The human credulity defense is in finite supply.

a. “Can you stay young by forgetting the past?”

b. “You can stay mentally young forever with one simple trick: forget the past.”

How different it is to read this concept as a question vs. a statement. Do you feel one version persuades you more?

Reading a statement sort of programs your mind. The simple act of reading causes you to intake the information with credulity. Growing up, we read books and trusted the authors. We read with barriers down, and our teachers encouraged this in school.

Of course, the effect is rather weak. You cannot push somebody to believe something they outright disbelieve. They will react strongly, and this reaction breaks the spell of words. Note that it is known that you can erode beliefs with repetition (known as the illusory truth effect), but we will come back to that further on.

Now, the correct and safe way to approach this is the following: when you read something, you should perceive it neutrally. Your default should not be credulity; it should be nothing. Every statement must be evaluated beyond that.

It also seems wrong to treat everything written as hostile (or simply false). It’s usually not, but so frequently it is you should not default to trust and belief. This is probably true for any kind of media, including books!

The thing I have noticed about short-form video in particular is the rate of consumption (Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, TikTok, Facebook Shorts). It’s not that the users are on social media. It’s that the users are on social media for hours at a time, watching 5-second videos and consuming thousands of pieces of content in a short period of time. You have probably seen people do it: sitting catatonic & watching videos, endlessly scrolling for hours at a time.

If you’ve read “Infinite Jest,” then “The Samizdat” must inevitably come to mind.

My hypothesis is that the rate of consumption diminishes the human credulity filter.

Put another way: The faster you consume content, the less you are able to critically evaluate it.

Decision fatigue is a very well-known phenomenon, so I believe this observation is not much more than a very specific manifestation of it.

Couple decision fatigue with the known “illusory truth effect” mentioned above, and you have a potent effect of mental programming.

I will not go into specific examples because no matter how I present them, they will be taken politically, but suffice it to say that this effect of indoctrination appears to be very real, and the way the algorithms work amplifies this with repetitive effects. I think it’s quite evident that certain groups of people are being exploited in various ways due to this kind of repetitive audio/visual programming, with the added benefit of the in-group programming supplied by social media.

I believe the combination of these things:

  • audio/video rather than text
  • fast consumption, so fast you cannot evaluate it critically
  • repetitive consumption
  • ideas supported by peers & many people (in-group preference & social contagion)

This combination is so incredibly potent that it’s probably dangerous to spend just about any amount of time on these short-form video platforms. And that’s to say nothing of the effects on attention span, which are, if not well-studied, obviously observable at this point in time and clearly negative.

Let me add to this by saying that although I have singled out the short-form video content platforms, this effect is observable on users of Twitter as well. Endlessly scrolling tweets in an echo chamber for hours on end, you can see the strange opinions and outlooks on life people have developed as heavy users of Twitter.

Again, on Twitter as on TikTok, because of the sheer quantity of content consumed, I would contend there is no way to critically evaluate anything. The information simply flows directly into the user’s brain and programs it with no filter. The indoctrination is inevitable. There is no defense to this other than to not engage. The human mind simply cannot filter so much information so quickly.

Programming yourself

Finally, as much as hysterical hand-wringing is fun, let’s go somewhere more interesting with this.

What if you used this effect on yourself, on purpose?

Imagine you wanted to change something about yourself. Anything. I’ll give a couple of examples:

  1. You smoke weed and want to stop.
  2. You are eating unhealthy and want to stop.
  3. You are not going to the gym enough and want to train yourself to WANT to go more.
  4. You procrastinate on studying and you want to train yourself to WANT to study.
  5. You are trying to learn a specific language but you are being lazy about it.

Could you change your own desires? My guess is yes, you can. Desire, as Girard posited, is memetic in nature. Why not program your own desires to be the person you want to be?

People are doing a weak and maybe unconscious form of this already. There is finance-tok (fintok?) where people share tips on how to improve your finance and make money, and hustle-tok where people share silly videos of how hard they are hustling (you’ve seen them; they usually start at 5:30 am going to the gym and then something about doing sales calls).

I’m not sure the medium needs to be short-form video, but it could be. You could curate these for people and feed them as they requested. It could also be as simple as a bombardment of push notifications throughout the day. Text absolutely works because the same effect can be observed on people on Twitter.

Anyway, if you are building something like this, let me know.

Written on May 17, 2024