Posts Tagged ‘written language’

Learning to Lie

June 13, 2019

This is the third post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the third section of this book. Rushkoff begins this section,”It doesn’t take much to tilt a healthy social landscape toward an individualist or repressive one. A scarcity of resources, a hostile neighboring tribe, a warlord looking for power, an elite seeking to maintain its authority, or a corporation pursuing a monopoly all foster antisocial environments and behavior. Socialization depends on both autonomy and interdependency; emphasizing one at the expense of the other compromises the balance.”

One desocializing strategy emphasizes individualism. The special group is broken down into automized individuals who fight for their right to fulfillment by professional advancement or personal consumption. This system is often sold as freedom. But these competing individuals never find true autonomy because they lack the social fabric in which to exercise it.

Another path to desocialization emphasized conformity. People don’t need to compete because they are all the same. Such system mitigates strident individualism, but it does through obedience usually to a supreme ruler or monopoly party. Conformity is not truly social, because people are looking up for direction other than to one another. Because there is no variation, mutation or social fluidity, conformity ends up being just as desocializing as individualism.

Rushkoff concludes that both approaches depend on separating people from one another and undermining our evolved social mechanisms in order to control us. He continues, “Any of our healthy social mechanisms can become vulnerabilities: what hackers would call “exploits” for those who want to manipulate us. For example, when a charity encloses a free “gift” or return address labels along with their solicitation for a donation, they are consciously manipulating our ancient, embedded social bias for reciprocity. The example is trivial, but the pattern is universal We either succumb to the pressures with the inner knowledge that something is off, or we recognize the ploy, reject the plea, and arm ourselves agains such tactics in the future. In either case, the social landscape is eroded. What held us together now breaks us apart.”

Spoken language can be regarded as the first communication technology. Language has many admirable capabilities. But before language, there was no such thing as a lie. Rushkoff writes that the closest thing to lying would have been a behavior such as hiding a piece of fruit, but speech created a way of actively misrepresenting reality to others.

Rushkoff writes that when we look at the earliest examples of the written word, it was used mostly to assert power and control. “For the first five hundred years after its invention in Mesopotamia, writing was used exclusively by her kings and priests to keep track of the grain and labor they controlled. Whenever writing appeared, it was accompanied by war and slavery. For all the benefits of the written word, it is also responsible for replacing an embodied, experiential culture with an abstract administrative one.”

Rushkoff continues, “The Gutenberg printing press extended the reach and accessibility of the written word throughout Europe, and promised a new era of literacy and expression. But the printing presses were tightly controlled by monarchs, who were well aware of what happens when people begin reading one another’s books. Unauthorized presses were destroyed and their owners executed. Instead of promoting a new culture of ideas, the printing press reinforced control from the top.

Radio also began as a peer-to-peer medium such as ham radio. But corporations lobbied to monopolize the spectrum and governments sought to control it, radio devolved from a community space to one dominated by advertising and propaganda.

Hitler used this new medium of radio to make himself appear to be anywhere and everywhere at once. No single voice had ever permeated German society previously, and the sense of personal connection it engendered allowed Hitler to create a new sort of rapport with millions of people. The Chinese installed 70 million loudspeakers to broadcast what they called “Politics on Demand” through the nation. Rwandans used radio as late as 1993 to reveal the location of ethnic enemies so that mobs of loyalists with machetes could massacre them.

Initially television was viewed as a great connector and educator. However, marketing psychologists saw in it a way to mirror a consumer’s mind and insert with it new fantasies and specific products. Programming referred to the programmability not of the channel, but of the viewer.

There have been so many previous healthy memory blog posts on the problems of social media and of cybernetic warfare, that can be found under the category of Transactive Memory, that little more on these general topics will be written.

But a few words words will be written on memes and memetics. Rushkoff writes, “An increasingly competitive media landscape favors increasingly competitive content. Today, anyone with a smartphone, web page or social media account can share their ideas. If that idea is compelling it might be replicated and spread to millions. And so the race is on. Gone are the collaborative urges that characterized embodied social interaction. In their place comes another bastardized Darwinian ideal: a battle for the survival of the fittest meme.”

Rushkoff continues, “The amazing thing is that it doesn’t matter what side of an issue people are on for them to be infected by the meme and provoked to replicate it. ‘Look what this person said’ is reason enough to spread it. In the contentious social media surrounding elections the most racist and sexist memes are reposted less by their advocates than by their outraged opponents. That’s because memes do not compete for dominance by appealing to our intellect, our compassion, or anything to do with our humanity. They compete to trigger our most automatic impulses.”

Rushkoff concludes this section as follows: “…our extension of our social reality into a new medium requires that we make a conscious effort to bring our humanity along with us. We must project our social human organism from the very things we have created.”

One of the Biggest Advances in Neural Enhancement

December 3, 2014

In the introduction to The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin he mentions that one of the biggest advancements in neural enhancement occurred only 5,000 years ago. That was the development of a written language. This development took considerable time. First there were primitive notes taken to record important items that were too important to be forgotten. Then there were likely primitive forms of accounts for transactions. Unfortunately, there are no records that I know of that can trace the development. In spite of writing being one of the biggest advances in neural enhancement, it was not immediately recognized as such, nor was it accepted as being beneficial by one of the foremost Greek philosophers of the time, Socrates. Socrates was worried about what was lost in terms of vocal tone and expression, things that were in speech or conversation, but were lost in written language. Fortunately the resistance of Socrates and others gave way, for written language is certainly a requirement for a civilization to advance.

In the terminology of the healthy memory blog, written language is an example of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to information that is not recorded in one’s own biological memory, but is accessible from the memories of fellow human beings or from some artifact of technology. In this sense written language is a neural enhancement, and a very important as we are biologically constrained regarding the amount of information we can handle. Technology enables us to overcome evolutionary limitations, evolution being a very slow process.

Levitin writes that two of the most compelling properties of the human brain and its design are richness and associative access. Memory is rich in the sense that a large amount of information is in there. Associative access means that our thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways by semantic or perceptual associations. So related words, smells, category names, or an old song can bring memories to our awareness. Even what are apparently random neural firings can bring them up to conscioussness. Being able to access memories regardless of where they are located is called random access like we experience on DVDs and hard drives and contrasted to data stored on a videotape.

The healthymemory blog likes to distinguish different types of associative access. Information that we know or know where to find quickly is termed accessible memory. Information that we know, but are not sure where to find it, is termed available associative memory. Some Google searches or more primitive forms of looking for information (old library card catalogs) are examples. Potential memory is all the information currently available in other human beings or in some type of artifact, be it a book, database, or in Wikipedia.

Given all this potential or available information in transactive memory, the problem becomes one of being able to access it quickly. Here the issue involves the organization of this information so that it can be more readily accessed. Levitin refers to this as conscientious organization. Systems are important as are different types of databases and search engines. More specifics will be found in the future chapters of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, some of which will be discussed in future healthymemory blog posts.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.