Bubbles and categories: how serious do we think we are?

“Ever heard of Google?”, asks an acquaintance with not a lot of intimacy with the interlocutor. On the internet, everyone is a potential acquaintance, and pretty much everyone knows about Google, but how many hours have they spent video calling on Hangouts? Discussion aside (some of us have violated the Skype terms), it’s supposed to be factually relevant that anything you want to know is there for your enlightenment and education. Where is Myanmar? When does COVID vaccination start for elderly people? Who is running for Congress? How do I uninstall AVG? What’s the value of Bitcoin? What’s a hedge fund? And so on. When I was in college, I remember being interested in other questions. The difference between coherence and cohesion. Mode and place of articulation of phonemes — technically, phones. Prose and poetry. Enjambement and alliteration. Virtual and real. Discourse, ideology and medium. Correction techniques for teachers, approaches for grammar explanations with real life situations, formality and authenticity, bulk data of conversations, rumor definitions and narrative, plot twists, character building in novels. Today, someone might ask if you understand why TikTok was interesting to buy, but Huawei was off the table. Is that all? Of course not.

I don’t want to suggest that the contrast between China, specifically, in comparison to America, specifically, is all we need to reckon. People will say New Zealand won the COVID war; they won’t even remember the Hong Kong protests on BBC. Brexit isn’t our problem, deforestation makes headlines but NASA doesn’t know shit. The NSA, well, probably does. And then we have narratives of different media, expected not to clash with corporate interests — which comes from “corporation”; a business, responsible for something they call a product, making a service available, making goods available (and if you don’t use a pretty word like “yields”, guess what, you don’t know shit).

Personally, I don’t actually know American life, but I know a little bit about American character, from experience — and it’s about time people accept it. Japanese songs, illustration and animation make me feel connected sometimes, but I haven’t even watched a single Kurosawa movie; yet, somehow I’m worried about Shinzo Abe’s health. I’ve read Dostoevsky and learned a life lesson, as well as Gogol and Pushkin, but I don’t think a lot of people in Russia appreciate Brazilians, especially after a case involving, let’s say, toxic masculinity during the 2014 World Cup of Soccer and the color pink. Europe, South America, Canada up there, whatever, this isn’t a Geography lesson! I’m just mentioning stuff. But social media as we knew it — before everybody hated Facebook, unless they were making money — was supposed to bond people together through interest, love, compassion, empathy, friendship, charity, all things that the robots don’t fully understand: so far, all they can do is ask how you’re doing, where you’re from, and ask you to please click a link — you’d be shocked, but not only single moms are waiting!

We have to make sense of all this, not just trust the algorithm, or the lack of alternatives that leads us to stupid decisions on how we handle social media. From liking a post or not because you have to follow a certain “strategy” to signing up or logging off for the same reasons, somehow different because the medium is the message but the messenger is a moron, nothing makes perfect sense and everything has a gray area that’s pretty much like the lungs of a heavy smoker. I’ve been silently watching social media discussions unfold, and I’ve come up with this whole definition scheme, because we’re only able to assimilate something truly if there’s a graph, and I’m quite happy with it — not the other graphs I’ve seen in the last few months, curves and all the buzz cut. How I’m going to explain it is probably the real issue. I think, in a global context, it makes sense to think of universal themes; but I wanna talk about Brazil, specifically. And what do people know about the Brazilian character? I don’t think a 13 year old from Massachusetts has a mom who put the Worker’s Party flag on her front window, but let the girl listen to rap, man. I mean, Elizabeth Warren is working for consumer protection, totally goes with ATM by J Cole. Nothing wrong with that, or the genre — except when, you know, one of those guys in rap is accused of domestic violence against the partner. If we can reach an agreement on lack of background, there’s a problem with generalizations, and there’s also presumption of innocence.

What are people talking about? Sure, rap music is an entire world of references. Social media and its evolution is another thing, more technical, boring and sometimes dumb as hell: Twitter recently let people choose whether everyone could reply to your tweets or just people you follow. Good for the people avoiding interaction, trying to promote themselves and earn lots of money just for showing their faces; bad for the rest of the world. But I mean, we have a certain exhibitionism — at least, some of us. When it comes to money, though, we might ask who’s living a perfectly normal life, watching YouTube, playing games, and contributing for society by ordering pizza.

People’s egos are definitely getting in the way of good conversation: they wanna talk about themselves, show themselves on camera, but not read stuff, hear someone out, learn and then paraphrase, mentioning who inspired them. And I’m not talking about copyrights. That’s something I learned about myself: if you got 30 thousand tweets and less than 100 replies over 10 years, you’re selfish as fuck. And you’re not an activist, you’re just a fucking whining bitch. Except when you approach certain subjects like your diagnosed health condition and the problems you’ve faced with your accounts. People wanna talk about something else, not why Google Authenticator can’t give your Tumblr account back. It’s common sense that too much of anything is a problem. But it really depends, doesn’t it? So here’s some stuff we can think about, in a graph that looks like this:

Excuse my Portuguese.

You can look at it in many ways. One of them is to see credibility as the main concept, which is associated to relevance, but takes new shapes as themes and their frequency show up in the media formats we know today.

I assume some people are gonna spend time looking at the graph, and ask about progression and opposition.

I’ll make shortcuts. This isn’t a perfect example of how the semiotic square can be applied to everyday situations (Greimas was published in English in 1983), but my goal here is to deconstruct some myths — for example, that new linguistic studies are all inventions of crazy data scientists. Look back. A lot of people talk about soccer; a lot of people talk about reality shows like Big Brother Brasil. Number one: frequency. A lot of people have self-doubt issues, self-care and self-love issues. Number two: relevance should be attributed to the way you address them, especially because of representation. But you can’t talk about what everyone pays attention to without mentioning the context. Number 3. Reality shows are competitions, not simply entertainment topics, which you’re supposed to reproduce to participate yourself in a public scrutiny that is clearly not about you, but the people being filmed. Also, the number of people being recorded is only rising because the number of phones with high quality cameras has been rising as well. But are you going to use your camera, or your recording tool, aimlessly, without any kind of ethics or purpose? Number four. Why are you sharing this — reposting, but also posting yourself while other people might not be interested or receptive to what you’re sharing and how?

I attempt to make this clear by debunking 4 myths:

1) VIRAL IS CREDIBLE

No, this isn’t about COVID. According to the Collins Dictionary, “a viral film clip, story, or message is one that spreads quickly because people share it on social media and send it to each other”. Well, cats exist. Dogs as well. See my point or not quite? I personally love videos from The Dodo, one of my favorite pages on the web. But I see them on Twitter. It makes me stop to watch more than any other media vehicle, and that probably has a reason. It doesn’t matter if Congress just voted an additional 500% on their own salaries, I wanna see the dog fur growing back and happy flips and barks with a cheerful song. The thing is people are like that for pretty much anything, and they want their social feeds, a term we’ve come to use to translate new media personalization, free from negativity. A viral video can have that, too. Floyd was viral. Parkland gained momentum and its survivors continued in a big movement to push against distribution, purchase and manufacturing of guns. But when you look at your inbox, you have a priority. First, potential babes (however cringy, mind you); second, notifications from your favorite app — like and comments on what you said or posted; maybe third a little bit of information, like “did you know there’s a war going on?” We’re not completely rational or completely passionate. We’re not all united to free Assange, we’re not all united to ask who wants to gag and choke or whatever (which isn’t the context), but we all need to make money — and the products they offer, if not the content, are things beyond our reach. So the truth is nothing changes when we see an ad, just like nothing changes when we see a tweet with a hundred thousand likes: we just giggle and smirk for 2 seconds. We probably need more examples. When the Grammy winners were announced, I was happy for some of them and impressed by performances I’d seen, but I’m still struggling as a musician, and right now I’m listening to Mastodon, not Taylor Swift — and I haven’t even heard Megan Thee Stallion, who wrote the song about gagging and choking, but I’m the one who has to say it’s not very appropriate. Still don’t see my point? Okay, well, where’s Katy Perry? And would she, instead of her ex husband, interview Yuval Noah Harari? Notice how Hot and Cold has less relevance than A Brief History of Tomorrow? I did just find out she’s on American Idol, but if that’s not the point, then I don’t know when you’re gonna start paying attention. Hot and Cold went viral; Yuval was interviewed by Mark Zuckerberg when he wanted to start a freaking book club (and they say people can’t have it all).

2) MAINSTREAM IS ACCURATE

When I was in college, some guy on the line of the student’s restaurant gave me a free copy of Newsweek and Time magazines. That was before Facebook and the whole purpose of news sharing became clear — here we go, I’m in Brazil, not Australia. Later, I’d be writing an article on the portrayal that traditional media created for two candidates. But on the following year, I’d be saying that Twitter has a faster pace than everything else, so news rely on Twitter users to care for what’s being reported so much that they’re going to start commenting actively, blurring the lines of who’s reporting what and why. Like I said, the medium is the message, but the messenger (the moron or the bitch) works for someone — which I think isn’t exactly part of the conclusion by McLuhan, but it turns out you just use bourgeois adjective clusters when you wanna be taken seriously by a certain audience. The more established vehicles have to create no matter what: their circulation, when it comes to magazines (like the pile stacking up in my living room) or TV shows (that would make my 14 year old cousin develop chronic anxiety), has a regular schedule. Maybe there’s nothing to talk about; then comes the editor. Look at the graph upside down. Don’t you love that shit? It’s not reverse engineering (the thing they say is illegal), it’s a simple exercise of looking at how the media affects your life. A news host is credible, but when our mental health and sense of self are damaged by what we see, we might just pick someone else to listen to. A different theme, at a frequency we choose, not them. No, I don’t want to hear about soccer; I don’t wanna watch it, much less hear commentators for 3 fucking hours thoroughly debating what the coach is supposed to do. But some people are like that with politics instead; if it’s both, then you’ve got a problem at home. Mainstream media competes for attention, and they have to be vigilant. On the other side, people compete for our attention, all the time, regardless of where they are — read: which app they’re using. We’re not “vigilant”, we’re just sort of expecting a good surprise: someone wants to talk! And it’s good conversation! Wow. Mainstream media is not a conversation, it’s mainstream media. And it’s at the opposite side of individual discourse. It tries — only tries — to reproduce a generic message; if I like what they’re saying, I might even reproduce it; but if I share my opinion, guess what, that’s where the vigilant ones comes to play. No, you don’t need to read 1984, you just wanna focus on what’s relevant to you, and if it’s not, change the fucking channel. Or, in more current terms, skip.

3) NEW IS RELEVANT

There’s a difference between the 30 seconds countdown of BBC’s top stories and a black screen with a crayon S written on top of it — you know, when teenagers want to start streaks on Snapchat? What hasn’t been seen is supposed to grasp attention because it’s new: people devote their lives to bring accurate information on recent developments of stories that have global impact, and that has nothing to do with your OnlyFans subscription. But well, OnlyFans is very new. Pornography on the internet is nothing new, it’s at the center, on the path to all the discussions, but not necessarily within them; but hold onto that thought, because now a lot of people are getting paid, and how they live their lives is up to your imagination, majorly speaking. But an obsession with the new is easily verifiable on platforms like Twitter, which news media also rely on very much for its appeal to shorten the message and widen the audience. You follow, you know. But is it really working towards constructive debate at the same pace as the improvement of quality of life? In other words, I don’t need to read The News York Times every day to be an informed citizen, a citizen who matters, and if you’ll allow the observation, an American citizen — because that possibility isn’t even on the distant horizon, which is Africa, by the way, though some people might be pushing a narrative for the writer of this text. The narrative most people will pay attention to is the old-school versus the noob, the guru versus the trouble maker, the pundit versus the troll, the Pulitzer winner versus the fake news consumer. But it can also be taken literally: the old versus the young. And here’s the point of making it a square representation (with a center that’s not there, but just another second, and I’ll place it below): like the BBC told us, it’s never black and white. In a conversation with a friend, I told him about the 12 year old I met on Omegle, who was a refugee from Albania and now has money invested in cryptocurrency mining. Over a million people in Brazil have crypto, a fact I learned as I was writing this. I think that’s a lot, for a country that has an entire state going out of power from time to time, but well, that also happened in Texas, and I’m not here to discuss Biden’s definition of infrastructure. If you think about old problems and old solutions while ignoring that there are new problems which demand new solutions (and I’m not sure if anyone’s interested in where I took the phrase from), you’re going to see, for example, hybrid education as just a word compound. What are the tools, how can you make use of them and keep improving? Because they’re out there, and the current landscape sort of points out to new approaches being reproduced in a larger scale. A teacher has an idea: show a YouTube video in a projector. What a revolution! Classroom life and screen life converging! As it turns out, zoombombing happened. And Zoom managing never caught attention, just the naked guy on camera, because the point is to ridicule people, not make them valued, in case you didn’t notice. Within the bubble of tech and media personalities, researchers, innovators and headline grabbers, each having their own space, you can skip the new because you manage. A teacher would say: “YOU! What do you think about that?” And suddenly, the attention turns to this one “naked” individual assimilator rather than the knowledge temple of a tutor. If the answer is good, the classmates will feel nothing but envy, maybe empathy, and if they’re friends, pride or the feeling of being represented. “I think like that too”. Well, look at TikTok. Nobody can have so many opinions. They’re merely passing it on. And that’s my point. It’s clicks and views all the way through, but deep down, they’re a void; sorry, turtles.

4) CREDIBLE IS POPULAR

The impression of credibility comes together with scrutiny, a difficult word they invented to describe the moment when you have a public voice and you have to be careful with potential eggs and tomatoes, or who knows, knives. Everybody learned that through influencer culture. But themes and their frequency are supposed to be chewed on and spat out in easily digestible versions of entire theses. It’s easy to find someone who will say they do what they want, cause they don’t give a fuck. Alright, fine. Maybe they’ve heard about freedom of speech being in the Constitutuion. How about Freedom of the Press? What is media? Can you pinpoint important moments in its history? What changed? Speaking of the Constitution, what’s Executive, Legislative and Judiciary? Well, maybe most of us don’t care. But if I wanna use the only marketable tool that exists today (Facebook) and sell a product (because I need money), certain questions will rise. Facebook is very popular, no doubt. In fact, check out the number of downloads on Google Play (+5 billion). It won’t be representative of everything, because it can’t. So the debate is, well, somewhat philosophical. If mainstream media gave way to popular channels on YouTube, or if that is way past and we should be really focusing on Clubhouse, that’s a cultural question — some apps are not available for certain devices; some sites are not available in certain countries. Now if you look at these 5 billion downloads and forget that people change devices, not to mention operational systems, you’re going to see issues like how people present and interpret data. 2.7 are reported by Statista. Let’s agree on something: 2.7 does not equal 5. Actually, 2.7 doesn’t even equal 3: the entire US population is 300M. To be slightly more accurate, +300M. But that’s not the discussion. If you look at social media to find out what people consume every day and find out nobody’s looking at Twitter, then the writer of this text is gonna have one more frustrated day in his life, but what else changes? Money. Investments. How can people react to things they have never heard about before? Things they’ve never read, things they’ve never heard? How can I judge my friend’s taste in music if I can barely understand the lyrics? How can I write a summary without having references (something college is supposed to teach you)? How can I say that something is important if I haven’t even looked outside my bubble? And here comes the bubble, my friends:

Entertainment?

Any bubble can work with this graph. It’s not the solution to evil polarization, destroying families and reputations. But the top right certainly is doing precisely that, and you can fucking bet I put it there on purpose. I would just point out that practically everyone watches porn, but not everyone talks about it — and if you don’t believe me, watch an episode of Camming Life. Are frequency and credibility connected in this case? Yes, absolutely. Haven’t you heard? Tits out, kicked out, baby. But we know you can totally comment the NHL after a different round with BBC (and sorry, you’re the pervert, cause I’m talking about Hard Talk and you’re the one who hasn’t watched it). Now let’s address the grassroots movement.

1.1 Frequent problems are not relevant.

Unless the media talks about it, there’s nothing even going on, is there? But say that has an impact on tourism, and you’ll sound like an uncle. Good thing not all of us are named Sam, cause around here we’re lucky to have cheese on the table. Let’s suppose you find social media beautiful because your life is represented at its best. Well, wake up, honey. They look at bank accounts. But yes, you’re right, they look at devices too, and their usage. It’s just that yours might not be object of interest at all times. Not even when you’re doing something against the law, you see. Wanna look at the graph again?

2.1 Credible people don’t address certain themes.

We do live in a country where our president asks what golden shower is on Twitter, but that was probably recommended by someone, wasn’t it? If only the American audience could understand that the way you pronounce the word question doesn’t make you credible, neither asking, politely as always, whether it’s okay to have a shitty opinion, a shitty knowledge of the subject matter and a shitty choice of words. Let’s address Brazil’s international role. Oh, right, because of COVID. That’s the difference between journalism and sales pitches. That’s the difference between paying attention and paying for attention.

3.1 Credibility means diversity

The naked Zoom guy could be doing something else in the rest of the day, but he’s going to be the naked Zoom guy, if that’s what the internet says. For him to be seen as someone else, he has to work on a side gig that doesn’t involve a below waist angle of the webcam. Sometimes, many. As Maynard James Keenan would say, we do other stuff too “cause we’re adults”.

4.1 Relevance means consistency

Hello, my name is human. I’m not a robot. I make mistakes. But I’m curiously pointing out that the automated system has a flaw. I mean, what am I doing being poor in Brazil? Is this purgatory? Jesus. You and I, education. You might remember something about that. And what we remember is always what other people want to forget. We’re living experiences so diverse that we need to forget them to make room for other experiences. Does that involve pornography? Not necessarily. It might involve politics. Now go back to the graph. It’s $10 for the access. Almost for free. Except I’m joking.

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