China will implement a Social Credit System in the near future. Afraid? We all ready have one of our own.

China is going to implement a social credit system. Meaning, it’s going to rank its citizens according to various criteria like what job one’s hold and the degree one contribute to society. I guess it will also include education, credit history and to what degree someone keeps the rules (like parking tickets). This sounds like a bad idea for most of us, and it rings the “dystopia” bell and makes us think straight away on “Black mirror” or other sci-fi movies like 1984.

But, if we will look around us, we could see that we tend to rank a lot of things. Let’s say you want to go to a restaurant. You don’t know which exactly, but you have a rough idea of what kind of food you want to eat. So, you look for Italian restaurants near you on Google. Well, you have a lot of options, but you will probably choose the one who has good reviews. How do you know which one has good reviews? You have a 5-star system that indicates that. If you want to know more, you will have to go into the review section and read what people wrote about it.

If you look for things to do, let’s say in Japan. You will maybe search on google “trip in Japan.” Then you will have many options. These options are ranked in a specific order. How does this order come to be? Well, Google algorithm scans all the text and decides which site is more relevant which are less. Other things that might be able to influence the ranking is money. People can buy the first positions by bidding money on it. Amazon makes HUGE money out of it. In many instances people pay money to jump to the start of the line to be visible, it’s a key strategy in the “attention economy” of today.

So you will probably tend to go to sites that are ranked higher, than the places which are ranked lower. When you choose one of them (probably the first second or third one), you will see that users of the site also rank the activities that are offered. A good example will be trip advisor or Booking. Those are ranking systems of hotels, holidays and so on. So, your daily choices, everything that has to do with buying things, is a form of rank. Even the places on the shelves in the grocery store are sometimes offered to the highest bidder.

Why not people? Let’s say you look at people’s FB page. You might see which movies they like, which books they’ve read. But obviously, the number 1 variable that ranks on FB is how many likes do you get? You know these people who get few hundred likes for posting a silly picture, while others write deep and provoking things just to get one like? (sounds familiar ain’t it?). If you think that this ranking is only taking place on FB, you are dead wrong. Potential employers check your FB page and guess what; they consider those likes a lot. My friends constantly reported to me how in job interviews, there were asked to add the interviewers as friends on FB. There are even “tactics” or ways to improve your visibility on FB for future employers.

So, maybe the Chinese only made it official? It’s already here, like it or not. Today we quantify our productivity, our popularity and even in university, professors are ranked by Google’s impact factor (Google Journal Metrics). And of course, we rank people on how much money they have in the bank. Again, why not just make it official?

Why do Japanese people put TV sets almost everywhere?

I live in Japan now. I used to live here before studying Japanese for 15 months. After that I went back to my country to do my B.A. Now I’m back in Japan (probably for good) doing my M.A in Nagoya University. During the time I lived in Japan in my own place, I took the TV’s plug out. I hated it, I never watched it, and I wanted to save on electricity. Now I live with my wife, and she watches A LOT of TV. So I cannot run away from it. But, I noticed, that it is harder to run away from the TV than I thought.

I also know in Israel that it is a common custom to place a TV in waiting rooms, usually in clinics like the dentist. But in Japan, I’ve noticed that this custom is implemented on a broader scale. First of all, most Japanese cars have a navigation system with a central panel on the dashboard. It has a screen obviously, to show the map, but it is in most cases also a TV set. It can pick up TV broadcastings and the driver can watch TV in the car. The picture disappears when the car is moving, leaving the driver to “hear” the TV, but the screen appears when the car is not moving, like in red light for example. So, basically, people watch TV in the mornings just to turn it off to put it on again in the car. Meaning, that they also consume TV during the commute time. People who go by train can, and often do, watch TV by their smartphones. I saw many people watch TV while standing on the train during the rush hour, miraculously, keeping their balance without holding onto anything except for their phones (small TV sets).

TV sets ‘decorate’ small neighborhood cafes as well. If you will go to eat in a small café, and take a counter sit, you will probably sit in front a big TV screen. It is also right to some small neighborhood bars – Izakaya’s when people sit there talking, while a big TV screen is above the counter. If you go to the doctor, you also have a good chance to see a TV screen in the waiting room. In many supermarkets in Japan, you can buy an ‘obento’ a lunch box. If you decide to eat in the ‘dining area’ in the supermarket, you will also likely enjoy the company of a TV set.

So in many places, TVs are part of the view. But that is not all. On buses and trains, there is a frequent announcing. Japanese tend to over explain and over announce things on public transportation (not only). Recently I’ve noticed that they mix in some advertisings into the announcements. For example: For a kind and patient driving school, please get off at this station to get to BLA BLA driving school. Sometimes it can be ‘Pachinko’ (slot machines) place or a restaurant. In big junctions and commercial areas, big TV screens are also present. In big stations, on every collum, there is a TV set broadcasting some commercials. Sometimes with a sound. Neon signs no longer just show writing, but also pictures, moving texts and so on.

In my home, even if I don’t want to watch commercials, and I tend to ignore the TV (while playing with the dog or using my computer), I cannot help it but sometimes to raise my head to the screen. I try to figure out why, sometimes, instinctively I lift my head to look at the TV. In Israel for example, during a commercial break, they purposely raise the volume of the broadcast, so if you don’t lower the volume down, someone might come and yell at you “Why the TV is so loud.” Obviously, it’s to either catch your attention or to make sure you will hear the ads. I tried to look for a device that will negate this annoying volume increase and decrease, but up until now, I didn’t find one.

In Japan, they don’t use this annoying trick, but they use other methods. For example, they at the beginning of the advertising, have some high pitch voices or a shouting voice (without being too loud) to catch your attention. In this instances I found myself raising my head to the TV set. They might use other techniques like putting a recent popular song at the beginning of the ad. They also use a very strict and fast pace speech, which sometimes also catch my attention.

But, also the noise pollution of public space is quite frequent in Japan. Pachinko slots are extremely loud. When the automatic door is opened, the deafening sounds of the slot machines penetrate the public space. I guess that this is an ad in its own right. Sometimes in supermarkets, in many places, small speakers are broadcasting ads inside the shop. Also in convenience stores, the speakers announce on sales. I get the feeling that If I don’t go with my headphones on, hearing music (where I get ads on youtube), I cannot stop the ad machine from reaching my ears.

Wernick came up with the term. ‘promotional culture.’ It means that most communications, texts, and media, one of, or their primary function is also to promote some kind of a product, value or idea. In the past, while these kinds of media, like TV programs, newspapers and movies, today also function as promoting tool\platform for other things. Take this idea and combine it with my last post on the ‘Avengers’ It is clear to understand what drives most of the “art” today, to promote itself, or its merchandise (for you to consume more). Thus, the idea of ‘promoting’ also come to pollute almost all daily encounters with people. Our lives revolve around work. But work started to penetrate our “free” time. If we sit in a bar and talk to people who are friends of friends, it becomes a small ‘networking’ meeting, which each side measure and try to find a lead to his or her next job. “what are you doing for a living” is a frequent question. Sometimes it is so basic, that people will tell you what their job is, just by asking “what do you do.” Soon the conversation might drift into the direction of networking, meaning “business talk.” It is very natural considering that most of the messages that are directed to us are of the kind of ‘promotional culture’.

 

Why I will probably won’t go to see the new “Meme – Avengers” movie, and why I think that the “DC” movies fail.

The new Avengers’ movie just hit the big screens. It didn’t take time for my news feed to be full of people take selfies and pictures in the cinema bragging and letting others know that they are about to watch it. It was the same with the new Star Wars movie. Why people bother to share those two movies, but not sharing any other? Well simply put it, because it might get them points.

Points? Yes, in the form of “social capital.” To look cool might make you “earn points” in society. How come this movie became such a cultural phenomenon, that it actually can be considered to be social capital? Well, I guess one explanation might be that the hype feeds itself. If people think that “everybody” is hyped about it, they might get hyped about it, or at least show that they are, as everyone does. So, it might lead to certain hypocrisy, meaning they are not as excited as they show.

When I was little, I used to watch a lot of cartoons, even in the age that it was considered not cool anymore. I just liked it. At least I watched those who were broadcasted in Israel. I watched Superman, Spiderman, and many more Heroes cartoons. I knew those characters well (as much as you could from those series). When these movies began, I know that most of my friends, that didn’t watch those cartoons, nor read the comics (which I didn’t also). But somewhat, they are now going and sharing “I watch the Avengers.” When I was a kid, from a certain age, this wasn’t considered to be cool at all. So, I get the feeling that just needed the idea that “if most people like it, I guess it’s cool.”

Well, I guess one way to look at this phenomenon is through memes. I’m not talking about cats in a piece of bread or something like that; I talk about the scientific term of Memes. The term Meme was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “the selfish gene.” He said that as genes are passed down through heredity, Ideas and cultural customs pass through imitation. He claimed that cultural habits, have sort of life on their own, and are passed through us, as we are the tool for spreading them. So, the most
“viral” ideas, and maybe only a tiny fracture of them, get to the point that they are established within our civilization, like let say, hand shake. Like genes, Memes are exactly like Genes, they are being replicated, they compete and some of them, survive. Memes are competing over the attention of the host (us), but only memes suited to their sociocultural environment spread successfully. Other become extinct. It is interesting to think about those things as “memes”.

So if every cultural habit, can be understood as a meme that we learn by copying. People copy the idea that the “masked heroes” movies are cool and a cultural “treasure”, thus it will be better for them also to go and see it. Some people might argue that they like it, and it is an action movie that is a “no-brainer”, you don’t have to think while watching it, and it is entertaining. Well, I understand that claim, but I still think that the idea that these kinds of movies are good for us, is a meme.

Why I won’t bother to see that? Because it is precisely this, a “no-brainer.” Adorno and Horkheimer in their work “Dialectic of Enlightenment” talk about the role of mass media in our social world. They said that the belief was that everything that was out of the reach of science was the realm of art. Science doesn’t claim if something is better or worse if extinction of animals is good or bad, they just claim that this is how things are. In economy, economist won’t tell you what a good or bad decision is, they usually refrain from deciding. They only show the options, because the science of economy doesn’t take the role of claiming morals, like science, it should be unbiased and distanced.

But some people argue that science should follow art, and penetrate its realm. By using big data and mathematics, people can understand what the masses like, how they react and what should be expected. So, art, as Adorno and Horkheimer claim, has become (or becoming) a commodity just like shoes. It is designed to be consumed, and produce merchandise. Adorno and Horkheimer will say that art, has a critical role in society. Art is the only place we can play with moral ideas, think about what is right and wrong, and challenge the system we live in. By taking the path of becoming a commodity, Adorno and Horkheimer claim that art had become just a tool, like opium, to make us go on a “trip” to escape our reality, which mostly revolves around work. After people work for hours, when they finally come home, they don’t have the capabilities to deal with heavy, complex ideas. Art is just a tool, a commodity, to ease the “free time” of people, to be able to rest just enough, to continue working hard. If this system of “working hard” is good or not? It depends on the goals of it. Adorno, Horkheimer Marcuse and the rest of the “Frankfurt School” will say that the goals became irrational, but that is for another post.

The main argument is that art had lost its edge and ability to criticize our most hegemonic ideas. After watching the Avengers, did you change as a person? Did you start to see the world in a different light? What did you learn from it? What did “thoughts” it evoked in you? My guess is nothing. Just a never-ending story, about the struggle between good and evil in the most superficial way, which will never see any conclusion, will never have any “say” about anything in particular. The problem is, that deep art, which forces people to think fails. From the simple reason, because “hi, it’s my leisure time, don’t let me think about heavy stuff now.” I guess this is part of the reason that the “DC” movies are failing, they try to say something more complex.