The Apocalypse & Advertising
It is a known practice nowadays for social media stars to be induced by companies to subtly advertise products by featuring them in the background of their Instagram pictures or mentioning them in their TV appearances in exchange for money. Its commonplace, and is only becoming more common. The bar of what it takes to be a “star” drops lower and lower with the increased interactivity of the digital age. Time was, you had to be the ruler of a country to be worth influencing - whole mercantile dynasties have been founded on a monarch’s careless favour, while others have died with one’s displeasure. Later you had to be a film star, paid millions and seen on televisions all over the world. Now? The level of celebrity required of one nowadays is a measly fraction of time was, and this trend sees no sign of stopping, especially not with the direction of technology.
Scientific progress is at heart pushed forward by money. And this is not just in the primitive sense of organisations focussing on profitable research, but in a more fundamental level of human society. The social system is naturally geared towards self-preservation and most importantly: Progress. Society puts the needs of itself above that of the individual, and only grants an individual rights on the condition that they are useful for the progression of society. For example: Western society advocates a free press, because a free press curtails the political power of rogue leaders and can prevent misuse of power in a selfish and damaging way. On similar lines, Ted Kacyzinski writes:
Bourgeois thinkers have taken a similar view of freedom as a mere means to collective ends. In “Chinese Political Thought in the Twentieth Century”... the philosophy of the Kuomintang leader Hu Han-min [is explained]: “An individual is granted rights because he is a member of society and his community life requires such rights. By community Hu meant the whole society of the nation.” And on page 259 Tan states that according to Carsum Chang (Chang Chun-mai, head of the State Socialist Party in China) freedom had to be used in the interest of the state and of the people as a whole. But what kind of freedom does one have if one can use it only as someone else prescribes?
The manipulation of people by the system becomes more and more extreme as society progress further and further and develops more and more specialised and unusual requirements. For example, a post-industrial modern society requires lots of highly-specialised technical roles as scientists, researchers and educators. As such, society places an extreme pressure on the young to take up these fields and excel in them, no matter how alien such behaviour must be to the fundamental human psyche. It's not normal to spend the first 25 years of your life studying abstract concepts and rote-learning from dusty textbooks, and yet rare indeed is the teenager in modern society who escapes such toil during his adolescence.
Due to this reason, it is clear, over time humans become more and more tolerant of what would be considered intolerable intrusions in any earlier epoch of history. As an easy example, the idea of being recorded by CCTV cameras and monitored for performing that most human basic activity of going for a walk outside causes the modern man to bat not an eyelid. And already people are increasingly unconcerned about online tracking too. Companies like Google and Facebook build up individual personal dossiers of web users’ personal information, their likes and dislikes, economic situation, geographic location and even sexual preferences in order to sell to advertisers, and most people are unaware at best and accepting at worst. Some see it as a “fair price” for their use of the internet, as if the ability to interact with other people and hear their thoughts is some great boon they should be grateful that corporations grant them.
With the increase in blanket online surveillance, advertisers now see almost all you write and say online. And once those last few methods of avoiding this digital molestation are closed up, they can (and will) begin leveraging this surveillance in more and more obvious ways. A common sight in low-budget online games of the early 2010s were popup messages that said things like "Share this game on Facebook and receive a free item!" These fairly crude messagers were nonetheless effective at turning average people into willing product promoters, and using all carrot and no stick to boot. But it was crude, and there’s no dought things will go further.
Sony patent 8246454 B2, filed in 2009, gives us a glimpse of this future. The description explains that the patent describes “methods, systems, and computer programs for converting television commercials into interactive network video games.” An example of such “interactive” commercials is illustrated by the figure reproduced below.
Here, the microphone of a Smart TV or videogame console is used to detect sound, and McDonalds requires the repetition of the company name before a commercial can be exited.
And it's inevitable that this will spread beyond personal abasement in the privacy of your own home. Now when you order food online you'll see a popup saying "Mention Coca-cola positively in a tweet and get 10% off your next Coke!". Neural networks will scan your tweet, check the context isn’t negative or neutral, and reward you accordingly. Still all carrot and no stick, of course.
Eventually companies will be able to track what we say in-person as well, either through always-on phone microphones, invasive personal assistants, or simple police-sponsored Big-Brother style compulsory bodycams for public safety. Now companies will partner with government to ask you to shill in public for bonuses. "Tell a friend about the new Mountain Dew Electric flavour today and receive 2% off your next electricity bill! It's SHOCKINGLY good!"
The ‘bonuses’ will start becoming direct fiat cash bribes - 0.5p for every corporate slogan you say during your day, 1p for every jingle you whistle in public with a bonus based on how many people are nearby, £2 if you wear a shirt with their logo on it on your next date. Et cetera.
Everyone else will be doing it too of course, so nobody will mind you spouting these advertisements at them mid-conversation. After all, your friends will probably reply with a slogan from their chosen corporate teat in return!
I expect eventually it will be so normalised and accepted people will put aside a certain time of day to get together with all their friends, sit in a big group, and get all their corporate shilling for the day done in one big go. They'll all assemble and one by one spit out as many catchphrases and jingles as they can, as quickly as possible. Everyone will get their money, and they'll move on with their day. It's only efficient, after all.
But the advertisers will keep adjusting the rewards and tweaking the algorithms to make you work harder and harder for your money. Eventually it will become a fulltime job for people, who will make their entire living just by becoming these walking billboards. Your daily morning session won’t be enough to pay the bills anymore. You'll have to spend more and more time at the group shilling session, hour after hour, until eventually you have no free time left, and neither does anyone else.
Every waking moment you are in contact with another human being you will both be stumbling over yourself as you compete to blurt out as many promotional announcements as possible, with specialist software watching carefully to make sure you have the requisite levels of enthusiasm and sincerity in your voices.
The only respite your ragged vocal cords will get will be when you are alone, and you will be so exhausted from a hard day’s bleating you’ll be keen to give your voice as much of a rest as you can. You will simply stop speaking your own words altogether. When you are with people you will be advertising, and when you are alone you will be resting in silence.
And as this goes on, actual language will become obsolete. You, and the rest of the planet, will simply forget how to speak normally. You've spent so long uttering these empty company catchphrases, you will literally forget what they mean. They call it "semantic satiation", and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. You repeat a word for long enough, and it stops sounding like a word at all. Now imagine that, but with all of human language. There’ll be no more interior monologuing, and all that will rattle around inside your head will be abstract conceptions and the occasional stray slogan bouncing through your mind.
In the same way cavemen would grunt and groan at each other, people in the far future will communicate solely through these commercial catchphrases devoid of all meaning save the low-fidelity slight variation of tone that the sincerity detectors will allow. Even the company ad-men will be doing it, and its likely they themselves will no longer be able to create new jingles now their language skills have so far deteriorated. They'll just string random snippets of existing catchphrases together to form "new" advertisements, until eventually the entire purpose of the endeavour has been forgotten.
The system, like all systems strive to, will endeavour to become perfectly balanced and as self-sufficient as it is possible to be. People will echo the slogans of long-defunct companies, and automated systems will deposit money into their bank accounts, which will automatically be used to pay the automatically-generated utility bills which will fulfill their needs. The electricity bill will keep people warm. The food bill will keep people fed. And so on.
Perhaps we will escape even the hard time limit of the Earth’s eventual destruction in 3 billion years by living in off-world colonies or better, self-replicating space “arks” flying through the inky nothingness where truly nothing at all can upset the perfectly-designed system that ticks along and sustains our race.
Immaculate, automated stagnation, punctuated with constant guttural sounds of twisted, fossilised advertisements passed down through millennia and hollowly ringing with insincerity from barely-alive human shells throughout all corners of the Universe. The perfect society, and an eternal one.
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