Sunday, December 29, 2013

PR and Smartphones

What do Smartphones have to do with PR?

Every new technology is the expression of a per-existing meme --which is also true of things like Smartphones -- whose functions are just tekky-nerdy extensions of instinctual, if not animal behaviors harking back to the Paleolithic and beyond.  We cannot escape who we are -- nor who we were.   


If you have been following my blog, you will understand my somewhat peculiar – but not actually original view -- of all PR as an expression of a “Self’ – the “Face”, or at least, Mask by which we both identify ourselves and hide ourselves.

 Identification in this case has two parameters – one is identity through difference; the second is identity through what is shared.   So, let us say, John (above) considers himself a unique individual --and he is ever so eager to tell you about all the things that make him different and special. At the same time, he wants you to know he is just the same as you – not really different from everybody else, "you" also being a collective pronoun.  But all such “identification” has a function, a  purpose and an agenda.  The “Self” is a social tool, which John uses to achieve certain goals -- sex, money, support and all the rest. Of course, this means he is manipulating others perception -- and hiding as much as he reveals.   It is all part of  "personal" PR --“personal” branding.


Dualistic identification applies to groups-- as well as individuals – in fact to all organizations, institutions, and, of course, governments.  The Catholic Church is at pains to tell you how it is different, especially from Lutherans and their Protestant ilk (they'll burn in Hell) – and yet it also claims ecumenicalism and, by extension,  universality. Yup, People of Faith 'r Us. It's the 'r US meme again -- everybody wants to be "mainstream".  Whether traditional or avant garde, every individual or group thinks their worldview is...well...that of the rest of the world.  So, we all make an effort to “keep up” and look somehow trendy.As the song goes, "We are the world".


Now,  the Self you think is “You” is not “you” -- not at all .  Rather, as I have said,  it is  utilitarian tool like a shovel to handle social shit – or (just to show that I am "mainstream", too) --a Smartphone.-- a "communication device"  to manage reality, mostly social reality, which means the people around you.

You need your "Self"-- and you need to think it is the whole person -- not a thing --even though it is no more "you" than makeup is your face.     By believing this lie -- you can choose your self and “will oneself",  to do a lot of things –  often the wrong things, since your belief is a priori delusional.   Mostly we don’t get to choose anything at all. Other people chose for us. The Self is not even our puzzle to solve..  The pieces belong to others.  And people who say, "I do this because I am Me, this kind of person" commit the most egregious mistakes, if not crimes.


Delusions 'r Us.

For a lot of people, Smartphones are not just accessories to social life – they are social life.  They allow us to “fit in”, to be a member of the group – most important of all – to pretend to be a member of the group -- because their is some part of us which will never, ever fit.  We can imagine what life might have been without them. 


We can imagine what life might have been without them. 

stone_age_2But what is a Smartphone?

It is an device consisting of a GUI -- all those icons --on top of a usually hidden and proprietary OS  composed of often contradictory  modules -- which is why it sometimes doesn't work right.

 “Proprietary" means the modules don’t really belong to you – they were created by somebody else – and are hard to change because they are invisible and you don’t know their mechanism.   Providers will always tell you that a lot of really, really smart people – that is people smarter than you made the phone – and you shouldn’t fuck with it, which-- anyway-- would be a copyright violation. And, at the very least void your warranty.


Every now and then, you look at your list of apps in your Smartphone—and you think “I didn’t know I had that”. And you try to delete it – not that you really understand what it is -- but you can’t because the OS won’t let you.  Trust God. Trust Daddy. Trust your Provider.  They move in mysterious ways.


This brings us back to this whole "Self", Smartphone", PR thing.  You --as a "tool" (pun intended0  are also a kind of device – a device, with a GUI and an OS whose workings are a mystery  and largely derivative.  The "Self", that is, your Persona -- enables social communication -- which is ultimately aimed at getting something -- so, by definition, " PR"  Of course, it isn't just words, anymore than a Smartphone is just 'text"  Personal PR is also what you do and don't do.  The medium is the message

Of course, there is a meta-message, too – which may not be so pleasant.

That meta-message is the stuff inside, revealed accidentally, rather like Anthony Weiner's penis.

Nice Guy or Good Girl -- you are many people – some of whom would horrify mom, dad, your children, and your wife or husband – not to mention your “self”, when you realize that, yes, you do have a tiny dick.

Do you enjoy Dexter?   Maybe that's because inside you is a psychopathic killer –you really would like to cut out somebody’s heart and eat it.   But across the hall , in your spiritual-emotional-mental dorm is Sweet Jesus, who is also "you". Oh, who confusing... Thank God, we have a Self to keep things straight.

In extreme situations – like war – some of these other selves come out. Heroes – or Sadistic-Rapist Murderers -- and (of course) or just Ordinary People who do the Wrong Thing because everyone is doing it -- or the Right Thing because of instinctive altruism.   War is hard on the Self-Aware -- which is a misnomer -- because awareness of  'Self' is awareness of  Non-Self  (Self) -- which inevitably means PTSD or Survivor’s Guilt or just crushing regret.

Self and Non Self.  Or, as the philosopher, Merleau Ponty put it: sense and nonsense.  Such contradiction is  true of every individual – and, as I have said, of  every group, from families to political parties.

6a00d8341c60bf53ef019aff6ae958970dYou might think the Nazis were monsters – but they thought they were the Good Guys.  Their PR was  consistent with this moral “Self”, which  drew upon the contradictions of the culture to which is represented itself and which gave it birth.   In this sense, the collective guilt of the German people was deserved, if imposed from without by the conquering Allies.   Similarly,  the collective innocence of the Japanese who General MacArthur saw as a nation of children and therefore not responsible was a false judgment. There is one abiding rule to social reality – we are responsible, not just for ourselves—but for all others.

Does this mean we are totally fucked, at both the individual and the social level?   Yes. And no.
We can change ourselves. And we can change the groups to which we belong. But first, we must be aware of our own contradictions --and social and cultural contradictions, as well. We must also accept responsibility as social animals.  Not easy – but still possible -- if we have realistic feedback to serve as a reference point for introspection.

Then arises the question:  who will remind of us what we probably already know – but choose to ignore?  Who will confront us? Who will burst our ballons? The answer is truth tellers --  people like Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden – who hack our mental Smartphone from the outside, sending messages that we cannot filter out or ignore.


Whistleblowers and truthtellers are not just party poopers-- they are  officially and evitably outside the Law --that set of proprietary commands necessary to the cultural System. 

Truthtelling, alas, is a-systematic – it transcends social morals and ethics– and inflicts the pain of cognitive dissonance on us .  Shifting back to the Smarphone analogy,  truthtelling is a system hack that gives us insight into the OS – but it usually requires some fiddling and downtime – and can be irritating. Socrates was forced to drink hemlock not so much because he forced people to consider the truth but because -- rather like Julian Assange  -- he was a pain the ass.  We are Comfort Machines and the Pleasure Principle drives us to  punish our Truth tellers.  And so it is that the  proverbial Prophets without honor in their own country become martyrs.  


Nelson Mandela, as we saw in last week’s blog was like that. A truth teller, imprisoned for 30 years, until his particular “hack” of the system was incorporated in a OS. 


Or consider Drazen Erdemovic, a Serbian-Croat who participated in a massacre of Bosnian Muslims.  He had refused to fire   – but his Serb commander told him that if he didn’t kill  he would die, too..  Erdemovic  reasonably determined that his refusal to kill would just add one more innocent casualty without affecting the outcome -- but by staying alive --he could report the massacre later .  So he killed and he reported what he did and was tried and sentenced to prison.     The law is the Law said the International Tribunal -- quite stupidly protecting the System.  Erdemovic was another truth teller—and a hero.  But an irritant -- because he brought up vexing questions.  

Most people would have retreated to their comfort zone, with convenient rationalizations.  Erdemovic could not.

….because of everything that happened, I of my own will, without being either arrested and interrogated or put under pressure, admitted even before I was arrested in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I admitted to what I did to this journalist and I told her at that time that I wanted to go to the International Tribunal, that I wanted to help the International Tribunal understand what happened to ordinary people like myself in Yugoslavia...


…. My lawyer, …he told me, "Dra┼żen, can you change your mind, your decision? I do not know what can happen. I do not know what will happen." I told him because of those victims, because of my consciousness, because of my life, because of my child and my wife, I cannot change what I said to this journalist and what I said in Novi Sad, because of the peace of my mind, my soul, my honesty, because of the victims and war and because of everything. Although I knew that my family, my parents, my brother, my sister, would have problems because of that, I did not want to change it. Because of everything that happened I feel terribly sorry, but I could not do anything. When I could do something, I did it. 

The irony is that the inflexible social code that the Tribunal followed was no less cruel and inflexible than the code that made monsters of the Serbs --  a locked code.


Erdemovic, by contrast, had unlocked his mind and made an ethical decision based on self-awareness.

Which brings us back (once again)  to Smartphones are devices.  The Law is a Device.  Neither smartphones or the Law are “smarter” than their users --in particular, Law, which without justice, as Gandhi, says is, a species of violence.   

All devices – including social systems – are unintelligent -- to the extent that they are static (more about that in another post).  It is up to us to endow them with consciousness – and conscience-- and force them to adapt and change and evolve.  
There are many ironies here.  For example, if the System were truly “smart” – then,  it would grant Manning, Assange and Snowden not only immunity but medals and glory. Of course, under present circumstances, that would mean they would be co-opted and their message lost.  Fortunately, the Idiots-at-the-Helm who pretend to be managing things are too stupid to give any Truth teller his or her due. Christ was a Truth teller, too – a prophet—or, as Islam would have it – a “messenger” (although not the last one).

Imagine if Christ had not been crucified.  Christianity  would be an obscure, Middle Eastern offshoot of Judaism still, if it existed at all.   But his martyrdom made possible a a whole family of Smartphone apps.

Next on the agenda…family newsletters as PR…..

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