SOcial MEdia by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 7

Here we are (after a well needed break). I hope its all made sense so far. I’ll post an extensive reading list and links to various videos etc next time so if anyone wants to read further they can.

Last time we took a quick look into how we as individuals construct our reality and share experience with one another, then briefly looked into the concept of hyper-reality, I will continue with these themes, and the foundation of my thesis next week - but need to lay a little ground work, then do social media, then go back to hyper-reality and social constructs.

Brief history of So-Me

When it comes to social media and its origins, a lot of people think of Myspace, Friends Reunited, or perhaps Bebo? Maybe even a stretch to Face Party or Pictari? Cast a nostalgic thought back to uploading thumbnails taken on a digital camera, not a phone! Doing your best to keep the camera out of the shot (in a mirror selfie) to make it look like someone else took it? Maybe even look away from the camera for that passive vibe. On a side note, based on observations over the years; when camera phones emerged, the trend to keep the camera out of shot changed to the camera being one of the most predominant elements of the mirror selfie, demonstrating social dominance with ownership of the latest material goods.

20 years before angsty kids (me included) were programming HTML code into their Myspace to show how individual they were, a bunch of ex-commune living hippies launched a thing called the Whole Earth Electronic Link, better known as The WELL. The Well began in the Spring of 1985, years before the term social media, in fact before Mark Zuckerberg had even been born!! The Well was effectively a message board populated by various people most of whom had never met, the idea being a ‘space’ where thoughts and ideas were ‘free’.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about The Well, other than it being the first instance of social media; 19 years before Facebook but 1 year after the first successful online shopping order was placed and delivered.

In 1984, in Gateshead a 72 year old Jane Snowball completed the first online shopping order, from Tesco. This was a service originally designed to be used by house bound elderly or disabled people. Here we see the emergence of two separate, very new technologies, over the next 30 years, they would grow and grow to become two of the most dominating phenomena of moderns times!


SO….cial.

Whenever I discuss aspects of mental health with people, more often than not social media is raised. Many people say things along the lines of, “Facebook causes all the problems,” or, “Social media is what’s making people depressed,” etc. As much as things like this do play a part in the problem, you simply can not blame them. It’s no different than putting a knife on trial for murder. I feel the human element is something we need to focus on more; yes social media is part of that problem but the part it plays is that of a magnifier on problems that already exist.

That’s not to say social media hasn’t impacted problems or exacerbated them. To say social media hasn’t contributed towards problems is as naive as claiming all the problems are caused by social media. The effect of the internet and social media on society has been massive! You don’t have to look hard in 2019 to find a study, blog or documentary about the correlation between various mental health conditions and addiction to social media. The film below is very interesting, and also very pertinent for any younger readers.

Even in the early days of what we now recognised as social media, we very quickly saw drastic social changes brought on by the emergence of this new technology. Back in 2000 a site called Friends Reunited hit the scene. The basic principle here was that people could sign up, fill out details of old schools/colleges and universities and it would match you up with people who attended any of these at the same time. Pretty nice right? Talk to old friends, reminisce about old more simpler times? This was true but soon lead to reminiscing with old flames about happier and more simpler relationships. Reported here https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/sep/01/johncarvel in 2004.

…there were 153,490 divorces last year, an increase of 3.9% since 2002. This was the third successive year of rising divorce rates.

Is there a direct correlation? It seems so, but obviously much more data would be needed. In 2014 this  study was conducted and it did indeed suggest there is a direct correlation of social media usage and depression, loneliness and marital problems.

E-commerce and Social Commerce

No links to articles or essays are required to back up claims that online shopping has hammered the high street! Seemingly permanent staples of the high-street like Woolworths, HMV and M&S have struggled or even closed! All blaming the ease of online shopping for their troubles, and they’re right to!

Online only companies like Amazon and Etsy  dominate the shopping industry. With the ease of delivery and the ability to practically buy anything you can imagine, online shopping is massive! The high street’s limited selection and overheads just can’t compete.

To make your online shopping experience even more fulfilling, Social Media sites now link up with search engines and online retailers to analyse virtually every aspect on your online life to ensure it can target everything you see online with ads that are personalised to just you. Which brings us nicely round to Location Tagging

The history of tagging yourself in a specific location, or ‘checking in’, actually originates from GPS (Global Positioning System) technology developed in the early 90s to be used in cars to an attempt to stop/track down car thefts. PacTel, the company responsible for this, simultaneously developed a system that would transmit information/ads about local goods and services to pagers, local to wherever the pager was.

Over the years various other applications began using GPS technology, then in 2008 Foursquare was developed and launched. This allowed users to check in when they were out and about. This meant they could put a status update up which also included their location. If the venue they were in also had a profile, they could tag the venue too. Of course this was free advertising and also allowed the users to see other friends nearby.

But why am I going off on a tangent about GPS technology in a blog about the human condition? Well, let’s jump topic a second, sort of! Advertising again; but this time lets focus on word of mouth. We all know what this is right? You like something, you tell your friend and they try it. Based on market research (https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2012/global-trust-in-advertising-and-brand-messages.html), 92% of people trust recommendations from friends/family more than advertising/marketing. The fundamental logic behind this is that your friends and family didn’t have a stake in the product/company they are recommending, they’re simply giving you a positive example of their particular experience, so why wouldn’t you trust them?

Back to GPS and tagging…

Imagine the scenario, you’re out at a coffee shop and you order a slice of tiffin and a latte. It’s cold outside, you’re warm inside and life is great! You pull out your smart phone with a 15 megapixel camera, GPS and constant access to social media, take a photo of your coffee/cake combo, upload it to Facebook and also tag the coffee shop in the post. You write something along the lines of, “So cosy in here away from the cold, loving life,” and BOOM, instantly share to the 100s or 1000s of people on your friends list.

Doesn’t sound too revolutionary now, but this scenario would not have happened even 15 years ago. Think back; how many people would you really see on a regular basis that you would share your cake experience with? 10? 15? Well, now you’ve shared a high-resolution, professional looking image of what you’re consuming, and you have associated it with emotion and a narrative! You’re happy, you’re, warm, and cosy, and you’ve managed to escape the harsh reality of the outside world, and found refuge in this little high street sanctuary. All of your friends will see that, and want that! Maybe some of them are even out shopping too? Facebook, being helpful, will send them a notification that you’re nearby escaping the weather you’re currently stuck in, you’ve just implanted so much positive information about that particular coffee shop chain in one single post, and the people who are reading it know and trust you!

The emotional attachment to the post is one of the most vital things! Jonah Berger, who is highly respected marketing advisor, has covered how emotions sell products. He has some freeresources to download here  https://jonahberger.com/resources/

What sells the post is that you’re not an actor being paid to lie about something to convince someone else to buy it. You’re a brother or sister, a best friend or old school buddy; you’re a source of honest and viable information! What did that advertising cost the company? Nothing! In fact they were paid by you for the privilege of your advertising for them! Blurring the lines between reality and various media. You are the buyer and the seller!

Some marketing campaigns have gone a step further; making up entire narratives, planting them in the realms of reality and using that to sell the product. Fully mixing fiction and non-fiction in order create a proper emotional connection to the product in order to make people want it. An early adoption of this technique utilising the internet was the team behind the film The Blair Witch Project, for more info check this https://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/09/23/how-the-original-blair-witch-project-ushered-new-era-viral-movie-marketing

The bacon shortage narrative is also another popular example (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/288851). I covered the work of Edward Bernays and the Torches of Freedom in an earlier blog. The more you look into things like this the worse it gets though; entire military campaigns have been used to sell products before.

 

Buyer and the Seller

One very interesting event, which to me is a prime example in the shifting dynamic of the buyer/seller creator/consumer model, was the case of the quick rise in fame of the Arctic Monkeys. It also shows the blaring of the lines between the two NEED WORD. 

“The problem with Britpop is that Mohan owned it as much as everyone else – Blur v Oasis was a tabloid conversation. We were the only place who knew what the Libertines meant. We owned the conversation around guitar music. That’s what changed in 2005 – we didn’t any more. Arctic Monkeys always felt to me like the band that killed the NME.” (https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/22/arctic-monkeys-debut-single-i-bet-you-look-good-dancefloor)

Although numerous other bands have done similar things, the story of the Arctic Monkeys is unique due to their astronomical rise in fame. Up until that point, a big step in the process of success for any musician is getting signed to management/record label. These are the people who know people, who know the industry, and have the money to fund things like awareness campaigns, album productions, marketing, booking gigs at notable venues or supporting notable acts in order to ensure the performers are exposed to as many people as possible in order to maximise the potential fan-base.

One of the problems with this is the wall between the artist and the public; this wall being the small amount of people who influence and decide what the next big thing will be. Historically, they have had success is choosing artists/bands and presenting them to us but presenting their image of the artist. 

By using their Myspace page the band were cutting out the middle man. They played numerous small gigs and handed out the free CDs they had recorded themselves. They turned their Myspace page into a message board to talk directly to fans, and share new music and photographs. The fans became part of their journey! Fans and friends of the band burned copies of the CDs and left them on buses, at train stations and other public places. The fans became the band’s PR company. The band were their own management and marketing company. By forming a friendship-type connection with all of their fans, they created a situation where they were all in it together; where the band becoming famous was as important to the fans as it was to the band.


“The Arctic Monkeys had not even signed to a record label nor released a full-length album and they found themselves playing in venues that were usually reserved for more mainstream acts.” (http://www.saltywaffle.com/making-it-big-on-myspace-the-arctic-monkeys-story/)

 

What has any of this got to do with anything else I've mentioned thus far?

What I'm trying to show here is the dissolving of the lines between the famous and the fans, and also the beginnings (or at least predominant examples of) of self-marketing via social media, self promotion and the idea of a person being the product they are marketing. The concept of marketing people as products wasn’t a new thing, but using the internet and social media to market yourself instead of relying on the established paradigm was. Because of this and other similar events at the time the music industry, and eventually society, would never be the same again.

NEXT TIME

Hopefully I’ve given enough information to show the emergence of social media and social commerce, of course it’s only an overview, there is a lot more information online for you to check out if you’re interested. My hope is that I’ve also shown how as the lines between buyer and seller have blurred, the lines between fact and fiction have also blurred.

Next time is my penultimate blog on this subject; I will further cover the blurring of lines between fact and fiction and go one step further in showing how we use social media to advertise products! We will look at how we are now the product that we sell. I will also conclude my thesis and try to tie together all of the previous blogs into some form of cosmology!

Building a Map to replace a World - Part Two by Chris Baldwin

 By Justin

 Week 6

 

“it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them.”  ― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.


Right then, my readers and only friends, we are heading towards the final chapter of the blog. Before we go any further, I would like to point out something. Throughout the course of this blog series I have mentioned cavemen, various writers, psychologists, advertisers and will go onto mention things like social media etc. I would like to make the VERY IMPORTANT point that in no way am I assigning blame to anyone of these things or people, not even collectively! There is no blame.

 

I used the example of the beads found in turkey and subsequent production of beads and there usage to denote certain social signifiers such as warrior or mother etc as I wanted to demonstrate at capitalism, and using items to demonstrate personality type is an emergent property of humanity.


         The people came first, then making the objects, then eventually selling them. These things happened over the course of time and were no way forced on us by some external being. We, as a species, have become the most dominant life form on the planet because of our competitive nature. Because we are able to imagine things that may threaten us, then plan strategies to avoid such threats! We strive for more! For better!

If our lands no longer grow the foods we need then we bravely travel, historically across continents, until we again find more fruitful lands. As people began to communicate and teach each other, our societies organised themselves into hierarchy. The tribal leader would provide inspiration to his followers, and would be the strongest and wisest. These things naturally occurred due to millions of years of evolution,l; evolution of survival…

Sadly, that is now the exact thing that is killing us.


Back to (hyper) Reality

Before we move on, I want to lay the ground work for the understanding of hyper reality…


As we saw last week, the majority of people are aware of perspective, and reality being subjective to each person. The basic question you need to ask yourself is how do I know that Bob sees the same blue I see? Does he even see blue or does he see green? Basically reality is what is and where we all live…

I’m going to introduce you to a couple of terms and give VERY BRIEF definitions to try and warm you up to where this blog will end up.


STRUCTURALISM:

The main theme of structuralism is that you can only understand something once you relate it to the wider structures within which it operates. A great example of this is in the very accessible book Teach Yourself Philosophy by Mel Thompson. The first example he gives is, “to understand a word, consider its meaning in terms of other words and the language as a whole” (page 212). A nice straight-forward simplification of this, in terms of language, is binary oppositions like UP-DOWN or HOT-COLD. On the surface these are just pairs of opposites, but they’re not just opposites of each other; they also define each other. The very concept UP can not exist without its opposite of DOWN. Additionally, with this pair one must also consider themselves as the central point between what is UP and what is DOWN. Everything above me is up and everything below me is down. Imagine trying to give someone directions without understanding the concepts up up/down left/right forwards/backwards, and understanding that the YOU is central in space in order to understand where the directions start from? In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to ask someone for directions as the whole concept of explaining movement wouldn’t even exist, imagine ALL OF THAT simplified down to UP/DOWN LEFT/RIGHT FORWARDS/BACKWARDS?!?!

So… thats structuralism, yeah?


The reason I just dropped that in is I want you to think about words, how they to relate to each other, and what they relate to outside of them. Not just in terms of opposites like in the above example but words in general, like if I were to say coffee take note of all the other things that just popped into your mind; coffee, beans, coffee, shop, cup, milk etc.

Take it a little further, try coffee, nice, relaxing, wakes me up, helps me focus, morning, wake up etc.

 

You see where I'm going with this? Practically, any word you use has a entire universe of other words, meanings, feelings and realities attached to it. Some are just for you and others are shared… <— see that? SHARED…

A basic example, still using coffee, would be if I were to say coffee some people would think, “I like that!” and others would think, “I don’t like that!”. So there is a shared and created reality around either liking or disliking something; approving or disapproving of it.


The above is a really brief look at what is actually several schools of thought spanning decades, for  a more in-depth look into what I've discussed look up Phenomenology, Existentialism and the works of people like Jean-Paul Satre and Edmund Husserl.

 

Now, when talking about language we need to also consider the evolution of words and what they mean. A good way to look at this is to consider slang. Consider bad, bad is bad, it’s not good. Good is positive and bad is negative, but bad can also be good when used in slang terms. So if someone were to say, “yeah, he’s bad!” Bad could still mean bad, but in this context refer to a positive remark towards someone, imagery of the attractive bad boy spring to mind.

When thinking about  changing the meaning or relation to other words, it seems fairly harmless in terms of slang, and in some situations can be even be funny! Especially when you hear someone describe their dinner as “sick”.


Let’s take a look at another example of changing the meaning or association of a word or thing. This one is a bit of a double one really as its starting point is already a distorted reality.

Cigarette consumption had been a thing for a number of years but in the early part of the 20th Century, the idea of women smoking was frowned upon (which in itself is an absurdity as the fundamental truth is that men and women can do what they want equally as social rules designed to forbid behaviour based on gender make no real sense - but that’s a whole different subject), the point is women smoking was seen as immoral, “So widespread was the social stigma attached to women smoking that as late as 1908 a woman in New York was arrested for smoking a cigarette in public 2 “ (https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/9/1/3#ref-2). 


In 1928 a man named George Washington Hill, president of American Tobacco Company realised he was only effectively selling to 50% of the population, the male half! he wanted to sell to both men and women, doubling his profits!  He was quoted as saying, “If I can crack that market, it will be like opening new gold mine right in our front yard,” (https://yourstory.com/2014/08/torches-of-freedom/).

Cast your mind back to my 3rd blog and the change in marketing, remember I said “where buying the product would somehow improve the persons life/wellbeing. This was largely based on the works of Edward Bernays”. Back to Bernays again, Hill contacted Bernays and asked him to help him crack the female smoking market. Bernays, in turn, contacted A. A. Brill, one of Americas first behavioural psychiatrists. Hill’s interpretation of cigarettes was that they represented power. He said that cigarettes were a phallic symbol and if they (Hill, Bernays) could get women to see cigarettes as power symbol, and that by smoking they were actually becoming equal to men, that would solve Hill’s problem. Bernays came up with an idea, and in 1929 they hired a group of women to all light cigarettes while walking in the New York City Easter parade. Bernays contacted the local press telling them that suffragettes were planning on smoking in public to protest against sexism. The press showed up, the women lit up, and “torches of freedom” were born. “From being a male product, considered immoral for women to use, cigarettes become a symbol of the modern woman.” (http://revistacmc.espm.br/index.php/revistacmc/article/download/1245/pdf_1 - Leal, Tatiane. Filho, João Freire and Rocha, Everardo).


Now You See!

You can now see how easily a reality or perception can be changed simply to serve a purpose; the purpose often being financially motivated.  What Bernays et al had done was to realise how to sell to people

Before now, the products were sold by necessity, as tools to use; a new car to replace your broken car, new shoes because your old shoes could no longer be repaired.  What Bernays did was to change how things were sold, and on what basis. Buying a new pair of shoes was because new shoes would make you cooler, or appear more successful.

There’s a great documentary online about Bernays et al, and the psychology of advertising called The Century of Self. It’s online and free to watch, but here’s a shorter video which has picked out some of the most important points...

 

As we saw, or hopefully realised, how powerful simple words are when we consider the seemingly simple terms like UP and DOWN. The change is how we relate to them and how we use them to relate to other people and reality.

Heres a little promo (self plug) I put together a part of my documentary (in production) and this blog  to try and demonstrate what I mean...

Ironically, I nicked the concept from a 1974 film called The Parallax View (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071970/).


Advertisers now tell us that owning certain trainers will make you a better athlete, drinking certain drinks makes you cool, using certain technology makes you smarter etc etc. A car advert will show you the glory of driving this symbol of achievement around cities and roads with no other cars, no traffic, no pedestrians!

 

When I started this section I was going to try and attempt to give a good example of what hyper reality is. I will go into further depth on this concept in my final blog in this series but to put it simply, the hyper reality is the reality you see in all car adverts, it‘s a super reality in which everything is perfect, everything is free, the roads are all clear and you are liberated by your success and driving around with zero forms of stress or consequence.


Next week we will take a look at social media and advertising.

Building a Map to replace a World - Part One by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 5

This week were going to be looking at something a little more esoteric but bare with me, it will more sense sooner or later! This week were going to be looking at reality, what it is and how it works.

Actually, forget that! Lets start with YOU!

Before we looking into the outside world lets take a look at you.

Firstly, what makes up you?

Is it your hands? Legs? Your whole body?

Basically… No. You are a 3 pound lump of stuff, 60% of which is fat, locked inside a dark cave; also known as the skull. No light, not much sound really. Just darkness and dampness.

So thats you… floating around inside a skull.

I think, therefore I am…

This was a phase used by Rene Descartes when he first began on the journey I’m going to try and take you on. What does he mean by “I think therefore I am”?

Well, in his own words he explains it with, "We cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt….”

Does that clear it up? No? Ok…

Basically what he is saying is that you can doubt the outside world. Ask yourself questions like, “Is the green that I see the same as what John sees?” Or ponder how weird it is that a place you visited when you were a child now seems a lot smaller now you’re a grown up.

These are matters of perspective and individual biology; so in essence you can pretty much doubt everything outside of your own head. It’s best not to though as this can soon lead to total insanity.

Descartes is saying that, yes, you can doubt the existence of everything outside your own head, but it’s what’s inside of your head that’s doing the doubting. Therefore, the fact that you can doubt/think is apparently evidence that you can’t doubt your own existence.

Clear? Still no? Watch this...

At this stage it’s less about understanding these things and more about accepting them, or at least allowing yourself to imagine it. No one really understands what reality truly is but, like Descartes, we HAVE to start somewhere… so that’s here.

3-2-1… GO!

So YOU exist, the thoughts about you existing prove that you exist! POW!

Next...

REALITY

So back to reality…

I set up a group chat with several people in my phone book, purely random, just added them, each from a different part of my life and asked,

“What do you think reality is?”

I asked general members of the public, teachers, tradesmen, actresses etc.

Some of the replied I got were...

“Reality is subjective. My personal reality is a mixture of work and feeling tired. Wake up and repeat.”

“There's two types of reality my man: first is the physical stuff that exists, and does so happily without people around. Then there's the reality we construct for ourselves (sometimes alone, sometimes together with others) - all the physical stuff, filtered through our consciousness(es?)”

“Reality is the perception of consciousness”

So, the above replies are pretty much spot on and what you would expect from people when asking them about reality. In essence, what they are saying is this: -

Reality

Reality

What reality is, is an agreement between the majority about what something is. Actual reality is nothing like what we all see though. What we call reality is a set of things we believe to be the case, working along side what our evolution has dictated we need to survive. For example, we cannot see the lightwaves we need to survive; we can’t see infrared for instance, or radio waves. Largely because we don’t need to.

The reality we live in doesn’t exist separately from us, it is a creation of ours.

Before we go any further, I’d like to give you a quote from the author, Philip K. Dick He once said that, “Reality is something which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”. So what does this mean, Phil? well, lets take another look at another graphic.

Spice Up Your Reality

Spice Up Your Reality

This new graphic shows the differences between Subjective and Objective reality. In the above, we now see 7 people, all voicing their opinion on The Spice Girls. 6 people think they are good, 1 thinks they are bad! Does this mean they are good? There’s numerous criteria we can use to come to a conclusion; we could measure musical ability for example. In that respect, that then the answer is no, they are not good. We could base it on their contribution to the wealth of human knowledge. Again, it’s a no! Here, we are not using any metric to measure how good The Spice Girls are other than profits generated by album sales. If 6 out of 7 people say they are good, then they are good.

This is Subjective Reality, a reality based on opinion or perspective. We need to note here that because the majority of people thought The Spice Girls were good it, in effect, created a reality where The Spice Girls were good. This lead to album productions, tours, mechanise! All of which involved employment of people which, in turn, affected the economy and so on. All of this because the majority of people influenced a shared reality.

So what is Objective Reality and why did I use a quote from a dead Sci-Fi author? Well, Objective reality is the reality that Phil, or any other person, can’t escape from! This would be a concept like fire is hot, and it will burn! No matter how much you convince yourself it wont burn, if you put your hand in a fire it will burn you! The difference being, if 6 out of 7 people decide one day that the Spice Girls are shit, become shit. Nothing about who they are or how they perform  would have changed, other than public perspective of their none-shitness! Where as, it doesn’t matter how many believe fire wont burn you, it will.

 

Perspective!

This will be my final point for this week, although this will seem like a fairly obvious, there is in fact a deeper knowledge to it.

First of all, let me touch on the difference between knowing and knowing! Lets go back to the fire we spoke about, we all know fire is hot and it will burn, but until you burn yourself you don’t know it as an experience, a truth.

This is the difference between being aware of something and experiencing it! It’s the difference between knowing a plane can fly from one place to another, and knowing how. 

Anyway, so the first statement I’m going to make is that we don’t see with our eyes. We see with our brain. This is the same as; a camera doesn’t take pictures with its lens, it takes pictures with its imaging sensor and processor. You’re not reading this with your eyes, you’re reading it with your brain, that fatty little 3 pound blob in the dark.

Your entire reality is constructed within the confines of your skull, using a brain which has developed over millions of years and has perfected across species and time! The most wonderful element of this is that the majority of things you see; your car, a book, your house, the chipped Spider-man keyring your son gave to you, all started their existence as thoughts inside other people’s heads. The music we love, the paintings we adore!

This is how the 3 pound blob learned to share and create its own reality! We all wonder at the outside world and its beauty but we really need to look at the inner world; the beauty and infinity of our capacity to imagine and share these things with others!

Sadly...

Remember in an earlier blog how we talked about the evolution of the human brain? The different elements of the brain and what they do? Next week we will take a look at the problem that creates…

So Far... So Good by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 4

This week I’m going to go over what we have covered, mainly due to the fact that we have essentially covered a few millions years worth of evolution, both physically and socially. After this weeks’ blog, things are going to start to get a little weird…

BUT FIRST

Before we do a mini conclusion, I want to touch on on final subject which will act as a bridge from what I have discussed to the more esoteric and weird sounding subjects I will be moving onto. This subject is the concept of tribe mentality.

So what is tribe mentality? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, everyone in a social group doing the same sort of things.

Why is this a problem? The answer reminds me of something my school teachers used to say, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”. Tribe mentality essentially dictates that the answer is yes.

Pop Back

Let’s pop back two million, five hundred eighty-eight thousand years ago at the start Pleistocene era. This is when something pretty rad started to happen; around the time that people began to learn from each other. In terms of basic survival, this was vital! If you learn how too make a weapon from a rock, you’re one person hunting. If you can teach 10 people how to make a similar weapon, then that’s 10 people hunting. If each of them teach 10 people, you become the most dominant tribe!

The ability to effectively communicate and teach turned a collection of individuals; each possessing different tasks into a group of people all able to teach each other different abilities. You end up with a group of multi-skilled  individuals able to work together as a team, thus beginning the step forward away from other animals and toward becoming the most dominant species on the planet.

BUT

We aren’t here just to to discuss sharing skills on a social level, we also need to talk about the more innate aspects of communication and learning; this is the nitty-gritty of tribe mentality! Naturally occurring hierarchy is something that’s prevalent in most social groups, from a small “tribe” of people all the way out to entire countries.

In the sense of Pleistocene humans, if a person has the best ability to catch food, stay alive and they can show you how you will follow him/her, those best at these things will have have offspring with the same natural abilities.  If there are traits of this person that keep them alive then they will be imitated by other tribe members; “imitating common behaviours is a simple heuristic that will get you the correct behaviour most of the time at smaller cost than subjecting alternative behaviours to costly test.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781880/).

Evidence would suggest that it is much more efficient to just copy someone who’s better than you at something than it is to trial and error your own method, especially when it’s a literal life and death situation. This was where we start to see evolution influence by social actions,  “Conformity probably evolved in concert with human capacities for imitation. In theoretical models at least, conformity is an advantage even when reliance on social learning is scant.’ (The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis, Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis). The probability is that social learning and instructional communicative learning evolved around the same time and for the same reasons.

It is also important to note that those best at imitating the strongest will also have offspring who are naturally good at following/imitating.  As time went on, the strongest lead the way with everyone else following, the ones that didn’t imitate had a lower chance of survival, this is natural selection at its finest.

“Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, social selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives.” (The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis, Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd,The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis).

SO FAR…

So, where have we been? We started by looking at the development of the brain; more specifically  the human brain. We looked at the reptile brain, which basic function was to make sure your hear beats, temperature regulates itself etc. The next step was the limbic system, this is is comprised of various bits but the main three I focused on were.

Hippocampus:

This deals with memory and learning, because it’s located within the limbic system it also associates emotional information with memory and learning. So back in the hunter gatherer days, if you went somewhere and felt afraid, you would remember how to get there but also feel like you probably don’t wanna go there again. Interestingly, the section of the brain that deals with the sense of smell is located around the same area as the hippocampus, which is why smell memories are the most powerful. You can see why it evolved this way in terms of survival from predators. You would smell an animal and react much quicker that seeing it then reacting etc.

Amygdala:

The amygdala plays a key role on your emotional responses, including pleasure, fear, panic etc. This is the part of your brain that floods your system with hormones like adrenaline or cortisol which help you either run away, or stand and fight.

Basal Ganglia:

This works with the amygdala and regulates reward emotions, it also regulates habit formation based on repetition. This can be good when learning a new task from you tribe leader and then feeling good when they approve. So each time you do a good job your brain rewards you which makes you want to do it again. Thus, learning to do what your tribe does will release hormones to make you feel good about “fitting in”. This is also the same part of the brain that’s triggered when taking drugs, which is how addictions are formed.

NEXT…

We then took a quick over view of the philosophies around the social acceptance of of consumerism and capitalism. With reference to Bernard Mandeville and the Fable of the Bees.

Followed closely by the usage of propaganda in the World Wars, and how these techniques designed to used emotional content to generate support of the war were then used in advertising campaigns in order to target the consumers emotions and create a need for the product.

This began with ad campaigns featuring doctors who would recommend cigarette brands for “health reasons”, appealing the the inbuilt need to be “safe” and healthy. These soon became more advanced and began to appeal to the nature of “fitting in” with your “tribe”.

With subcultures become more and more prevalent, the question of “where do I belong” became more and more important. How do I show people how successful I am and why I’m top of their tribe? I can buy a Porsche! How do I show girls how cool I am? Well, James Dean wears Levis, as does the captain of the football team. I’ll do what they do so I’m as cool as they are!

As you can see, all those tens of thousands of years ago, humans were learning how to hunt from each other. Where to go for the best food and where not to go. Which caves make for good places to sleep and which caves smelled like bears.

The basic functioning of humans and their brains hasn’t really changed much. Hunting becomes going to work, staying safe means having money to pay bills, and attracting potential mates becomes wearing the right clothes. This is how psychological advertising works; targeting the exact regions of the brain responsible for emotions and memory associations.

Anthropological studies suggests that it was easier to mimic the leaders and other members on the tribe to blend in and stay safe. It was also more efficient to do what the majority did, instead of doing your own thing. Why waste time with trial and error of a new hunting technique when you could copy one proven to work and survive? Wasted time in this scenario could (and did) end up in deaths. So the ones most adept at copying survived and passed on their “copying genes”. By the time Edward Bernays popped up with his psychological advertising, the circuitry it targeted had had tens of thousands of years’ worth of testing. Proving it was a simple matter of changing the people’s perspective on what would best help them survive, and what would best demonstrate that they are viable mates for passing on genes.

So what now?

Next week we begin out journey to the desert of the real…

Consumerism - An Enquiry into the Origin Of Moral Virtue by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 3

Back in the Day

When things like consumerism and capitalism are discussed, it’s often in relation to the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Names like Adam Smith are often mentioned but consumerism actually has a much longer history.

60,000 years ago Homosapiens left the continent of Africa and moved around the world heading to Asia, Australia and Europe. Starting settlements wherever they ended up.

Around 40-50,000 years ago some of them settled in Turkey, and that’s where modern day archaeologists made a pretty big discovery; hand crafted beads from around 43,000 years ago. Now, this may not seem like a big deal but it was actually a phenomenon!

Up until this point humans have only made tools and other objects needed for tasks, hunting and food prep etc! What is phenomenal about these beads is the fact they were made for decoration. This is one of the very first signs of human culture and using objects for status. There were beads to show what clan you belonged to, beads to show you had given birth to children, beads to show you were a warrior etc.

By the time Humans had settled in western Europe they were mass producing these beads and other cultural indicators.

In essence, life didn’t change too much from early settlements to around the 17th century. Cave dwellings became shacks etc etc, but in terms of life not much had changed. People didn’t own too much; except the now established “ruling class”, who owned a the majority of things, used as cultural indicators to show who was “on top”.

In the early 18th century transport links were improving, towns and cities were growing at an increasing rate and improvements in manufacturing meant there were more goods and higher concentrations of people to see/buy them.

This was the beginnings of consumerism which was soon hit with a backlash from religious groups who declared that people seemed to care more about the condition of their houses than their “souls”.

 

The Fable of the Bees

In 1723 Doctor by the name of Bernard Mandeville wrote a story called The Fable of the Bees. Mandeville already had a reputation as a scandalous libertine! This story only further cemented that. The basic crux of Mandeville’s argument in the fable was that private vices were, in fact, for the public good.

Basically, buying things meant more things needed to be made, which meant more people being employed in production, which meant more wages being paid, which lead to more disposable cash being available to buy more things. He was, of course, totally correct! This lead to vast social improvements, more money for society in general and the birth of the middle class.

Not long after Adam Smith released The Wealth of Nationssolidified the idea of consumerism, and laid the ground work for capitalism. There main difference here being  that Adam Smith’s version of capitalism held that the value of an object was based on labour, which stayed central to most economists’ ideas until it, ironically. became central to Marxism.

Here, I’d like to just remind you of 40,000 years before this when beads were first used as status symbols. This was being repeated, but this time with trends moving towards fashion and were indicators of wealth, status and success.

 

Something Changed....

The first world war marked a turning point in advertising, “following the experiences of war time propaganda and the need to manipulate public opinion in the first total war, psychological advertising was introduced” (Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present - page 6, David Welch). Here is where we begin to see the widespread usage of the new nomination of behavioural psychology with advertising.

The main change in advertising here was from using adverts to inform the public of a product and its usage to using psychology to create a need for the product, to create a reality where buying the product would somehow improve the person’s life/wellbeing. This was largely based on the works of Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays’ 1928 book Propaganda was an exploration into the usage of propaganda to effect politics, social change etc. He went on to promote the idea of using similar techniques in the marketing and advertising of products. Historically Bernays is know as the father of modern public relations.

This is also around the time where we departed from the Adam Smith school of thought around value being based on labour, and moved towards value being based on how much the product was desired, the desire which was created by inventing the need to own the product, using slogans like “a universal symbol of achievement” to align ownership of a product with social status and evidence of success!

NEXT WEEK

Next week we would look over the ground covered so far and connect a few dots before moving onto the next few sections. 

Origin of the Human Brain by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 2

So last week I mentioned the three layers, they are Reptile, Limbic and Neocortex. Last week I mentioned the building the house analogy, you build the foundation first, then walls and ceilings. The human brain was “constructed” much in the same way, the reptilian brain being the oldest foundation of brain which we inherited from prehistoric reptiles.

 

Sooooooo this week...

The first thing I’d like to focus on this week is the human brain and its origins, last week I touched briefly on the reptile brain and its basic innate functions, this week I’d like to expand on the three sections of the brain and what they are responsible for.

Viewing it in three distinct groups is referred to as the The Triune Brain, First proposed by Neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean in the 1960s. The human brain is much more complex and is comprised of many more “sections” but in terms of evolution it actually splits up quite nicely into these three bits. A nice example of this is that pretty much all reptiles alive today have a version of the reptilian brain that we have, just without the other two sections.

 

Reptile Brain

The text book name for this is the brain stem.  It comprises a central nervous system (nerves and muscles n stuff that makes you move and not die), and a “computer” to control things like breathing, body temperature regulation and heart rate. Imagine if you had to manually make sure you took regular breaths and that your heart actually pumped blood... you’d go mad, well you wouldn’t you’d probably die!

The reptile brain also takes control of spacial awareness, which boils down to, “That tree is over there and im over here. There’s some space between us I can move around in before I hit that tree!” This obviously helps with perception and judging how far away something is, but also helps with knowing what’s yours in terms of territory. So we can “mark off” an area which is classed as “safe” or “mine”. This means we can set up “mental barriers” in our heads relating to the space around us. If something crosses the line into what is ours, it is automatically a threat and will probably get eaten... maybe. Either way having “territory” and being specially aware of it helps to identify possible threats.

It is also handy when knowing the difference between something being small or far away. This is a massive thing in terms of perception which I'm going to touch on later in another essay. But, for now, it’s basically, “This cow is small, and that ones far away, yeah?”

 

Limbic System

The limbic system is the 2nd layer of the brain. This is comprised of a number of other smaller parts, all of which control emotional responses and behaviour; especially behaviour associated with survival. This will play a key role later in these blogs.

There are several parts of the brain that make up the limbic system but to keep things short I’m going to focus on the Hippocampus and Amygdala.

Hippocampus

The Hippocampus’ primary function is that of memory. It sort of stores events, short-term, before passing them other parts of the brain for more permanent storage. An example of this would be learning a new task; your hippocampus would catalog the learning so the information is passed onto your cerebral cortex for long term storage, and your motor centres to store how to move when performing said task.

Connections made by the hippocampus also link into other parts and help with memory association with things like scents etc. This is a vital function for survival! The smell of a predator would be associated with danger and allow you to run away, or prepare to fight before you have seen it; or more importantly before it has seen you! Another service provided by the hippocampus in terms of memory/emotion is to ensure empathetic reactions. For example, if you see somebody crying you feel the need to hug them.

 

Amygdala

The amygdala plays a key role on your emotional responses, including pleasure, fear, panic etc. Another part of the Limbic system is the Basal Ganglia, this works with the amygdala and regulates “reward” emotions. It also regulates habit-formation based on repetition. This can be good when learning a new task and feeling proud that you have progressed; but conversely bad when forming an addiction to drugs.

The Amygdala talks to the hippocampus when attaching emotions to memories; especially “negative ones”. This may sound like bad idea, but if you’re hunting one day and you see a predator, the following day (if you go back to the same area), you will remember the predator and also the feeling of fear you felt previously - so you’re more likely to not go back.

 

Neocortex

This is the top and final layer of the mammal brain. I’m now specifying mammal as this is where we split away from others species in terms of brain structure. Humans have the largest Necortex of all mammals. The Neocortex is split into 4 parts; the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes. The main function of the Neocortex  is essentially information processing. From visual information, to touch, to sound. Current theories also suggest that human consciousness also originates in the Neocortex. It’s important to note here that although all “higher” brain function takes place in the Neocortex, the driving forces and emotions attached to these functions still originate from the reptile brain and limbic system. This is, effectively, like having a modern super computer that is powered, regulated, and uses hazard protection systems from the days of steam...

This point is VERY important later on.

 

NEXT WEEK

Next week we take a look at the birth and cementing of consumerism and the origins and evolution of advertising.

Programming the Human Computer by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

 

Week 1

I have been asked to write a blog about a documentary I have been slowly putting together over the last couple of years. This came as a relief as I’ve been struggling to fully explain what my documentary is actually about.

 

What’s it all about then?

I normally give the simple answer of “mental health”, which conjures up imagery of interviews with people talking about feeling a bit sad, explaining how they don’t like feeling a bit sad, and how they wished other people noticed and empathised about them feeling a bit sad... this actually covers about 13% of my documentary.

The documentary, my thesis, isn’t just a study by someone who feels bit sad, trying to help other people who feel bit sad.

My documentary is actually an attempt to explain the fundamental causes of what is fast becoming what I consider to be a global epidemic; an epidemic of sadness and unfulfillment!

Depression/anxiety diagnosis are on the rise! I feel people are looking for something to “blame”, I also feel they’re looking in the wrong place!

800,000 people kill themselves per year due to poor mental health. Thats 2191 per day. Suicide is the 2nd biggest killer of people between 15-29 years old.

Mental health awareness and support services currently receive 1% of global aid.

Let me pop that into perspective for you, in 2016 the average number of students in a UK secondary school was approximately 900 pupils. Image when you were at school; all those other students? Times that by 3 and thats how many people end their own lives each day.

 

The Struggle Is Real

One of the problems I've faced with my research is that its taken a much broader look at the problems with mental health. I have taken a much more holistic approach to the problem, which is fine until you come to explain it to people; people who need everything in their lives to fit into small and very separate boxes...

So when presenting my findings to people I often get, “you need to focus on one section of this,” or something along the lines of, “this has got nothing to do with that”.

The problems when narrowly focusing on just one thing, you tend to ignore anything that isn’t directly related to the subject being focused on. Which is fine in general and actually encouraged but when thinking things that effect a broad range of people in makes sense to take a much broader look at the possible causal factors.

 

ME, My big head and thoughts

The interviews and researching for my documentary is almost complete and the next phase is to edit it all together into something that makes sense... which will basically mean leaving a lot of things out! I wrote a 10,645 word dissertation on the whole thesis but it reads like the diaries Kevin Spacey (EW) wrote in the film, Se7en. When I was offered the chance to ‘blogerise’ my thesis I jumped at it as it will give me a platform to fully express/explain the full breadth of my thesis in a far less formal way.

I will, of course, provide links to academic papers, articles and documentaries which add weight to my ideas and hopefully achieve my goal of fully expressing what I feel to be the fundamental cause of virtually ALL problems in the world... imagine the level of ego required to actually believe I've solved everything!

FYI, its not 42.

 

The Trip

A step by step guide to my thesis and what ill be covering in the blog: -

• Evolution of the human brain.

• Beginnings of Consumerism – 1723, doctor by the name of Bernard Mandeville.

• WW1 – WW2 – Developing propaganda and using behavioural psychology – “psychological advertising”.

• Post WW2 baby boom generation – Edward Bernays – using fear of not fitting into the tribe as a way to market material goods – imagery of “happy” people using goods that they own due to being “successful” – the idea being that the ownership of these goods reflects how successful they are.

• Advertising (Mad Men).

• The concept that “happiness” is a key indicator of “success” and “success” meaning you are top of the tribe.

• 90s-00’s – development of social media.

• 2010 onward – posting selfies and other personal images on social media becomes more and more common place – “hyper reality” – people begin to exaggerate their lives via social media to show how successful they are, which indicates happiness (replicating codes and conventions of advertising imagery).

• Imagery people post of their “personal life” begins to emulate imagery used in advertising, the two begin to reflect each other (art imitates life) (https://psmag.com/environment/selfiestereotypes-are-hard-to-shake) – this extends beyond selfies – other research available

• Using the theories of Jean Baudrillard - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacra_and_Simulation and his work on the “hyper real”, my suggestion based on research and other academic papers is that “reality”, ie normal life with the full length and breadth of human emotion has been “replaced” with the reality we have seen in advertising over the last 100 years. The best way to picture this is thinking in terms of the film the Matrix.

• Addiction to joy and the need to be perceived as “better than others” to demonstrate social dominance).

• Attempting to replicate the life we see in adverts and on social media.

• Constantly trying and constantly failing to live a life that is in “reality” impossible is causing mass anxiety and depression.

• In turn, this social need to always be happy has meant that people with genetic/long term mental health disorders are ostracised from society.

 

THE BEGINNING

Right... now all of thats out the way lets get started shall we?

The first port of call with this insanity is to take a look at the B R A I N! Not the human brain, not just yet! We need to look at the development of brains in general...

So check out this chap here:

Yes, I'm aware I've just said “not the human brain”, then immediately followed that statement with a picture of the human brain. If you take a look at the labels someone else has taken to time to put in this picture you will see this cross section of brain is split into three separate levels.

These are the Neocortex, the Limbic system and the Reptilian brain. Now you may think that these are just labels to easily identify sections of the brain and what they’re responsible for, they’re not.They are three separate sections of the brain and evolved from bottom to top.

If you took a look at a cross section of a new build house you would basically see:

• Floor

• Walls

• Ceiling

The foundation of a house is built first, then walls then ceiling etc etc, our brains have been constructed, over millions of years, in very much the same way.

The reptilian brain is called so as we inherited it from reptiles, who inherited it from fish who evolved from single cell life around 542 (clearly 42 is part of the answer after all) million years ago during an event called the Cambrian Explosion. Here is a terrible 6 minute video hosted by a very pink man who (very basically) explains the reptilian brain.

Basically this “original” brain existed in pre-historic lizards as a mechanism to automise things like breathing, temperature regulation and basic survival like mating (genetic survival) and territoriality (defending territory, attacking those that “don’t belong”).

So imagine, there you are, a little dino walking through the jungle when suddenly you’re confronted by a possible threat, your “brain” kicks in, floods the body with hormones and you have the strength to either attack or run away, more commonly known as fight or flight. Its important to note at this stage that all actions “controlled” by the reptile brain were instinctual, no choices were made. Just like how our hearts beat etc.

Clearly, not dying is the most fundamental element of survival so this part of the brain became a raging success and all other life that survived did so due to having this basic biological algorithm, pretty sweet eh?

Sadly, this didn’t helper friend the little dino or any other dino when that asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula Mexico 65 million years ago and wiped them all out. Mammals survived though, thats us, well its not, its little rat things that became us. With that special survival program built into us...

 

NEXT WEEK:

The next 2 levels of Brain

The beginning and cementing of consumerism