now is to download that magical App on your smartphone that delivers all the news you might ever need to know about and then flick on that small bell-shaped button that turns on ‘notifications’ and now you’re wired in. Every single moment of your time will be interrupted by that incessant chirp calling out to you to take a look at the latest bit of ‘breaking news’ that requires your immediate attention.
This effectively locks you into a positive feedback loop as your phone effectively turns into an extension of your brain. This strong bond explains the panic that strikes people when their phones run out of charge or god-forbids they drop the damned thing and break it.
It kind of makes one thing about the blessing in disguise that we still haven’t figured out how to create nuclear-powered battery cells that give power indefinitely. Large swathes of people would instantly turn into zombies locked into playing online games, or watching TV until they die of hunger or dehydration. I don’t doubt for a second that this could be a thing!
Governments have figured out a long time ago how crucial it is to control the information delivered to the public. The media is heavily regulated, controlled, and censored in totalitarian and despotic regimes. In any civic unrest, one of the first things that happen is tanks rolling in to protect the national broadcasting TV and radio stations, and that’s one of the very first targets to establish any military coup as well.
The news and information you consume define your thoughts and opinions, and it also has a hold over your emotional buttons. The medium through which you consume this information determines how fast and how strong of a dose you get. This is perhaps one of the reasons media platforms try to surround you from all directions. Not only you can get the news from the same old-fashioned outlets, but you’ll find an official verified account for every news organization on the planet on pretty much every single social media platform that exists today, sometimes even several accounts running in parallel.
And man, do they know how to push your buttons. Take this example right here. This is a post I found on the first page of my updated Twitter feed.
So the message is, hey person who is scrolling through their social media feed right now, beware that you need to be very afraid because you will not be able to get your chance at getting vaccinated against the global pandemic rummaging the world if one of the biggest cities in the most powerful country in the world is not able to provide it to its citizens.
This sort of thing demands a response, a like, a retweet, a reply, a share, a repost, usually with a commentary about how serious that is, or how frustrated you are at the political leaders making the decisions, or even to crack a joke about how this strikes you as something cynical in a specific context. It’s the sort of thing you would do on autopilot, you won’t even have to think about it.
The news machine is churning “important” things to know round the clock and it doesn’t all have to be true, what’s important is that you stay engaged, you stay locked in, and that you keep watching.
Donald Trump called it “Fake News,” and think what you may of him, but he wasn’t far from the mark right there. Most of this stuff is fake, fabricated, or manipulated to exacerbate certain aspects of the situation to elicit your engagement with the news organization that produces such content.
We’ve all been aware of the existence of fake news outlets for a very long time now. They’ve called it the yellow papers, tabloids, or scandal magazines. In the early days of the internet, Gawker Media was one of the most powerful online news organizations that were specialized in fake news. They were media bullies and mercenaries aimed at shameless propagation of controversial and scandalous content without regard to its authenticity or to the damage it might incur on its subjects. Gawker Media was brought down by a multi-million dollar lawsuit by the media figure and global entertainer Hulk Hogan, backed by the silicon valley mogul Peter Thiel. The story of how that came to be is unbelievably fascinating and it’s been recorded in magnificent details by the best selling Ryan Holiday book “Conspiracy.”
Such organizations are all over the democratic world they’re hiding behind the “right of free speech.” And unfortunately, I don’t see a world where such an argument can be countered without slipping back into totalitarianism. But the awareness that we “need trustworthy news sources” heralded the new era of paywalls adopted by organizations such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times.
I personally think it’s just a desperate measure to get money out of a declining loyal readership. Especially now that social media platforms have turned into a news media source in and of themselves. Not just through conventional professional reporting and articles, but through the democratization of news reporting in the camera-phone era where police brutality and revolutions are broadcast live instantaneously via live video streams from passing witnesses on the street effectively turning the entire population into impromptu news (or even war) reporters.
This basically leaves us all trapped between a rock and a hard place, between unverified news reported by regular people we might know personally and are inclined to trust and believe and the old model of trusted news organizations delivering professionally obtained and supposedly vetted snippets of actual news.
But the damage it is all doing to our collective emotional and mental wellness is undeniable. We’re bombarded constantly, round the clock, with too many things that demand and require our immediate attention. Upon waking up, just going through the notification screen for emails, social media posts, comments, and likes, breaking news, app alerts, and reminders can eat up hours of your day and that’s even before you get your coffee!
We find ourselves in a constant state of agitation, anxiety, and irritability. We’re easily outraged by everything and anything. Our sanity is being depleted day in and day out with our willing participation.
The solution is to take a step back and be mindful of the situation and what we’re actually being part of. We need to understand a few logical concepts and act accordingly.
First of all, your attention has been commoditized and sold to advertisers. It’s all meant to show you ads that call onto you to buy something.
Second, you are what you consume. Your information diet determines the filters through which you see the world.
The more you consume a certain type of content, the more it asserts itself in your mind. You’re basically being programmed by being shown the same type of information over and over and over again. It destroys your abilities of critical and analytical thinking. It renders you virtually blind to what is actually going on in the world. You are basically surrounding yourself with smoke and mirrors and thinking this is reality.
You need to understand that the terms ‘Virtual Reality’ and ‘Augmented Reality’ are not just technological terms to describe cumbersome funny looking goggles and plastic robotic gloves, but they’re also terms to explain old terms like propaganda, brain-washing, and mass hypnosis. Whoever controls your information consumption has leverage over your thoughts and emotions locking you with horse-blinders from seeing anything but what they want to feed you to meet their purposes.
By succumbing to all that you are relinquishing your freedom.
Third and lastly, you are an addict and a slave to a device you keep in your pocket that controls what you know and what you think and you are a willing participant unless you wake up.
I suggest that you start by reading the book “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” This book will eliminate any ambiguity you might have about how there is an army of genius employed just to engineer innovative ways to keep you addicted to your smartphone.
I also think that you should immediately unsubscribe, unfollow, and unlike all media outlets from your social media accounts. Don’t worry, they will still reach you! (Rolling eyes and throwing hands in the air)
Above all, you should rethink your reactions to every bit of news you get through your phone. Your opinion is not mandatory for every single thing that passes through your screen. You can refrain from commenting on everything, probably it would serve you well to follow the old wisdom that saying nothing is preferable to saying something negative, basically if you don’t have something nice or positive to say about something, just keep it to yourself.
Let’s try to curb the amount of negativity and emotional pollution we propagate into the world. It’s not just for the sake of keeping your own sanity and equanimity, consider it as a public service to the world.
When you see something outrageous, the best response is to kill it where it lies rather than to help in delivering that same infuriating piece of news to everyone you know. Adopt the “buck stops here” mentality when it comes to bad news.
Shut down all notifications on your phone and you’ll immediately notice the blissfully odd feeling of tranquility that will eventually envelop you.
It’s not easy, I know. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but the solution is simple nonetheless.
Stop sharing that bit of controversial news.
Stop sharing that post about that person or that thing you absolutely dislike.
Stop posting your comments on toxic divisive content, even to deride it.
Stop your virtue signaling practices to declare to the world “what you’re all about.”
Above all, just be kind. Life is hard enough, take it easy on yourself and everyone else. Remember that it’s better to be kind than to be right.
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