In a previous post, I mentioned the bricoleur concept by Claude Levi-Strauss and how our culture became less open to abstract ideas (and therefore started to embrace narrow concepts).
Now, to give you an example of this principle applied to Social Networks, let’s consider this simple case.
I post an image on Facebook, it’s an image depicting something important, with a smart caption that makes the picture stand out even more, and it gets a lot of “I like”. People don’t even need to comment on the picture. I get a sense of inexplicable satisfaction from all the likes the post is receiving. Is not that those likes are directly related to me, but since we’re confused about the tools we use as we consider them a sort of an extension of ourselves, hence the extemporaneous joy.
Anyway, there’s no real need for the people who like my post to actually consider the picture and the story behind it, and so more posts go on, other pictures are being uploaded, and other likes.
Replies to posts are not really required (the system still works) and if somebody does, it can be anything: a few words, another picture, a link, and so forth. The complex richness of the human capacity to conceptualize, and engage in dialogues, it’s reduced to simple bits that yield a strict output: true or false, 0 or 1.
This little example seems a stretch, but surely it’s more simple than that. Well, the thing is this is just the tip of a long process our culture has gone through.
Over the centuries our western civilization adopted a process of heavy oversimplification and it has been done in an ironic complex way (and there’s a reason for that). Just looking back at the beginning of the ’900 and what science was achieving we can see how our culture mixed up signifier and signified, reducing meaning to the very least value of it where there was no meaning left at all but only signifier.
Freud’s main idea behind psychoanalysis was about eroticism and he thought we could explain who we are by just looking back at what we did in the past (either yesterday or our childhood). That method became orthodox and marked the difference between what Freud and Jung believed analysis should be. It was a deductive approach, where meaning was ultimately gained and thus narrowed to formulas. Freud’s method was scientific, meaning he applied theory to patients, while Jung’s was open to learning from the patients themselves. Jung believed that approaching a person driven by a theory and applying that theory to the person, would prove nothing but the theory itself as he wouldn’t approach the individual case, he would just apply a generic premise to somebody, no matter what the uniqueness of that person would be. The theory would be always true, in a referring system where there are no external influences to challenge the development of the analysis.
Jung went through a very different path from what Freud believed in, studying primitive cultures, symbols, and myths and still learning from patient to patient what traces are left in each of us, as a continuous, widespread flow of memories, history, and knowledge.
Freud and Jung were just the beginning of a drastic alteration in the so-called modern society.
Now, if we reduce the depth of all the possible paths a discipline can have, we limit our very own understanding of what we’re analyzing, and at the same time, we lay the foundation of a system where, if something it is too complex, better to break it apart and start dissecting it piece by piece. This leads us to the need of creating as many fields as the pieces we are left with from our previous dissection. In other words, if I can’t explain in a few words what a tree is (i.e. wood for the industry), I’ll interpret the tree as an abstract element of the whole, I’ll believe it is part of it, as well as the wolf, or the river. An abstract world where what is beyond my understanding, then I’ll better treat it carefully being its nature so vast. But, hey, we know what a river is, how the tree grows, and so forth. We have specific fields of study for any element that surrounds us, therefore me must definitely have a better understanding nowadays of the world than our ancestors had centuries ago. I guess so, but I bet many of us would feel totally lost and at the mercy of fate should we wake up one day completely alone in a forest. I don’t know what I could consider safe to eat, no Google nor manuals, and no GPS to see where I’m going. Where are all my fundamental tools?
Keep adding it’s risky, we focus less as the demand is higher day by day (the multi-tasking dumb hallucination). We added tools, and we keep adding them. We shrunk and split tools, and meanings, in order to get things (we believe) that will be easier to handle. It’s actually all the opposite. All the little pieces of bits made our lives more and more complicated. The irony is that the oversimplification is just a hollow dream, we’re turning ourselves into conformed people who can’t do anything without our little, gleaming tools. We’re even measuring our activity, studying ourselves as “other-than-self”, the Quantified Self – another extension, another sign of narcissism as McLuhan means it. We’re surrounded by cold medium, the effort required by the end-user to read, interpret, and understand the signs is next to zero, and yet so distracting as well as demanding.
We’re losing the capacity to cut off, to abstract from confined ideas, and concepts. We write manuals of behaviors, of things we consider normal, of what is good and what is bad. We want people to conform to each other, and to our ideas because we can’t accept rejection.
As consumers, we all have to think and behave as a whole mind. It’s a world of uniformity, where abstract concepts have been shrunk down and split into tons of little pieces to keep us busy all day long. It is a new religion, it is a sect: you can just be in or out, true or false, 0 or 1.
In the creative business, this has been translated with the word “research”, where creative people seek what is normally called “inspiration”, the perfect reference, the best match, something that in the end turns out to be a replica of the same little piece of bit. The principle is simple: if I do what others do and what already many others like, then I’m on the right track. It’s a system of “I like”, where any other possible option is left out. It’s simple, no need to reinvent the wheel. We already have the proper extension for any occasion, let’s just keep using it over and over. What really matters is a celebrity that, nowadays, translates into how many connections we have.
Inspiration has lost its old meaning, once again we reduced a whole world of possibilities to a wider world of patterns. Inspiration used to be a trigger that would start a chain of reaction in the creative mind, where the unconscious matter was internally turned on and manipulated, and eventually would emerge to the surface bringing new elements or different approaches to the challenge. I don’t really believe there’s more creativity around nowadays.
There’s more fuss, for sure. But if we think we’ve more original ideas or more creative works then I profoundly believe we are wrong.
There are good things, yes, but we need to find a balance, we need to detoxify, use a tool for what it is, and disenchant, never stop being critical. Tools are sexy, it’s tricky because we don’t know where our bodies end anymore and we give tools the naïve power of returning power to ourselves, which is a mere illusion.
The Illusions of the Self.