The Age of (dis)information.
Our civilisation is changing. Rapidly. There are different eras that intelligent species inevitably go through. I’m sure there are more official, or accurate definitions out there, but here are a few I have thought of. There’s the primal stage where the dominant species of the planet has yet to become as intelligent as they will - tribal warfare and violence reigns supreme. There’s the middle ages where religion ruled largely on the basis of fear and where the foundations of reason and enlightenment have yet to be established. Currently, we are living in the age of information. The age of information is as big a step forward as the industrial revolution was, if not bigger. I’d say it really started to kick off at the beginning of this century. The marking of this age is the fact that we are able to find any piece of information at almost any time. It’s a tool that was never afforded to previous generations. But with great power comes great… corruption. We are in the age of information. However, I think it’s more accurate to say that we’re more currently in the age of disinformation. The inevitable baby step that comes directly after entering the age of information.
One could argue that disinformation started when information could first be widely spread. TV, radio, newspapers, even word of mouth. Disinformation has certainly been around for a while. But like gasoline to a fire, the internet has helped proliferate fake information. Agencies and organisations can take advantage of this and they don’t always have our best interests at heart. Social media, where clicks, comments, shares - any type of engagement - will push posts to be more widely seen, regardless of the veracity of the claim, is another reason to blame for the spread of disinformation. It spreads toxicity. Lies. Disinformation. Another reason I want to mention, and one that I want to drill down into today, is that we’ve hacked the human mind. We know what makes humans tick and what things can influence us, which means we know what can influence others. Even things that go against what we believe is rational. It’s why companies spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising each year. Because it works.
We’re constantly being manipulated, pulled in one direction or another by politicians, advertisers, influencers, work colleagues and friends. The powers are overwhelming. This may be quite a hard pill to swallow for some. But for myself and my world view, it makes perfect sense and is to be expected. I’ve argued before that free will doesn’t exist, and that our actions are merely a result of external factors. The implication of this is if you can control all external factors you can control someone’s actions. And here’s the kicker - it would happen without them knowing it. You control the inputs. You control the outputs. Now this will never be a 100% guarantee as controlling all and every external factor, along with an understanding of how each these external factors can effect someone, is practically impossible. But I think you can push 90% of people, into doing 90% of things, 90% of the time.
I’ll give you just one of many examples of how we can be controlled do to completely irrational things. Social conformity. It certainly has its positive uses, especially in the early days of our evolution. But see how easily manipulated we can be:
I really struggle to watch this, it just looks so painful. Because you know that in their heads they’re thinking “????” but they feel like they HAVE to, because everyone else is. They’re doing the irrational, while full well knowing it’s irrational.
This is one of many ways to influence a small amount of people. Social pressure is extremely powerful and more so when there’s more people doing it. Now can this be applied to large numbers of people? Of course it can. It already has. Were the followers of Manson particularly stupid? Were the supporters of Hitler all uniquely evil? Maybe. Or maybe almost anyone is able to be manipulated to do things which don’t make sense to a sober persons’ eye. Everyone likes to think that they would be the hero of the story, to have stood up to the crowd and for what’s right. If you think you’re one of these people - think again. It’s an extremely unlikely case for someone to go against such immense social influence.
Mass groups of people can be controlled and manipulated through the selective flow of information and the spread of disinformation. The power of this cannot be understated, it can be used to start mass protests, to change governments, even spark genocide (this is not a hyperbole, the Myanmar’s genocide would not have happened if not for Facebook). We’re more easily controlled now then we were in the middle ages when the palpable threat of damnation loomed over our every action. With such a widespread flow of information, people are more easily controlled now than ever before. But here’s something to keep in mind: It’s not that we have gotten stupider over the centuries, it’s that we’ve gotten better at controlling people.
Edward O. Wilson said “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.”
Our brains are the products of evolution, they don’t look too different than they did 1000 or even 10,000 years ago (maybe even longer), and yet we’re up against people who understand our brain to a degree in which no one has ever come close to understanding it before.
You know what’s even more effective than being able to control someone? Controlling someone who doesn’t realise that they are being controlled. A man may think he is free, but has his will stripped of him and is held up by his own puppet strings.
If you can control people you can literally change the world. You can control people by controlling the information they see. The power that comes with controlling information is gigantic. If you had a group of people who had a monopoly on information, it is them that control the world. Now I don’t believe that there is a small group of people who do this due to the difficultly of the task, but it’s somewhat feasible. Fake news, algorithms, controlling search results, all can have an effect on our malleable minds. It is unfortunate that this is the way it is. But, as mentioned before, it’s what happens when you put up a godlike understanding of technology and our minds against our primitive brains. We lose. Every time. We just get pulled in whatever direction the puppet masters want us to go.