Our relationships with technology in the information age is something extraordinary. It is something which would have been incomprehensible in the minds of human beings 50 years ago. We are essentially walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. But these tiny devices that can give us information from all over the world are so much more than coding and hardware. As astonishing and advanced as I’m sure the physical making of smartphones are, it is much more the content that is flowing through our devices that is interesting to think about. They are an outlet through which we perceive anything and everything, from our best friends birthday party we unfortunately couldn’t attend via pictures on social media, to the biography of some wise old prodigy from the 16th century, or how to bake the perfect cheesecake, to name a few examples. We can get the information to anything at the click of a button and time and space limitations are superseded by the immediacy of it all. With all this, it can be questioned as to whether our increased access to information in the digital age is making us as a population smarter, or lazier? Think about it, we are having to use less energy and effort to go about finding things. Public libraries were often the only way to find resources and you’d have to travel at least some distance to get that information. It’s actually quite hard to imagine as someone who’s practically grown up with the internet. Moreover, has our ability to comprehend and navigate through information become more efficient? Flicking through social media feeds and search engines is something we do every day. Wading through reams of content which is either done with intent or often mindlessly. But the significant thing is that we’re at both the receiving and the giving end of an abundance of information all the time. With this in mind, are we overwhelming our brains with content? Or as a consequence, are our brains adapting to suit the demand of living in a ubiquitous technological environment?
This post has been looming around in my draft folder for a while as i’ve been wondering what to do with it. Also partly because I feel I am trying to reach a medium between posting because I genuinely want to and not because I feel I have too. But that’s something i’m working on.
I watched a TedTalk recently which I found through an online course on gender development I have been taking. The talk is titled ‘The danger of a Single Story’ and it’s by Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found it very thought-provoking and couldn’t help but agree with more or less everything she was saying.
In short, she basically talks about how we often create and consume one single story about a particular thing, that could be an ethnic group or a particular age group for example, and she further explores how dangerous and I agree, small minded doing this can be.
Anyway, before I go any further here’s the video so you can see it for yourself:
In the course we were asked to consider the following points;
- what happens when we reduce complex societies to simple stereotypes, to a single narrative.
- her argument that this approach, where complexity is reduced to a simple narrative, distorts our perceptions of others
Watching the Ted Talk not only made me realize, but also reminded me of how prominent stereotypes actually are in not only our minds but also in society as a whole. I think humans are very judgmental in nature, and I don’t necessarily mean that we make these judgements with cruel intentions but that it is often a subconscious act. Our opinions on people are shaped by the media from a very early age. The media seems to create an idea of a place or a person, which might be in their vested interest, made for biased reasons, or just for an easy way to categorize. And then consequently the audiences consuming this media gain a single story of a much wider picture. Religious, ethnic groups and the variety of cultures in existence, are an example of the abundantly different ways that people live around the world, and instead of emphasis being placed on understanding and accepting these different societies, they are too often simplified to having one single meaning.
And this of course is very dangerous as Chimamanda said, as an unclear vision of the world is implemented into people’s heads. And these images are repeated again and again, through word of mouth, the socialisation of children, and are of course helped along through media consumption, literature and politics. They become the dominant story in our heads. And the truth remains under wraps and is known on a much smaller scale.
Stereotyping is a form of shorthand, an easier way of categorizing people. But does this mean stereotyping is used because the media is too lazy to paint the bigger picture? Or does the media enable the public to identify national identities on a much simpler scale because our brains cannot cope with retaining the biggest, and most realistic depiction of the truth?
How can we combat single stories?
There is part of me that thinks single stories may never be resolved. I think the media, authority, political parties etc. is/ and are continuously aiming to consolidate the public’s views on the world to the point that they may unfortunately never stop. It’s quite a tricky thing to think about really because how do we know that without these other factors, as humans we still wouldn’t create these ill-informed ideas about things? But then you can argue back and say that without the media’s ability to reach audiences in the first place, for example, we wouldn’t necessarily know about immigration problems etc.
But I do also think that with greater awareness on the issue of single stories and informing people on a wider level, especially from a young age, that not everything you read is true, along with encouragement to research further and learn about things for ourselves, would help prevent single single stories being created in the first place. As a media student I was taught from day one that not everything you read is true. The public is becoming more aware of so-called ‘fake news’ now though, so that is some progress.
Reducing societies to simple stereotypes creates divides and subsequently limits our understanding of the world around us. I hope for a time in the future when we can go beyond these close-minded mentalities and concentrate on making the world a better place, without unjust and ill-informed constraints.
As always, thank you for reading!
And please feel free to leave your thoughts below in the comments section!
Freedom. What is it, and how can It be defined? The word freedom is problematic to singularly define. And in this way is much more subjective to the individual as opposed to a simple text book definition. One person’s definition of freedom could be highly conflicting to others. Whether someone feels free or not, could be due to an array of reasons, such as the individual’s state of mind, how strict (or not) the individual’s country allows them to be and so on. So many factors can be taken into account such as social, cultural, geographical, economical etc. when deciding whether one is truly free or not. But personally, freedom to me normally coincides with my state of mind. And more often than not is related to whether I feel content with things that are going on in my life at that time. Being free to me in this way, means being unrestrained from irrational thinking.
The Paradox of Choice
I also like to think about freedom with reference to consumption. Here’s a scenario; you’re at a supermarket, and you’re down the confectionery aisle. What chocolate bar will you choose? You think you have an abundance of choice, 20 to 30 brands are sat looking at you. Double Decker, Whisper, Morrisons own etc. The packaging of that one looks bright and appealing. But this one you always used to buy from the corner shop with your 50p weekly pocket money. But this one’s the cheapest! Ooo but Cadbury has just brought out a brand new recipe, I wonder what that one’s like! PICK ME! PICK ME!
There’s too much choice, an overwhelming amount. You’re now stood, frozen in a state of indecisiveness. You start to wish there was wasn’t so many choices available to you after all. It would be easier that way, you’d be able to make a quicker decision, and limit this pointless faffing in the supermarket. You finally make a decision. But why is something so simple so anxiety provoking?
And the looming question remains; did you really have freedom of choice?
In a capitalist society, due to its economic system, emphasis is placed on choice being available, however this can seem quite domineering. With so much emphasis on consumption, even though there appears to be a freedom of choice, do we really have a choice? Or do societal factors such as anxieties around making sure you choose the right product which will impress the most people, or the product that is the current trend, imprison us and prevent us from making a decision which is solely made on our own personal choice, with disregard to any other external factor?
When we make choices whilst consciously baring in mind what other people will think of us, we are invoking a need to be regarded in a certain way by others. And not so much acting of our own individual desires. Therefore when we make consumer choices it can be said that we aren’t making straight-forward decisions with no outward consideration to society, it is not just us singularly who are making the choice. We sometimes like to choose what everyone else is choosing, and are obsessed with how others will regard us, in regards to our choice. Choice in this way is a very social thing. We also try to make an ideal choice. For example when choosing a mobile network provider, we’ll try and go for the one with the best value for money. Making ‘the ideal choice’ is something that will most likely play a part in determining our decisions on a regular basis. But this is another reason why choices can be anxiety provoking, and it’s met with the recurring question of ‘Do I really want this?’
Freedom as the achievement of self-realisation
The idea of positive and negative liberty, made famous by Philosopher Isaiah Berlin, creates a divide between people’s ideas of freedom. Philosopher John Stuart Mill, for example, favoured a negative conception of liberty, and perceived freedom as allowing individuals to act as they wanted, without the interference of authority. So maybe, freedom in this way means to do things that may harm the individual, like smoking or drug abuse. This also perhaps is alluding to rebellion against the constraints of authority. Furthermore, Mill clarified that individuals under this conception of liberty would only be free as long as they were not using their freedom to harm others. So it seems, a moral compass is apparent in Mill’s ideas.
On the other hand, more positive conceptions of liberty, do not link the concept of freedom with having no interference of others and authority, but instead with doing the right and rational thing. This links with Mill’s idea of first-order desire and highest-order of desire. First-order meaning choices you make which are ruled by irrational thoughts, impulse or emotions. And highest-order on the other hand; choices which are made by thinking rationally, and are often reflective of reaching your full potential. To put this into a more simpler way to understand, i’ll apply it to a personal experience;
I have often tried to lessen my usage of social media due to it often making me feel dissatisfied with my life, its fueling of unhealthy comparisons and making me feel like a mindless robot whilst using it. Basically a mixture of negative feelings. As much as I tried to stop pointlessly checking my phone to see if I had any messages, or scrolling through Instagram repeatedly, I regularly gave in to my first-order of desire (checking my phone unnecessarily ) when in actual fact I knew I would feel more mentally free if I just stopped checking my phone so much (highest-order of desire). I more recently have lessened my phone usage by at least 50% and feel more free within myself from doing so.
So in this sense, I can say I have achieved my highest-order of desire (achieving what I most wanted), but it took me a lot of attempts and failings to my first-order of desire to do so. It was an annoying habit that I wanted to break, and the addictive nature of social media meant many failings to my first-order of desire, but I got there in the end.
Freedom is a very ambiguous term, with an abundance of definitions as a result of it being so highly subjective in nature. But freedom for me is probably what Berlin coined ‘positive freedom’, in being that it is internal barriers, that keep me from being what I define as being free.
What do you define ‘freedom’ as?
I would love to hear your opinions and ideas, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading! 🙂