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Month: March 2019

The Medium is the Message

These are the slides for the first two topical lectures from the subject BCM112 Emergent Media that I teach this session. In the first lecture I discuss Marshall McLuhan’s framework of understanding media, and the trajectory and dynamics of the process of convergence. I concentrate on the ways convergence affects industries, technologies, and audiences, establishing the parameters of the internet paradigm. In the second lecture I examine how ‘the medium is the message’ manifests itself in the process of digital production. I explore the kinds of experiences and production processes made possible by the emergence of a digital network economy.

Cognitive mercantilism

In his Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism Robert Jay Lifton gives the following interesting definition of the language of a totalist environment [p.429]:

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. […] [B]rief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed […] become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

In other words, the preponderance of thought-terminating cliché phrases such as ‘agree to disagree’, ‘it’s all relative’, ‘this is hate-speech’, ‘these are the facts’, ‘[authority figures] all agree’, ‘this is [x] privilege’, ‘that’s your opinion’ is a symptom of being in a totalist environment.

A totalist environment is characterized by fully synthetic thinking, itself a function of a dynamic milieu control of information. In an environment of dynamic milieu control, certain information inputs – phrases, words, images, feelings – are branded as undesirable and banned from circulation. This in turn means that any and all thoughts associated with these information inputs become undesirable and dangerous.

In effect, synthetic thinking, as modulated by milieu control, acts to remove undesirable wrong-think and wrong-speech from all downstream communication feedback loops. Importantly, this is a self-reinforcing mechanism which, over time, generates an equally synthetic, and total, image of reality.

When consistently performed at scale over a given time-space, the causal chain of milieu control >> synthetic thinking >> synthetic reality leads to the emergence of cognitive mercantilism. Cognitive mercantilism is the systemic and dynamic formatting of the cognitive processing of a given local reality [i.e. a country], as directed by the actors in control of the communication mechanism of that local reality [i.e. the state].

This is how this maps to the historical process so far:

local mercantilism [tribal/feudal state] >> colonial mercantilism [empire/colonial state] >> [pseudo] liberal colonialism [we are here] >> cognitive mercantilism

“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Why Humans Fear AI.

This is Episode 1 of Naive and Dangerous, a new podcast series about emergent media I am recording together with my colleague Dr Chris Moore. In this episode we discuss the fears surrounding the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and its effects across the fabric of human society. We engage in some speculative analysis of the AI phenomenon and its tropes from current cinema, to cyberpunk, 19th century Romanticism, the ancient Mediterranean world’s fascination with automata, and ancient mythology.