Our quest for economic prosperity
Are Social Media platforms really a dark web controlling us?
The familiar adage, “A jack of all trades and a master of none” wraps up a long held cultural belief that experts are those who specialise in a specific profession, learning, or pursuit and develop a wealth of knowledge that they may then pass on to others. Seems logical enough, but with the progression of society into broad economy activities—digital media and commercial contexts require a contemporary “self-branded” person to apply multiple talents and skills throughout every aspect of their life. Even in personal life, a simple activity such as supporting your loved one at a football match or going on a cycling holiday becomes a marketing opportunity and major feat of “selfie-narrative” digital production and social media campaign.
No longer is it sufficient to post up a quick message to your friends and colleagues “we had a lovely time in…”. We need to be provided with a carefully portrayed reflective journal or other suitable narrative, of an ongoing account starting with waking up, your daily thoughts and gratitude, your morning breath and yoga routine, perfect images of the nuts and carefully sculpted fruit in your breakfast, the clothing you wear and the smell of the coffee. We then progress through your day with you and whoever you share it with—including your beloved pets.
Sometimes you encounter thrilling dangers, wild animals on the hunt or traverse steep ravines and kayak over waterfalls in the Amazon. All the while you remarkably juggle a selfie stick or a stabilized (hopefully) mobile cam mounted on your helmet, shoulder or somewhere else. If we know you well, we smile warmly as we watch bouncing children doing amazing, cute things. You know—the first roll over, the first smile and the first time on the potty. Then we share their growing up and it expands our hearts and feeling of social bonding as a species. Or maybe we’re the teenagers and young twenty somethings, growing up together, embracing our angst of teenage growing pains—first love, lost love, new love, the dilemma of multiple loves. Love life is so complex. But we share and commiserate; convince the world how much we have learned about who we have decided we are going to be the next time.
Forget the good old days of television soapies. We’ve found the tools and means to involve ourselves, our friends and even global society in our dramas. We are immersed in our own daily soap operas and broadcasting our perceptions of reality in “real life” situations. Why do we do it? According to social media experts involved in the recent documentary “The Social Dilemma” we are unknowingly enmeshed in a web of propaganda and manipulative control— where social media giants covertly stalk and monitor our every move and behaviour—to lead us into taking actions that we never intended. I propose that at least as adults, we are fully knowing of the technological manipulation, but we choose to participate through our own addiction. The technology version of the psychological process of rewards and reinforcement to manipulate human behaviours and sales is nothing new. Technology has simply enabled the reach of this manipulation on a mass scale. The inherent dangers and risks to our society are explicit by the naturally addictive nature of humans, global instability, and promotion of dependency relationships through targeting wounded self-esteem.
As someone who has worked in web commerce and cultural change, after more than two decades of psychotherapy and personal development experience with thousands of people, I understand how malleable people may be in socially driven situations. Anyone who has studied psychology or social science (and in my case also human rights law) will know the classic Milgram experiment case, where people were quite easily manipulated into performing acts of torture in a laboratory because of the “authority principle” and persuasion involved. But from personal experience, I believe there is much more at play. When humans come together in a social group as individuals, depending on their systems of socialising, they will change their behaviours to adapt for survival within the herd or mass social practice. Occurring mostly on a subconscious or instinctual level, we witness extreme examples in conflict and disaster zones. Behavioural norms are suddenly removed and a new group consensus for living must form—either for interim transition or to re-establish a perpetual social group.
As science increasingly develops understanding of inter-connected complexity of culture, we learn that humans as a species are more instinctually unified than we thought. In other words, we think as a group intelligence not unlike those flocks of migratory birds who head south or north together for survival. Guided by Earth’s magnetic field, they fly with special visual homing system—a protein Cry 4. The point made is that evolution and adaptive selection has ensured that species including humans tend to seek survival by co-habiting in groups. For greater cohesiveness and adaptive resilience, we share and adjust our thought systems collectively. We even see this phenomenon in our ancient ancestors—the flora and fauna. Studies of trees reveals a fierce competition that exists between species—outside of our timespan, mostly unseen to humans in the short-term. But an ecosystem of fauna will develop a collaborative inter-dependency to maximise optimal conditions for enduring survival. Within this ecosystem a tree in distress under attack will also release toxic chemical responses and other varietal species will receive and relay information and adopt similar behavioural responses to ward off the threat.
Humans are no different. To survive we need to be independently self-aware. But we best survive in a social group where we share values and tactical actions that will support our best means for breeding and survival. This is not a new discovery. Generations of research in many fields have contributed to the way societies are governed and controlled based on this premise. What is reasonably new is the scientific understanding of the bio-chemical interactions and responses that contribute to the intricate web of human culture. Rather than a sinister dark web vehicle ensnaring an unsuspecting population, we are complicit—willingly joining in the social connectivity.
Our motives are equally instinctual and conscious — based on survival. Firstly, for independent survival we focus on “I” or “me” within the context of the worldwide digital connection. The primary question “what advantage can I secure for my own economic, material wellbeing?” motivates us individually. The desire behind the action may be for many reasons. For example, we may desire to sell our wares, our profession in an international market. But we may also want to reach out and receive personal rewards from socialising and finding a new group consensus that hold values we think are more appropriate to our “difference”. We may even desire to reach people to communicate important news, lessons, and integrity that we have found lacking in our immediate world experience. Ultimately our desire is always linked to the core focus of “Self” in the world—our self-esteem and self-identity.
Secondly, our desire to express and engage with “other”, the external culture beyond our individual identity is what propels us to make a material life. In this context we enter the mass of human struggle and shared experiences for survival. Depending on conditioning, cultural memory and inherited customary traits we may perceive have certain advantages within our group. We hone these advantages, sometimes instinctually (such as to find mates) and sometimes deliberately to gain what we need for most benefit within our society.
During our upbringing we have also learned maladaptive survival traits. We have become subjected to negative abuse and we display these vulnerabilities on our sleeves—presented in full vision to others, while often we are not even aware. Often the negative abuse has also not been intentional—as limiting belief systems passed down from previous generations who believed with lowered or damaged self-esteem. Within our social embroilment of mass culture, we make our way forward. The healthier our self-esteem, the more resilient we are to survive. But not always.
Mass society is a culture with jealousy. We are encouraged to seek material wealth as a means of “power” and protection against our enemies and attackers. Or we lay low and keep ourselves small to fit in with the strengthened social circles we already inhabit. Until such a point when through life experience and personal growth, we emotionally can no longer tolerate the restrictions of self-limitation. At this point we look out into the world again to extend our personal territorial boundaries. Aware of the risk and danger to our life we often make more aggressive or at least adopt a confidence stance. We will not know success if we do not. If our self-esteem is too damaged, we will surely find the enemies and experience attack we are afraid of. But in fact, we will find the haters and attack anyway.
Society is programmed in the same way of neuroplasticity that supports individual brain transformation. Society instinctually seeks to delete and destroy the presence of maladaptive behaviours (aka the losers) within the mass consensus worldview, and rewards and strengthens the survivors who dominate in material glory. It is personal. But often, it is a subconscious survival action that is personally directed at perceived weakness. Get off! You are the weakest link. Perhaps you watched the psychology in play of this television gameshow where people in competitive teams fought for individual and group survival through superiority.
So what hope is there for humans if we are singularly and jointly motivated to compete, gain advantage and eradicate? There is another factor in evolution at play that assists us to temper and guide the societal process. In the past we may have called this a system of moral codes and respected elder wisdom keeping. Today, many of us will still maintain at least a moral conscience, our respected elder wisdom keeping has almost been eradicated with the globalisation of careers, travel and a social media organised societal network. Our elders are the least likely users of digital technology and hold lesser marketed value to our social economy. But we do have lineage systems in place to recognise the experience and wisdom of our elders despite now existing in a society that is led by our children and market consumerism.
Mostly these elder lineage systems economically reside in the prestige of wealth and success of the “veterans” of our capitalist 1980s commercial boom era and the rise of multi-national corporations. But then Mother Nature stepped in with a hat labelled “Sustainability”, and visibly stated “you can’t destroy your natural world and living ecosystems and continue to survive”.
Many of our children were the first “leaders” to protest—knowing the world they would inherit from the “selfish generation”.
Suddenly, the convenience and unfettered greed brought by capitalism had to be restructured. Green economies out of necessity became the new frontier of industrialisation and capitalist market. Perhaps too late, but recognition of social-capitalism or consumerism with conscience also arose. And should we ever say any action is too late, if to take-action towards survival is better than “freeze” in a situation where “fight and not flight” is the only other option?
Now the question remains. Is social media and digital technology the matrix that ensnares and controls us, manipulates us into consumerism and distracts our attention away from the reality of a dying world? Or is social media and digital technology the platform that alerts and educates us to the causal events, interventions, and disruptions that we may together, democratically make a better world to live by? The answers to both these questions seem to remain in the realm of dualistic reality and reflection.
Firstly, the primary enablement of digital and web technology is not sales and marketing. It is communication. The technology era has given us a means to communicate with each other globally. Everything else we as a species and civilisation do, and how we use that technology as individuals and in group consensus is not about powerlessness and blame projected at governments and capitalist billionaires who control our daily behaviours and practices. Instead, it is how we choose to heal, build, and grow our personal esteem and self-authenticity, and live collaboratively and inter-dependently amongst each other in our human ecosystems. We don’t need to make that choice by proving and shouting out to others. We simply decide and re-organize our immediate communities accordingly. Human interaction, affection and emotional experience have long been considered the major reason for our existence.
Should we go extinct in a mind maze experiment or embrace the sensory invigoration of being alive and sharing experience? Human desire to communicate and form relationships propels the use and consumer demand for digital technology and social media sharing convenience. Our usage and participation in that communication network should be conceived and designed as a meaningful experience in the same way our individual village and local communities originally naturally formed. Our local consumerism is a human interactive and often recreational participation—the social gathering, sharing, and haggling at local markets, foraging in boutique stores, and relaxing in coffee houses remain critical socially connecting points for entire communities.
Possibly the biggest problem with our social media platforms, is that these are not designed and organized with a similar social-cultural user experience. They are designed for mass consumerism and not permission-based marketing—as was a technology choice available twenty years ago when the concepts of “stealth” real-time mass digital marketing first became possible. But today, the choice of use remains with every individual and the power of collective agreement. You are the product. But you also have choice of personal behaviour and owe it to yourself to balance the quality of your life with physical and emotionally enriching, non-virtual experiences. You have the choice to market and trade with conscience and sustainable integrity values. You are not powerless to make personal change beyond persuasive technology. But change requires the effort, reward and strengthening of self-motivated developmental practice that heals systems of low self-esteem and trauma beliefs you may not even be aware of.