The varying speeds at which I have been trained to consume and process information has provided significant challenges to both my artistic, occupational and interpersonal lives. The speed at which my generation’s learned to consume and process information is directly proportional to our medially saturated culture in which the acquisition of a fast informational digestive track is crucial for surviving in a competitive market. The ability to parse through information rapidly and efficiently—being able to quickly sort between what is good and what is not, between “this” and “that”—is simultaneously a recent advent of our culture’s commercialization and a basic primitive response; the ability to sort between the good and the bad, and to do so quickly and correctly, without fail, is a natural adaptation to dangerous, threatening environments—those with poisons, predators, and harsh conditions abound. The current medial context plays off of this basic response, sublimating this primitive drive into the basic functioning of most social interaction.
Tumblr and Twitter, for instance, through their dashboard features, necessitate you scroll through a diverse assortment of images, sounds and text with relative speed, digesting them with a discerning eye for what is and is not personally appealing and possibly worth adding to your own page. Since we are not in control necessarily of what others post and add to our dashboards, having scroll through offensive, grotesque, triggering and otherwise unappealing content becomes a necessary symptom and condition of the consumption process. This process itself engenders a continuous negotiation of self-anesthesia and deliberate stimulating fixation, oscillating between the two in order to accurately perceive and evaluate without internalizing the collateral, negative concomitants of our fast-paced read-through.
This is hardly a new or particularly interesting phenomenon, but I’ve been curious about the extent to which this adaptive process has carried over into my interpersonal and academic environments. In the interpersonal sphere, the rapid consumption of information regarding the relative benefits and detriments to engaging with particular individuals often proves an insufficient measure of viability and its opposite. People, rife with grief, longing, and histories that haunt, are often contaminated in latent, covert ways that defy our most shallow and instinctive perceptions. When applied to individuals— complex, internally contradicting, competitive and historical—the process of rapid consumption can become a trap affixing us to those who have been rendered commoditized goods to be digested quickly as opposed to holistically. In an academic context, I have an entrenched aversion to texts that don’t immediately read as particularly piquing, resulting my identifying with texts and ideas which already satisfy my pre-existing biases and judgements. The medial context—and the rapidness that facilitates its smooth functioning—renders necessarily the complex living into the object, those objects to be consumed and discarded. In the case of love, and true friendship, the effects of this mental restructuring and re-alignment might wrongly tether us to reductive understandings about the complexity of human identity, the nature of desire, and our means of developing empathy; that is, aligning with what is most immediately “good” might be a necessary survival mechanism, but it is one that should be constantly reevaluated and revamped to adapt to changing and complex discourses.
And so how do we cultivate empathy when a cursory overlook of individual human identity is as easy as scrolling through a dashboard? How do we re-equip ourselves with the tools necessary to both recognize and deconstruct the manifold constituent pieces of human identity—races, histories, trauma, genders, desires and horrors, both those latent, distorted and suppressed—with respect for the time they necessitate and the difficulty of the challenges doing so presents. It seems as if medial discourse has unnecessarily heightened the stakes perceived by the survival instinct, and has primed us to be distrustful, to align most immediately with those who we liken ourselves to on the most basic, visual and surface levels, discarding the rest for fear of possible harm. Considering the fact that the media is here to stay, our goal should be to construct new structures in which consumption is slowed and deliberate, in ways that demand our intention, a true and holistic evaluation of benefit and danger; that deconstructs notions of likeness and norm between objects and subjects alike, that relies as much on reason, introspection and speculative contemplation as means of determining beneficial or detrimental returns—one in which the object returns as much attention as it is given. If the media necessitates the objectification of these desires, images and people, then it ought to be our prerogative to reshape the structure to allow for new methods of understanding and identifying, new means of broadening our definition of human—new ways of understanding “sight.”