TLDR : Exploration of ideas and memes (I use the terms interchangeably)
If code scripts machines, media scripts humans" - Balaji Srinivasan
I’ve been thinking about media consumption in general, and how its evolved over the course of history
In the past, access to information was scarce. The ability to read was incredibly rare, and information was siloed by establishments such as the Church. You believed what other people in your locality believed. Ideas were location based.
With the advent of the printing press, books become more widespread. Ideas could be shared down generations more easily, and horizontally across cultures. You no longer had to rely on memory (for example, many early religious teachings were passed down verbally)
You then had a giant leap forward. Radio became another vehicle for propagation of ideas. You could speak to millions (e.g. Fireside Chats of FDR) and spread ideas that way. Then came television, and you could add moving images to this.
The truly exponential change though was the internet. Information and memes could be propagated at a scale never before seen. We have access to :
- Tik Tok
- Twitter/Social media
The library of Alexandria is at your fingertips.
I think these are all incredibly valuable, they are vehicles for propagating ideas. There can be a sentiment that ‘books’ are better than blogs or videos etc, but that is parochial.
I think a good Netflix series can be infinitely more immersive than a novel. There is no moral hierarchy in this. But I think the medium does affect the message.
- If you want complexity–> consume books
- If you want information density –> consume blogs
- If you want practical skills –> YouTube
- If you want long form video –> Youtube
- If you want conversation –> Podcasts
- If you want to spread memes/short ideas –> Tik Tok, Twitter
The shorter the attention span required, the easier a message will spread. To ‘code’ humans as Balaji describes, services like Tik Tok / Twitter are how the zeitgeist of a generation is created.
Fewer and fewer people are consuming longer form content in the form of books. I think something is lost, and the capacity for single focused attention may be impaired in some ways.
But we do get the ability to ‘jump to the heart of the matter’. You don’t need a 500 page dead tree book to tell you about woodworking. You can watch a YouTube video.
This is magical. Literally awe inspiring, that I have access to the collective wisdom of humanity in a black rectangle in my pocket. The 21st century is so cool.
Media creates culture - it changes language, it spreads ideas and memes. It’s powerful, and the future of humanity is going to be determined by spreading ‘good memes and ideas’. The internet has amplified the propogation of ideas.
For example, you can spread the idea of a hopeless future where you’re working in a capitalist society until you die. I know this might be a joke, but subtly, you are spreading an idea. The best ideas often have an element of truth in them.
Or you can spread alternate ideas. For example, my youtube algorithm recently showed a creator/medic called Ali Abdaal. He’s spreading a set of ideas about content creation/creativity/how to learn etc, that is undoubtely inspiring for teenagers and students. Others may find this extremely cringey (clickbait titles and the cult of productivty). No judgement from me.
I recently read this short story by Greg Ewan titled ‘Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies’. It’s sci fi short story where humanity undergoes a shift in consciousness, where people ‘cluster around common ideologies’ geographically. They are called ‘attractors’. So for example, a set of people are drawn to the attractor of ‘Christianity’, another by ‘Communism’ etc, competly out of their volition. Humanity splits off into physical echo chambers based on ideas. The story follows a group that is ‘inbetween attractors’, they haven’t been pulled by any ideology (only to discover that they might be trapped in an ideology themselves).
Media is scripting ideologies into humans. It is spreading ideas. Ideas create behaviour. Behaviour and actions change the world.
What you consume you become. We are conditioned
This isn’t exactly new information, I guess apparently Buddha did say ‘your thoughts create your reality, we are what we think’.
What you consume does matter- it scripts you. I can point a lot of my influences back to certain books and ideas, even early youtube bloggers that I used to watch in 2010 (Tessa Violet). The word influencer is quite literal.
On one hand, it is terrifying, to know how easily you are influenced. There is an invisible set of beliefs that is programmed into current ‘Abhishek’ that can be hard to see. Those beliefs have come from a myriad infinite number of influences (genes, memes) that is hard to pinpoint, but has led me to where I am now.
On the other hand, there is some level of agency in the beliefs you program into yourself. (Let’s not get into free will yet)
One interesting question is : Are certain beliefs ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others.
I think so. Clearly the meme of Nazism is worse than the meme of veganism, in terms of suffering of sentient beings. Secular humanism I think is a better meme than fundamentalist Islam in that you don’t have religious violence, burkas etc. The net suffering caused by certain ideas is more or less than others. It’s a moral landscape as Sam Harris describes.
There is a trajectory of ideas that leads collectively eudemonia (human flourishing). There are right and wrong answer to moving in this space. Would it be a good thing for everyone to believe that homosexuality is a sin. No, because it creates immense amounts of guilt, seperation, and seperation leads to violence.
Youtube / Books/ TV / Podcasts/ Tik Tok/ Instagram/ Radio - are all vehicles to spread this meme.
Individuals are becoming media companies
When I look at influencer culture, single individuals are having massive impact over the ideas and memes that are spread.
What’s more interesting, is that it is completely permission less. There is no bureaucratic tape. No legacy institutions. On one end, it does mean that it might be less rigorous in terms of facts etc. But on the other hand, the market knows what it wants.
Slightly alarming is the algorithmic curation of content, which pushes towards extreme views. But I think that is a problem we can solve.
The conclusions I want to make is that
- Media scripts humans
- Ideas are spread more rapidly more than ever
- What you consume you become
- There is a moral landscape of good and bad ideas
- We should aim to spread good memes in the sense that they reduce suffering
- We are blind to our own belief sets and conditioning - can you respond to events without conditioning?