Feeding the reptile or promoting the human in us: why political communication is not morally neutral, and how to improve it (2/2)

(Figure: Media Respect Cube, displaying the level of respect of the receiver, per technical feature of the communication medium. The higher the score, the higher the respect. Author: Sergio Arbarviro, under licence Creative Commons)

(Follows the previous post)

Regarding now the technical medium, I would have the following considerations:

  • The power in the communication relationship lies with the party that imposes its pace to the other. If it is the sender, as it is the case in any streaming medium (audio, video), then the receiver has no capacity to stop, to reflect, nor to come back to check the validity of an argument. “The show must go on”. Conversely, if the receiver controls the pace, as in any static medium (text, fixed image), then s/he can take the time that s/he deems necessary to consider all aspects of the message being transmitted, and to reflect, come back and check the validity of, or elaborate his/her own opinion on, the arguments proposed.
  • Images transmit an instantaneous message, part of which is barely conscious, and where all elements are transmitted simultaneously. It is thus a very efficient medium, able to convey complex messages (e.g. data) very fast, but also one that short-circuits the sequential process of reasoning, which is an easy means to manipulate the receiver (typically by juxtaposing logically irrelevant elements – thereby falsely claiming that they are linked). Conversely, text is slower, but it deploys over time, and thus respects the sequential nature of human speech and reasoning.
  • The length of the message also plays a role. The shorter the message, the greater the simplification. This can be fruitful, and can lead to condensing the essence of a message into a few well-chosen concepts. It can also lead to striking and emotional formulas where again the manipulative juxtaposition of words short-circuits reasoning. Conversely, longer messages enable the deployment of a full reasoning.

Thus, the technical features of a communication medium that increase the capacity for manipulation are when it is short, in image format, and with a pace controlled by the emitter – while the features that support reflection and reasoning are when it is long, in text format and with a pace controlled by the receiver. This leads to the following table, which can be illustrated by the Receiver Respect Cube above.

Length Format Locus of control of the pace Example of medium Example of digital media Respect score
Short Image Emitter Video clip YouTube

0

Short Image

Receiver

Photograph, Poster Instagram

1

Short

Text

Emitter Audio snippet

1

Long

Image Emitter Film NetFlix

1

Short

Text

Receiver

Slogan, Tweet Twitter

2

Long

Image

Receiver

Slide show

2

Long

Text

Emitter Live speech

2

Long

Text

Receiver

Long written text Blog

3

As can be seen, the least respectful communication medium is the video clip. To make things worse, for all animals, starting with fishes and reptiles, fast movement means immediate danger. Therefore, any fast movement irresistibly attracts our attention, because this deeply cabled behaviour has been a condition for survival for all animals over our evolutionary history. The current tendency for all video media to increase the speed of animations, and to reduce the duration of fixed views, cynically exploits this neural cabling to retain the attention of the viewer.

On the other hand, the most respectful medium is the long, written text, such as the blog post you are currently reading. Congratulations to you, reader!

Author: Sergio Arbarviro

My competences are originally those of an engineer – but I have been making incursions, for quite some time now, into several other fields, such as economics, politics, psychology, social sciences and history. I am the designer of the KuneAgi deliberative on-line democracy software, and a founding member of the CosmoPolitical Party.