Quote from the 1948 essay by Harold Rosenberg, The Herd of Independent Minds, "The basis of mass culture in all its forms is an experience recognized as common to many people"
You might well imagine Rosenberg's essay could have been the inspiration for the 1984 Apple Macintosh launch video and for a very young Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, the Rosenberg essay could literally have been Zuckerberg's Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) and therefore his guiding light.
Harold Rosenberg wrote "The Herd of Independent Minds" essay in 1948. Could there be a greater example of insight into the future human condition?
In 1948 Rosenberg effectively foresaw where humanity was heading:
"The basis of mass culture in all its forms is an experience recognized as common to many people. It is because millions are known to react in the same way to scenes of love or battle—because certain colors or certain kinds of music will call up certain moods—because assent or antagonism will inevitably be evoked by certain moral or political opinions—the truth; popular novels, movies, radio programs, magazines, advertisements, ideologies can be contrived. The more exactly he grasps, whether by instinct or through study, the existing element of sameness in people, the more successful is the mass-culture maker. Indeed, so deeply is he committed to the concept that men are alike that he may even fancy that there exists a kind of human dead center in which everyone is identical with everyone else and that if he can hit that psychic bull’s eye he can make all of mankind twitch at once. The proposition, “All men are alike” replaces the proposition, “All men are equal” in the “democracy” of mass-culture institutions, so making it possible for rich or politically powerful mass-culture leaders to enjoy their advantages while still regarding themselves to have the feel-good factor of being “leaders of the people.”
Rosenberg wrote this essay in 1948. How prescient? And what an accurate portrayal of the personality of 21st-century Zuckerberg?
"The makers of mass culture are its first and most complete victims. The anonymous human being to whom they bring their messages has at least the metaphysical advantage of being forced to deal daily with material things and real situations—tools, working conditions, personal passions. The fact that his experience has a body means that mass culture is to him like a distorting mirror in an amusement park; whereas the “enlighteners,” whose world is made up entirely of mental constructions, live inside the mirror".
The hard work of showing up with insight, assertions, and kindness. The opportunity to shine a light, open a door, and lead. We’re not often encouraged to do this.
Instead, we have the privilege to be processed. The educational-industrial complex is ten or twenty years of schooling built around compliance, adhesion, and test-taking. It rarely asks us to come up with “better” and instead demands the right answer. Even if the right answer is no longer useful, at least it’s correct.
Almost four billion people around the world now use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and social media is one of the primary ways people access news or receive communications from politicians. However, social media may be creating perverse incentives for divisive content because this content is particularly likely to go “viral.” Posts about political opponents are substantially more likely to be shared on social media and that this out-group effect is much stronger than other established predictors of social media sharing, such as emotional language.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a Facebook research team warned the company in 2018 that their “algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” This research was allegedly shut down by Facebook executives, and Facebook declined to implement changes proposed by the research team to make the platform less divisive.
The Wall Street Journal article is consistent with concerns that social media might be incentivizing the spread of polarizing content. For instance, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has expressed concern about the popularity of “dunking” (i.e., mocking or denigrating one’s enemies) on the platform. These concerns have become particularly relevant as social media rhetoric appears to have incited real-world violence, such as the recent storming of the US Capital on Jan 6, 2021.
A growing body of research has examined the potential role of social media in exacerbating political polarization. The focus of this work has centered on the position that social media sorts us into “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” that selectively expose people to content that aligns with their preexisting beliefs.
People are tending to "live" inside a social media bubble where they find commentary that fits their predisposition towards opinions that endorse their beliefs. These belief-bubbles amplify opinions and make people open to exhortations to take violent action against those with alternative perspectives.
About the Author:
Greg Twemlow is a Sydney-based Social Enterprise Founder | Startup Mentor | CEO | Writer | Speaker | Designer at the Skills Studio