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    nmw 13:58:37 on 2016/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Gustav Le Bon, impression, impressionability, impressions, influence, Law of large numbers, , , , , , , , , repitition, , , , , successful,   

    The Rationality of Large Numbers 

    This is a huge topic – I will not be able to cover it in a single post, not even in just a few posts. What I want to do here and now is to introduce the topic, and to describe why I feel it is so immensely important.

    First: What do I mean by „large numbers“. Oddly, I am not even exactly sure myself. I think I mean at least two things. Most directly and obviously, I mean the statistical and research methodology that is a cornerstone of the scientific method which has been used with such resounding success for hundreds of years already. Basically, this has to do with large populations (whether of people, of atoms or of other things), and how there seem to be quite predictable relationships between characteristics of populations and characteristics of individual members of such populations. Although I do not mean to diminish the importance of the insights gained from such statistical analysis, one point that often seems to get overlooked is that it is nonetheless a belief system – much like a religion, we believe that atoms (and similar properties of phenomena we refer to collectively as „the hard sciences“) behave in accordance to such laws (as „the law of large numbers“) throughout the universe. Nonetheless, to call the entire scientific method into question because of this one intriguing point would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Let me turn to a much more disconcerting issue with respect to the notion of large numbers. In the scientific approach, it seems quite clear that the aim is to be able to make predictions about populations which basically result from the way a large number of individual members of these populations function. There is, however, also a much more controversial matter – namely, that large populations may also have an impact on individual members. Although this may not be obvious when talking about atoms or similar „inanimate“ phenomena, one would be quite hard pressed to maintain that one single bird is not influenced by actions of the flock, or that one single human is not affected by actions of a mob of people which he or she is a member of.

    Beyond that, over the past century or so it has become blatantly obvious that individuals are not only influenced by actual mobs, but that are even prone to change their behavior on the basis of merely a percieved influence of mobs. The groundbreaking insights of Gustav Lebon at the close of the 19th Century were used with amazing „success“ throughout the 20th Century, and they are still being used today. In many – no: in the vast majority of – countries today, the vast majority of the population believe that the „top result“ for any search using google.com are validated by the vast majority of the population worldwide. Similarly, advertisements shown on facebook.com or on the screens of smartphones are assumed to be backed „by the numbers“.

    In this sense, one can quite reasonably argue that „belief in Google“, „belief in Facebook“, etc. are on par with belief in other religious organizations and/or belief in some kind of infallible oracle.

    At the same time (over the past century or so), there have been significant advances in the scientific approaches used to measure and improve the effectivity of propaganda and manipulation. Today advertising has become something akin to the gold standard of validation with respect to new ideas, innovation and anything modern, successful and/or technologically advanced. I remember seeing billboards advertising apple products nearly everywhere about 10 years ago, and such overwheming repitition was a nearly everpresent and constant reminder that apple was „where it’s at“, plain and simple because apple was everywhere. Today, „everywhere“ has also even eradicated the traditional distinction between „editorial“ and „advertising“ once used in „traditional“ publishing. Today, the „newsfeed“ is populated with many advertisements and product placements, and the vast majority of news consumers view this as a sign of success.

     
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    nmw 12:53:20 on 2014/09/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , enlightenment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , publishing industry, , , , , successful, traditional publishing, traditional publishing complex, , , ,   

    How the Traditional Publishing Complex Tamed the Mob … and What Outsiders Could Learn from Justine Musk 

    So far, the Internet has only experienced one major crash: The very poorly named “Dot Com” crash of 2001. This had nothing to do with the “dot com” top-level domain per se. It had much more to do with a much more general and very much premature hyping of all things Internet — and then when it became clear that 9 out of 10 ideas were hare-brained, 9 out of 10 online business models went out of business. Note, however, that by this time the Internet had already become — or at the very least it had started to become — a force to be reckoned with. This was the first heyday of bloggers and wikis — for example, consider what happened when Trent Lott spoke on December 5, 2002 at the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina:

    In the wake of controversy, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on December 20, 2002, effective at the start of the next session, January 3, 2003. Bill Frist of Tennessee was later elected to the leadership position. In the book Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig argues that Lott’s resignation would not have occurred had it not been for the effect of Internet blogs. He says that though the story “disappear[ed] from the mainstream press within forty-eight hours”, “bloggers kept researching the story” until, “finally, the story broke back into the mainstream press.

    By the time Digg was founded in 2004, it had become very clear to the traditional publishing industry that something was afoot: their business was eroding from beneath — and if something didn’t happen quite soon, then the traditional publishing industry would be gone in short shrift.

    Note that the traditional publishing industry had been a crucial element in many advanced economies worldwide, strongly influencing education, research, propaganda and much, much more. If this were to simply crumble and break overnight, a much larger traditional publishing complex would probably go down with it — and therefore many people were very worried. Some more examples of this worrisome trend included many new websites created around a “classified advertising” model (such as craigslist), and Google’s then-still-new AdWords system.

    Then, some time around 2006, things began to change. Perhaps the most indicative instance of how things were changing was the “Google Press Day” event held on May 10, 2006 (Google has since removed links to the documentation it had disclosed about these presentations from its investor.google.com website). Although this event was not widely covered by the press, it was attended by many leaders in the publishing industry. Google officers explained their business model, and how they were tweaking their algorithms so that searches for terms such as “credit card” would be made to return search engine results pages (SERPs) with the brand names of companies doing business in that market segment. All in all, Google seemed to be making a case for mutual collaboration with the traditional publishing complex, rather than competing with it.

    Since then, many other websites are using a similar approach — and most prominent among this new model of “co-opetition” is, of course: Facebook. Yet large parts of the so-called “mobile web” are also very much about advertising to users, and also tracking user behavior. Google, Facebook & Co. had now become transformed from a “Wild West” marketplace into a partner that more and more members of the traditional publishing complex could work with quite well — and thereby increasingly publish traditional publishing stories in a newfangled way… called “social media“.

    The advantage of this new approach for members of the traditional media complex is that they no longer need to compete with the revolutionary mobs found in the innumerable and uncontrolled spaces on the “Wild West Web”. Google, Facebook, Twitter, et. al. would reduce such “unknown” people into insignificance, and instead promote those brands which the entire traditional publishing complex have come to rely on. Although many people will probably not recognize the similarity to the way some North African governments collaborated with North African Internet service providers to basically “turn off the Internet” in North Africa during the Arab Spring, the leading brand names operating in the “social media” space can very effectively squelch out any message that is in opposition to the messages advertisers seek to get across.

    If you are not an advertiser, not a publisher, not a member of the traditional publishing complex,… — if you are not affiliated with this industry in any way, then what can you do (if you want to be heard)?

    Some people may choose to go out on the streets and protest, but others may find that to be a nuisance… — or at least a rather ineffective alternative. Also: It is not clear whether the best solutions are to be found by figuring out which group can shout the loudest. What if your aim is to find solutions to problems through rational thought?

    Beyond polishing up rational thinking skills, such outsiders might also need to brush up on literacy skills — especially those literacy skills that are not taught in most educational systems: The ability to effectively express and also to publish your own ideas in a manner that will enable readers who are thirsty for enlightenment to easily grasp the useful and practical advice such information can provide.

    One of my favorite leaders in this field is Justine Musk — not necessarily because of the topics she writes about, but primarily because of her great skill in doing so. Justine has a knack for explaining topics in a very simple and straightforward manner — and these are topics her readers are very thirsty to read more about. Her arguments are usually well thought out, and therefore they are usually also very compelling.

    I have not read any of Justine’s fiction-writing, but in my opinion most of her non-fiction writing campaigns are very successful.

     
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