Got Change For a Paradigm?
Watching a bunch of Netflix and Hulu today while on a nostalgia jag for old TV shows, I was struck by a thought that’s recurred more than once over the last few years: Someone ought to investigate how everyday human behavior has changed in response to the technological innovations we’ve seen over the past fifty years or so. I’m not talking about the very very obvious things like the savings in time we get from using email rather than the old pen-and-paper letters sent via snail mail, or the way cell phones have freed us from the physical limits of landlines, no, I’m thinking about the subtle long term effects of old memes of human culture becoming outmoded by all the fancy toys we have and what they’re capable of.
A meme, if you’re not familiar, is “a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena,” as Wikipedia so succinctly defines it. A lot of people have the mistaken idea that humans evolve noticeably over time. They don’t, simple as that. Humans today are exactly the same as they were a hundred years ago, or a thousand. The only things that do evolve are the technologies available to us, and the memes we use to pass along cultural phenomena.
It’s easier if you examine individual examples to get an idea of how insidious the changes in memes can be. To give you an idea, while watching an episode of the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker speculative fiction show from the mid-1970s (is that one from left field, or what?), the question of who one of the fathers of modern psychology was is put to a robot, who answers right away: “Wilhelm Wundt.” So, what’s the big deal? Well, Wundt is someone who I consider one of the bad guys in history, he was the psychologist who bears much of the responsibility for pushing the awful Prussian-inspired coerced public education I’ve written critically of before. His name was surely not inserted into the show’s script by chance, I think it may well have been done by someone who wanted to help cement Wundt’s name into the public’s conscience in a positive way, one tiny little trick to casually reinforce the image of public education as a good thing.
Watching other shows, I saw a lot of this sort of thing, recurring buzzwords that reinforced common ‘everybody knows that‘ concepts that have been shown to be either distortions or outright falsehoods, as pointed out by many modern revisionist historians. This sort of thing has been going on for a long time, influencing and ‘guiding’ public opinion in ways that I think have been useful to those wishing very intentionally and cynically to keep that public controlled.
I wonder, though…can those responsible for such manipulation get away with it more efficiently in today’s digitized, accelerated age by hammering viewers with those misleading concepts more frequently than ever before? Or is it just the opposite, with the wealth of information available on the internet at one’s fingers, is it more difficult for propagandists? I honestly don’t know, but I think it bears watching.
I can think of plenty of other examples of how radically some memes have changed, but I’ll leave that for another time. I feel like I got my meaning across, and I’d enjoy hearing what others have to say on the subject.
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