Back in 1985, which, for you math whizzes out there, is one more than 1984, Neil Postman wrote a book detailing his fears that the authoritarian dystopia featured in the novel 1984 was not nearly so prophetic as the Aldous Huxley novel, Brave New World. It was titled Amusing Ourselves to Death, and it analyzes the dizzying amount of information glutted upon us by television at that time. The thesis of the book is that the medium through which an idea is communicated intrinsically impacts the very content of that idea. His formative example is that one cannot communicate deep, philosophical dialectic through smoke signals.

Postman then goes on to describe the greatness of the written word. One of his arguments is that typography necessarily requires statements that bear an inherent truth or falsity. For example, an advertisement that claims, “Drinking this beverage will make attractive people desperately want to have sex with you” is either true or false. Compare that to an image of a celebrity holding a beverage which is neither true nor false, but empty of any real content.


“Beyonce is holding a beverage and pointing at it.” That is the textual equivalent to this image. Doesn’t work so great in text, but as an image it conveys something beyond rational argument.

Images, and television which is simply a series of them, don’t convey truth but rather emotion. Beyonce holding a Pepsi and pointing at it makes you feel a certain way, and Pepsi is hoping that feeling is going to be associated with their product. The two ways of communicating, differences innocuous at first, are radically distinct. One necessarily requires rational argument (however blatantly absurd the propositions within it may be), the other requires entertainment value.

Postman goes into significantly more detail than I have here, and offers many more examples, but I just wanted to give an idea as to how the medium of an idea affects the type of communication available within it. The written word requires context and logic; television requires quick cuts and soundtracks. However, 1985 was a long time ago, and communication has come a long way. How does the medium of social media define the content of ideas within it?

Those familiar with this blog will know that I have shown many different limitations imbued within the communication framework of social media, but I want to discuss one thing further that is quite topical in today’s news. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that data firm Cambridge Analytica gathered information on 50 million Facebook users without their consent (stole it, hacked it, whichever), and then used that information to aid both the Trump presidential campaign and the Brexit Leave campaign. Social Media is notorious for selling its users’ data to advertisers, so allowing it to be harvested for political gain, regardless of consent, is not all that surprising.


By reading this blog, you are telling whichever organization that’s tracking your online habits that you are a chump. Sell that to the Russians, Zuckerberg you pasty-faced twat!

In addition to this, Twitter tends toward fake news, and YouTube’s algorithms tend toward conspiracy. The explanation for this seems to be that far-fetched ideas are more entertaining, and thus receive more hits. Getting more hits means it’s more popular, and popular things receive more attention from data algorithms. Conspiracy nuts like InfoWars can take advantage of this, and get away with promulgating stories like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are operating a sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlour. Bullshit sells, and so the owners of social media allow this manipulation to dominate their programming because social media is ultimately a business.

Which brings us to how the medium of social media determines the content of the ideas within it. Social media are owned by monopolies that make their business by harvesting information that people willingly give them, and then manipulate those people based on that information. A collection of Facebook ‘likes’ can predict personality better than a person’s spouse, and that information is owned by an amoral, profit-driven monolith. Those who communicate within the medium of social media are inherently being driven by behind-the-scenes machinations of whoever has the money to do so, be it advertisers, political parties, or foreign influences. The content is inherently bent, the longer we participate. It is no longer our message, but becomes that of another.

This is not entirely new. He who owned the printing press determined the content of its papers. The oligarchy that developed from media consolidation owns American news media, and they determine what we consume in traditional media. The difference with social media is that we are the content creators. The manipulation of communication has become far more intimate. We determine what is produced, therefore we must become the thing determined by others.