Tokyo Damage Report

another rant re: how being online subliminally messes us up

I was thinking about how the “how dare you put broads in my star wars!!!” people and the “this is offensive and I’m triggered!!!” people have so much in common. Of course, older generations also had that same type of person – maybe an angry bible-thumping grandma who was only happy when she was outraged, or a weird uncle who only wanted to talk about one thing all the time.

Every generation has a certain amount of that type of person, I’m saying, but the WAY those people express themselves is different, because every generation’s influenced by its technology and media environment.

What does the technology/media environment have to do with the sudden rise in popularity of what you might call the “This Thing Is Objectionable And Harmful And People Who Like It Are Irredeemable” contest, where everyone competes to see who can be more outraged; who can make a bigger mountain, out of a smaller molehill, with the most panache?

And then I realized that quietly, the whole time, behind and below all the on-purpose controversial speech and outraged tweets . . . . without any big leader or controversial celebrity or self-help guru actively championing it, a new idea has taken root in all our minds, on all political sides: that we’re entitled to entertainment that has nothing at all disagreeable in it; entitled to content made specifically just for us.

Another, related idea: you can’t enjoy the good parts of something but tune out the bad parts. Why even bother. That’s not where it’s at anymore. If something is even 1% bad, it’s bad, right? It’s been POLLUTED BY THE OTHER SIDE is why!!! Aieeeeeee!!!!

A third example, again pretty bi-partisan: You can’t just say “I don’t like this. It makes me uncomfortable, it’s not for me.” To the extent that you want to be taken seriously as a political thinker among your online followers, you have to make up some BS deep political reason for every petty judgement or aesthetic choice. As if you’re helping save the world by liking this movie more than that movie.

These are, to me, pretty fucking huge departures from the way people thought about stuff even 10 years ago. But while we were concentrating on the small controversies, very big things were slipping into place with zero controversy!

What happened?

It’s the tech!

Both the “angry gamer” people and the SJWs share the 3 assumptions I outlined above, and both sides use the same tech – maybe the only thing they agree on!

Who has the balls to demand entertainment designed just for them, forever? Nonstop 100% unproblematic content, 100% perfect pandering?

People with access to unlimited free content, that’s who.

And when did we get unlimited free content online? About, ummmm, exactly the same time that we all started having this new sense of entitlement!

People live their lives on platforms which sort and rank them, assign them to silos or demographic cells in a spreadsheet. Surely if you’ve been in that environment for years, it’s gotta somehow influence you to think in those same terms  – that people not only can but SHOULD be thought of in terms of labels, tags, and statistics. That people can be summed up neatly by a few labels, and nothing is lost by discarding the parts of people which can’t be labeled.

(This is as true of advertising as it is true of “I saw a screencap of a tweet from 4 years ago and you’re Clearly One Of Them, so fuck you!”)

That’s a very Orwellian overlap between the idpol crowd and the silicon valley overlord crowd.

Let me look at another example:

When we want movies, games etc tailored specifically for us, with zero percent anything offensive, that’s good; that’s moral; that’s what we demand!

But the idea of political campaigns being run the same exact way – where ads and comments from political bots posing as online friends – are tailored to the individual, and we have no idea what kind of political information our friends and neighbors are even seeing – is kind of a scary anti-democratic nightmare, no matter what party you support.

The thing is, both these scenarios are using the same process – siloing users, isolating them from others and grouping them with like-minded people –  based on demographics and spying on user data. That technology promises to treat us like the unique people we are, but we wind up with a society where everyone’s in these little bubbles, and  nobody can even agree on basic facts.

Or maybe it’s 100% coincidence that identity politics, a philosophy based on sorting people into categories of relative privelege (a sort of moral spreadsheet!), comes to national prominence at the same time that big data companies are treating us all with that same approach?

Why is it so hard to say, “OK that tweet or game or movie sucked but the real culprit is the system which incentivizes that sort of thing”? Why is it hard to separate the medium from the message?  I don’t know!

Maybe because the messages are getting so effective at riling us up that we don’t have any ‘spare’ attention to pay to the platforms?

Why is it so easy to talk about the diversity of actors in a film, but so hard to talk about the diversity of the studio CEOs who decide which movies get made and which don’t?

Why is it so easy to screenshot ‘problematic’ things people say online, and so hard to screenshot the ‘problematic’ ways in which social media manipulates us?

We operate in the lane which we were assigned: the consumer lane. We write words and then get mad at the other person’s words.We see the surface.

We don’t get the deeper POV of our betters, our digital masters, who don’t really give a FUCK about the surface content. To them, all the shit we’re fighting about so hard doens’t matter – it doesn’t matter if you’re clicking because you’re ironic or because you really like it, or because you really hate it. The bottom line is you clicked! They get to look deeper at the structural way social media incentivizes certain behaviors and discourages others.

At the tradeoffs.


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