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The bittersweet toxicity of the new media

01 Jan 2021 at 19:38hrs | Views
In 1982, when Steve Jobs was asked if he was keen on doing market research, he said, "No, because customers don't know what they want until we have shown them." His instincts, whether good-natured or not, later propelled him into a unique, artistic perfectionism of a crazy genius, who, in his own words, wanted to live at the intersection of humanities and technology.

Remember, when he said what he said in 1982, Artificial Intelligence –AI, had already been made an academic discipline, almost three decades prior, in 1955. Clearly, in my opinion, Steve Jobs only divulged what most innovators thought then, and continue to think today, about the consumption of technology and all its associated offsprings. In other words, consumers need to be ushered in one particular direction or steered in another, depending on the agenda, for they are not aware of what they want. Contrary to biblical echoes, technology has to be our shepherd according to the broader meaning of Steve Jobs' prophecy.

It is this balance, the mess, we are fighting in the present-day climate where the new media and the information warfare has suddenly become the biggest threat to modern-day democracy. The propaganda-laden environment in which the new media operates has opened the filthy can that leaves the consumer with a wide choice of unverified content.

As outlined in After Truth: Disinformation And The Cost Of Fake News, there is an intentional deception on one hand, and trying to get near the truth on the other. This misinformation, disseminated to our laptops, tablets and mobile phones, together with sophisticated methods of altering and manipulating images, only compounds to the confusion, leaving millions of online content consumers in the wilderness of deceit and falsehoods.

For communities that are riddled with extreme levels of information technology poverty and those deprived of the means to verify information sources and their legitimacy, this is like being forcefully administered with an intravenous drip for a mild headache. Undoubtedly, this confusion, aided by conspiracy theories, plays into the hands of the juggernaut media machinery that is responsible for facts, alternative facts and the spread of love and hate. Misinformation has become a tool of war, enjoyed by the behind-the-scenes forces who gloat for bringing in a set of choices upon which the consumer should or should not believe.

I recently listened to Tiger Woods's interview on television. Facing the devil who gave him glory, and wary of the devil's brutal and unpredictable nature, he gave carefully worded responses about his son Charlie, with whom he had played alongside. The media realised that Tiger didn't want to give too much away, was verbally cautious and protective of his young son. He said the right things and made sure the prospective star wouldn't be involved in any money-spinning media duties. As a victim himself, along with the likes of Mike Tyson, OJ Simpson etc, he was clearly aware how the media can construe interviews and shove words into your mouth to suit their narrative. Such is the dilemma consumers are faced with; misrepresentation of facts.

Depending on which clique you're comfortable to join in the debate, I still feel that these special social human abilities, technological breakthroughs and intellectual capabilities have brought with them an unwelcome companion – unique social problems.

A very close friend and work colleague once scornfully discounted me as a non-existent global alien who had no purpose on earth, simply because I am not on Facebook. To him, this meant that I have unpleasant skeletons in my cupboard. Till this day, I have tried, with very little success, to convince him that privacy, in this modern-day, is not about hiding anything. Instead, it is about protecting the few remaining civil liberties we have. He still disagrees.

Social media platforms, driven by the sophisticated artificial intelligence mechanisms, have managed to enslave us and make us believe that they're creativity outlets. But guess what? The moral part exchange has left us with shredded souls. It is a bitter tradeoff.

By the way, this is not to say that we should not celebrate technological wisdom. Far from it. What we need to be aware of, as consumers of tech and her adopted siblings, is that artificial intelligence has, and will continue to influence and manipulate our thought process. This will plunge a lot of millennials and baby boomers alike, into misleading lifestyles, misinformed lifestyles if you like.

The likes from Kim Kardashian or being followed by Barack Obama will not compensate for the mental load, the financial burden, the extra work that comes with staying up to the minute, remaining relevant and being out there. Furthermore, lurking within is the social media stress brought by the unforeseen negative scrutiny. Remaining in the conversation has its own rewards while overstaying in it has its own retribution. Addiction being one.

While it is true that social interaction is healthy, rewarding us with less anxiety and depression when we gossip and share the fun, true is the fact that it can exacerbate it too. The socially-shaping influence of Saudi Arabian women celebrating the freedom to drive for the first time in their country is not only inspirational but endearing too. It is no doubt captivating. It defies that the natural function of a woman is to give birth.

On the other hand, celebrating nudity is plain stupid, although the religion of our age, together with the new media will fool us that this is empowering, freedom of expression and liberalism.

Again, it is the same media that encourages us to listen to our inner voice, a voice that prompts us to flaunt and post large proportions of our wealth and flamboyant lifestyles while others watch aloof in odd assortments of worn and mismatched donated clothing, blistered toes hanging out of oversized sandals and empty stomachs. Really?

It is the same inner voice that has been a culprit of insensitive, inhumane and tasteless media posts, responsible for bullying, body shaming, sexism, ageism and social media associated suicides. I am sure we can follow our hearts and celebrate life in the new media in a more civil manner, without making fellow humans feel unworthy.

Research and innovation has undoubtedly driven technological curiosity, helped to provide us with these technological utensils that have brought all global communities to share and celebrate awarenesses of different kinds. A gratifying feat I guess?

Obviously, with more than 3 billion social media users in 2020, an advertisement platform worth more than 30 billion USD in the same year, it is inevitable that these new media platforms will be awash with hogwash. Consumers will be lured into social- climbing adventures with little or huge pickings. The consumer is also left with the task of plucking substance over immaterial content, to experiment or disregard the hype and make sure they are not sucked into the orbit of social media-induced alcoholism, obesity and becoming a socially-shy society in the process…….


Mandlenkosi Siziba is a social commentator

Source - Mandlenkosi Siziba
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