When Everything is a Problem

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one

– Albert Einstein

If the world had an outrage meter, it would be maxed out right now.

Despite all the ambient hysteria going on around us as of late, we like to believe that we're not that easily affected by the world outside of what we deem acceptable. We like to think we're robust to manipulation. Some of us avoid people and technologies we think are manipulative. Some of us even avoid drugs and alcohol due to fear of not being in control.

As with most things we perceive, the sense of control we exercise over our lives is, for the most part, an illusion.

In a study that was carried out in 2012, scientists were able to influence participants to behave in a way considered prejudiced simply by introducing a bad smell into the room with them.

In another study, this one from 2013, scientists were able to use Facebook to manipulate the emotional state of others by 'emotional contagion'. This means that moods like depression and happiness were transferred through the social network like a virus, by controlling the data participants were exposed to.

The outcomes of the above studies could highlight a serious latent flaw in how humans use social networks. If how people behave depends such a great deal on how we perceive our environment, what happens when people start to perceive the world as fundamentally broken? How might that change our collective behaviour?

Enter The Mainstream Media

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.

– George Orewll

The mainstream media and social networking sites have learned that stories spun in a negative hyperbolic way are often more performant for the metric they pursue (time on site) than stories that are told in a balanced way.

I wonder what would happen if everybody – especially the MSM – recognised the damage this constant state of hysteria is doing to society, and changed their focus from spinning everything negatively to affecting positive change.

Imagine, instead of just pointing at parts of the machine and saying "that's broken", "that's broken", "it's all broken YOLO", we looked and said "hey, that's definitely fucked BUT here's a way I think we could fix it". Not only would this imaginary society be orders of magnitude better to exist in, it would be more productive than our wildest dreams.

This imaginary society would be so productive because the current fashion of recreational outrage would be replaced with recreational problem solving.

Saying "it's broken" is easy – anyone can do that. Fixing problems, that's where things get interesting. Because it means you need to actually make an effort to understand the world.

This Hacker News comment is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. The comment is in response to a article on VOX titled "The rich are hoarding economic growth":

The title and the tone of the OP are a bit inflammatory for my taste, but the data and graphs from the research paper are eye-opening: most economic growth in the US over the past three decades has indeed gone to the top 1%, and particularly to the top 0.01%, leaving everyone else behind.[1] However, rather than debate the causes of this divergence, or accuse "the rich" of anything, we should instead be coming up with WORKABLE SOLUTIONS for increasing the income -- and therefore the spending power -- of the masses in a sustainable manner. I imagine a tremendous amount of pent-up consumer demand would be unleashed, because THE MORE THE MASSES EARN, THE MORE THEY SPEND ON PRODUCTS AND SERVICES, including those created by entrepreneurs. [1] Here's the paper: link Hacker News user cs702

Finding a new reason to be outraged is easy. Literally anybody can do that. We have to start making an effort to understand how the world works and use that understanding to make the world better.