// Patrick Louis

Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control — The Big Picture: The Formatted Individual

The Parmasayika grid is a fundamental religious diagram which divides up the Hindu Pantheon according to the measure of the purusha of the cosmic primal man

  • Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control
  • Part 4 — The Big Picture
  • Section 1 — The Formatted Individual
Table Of Content
  • Paralysis
  • Normalcy and Innovation
  • The Neoliberal Mindset

In this part of the series, we’ll explore the bigger picture and the generic issues and “ill effects” on societies that are brought by the emergence of the internet or accelerated by it. We’ll begin with a look at three inter-related subjects: a general social paralysis, an apparent sentiment of homogeneity, and the relation with the widespread neoliberal mindset.

Paralysis is experienced at many levels and in different ways. The first of these are cognitives, which we’ve brushed in part 2 section 2.

One of the cognitive effect of the internet, proven by studies, is how much it affects our attention on the short term and long term. It is more divided and we’re less able to sustain concentration, it is more shallow and guided by attraction.
Research has shown the effect is clear on children, and long term studies have also shown that, contrary to popular belief, constant multi-tasking actually impedes the very act of task switching and does not improve it. This last one is due to how frequent exposure to this environment increases our susceptibility to distraction from irrelevant environmental stimuli.
Overall, multi-tasking in an internet environment has been associated with significantly poorer overall cognitive performance, it trains us to pay attention to what is flashier. We then feel frustrated and hindered when we have to perform tasks that require concentration. We feel obstructed and paralyzed, as if we’ve been robbed of our concentration.

Another effect we’ve looked at before is how the internet changed the way we retrieve information and value knowledge, acting as a transactive memory — an externalized memory.
The result is that we remember more where to find the information rather than the information itself. We know less about factual information because we’ve offloaded it to this new medium.
Hence, when we have decisions that rely on facts it makes us dependent on the internet. This can be both beneficial and harmful, as we said, giving us the opportunity to focus on conclusions, emergent hypothesis, overall aspect rather than facts. However, it also makes us focus more on opinions, trust the first results to our query (usually confirming our thoughts), ask fewer questions related to facts but questions related to individuals and society, and put an emphasis on fads and trends.
Our decisions are thus slower, having to consult online resources to make them, and hampered by what someone else has written about the subject we’re looking for.

We’ve previously also seen that social media had the same neurocognitive effects as real life social interactions but with an instant feedback through clear metrics. Time is now objective, not subjective, anything to turn us into machines. This has a direct impact on the concept of the self and self-esteem, making us pay attention to social judgement and social comparison. We’ve talked about influencers, hyper-successful individuals, and the unrealistic expectations these can create.
These can make us feel inadequate, especially for people that can’t manage properly their emotions.

Another aspect that gives us cold feet is the over-reliability of the medium. We’re deeply aware that nothing disappears on the internet, that any faux pas will be remembered.
Yet, we’ve also never been as uncertain about anything. We’re constantly the spectators of theatrical clashes of opinions and it makes us doubt our own.
Moreover, we’re constantly overthinking, overanalysing things, we are submerged in information and can’t take decisions fearing we’ll make the wrong ones. An analysis paralysis due to the infobesity.

Joining these ideas related to judgement makes us stay on the bench. These are compounded in phenomena like social cooling, the 1% rule, and lurking.

Social cooling is the self-censure that people exert on themselves because of social pressure. The tension between always feeling watched by surveillance algorithms, knowing our personal data is gathered against our will, understanding that our weaknesses and flaws could be exposed and used against us, and fearing how we’ll be scored based on the whims of the internet crowd. We’re intimately aware that our digital reputation is now serious business and can impact our real life.
For these reasons, people change their behavior and adapt to whatever makes them look better on the platforms, have better scores or avoid doing anything that could add a negative side to their reputation. We hesitate before making a move. All over, it makes an environment socially rigid with risk-averse people that conform.
A chilling effect on society and a powerful form of control.

This is in direct relation with the notion of lurkers, a silent majority of passive users that is said to constitute 99% of the internet, according to the 1% rule, and that doesn’t participate in the creative aspect.
The vast majority of people only consumes and doesn’t contribute any content. This participation inequality has been researched, verified, and shown to be consistent on different online forums and wiki pages such as Wikipedia and others.

There are multiple reasons why most stay on the periphery as read-only users. Social cooling plays a big part in it and the studies make it clear.
When asked why people only observed and did not participate, the common reply is that they were gathering cultural capital: the knowledge that enables an individual to interpret various cultural codes. We take the time to evaluate the implicit and explicit norms of the group, to learn if we can fit, to understand the preferred method of interaction without making mistakes and avoid being rejected, to see the topics of conversations that are allowed, and to learn the conventions of the community. This is commonly done by finding the typical figures representing the community, the models to adopt, templates that exhibit the kind of dialogues we can have.
People also lurk because they fear being redundant or that their contribution would not be worthy. By lurking they can glimpse at what has already been said and done.
We want to copy, belong, but also be unique, that’s something we’ve already seen in the biases section. Maybe it’s because our human experience is so similar and yet distinct.

Lastly, people stay afar because they feel that browsing is enough for them. That could be simply because they are looking to find particular content from a place and nothing else.

On the psychological side, lurking is associated with loneliness and apathy, a sense of not belonging. Lurkers are found to be less satisfied and experience more distractions, they are distant.
In the case of social networking, they experience less intimacy and feeling of personal well-being, and an overwhelming loneliness as they watch others participate in the community.
Social media does indeed feel cognitively similar to amplified real life interaction.
This is akin to a TV audience but with the sense that what we see is real and not a fabricated reality.

What makes someone de-lurk is situational and depends on both the individual’s personality, the environment, and the community. What remains is that only a handful of superusers generate the vast majority of content.

Research shows that these contributors are highly motivated, feel a sense of duty, attachment, and belonging to their online community. Other research show that active participants seemed to be more extroverted and open, felt they were more empowered and in control of their environment, had confidence in their ability to influence, had higher self-efficacy, and a greater need for gratification.
That is in sync with what we’ve seen regarding frustrated individuals that had their cultural malaise and gaps filled by the internet. Participants need a place to express themselves and that is relevant to them.

Statistics show that the people contributing the most are out of the ordinary, they exhibit extraordinary behavior. That means that when we consume any content on the internet, we’re mostly consuming content created by people who, for some reason, spend most of their time and energy creating this content. These people clearly differ from the general population in important ways. The kind of people that move the Overton window, which we talked about.
This is worth keeping in mind when on the internet.

Knapp, had been submitting an average of 385 edits per day since signing up in 2005 as of 2012. Assuming he doesn’t sleep or eat or anything else (currently my favored prediction), that’s still one edit every four minutes. He hasn’t slowed down either; he hit his one millionth edit after seven years of editing and is nearing his two millionth now at 13 years. This man has been editing a Wikipedia article every four minutes for 13 years. He is insane, and he has had a huge impact on what you and I read every day when we need more information about literally anything. And there are more like him; there is one user with 2.7 million edits and many others with more than one million.

These days the 1% rule has been more or less debunked as the barrier to engagement has decreased. However, it hasn’t decrease enough, the number of lurkers is still relatively high and social cooling adds to the equation.

This paradoxical balance between lurkers, conformity, social cooling, and out-of-the-norm influencers and contributors in different communities, makes us feel a sense of normalcy and lack of innovation.

Normalcy is the consequence of adherence and conformity. We lurk because we want to adhere to the norm, not stand out, to fit in. We’re also interested in participating because of the homophily phenomenon we’ve discussed before, “birds of feather flock together”.
This all keeps the status quo and homogeneity in the community.

This creates a situation in which we’re offered templatized, cookie-cutter identities which we can choose from, and indirectly coerced to fit into them by the persuasive technology. It’s easier to market to persons that fit into well-separated categories, to “buyer personas”. One could even call these memeplexes and memeoids, honed through eunemics.
This is all decided by fads, opinions, and interests, a sort of “choose your character/future” mode of identity building. With these templates there’s an emphasis on attitude rather than facts, truth, or moral. Sometime called “Hypernormalization”.
“How can you have a personality if you have no knowledge to base it upon, and if you merely have opinions that have been given to you through slogans or clichés.”

It is hard to get out of a template, these mass one-sided personalities, because of all that we’ve seen before especially the social judgement, social cooling, the action-attention-reward addictive mechanism, and others. We need privacy as a right to not fit in, a right not to be perfectly molded, well-behaved, docile, and conformed humans.
We are guided by biased algorithms that are mathwashed, believing they are impartial.

This has detrimental effects on kids that are in the process of finding themselves, in the process of building their personality. They feel enormous social pressure to be perfect. Self-inflicted injuries, such as cuttings that are serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room, in the USA, have increased dramatically in 10- to 14-year-old girls, up 19% per year since 2009.
Less physically harmful, is the effect on young boys that are looking for achievements and get addicted to “competency porn”, any type of media that fulfills the need for recognition, achievement, and control over the environment — Be it video games or animated movies. The epic tales and escapist fantasies of today’s world.

It is astonishing because different persons are part of different internet realms, with different templates, and are given skewed pictures of reality — it’s as if everyone lived in alternate universes that sometimes, but rarely, cross.

Indeed, even though the UN considers the right to internet access a human right, the effect of the globalisation of the internet are unclear.
Already we’ve seen filter bubbles, homophily, and confirmation bias that keep people within the same realms. Additionally, we have to add to this the privileges associated with the internet. Not everyone can access the internet, not everyone can use it powerfully, not everyone can participate in community content creation, and not everyone has the language skills to participate in these various communities.
The content is still subject to being part of a hierarchy, still based on the same social and international hierarchies that exist today. Minority views in the real world are still minority views online, the same people facing discriminations offline also tend to face them on the internet.
And yet, it also fosters the democratization of speech if used properly, but the content we are given somehow reinforces the status quo.

It’s a global and local presence, we could say a glocalization. Everyone that has internet uses it in their own way, and the way they use it affects their perception. Some use the internet for research, some for hobbies, some to socialize, some to learn, some as a tool for work, etc.. Internet usage is shaped by the myriads of ways that we access it for our needs and values.
Yet, this exact habit of usage is shaped by the local culture and thus also creates a divide as the internet is inherently based on connecting networks together.

For example, even though we can use the internet for different things, the language we speak will only give us a narrow view of the whole spectrum. If we search using a language that is more “popular”, let’s say English, we’re prone to be given the templatized identities related to the most vociferous online English speakers (USA).
Language then is part of the dynamic of who defines and who is defined.
There are other imbalances that exist based on geolocal preferences. For instance, speakers of a certain language will prefer domestic issues.

Moreover, advertisers, the main source of revenue online, will prioritize specific consumers that fit a template from a certain culture and geographical area, and not others. This will incentivize content creation for that specific audience, as this is where more money is made. This in turn will widen the cultural gap, now a digital advertising gap, thus a media content quantity and quality gap.

There are many factors that make the internet both global and local at the same time. Again, it depends on our usage of it but when we default to the average person, there’s no room around being presented only narrow views.
The question remains whether internet truly makes people conform, what’s the state of creativity and counterculture, and how much propaganda comes into play.

The literature shows that a small subset of the population, around 2 to 3%, have international ties and act as bridge figures between cultures. These persons show a higher creativity than their peers because of their exposure to different views.
From this we can imagine that it’s the same thing on the internet.

When using a service you become part of its ecosystem, there are many platforms and the big ones, the FAANG, have a tech hegemony. Internet in itself didn’t kill counterculture, it is just not present on these platforms as they encompass a sort of new overarching powerful entity, sometimes more organized than governments.

This means that counterculture today isn’t any more about a war of ideologies but about going against the trends of the internet. The counterculture of the past, which rotated around personal expressions and identity are now used by platforms to drive engagement and profit, it’s part of their lucrative business. Social media in particular have been catering to the “demands” of a generation by filling the gap that the culture couldn’t — self-fulfillment as a product, as we’ve seen earlier.
This means that these types of old countercultures are still part of the system, but by embodying them we’re not in charge. We pull ourselves together by gathering pieces of templatized subcultures. Then, this collection becomes our niche personal branding, our personal expressions and ideologies.

As we went over in part 2 section 2, we are now seeking individuation, we are networked individuals connected by interests. This is in stark contrast with counterculture which requires a group to thrive, an “us against the world” mindset. The internet does allow regrouping but only on a shallow level, particularly for collective dissent and unsatisfaction, turning the groups to absurdities and cult-like behavior.
Directly opposing the system will only make the system stronger.

True counter-culture can either be found by embracing the algorithms, understanding their inner-working and warping them to our needs, or by signing-off and rejecting the whole system for an alternative one. Both of these are difficult in the era of like-and-share.

So we are bound to use the internet, and the internet to project our anthropological nature, its current state and flaws, be it conformity, homogeneity, or others.
We’ll be given a reflection according to the function it has for us, our lifestyle, current society, culture, and time. For a big part of the world that means the internet is becoming inherently neoliberal, used for neoliberal ends, and encourages neoliberal behaviors.

This isn’t surprising considering the origin of the internet, who are the biggest internet companies, and who are the most vocal online. The internet embodies the “American mindset”, a mindset of personal brands and marketing, the self-made man.
A considerable amount of people are driven by this, with different subset cultural bubbles living outside the hegemony of these giants because of different environmental constraints.

The internet is the perfect tool for the workings and reinforcement of neoliberalism values. It is a perfect display of how this way of viewing the world, which was heavily questioned during the Cold War, has taken over.

It focuses on a certain flavor of democracy, individualism, and a laissez-faire absolutism of the marketplace. The belief and undeserved faith in the efficiency of markets. It centers around deregulation, free trade, privatization, and puts the individual at the center of everything. Any other attitude, and especially government intervention, is frowned upon.
We can clearly see how this has unfolded on the internet, with Facebook’s many scandals clarifying the limits of corporate self-regulation.

There’s an over-emphasis on economic efficiency and growth at all costs. Political theorist Wendy Brown has gone even further and asserted that the overriding objective of neoliberalism is “the economization of all features of life”.

The self becomes a product, a personified capital that needs to accumulate symbols of status, a storyline, and advertise itself. With regards to the internet, and because the money is where advertisers and the audience put their interests, a personal-brand will only be profitable if it fits the mold of the popular culture.
We have to partner with the brands and products that make us shine. We own things that reflect our personal meaning. We calculate the benefits, efficiency, and productivity of each action. We had a look at this in the new economies section, this is in relation to this. The commodification of personal data and attention for profit.

This unfettered exploitation puts gains before anything and it doesn’t only apply to individuals but especially to corporations. That is why marketing is prioritized on the internet, an optimization of products and surveillance. We de-emphasize public goods to turn our eyes towards the market idolization, a corporatocracy.

Everything has a monetary incentive rather than a social objective. Anything needs a metric, an indicator, to be tracked and quantifiable. This focus on economic efficiency can compromise other, perhaps more important, factors, or promote exploitation and social injustice. We see this on the personal level on social media through likes, shares, and subscribers.

It’s arguable if neoliberalism, the advent and rise of this way of life, are bi-products of the internet or if it’s the opposite. It’s arguable if individuation is the product of neoliberalisation or vice-versa, and if they are accelerated by the internet.
It’s probably a mix of everything, societal changes with the private enterprises reflecting the will of individuation of private individuals, which are also projected on their internet — the internet driven by the big players.

We’ll see later how these societal change and acceleration bring social unrest.

The individuals are at the heart, all the responsibility and weight are on them, that’s why they focus so much on identity politics and individual gains, while dismissing broader identities and class consciousness.
A mix of looking for authenticity, as it seems to be the gap in cultures that have embraced neoliberalism, and an overwhelming majority of narcissistic individuals.
A mix of losing political freedom because of apathy, and looking for self-fulfillment as withdrawal from moral concerns. Are lurkers neoliberal? Are counter-culture and creativity now anti-neoliberalism?

Globalisation doesn’t necessary mean homogenisation, but it’s undeniable that the neoliberal mindset has spread further than any other and can’t be dismissed. Its acceptance, normalization, the incentives, indirect influences on the internet and its dynamics are apparent.
Isn’t this the best propaganda, one we don’t even notice unless we’re someone in the middle, someone cross-cultural?

Nonetheless, what happens online is only a function of the offline status quo, the offline paralysis. The internet does not exist in a vacuum. It is made with the purpose of letting people connect with their own networks, assuming that users are individuals, and inherently individualising them.
The online world recreates and accelerates — there is nothing inherent within the technology that makes it neoliberal, it’s only a tool. Each can have their own different internet experience depending on how they use it, as we kept saying.
We’re both formatted and free individuals — freedom as a menu.

This concludes our review of how the internet has consequences in the acceleration of cultural evolution, formatting individuals, paralyzing them, imposing an overwhelming homogenisation while letting fringe people contribute, and fostering and spreading the neoliberal mindset.
At first, we’ve examined the cognitive effects: attention, memory, and social cognition. Our attention is divided, our memory externalized, and our social fear amplified. Then we’ve seen how the internet makes us constantly anxious of making indelible mistakes, embodied in the concept of social cooling and self-censorship.
Next, we’ve observed the link with the notion of lurkers, read-only users, the 1% rule, and the out-of-the-ordinary users that actually contribute the content. These contributors do so because the internet has filled something they were missing, a cultural gap.
After this we’ve questioned conformity and homogeneity, how the internet offers template we select from, and puts pressure on individuals to fit perfectly. Yet, we’ve also observed that these templates, these experiences, and the internet function as a whole, differ and are divided per culture, environment, language, and others — the glocalization of the internet.
Later, we’ve added to this the fact that the internet is driven by monetary incentives and that it will create a dynamic in which more content is targeted at people that fit certain templates and others will be enticed to fill the templates of other cultures, an indirect cultural assimilation.
Following this we’ve discussed what it would mean to stand out of these templates, of all these memeplexes, to be more creative or counter-cultural and we’ve concluded it means either embracing the tech or going against it. Finally, we’ve linked the topic with neoliberalisation and how it exemplifies the phenomenon we’re seeing, both by emphasizing the market, efficiency, and the individual.

Table Of Content

References








Attributions: Parmasayika grid




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