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This Week: Reading Vs Watching

Greetings,

It’s been a long time since the last issue of Nygaard Notes—almost two months.  My apologies.  I keep saying that it has to do with “health issues,” and it does.  But recently it has to do with some emotional issues, namely depression and anxiety, as well.  I’m working on all of these things, and hope to maintain a more-or-less predictable publication schedule as we go along.  I’m aiming for twice a month, but this stuff is a bit unpredictable.

The other reason that this issue has been so long in coming is that it’s the first time I’ve really engaged with the Brave New World of Internet information.  Things are changing so fast in the age of online media that it makes ones head spin.  I’ve been sort-of waiting until the dust settles to really look into it.  But finally I decided that the dust is not likely to settle anytime soon, so may as well begin to look into it now.

So this issue of the Notes required a lot of research, a lot of background reading, in short, a lot of time.  And it’s just the first installment of what I imagine will be quite a number of “What is different now that we have The Internet?” thought pieces.

I fear that this issue of Nygaard Notes may encourage some readers to think of me as a media curmudgeon, stuck in the past and complaining about “young people nowadays” who only take in news through a video screen.  Maybe many of you already think of me this way.  If so, I ask you to read this issue of the Notes and forget about trying to categorize me.  It’s true that I love words, and what words can do.  But this issue of the Notes is not about what I like or don’t like.  It’s about helping us all to choose the best way to liberate ourselves from the dominant Thought System that has hurt us all, and is hurting us all, so badly.

Thoughtfully yours,

Nygaard

“Quote” of the Week: “The Culture’s Intellectual and Social Preoccupations

This week’s “Quote” is drawn from the classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by media theorist Neil Postman, whom I quote elsewhere in this issue of the Notes:

“It is, I believe, a wise and particularly relevant supposition that the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.”

An Ominous Trend: The “Pivot to Video”

On the front Business Page of the June 1st New York Times appeared the headline, “New York Times, Moving to Trim Editing Layers, Offers Buyouts to News Employees.”

“The buyouts are meant primarily for editors,” says the Times, and if not enough people take the buyouts, the top editors said, they “would turn to layoffs.”

Layoffs are now the norm in the nation’s newsrooms, as the Internet continues to displace traditional, or “legacy,” news operations.  There were over 68,000 workers employed in the newsrooms of the nation’s newspapers in 2006.  By 2015 that number had declined to 41,400, a drop of forty percent in just 10 years.  Keep in mind that most journalism in the U.S. is still done by newspapers, with TV, radio, and online news mostly commenting on what newspapers uncover.

“The offer [of buyouts] comes as The Times continues its shift from a legacy print operation to a more digitally focused newsroom,” the Times continues, adding that “A ‘print hub,’ which handles the tasks involved in producing the printed newspaper on a nightly basis, was created [at the Times] in 2015 in an effort to free editors to focus on the digital audience, but the process of shedding longtime habits built around daily print deadlines continues to evolve. As its digital audience has grown, The Times has focused on publishing articles online quickly, placed an emphasis on visual journalism and invested in so-called service journalism with its acquisition in October of the product-review websites The Wirecutter and The Sweethome.” [Emphasis by Nygaard]

That list of three things that the nation’s Newspaper of Record is “focusing on” says an awful lot!  So let’s go through it point by point.

Focus #1: “Service journalism” provides advice or “consumer-oriented content.”  This would be things like reviews, “best of” lists, “news you can use,” that sort of thing.  It’s based on consumption, entertainment—anything but involvement in the democratic process.  It’s basically marketing.

Focus #2: “Publishing articles online quickly.”  As I said in the last Nygaard Notes, speed encourages automatic thought and crowds out most deeper thinking, which takes time.  Now combine that with the other item on that Times list, which is…

Focus #3: “An emphasis on visual journalism.”  This really is the main point, as far as media analysts like myself are concerned.  The emphasis on the visual is part of the new normal in journalism.  People in the news business talk about a “pivot to video,” which refers to what the news site Buzzfeed describes as “the massive industry shifts toward entertaining video” and away from the written word.  Brian Feldman, writing on the tech website Select All, describes it thusly: “‘Pivoting to video’ for media companies means, usually, allocating resources away from written journalism and toward the scripting, filming, editing, and publishing of videos.”  Feldman also notes that “pivoting to video” has become “a slick way to describe something else: layoffs.”

Perhaps you are familiar with the Millenial-oriented news website “Mic.com” A Business Insider headline on August 17th read, “Mic Is Laying off Staff as it Prepares for a Pivot to Video.”

A headline in BILLBOARD Magazine last June said “MTV Restructuring News Department, Shifting to Emphasis on Video.”  I know, I know: MTV started out as being all about video!  But Billboard tells us that they shifted in 2015 “toward longform journalism, think pieces, a staff made up of a majority of women and minorities and a coterie of well-regarded writers, editors and journalists.”  Well, that all sounds good, but “Now, that direction is coming to an end, as sources tell Billboard the new restructuring will include a stronger emphasis on video rather than a focus on reporting and longform.”  Note the assumption here (I think it’s true) that one can have EITHER an “emphasis on video” OR “a focus on reporting.”  On condition of anonymity a former employee told Billboard that “It’s curious that a pivot into video involves firing everyone in the video department.”  It’s not so curious if you imagine that the content of the new videos will be less “reporting” and more marketing.

The Hollywood Reporter did not use the word “pivot,” but they reported in July that the digital news organization VICE Media “is laying off at least 60 employees as it focuses on expanding its video operations internationally.”

The journalism organization The Poynter Institute ran a headline in June of this year about the digital news site Vocativ, which told us that “Vocativ Lays off Entire Editorial Staff in Shift to Video.”

So why is this “pivot to video” happening?  Is it because news “consumers” are demanding it?  Well, not really.  Bloomberg News, in an August 29th article, quoted Josh Marshall, publisher of Talking Points Memo, saying that “No site is ‘pivoting to video’ because of audience demand.  They are pivoting to video because the industry is in the midst of a monetization crisis.”  That is: They’re trying to figure out how to make money doing online news.

Reporter Zach Schonfeld, writing in the June 30th online edition of NEWSWEEK magazine, begins his article by saying, “There’s a video at the top of this article. I know. I’m sorry. It’s probably set to autoplay too, which means it’ll scream at you whether you want it to or not… I didn’t make this decision. My employer says the video has to be there, because video advertising is central to this company’s revenue model, along with every other digital media company’s revenue model. Banner ads don’t work anymore, and the solution, handed down by frantic media executives, is video. More video. Lots of video. A chicken in every pot and a video in every tab.”

Here’s Brian Feldman again; this time he’s writing in New York Magazine in June: Advertisers, he says, “prefer to buy ads against video content [rather] than text, the thinking being that consumers are more likely to sit down and pay attention to an ad when it precedes a video they want to watch than they would be if the ad simply appears next to an article they’re reading.”

The Bloomberg piece I mentioned above was headlined, “Publishers Are Making More Video—Whether You Want It or Not.”  And, sure enough, as I was reading the article—or at least attempting to—an annoying little video which could not be turned off was playing in the corner of the screen.  And I have an “ad blocker” that’s supposed to stop this sort of thing!

In regard to “whether we want it or not,” the Pew Research Center reported in October 2016 that younger people, especially, do not want it.  Reporting on a major national survey, Pew reports that “When it comes to technology’s influence on America’s young adults, reading is not dead – at least not the news. When asked whether one prefers to read, watch or listen to their news, younger adults are far more likely than older ones to opt for text, and most of that reading takes place on the web.”  Meanwhile, advertisers say… Pivot to Video!

But really, other than being annoying, is this industry-wide “pivot to video” anything to worry about?  I think it is, as it is a great example of how the structure of our digital media system—built as it is to please advertisers—ends up having a propaganda effect.  The following essays explain why I’m worried about The Pivot.

Something to See vs Something to Know

The increasing use of video over text in the daily news cycle needs to be understood from two angles.  One angle is the effect that this “pivot to video” is having on the subject matter of the news.  That is, what effect does the growth of video have on where we direct our attention?

The first and most obvious thing to consider when thinking about the increasing “video-ization” of the news media is that video can convey only what is visible.  Well, duh!  But this is important, because much of what is newsworthy is NOT visible, or at least it’s not interesting (as anyone who’s watched a couple of talking heads discussing policy issues can attest.)

Something that IS interesting to watch is often described as “videogenic”.

Short digression: I’ve actually had a local TV news director say to me, “If it bleeds, it leads,” which is industry shorthand for the practice of making the most spectacular, or videogenic, stories the ones that lead off the broadcast.  I thought it was just a cliché, but she had a long explanation of why it makes good business sense.  And I’m sure that it does make good business sense, which tells us that there’s something wrong with the business!

Many stories can be reported from more than one “angle,” with one angle being more videogenic than another.  The less-videogenic angle may be important but, being less eye-catching, it struggles to get into the news cycle.  Examples abound.  The winds and rains and flooding that devastated the southern U.S. and the Caribbean regions recently were very videogenic.  But the long-term climate conditions that many scientists suspect are contributing to the increased intensity of hurricanes are not.  Who, after all, wants to watch water evaporating?  You can’t even see it!  And who DOESN’T want to watch video of people boating down Main Street?

If it bleeds, it leads.  Nothing bleeds more than war, and here I think I should offer a re-run of my “Quote” of the Week from December 13th, 2002 (!):  That “Quote” of the Week was written in 1927 by the legendary social scientist Harold Lasswell, in his classic book “Propaganda Technique in the World War.”  He wrote: “Both literacy and the Press are offspring of the machine age.  The Press lives by advertising; advertising follows circulation, and circulation depends upon excitement.  ‘What sells a newspaper?’  A former associate of Lord Northcliffe [World War I British propaganda minister] answers: ‘The first answer is “war.”  War not only creates a supply of news but a demand for it.  So deep-rooted is the fascination in war and all things pertaining to it that…a paper only has to be able to put up on its placard ‘A Great Battle’ for its sales to mount up.”  What used to be known as the “placard” we now know as “What’s Trending” on Facebook and Twitter.

Diplomacy is not videogenic, nor are the long-term geopolitical developments that give rise to war.  What kind of video would feature a stiff tariff on Chinese steel?  Do you want to watch a video of trade negotiations?  That’s not likely to “trend” anywhere.

In the realm of health and safety, the visible things are things that go wrong: illness, epidemics, accidents.  When things do NOT go wrong—as when a public health initiative or a regulation is successful—then there is nothing to see.  The fact that “nothing happens” is, in fact, the story—and it’s often a BIG story.  But there’s nothing to see.  There’s just something to know, something that can be expressed in words, and often in numbers.  But not very well in moving pictures.

The list of “non-videogenic” but newsworthy issues is long: Economic news; quietly effective regulations; demographic changes; changes in the consciousness of the population; the myriad forces bringing an end to the U.S. Empire; the evolution of late-stage capitalism, and on and on.  What video does not—and cannot—easily communicate is the long-term trends, underlying conditions, and repetitive patterns that give rise to the manifestations that we DO see on our screens.

Decisions concerning what to think about—and what NOT to think about—are crucially important in the news cycle.  I’ve quoted the political scientist Bernard Cohen before, and it’s worth repeating here: “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”  And the “pivot to video” is telling us—by the very nature of the medium—to think about small things, to focus on the visible, to see things as separate, stand-alone events rather than as the concrete manifestations of larger institutional, structural, or historical forces.

Don’t get me wrong; video has its place.  A well-chosen video can illustrate or add emotional impact to a larger story.  But when the news cycle is dominated by video—which is and must be composed of small stories—where does a viewer GET the larger story?  From whence comes the context and background that is needed for understanding?  As more and more of our news comes to us on our screens, the business imperative to “pivot to video” is shaping the content of our news in specific, predictable ways.  But that’s not all.  It’s also affecting how we think about the news we take in every day.  That’s a whole ‘nother phenomenon that deserves attention.  The following two essays address this very phenomenon.

What is a Thought System?

What follows is a re-working of an essay published in Nygaard Notes #560, back in 2014.  I’m inserting it here because the essay that follows this one—The Spectacular Universe—requires at least a rudimentary understanding of the idea of a Thought System.  Rather than try to “define” such an idea, I offer the “compare and contrast” exercise you see here.  Nygaard

Every society enforces a belief in a certain set of ideas, sometimes called an ideology.  Part of the enforcement effort takes the form of propaganda.  In order for any set of ideas to make sense, one has to think in a particular way.  These widely-shared ways of thinking are what the Polish philosopher Ludwik Fleck called Thought Styles.

Over time there develops among the members of the society what I call a Thought System, which is composed of a set of ideas—or ideology—that is held in place by certain Thought Styles that, in a circular process, dictate the acceptance of the various ideas that compose the ideology.  The Thought System is the sum of: 1. Certain ideas; 2. Certain ways of thinking, and; 3. The interaction between them.

Individualist Thinking is the term I use to refer to the dominant, or hegemonic, Thought System of the United States.  I use the word “Systalectics” to refer to a dramatically different Thought System.  The word Systalectics is a mish-mash of the words “systems” and “dialectics” (which gives you a hint of where I’m going with this).  I’m not going to try to define Systalectics here.  Instead, what follows is a list of points at which Individualist Thinking (IT), contrasts most sharply with a Systalectics Orientation (SO).  It’s not that these are the only two Thought Systems imaginable, it’s just that the contrast will, I hope, begin to shed some light on what a Thought System IS.  Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about how we think, as far as I can tell.

I’ve updated the examples below from the ones I used in 2014, as current examples are always better, don’t you think?

Contrast #1
Individualist Thinking (IT) says: Get closer, take things apart to see how the pieces work.
A Systalectics Orientation (SO) says: Understanding is only possible by viewing the whole.  Things are defined by their behavior in relation to other things.

Example: Hurricanes.  Close-up reporting provides a steady supply of visceral images of suffering which serve to inflame emotions (and generate online clicks) while offering little that may help us to understand the meaning of the suffering.

Contrast #2
IT leads us to take things apart to see how the pieces work.
SO says that things are defined by their behavior in relation to other things, so we shouldn’t take them apart.  We have to look at as many pieces as we can.  AND we have to look at them for a while to see how they work.

Example:  In a 2001 study psychologists “showed Japanese and American participants animated underwater vignettes that included focal objects—three big fish—and background objects like rocks, seaweed and water bubbles. When they asked participants to describe the scenes, Americans were more likely to begin by recalling the focal fish, while Japanese were more likely to describe the whole scene, saying something like ‘it was a lake or pond.’ Later, the Japanese participants also recalled more details about the background objects than the Americans did.” Said the author of the study, “Americans immediately zoomed in on the objects. The Japanese paid more attention to context.”  Systalectics is interested in context.  Systalectics is interested in sociology more than in psychology.

Contrast #3
IT relies on “Methodological Individualism”, which is the view that “social phenomena must be explained by showing how they result from individual actions, which in turn must be explained through reference to the intentional states that motivate the individual actors,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
SO puts the focus on outcomes rather than motivations or intentions.  Rather than ask “Who?” and “Why?,” SO looks for PATTERNS that produce OUTCOMES.

The example here is President Trump: Most reporting on him is based on his personality, his charisma, his marketing and deal-making skills (or lack thereof).  Such a focus tells us that Methodological Individualism is at work.  Journalists with an SO perspective would certainly report on what the President says and does, but they would also be looking for, and reporting on, the historical conditions that have produced someone like Trump.  The assumption would be that, if Trump were swept out of office tomorrow, that wouldn’t change the political dynamics that were the result of, and were caused by, having that particular President in the White House.

(Many years ago I attended a lecture by Noam Chomsky, and heard a hostile questioner ask him—and I paraphrase—“Mr.  Chomsky, if you are so smart, tell us what would be the first thing you would do if YOU were elected President?”  To which Chomsky replied, “The first thing I would do would be to appoint a commission to investigate me for the crimes I would be forced to commit in that office.”  The audience laughed, but Chomsky’s refusal to Individualize the power of the institution of the Presidency was deadly serious.)

Contrast #4
IT is Cause-based: Things happen because someone or something made them happen.
SO says that systems produce outcomes for a variety of complex reasons.

Example: IT thinkers will say that jobs are disappearing in the U.S. because immigrants are taking them, or because of “job-killing regulations,” or because taxes are too high.  SO would look at the big picture and seek to understand the broad historical trends at work.

Contrast #5
IT stresses One-way Causation: A makes B happen.
SO stresses what might be called “the mutuality of interaction,” in which we shape our environment AND our environment shapes us.  It’s never a one-way process.

Example: When we believe that our problems have a single cause, this prevents us from seeing the wide range of conditions that must exist in order for a problem to occur and occur again.  If terrorism were as simple as “bad guys” running free, then it might make some kind of sense to kill the bad guys.  SO thinkers can see that it is not as simple as that, as we understand not only that these people might not be fundamentally bad, but also that violence begets violence due to the mutuality of interaction.  Seen in this light, all of our killing begins to make less sense.  In fact, it may be seen as counterproductive or worse.

Contrast #6
IT says that things are what they are, so there is no sense in trying to change things.  Stability is “normal,” while change is distressing.
SO says that things are always changing, even if we can’t always see the changes happening.  So change is normal, while the appearance of stability is what must be explained.  The corollary here is that we all play a part in HOW things change, whether we want to or not.

Example:  There was a Soviet Union, then there was not.  Climate is changing.  States, counties, towns that have been “blue” for decades went “red” in 2016.  In each case, the underlying dynamic was unstable before the change, but not always easy to see.  SO thinkers are always looking for the underlying dynamics.

Contrast #7
IT is based largely on description: Where is it?  How big is it?  What color is it?  Et cetera.
SO is based on function: What does it do?  What is it supposed to do? How does it work with its surroundings?

A great example here is race.  We have millions of statistics on racial disparities in education, health, income, crime, police brutality, access to services, and on and on.  That is, we know where the problem is, we know how big it is, and we know what color(s) it is.  Yet we have a much less-clear picture of the factors that give rise to the disparities.  The reason for this lack of clarity may be innocent enough—it’s much easier, after all, to understand statistics than to understand the larger social forces at work.  But the effect of taking the easy road is chronic ignorance and misunderstanding, as it leads us to focus on the “what” and de-emphasize the “how.”

Contrast #8
IT says that things are either “true” or they are “false.”
SO understands that any fact connects to other facts, so an attempt to learn or teach must address not only the fact in question, but the pre-existing ideas that give the fact meaning.

An example here would be a situation where there is some conflict and the police arrive.  Some people will see this arrival as a calming, or reassuring, thing, and will feel more safe.  Other people will see the arrival as a frightening or anxiety-producing thing, and will be worried that the conflict is likely to escalate.  While no one argues about the fact of the arrival, the meaning is understood to be disputed.  Which story is “true” is not obvious.

Now, with that little primer to help us understand the idea of Thought Systems, let’s have a look at how the current “pivot to video” affects our brains, and how it seems likely to lead us down the path of Individualist Thinking, and away from a Systalectics Orientation.

The Spectacular Universe: Thinking and Video

Earlier in this issue of the Notes I discussed the effect that the “pivot to video” is having on the content of our daily news cycle.  That is, what is reported and what is not.

The second angle to consider when thinking about the “pivot to video” in the news business is: What is it doing to our brains?  That is, when the daily news is delivered to us primarily in the form of video, what do our brains do with all those moving pictures, and how is it different than what our brains do with the text—you know: the words, the sentences, the paragraphs—that we get when we read the news rather than watch the news?

I suggest that this shift to a graphics-based news system—as exemplified by the “pivot to video” that I’ve been discussing—has two major effects on our thinking.  One is to encourage us to actually think less, as video isn’t directed at the thinking parts of our brains, but rather aims to stimulate emotional responses, in our bodies as well as our brains.  The second cognitive effect of a graphics-heavy media diet is to encourage us to think Individualistically rather than taking a Systalectics approach in our thinking.

Emotions Rather Than Thinking

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the marketing and public relations industries have spent a great deal of energy in exploring how video affects our hearts and minds.  Getting into our hearts and minds is, after all, what they do!  One marketing company, MainPath Marketing, presents a charming graphic on their website called “How the Brain Processes Different Kinds of Content.”  Here’s what they say about “Video Content” (and I’ll put the emphasis where they put it in the graphic): “Videos enhance EMOTIONAL CONNECTION WITH VIEWERS, through a mix of intonation, pitch, movement, body language, and other behaviors.  The brain processes video 60,000 TIMES FASTER than text.  Watching a video does not require active participation, so it doesn’t take up as much energy for the brain to process.”

My research indicates that these points—emphasis on emotion, speed of processing, passive reception—are aspects of video that are all fairly well-established by research in the fields of cognitive science, sociology, psychology, and everywhere else I checked.

When the brain is processing things so terribly fast (60,000 times faster than reading!), there’s no time for language or the construction of meaning which requires that language be used.  While video is a multimedia phenomenon, whatever written or spoken language there may be in a video is easily overwhelmed by the visuals.  In addition, graphic images speak the language of symbols, and at that speed they bypass the cerebral cortex and go straight to the various places, inside of the brain and out, that deal with emotion.  The association of symbols with emotions is virtually the definition of the marketing practice known as “Branding.”  (I explained this in Nygaard Notes #315 , if you want to go look.)  This is partly why marketers love video, and part of the reason why we are being fed so much of it.

“Images and Fragments” Over “Continuity and Context”

The media theorist Neil Postman, in his classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, talked about the effect television has had on the culture.  His words, written 32 years ago, very much still apply, but now we must apply them to that offspring of television, digital video.  Said Postman, “The single most important fact about television is that people watch it, which is why it’s called television.  And what they watch, and like to watch, are moving pictures—millions of them, of short duration and dynamic variety.  It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business.”

Postman points out that a graphics-based media relies on a structure that “is biased toward furnishing images and fragments” rather than the “continuity and context” that could give us “access to an historical perspective.”  Postman then quotes author Terence Moran, who notes that, in the absence of continuity and context, “bits of information cannot be integrated into an intelligent and consistent whole.”

Postman concludes by saying, “We do not refuse to remember; neither do we find it exactly useless to remember.  Rather, we are being rendered unfit to remember.  For if remembering is to be something more than nostalgia, it requires a contextual basis—a theory, a vision, a metaphor—something within which facts can be organized and patterns discerned.  The politics of image and instantaneous news provides no such context, is, in fact, hampered by attempts to provide any.”

Note here that a Systalectics Orientation, such as I have been discussing, relies on the ability to discern patterns that can only be seen over time. Individualist Thinking looks only at what is in the frame at the moment.

Postman points out that “Language makes sense only when it is presented as a sequence of propositions.”  Language makes an argument to be considered.  Videos show us things that appeal to the emotions.

Over time, as the cyber-stream of video constantly washes over us, what happens is that we come to expect to be entertained or, if not entertained, at least captivated by “what’s next” on our phones and other screens.  And what is lost is what academics call “the narrative,” which is the bigger story we tell ourselves about how the world works.

A scholarly paper from 2004 entitled Every Picture Tells a Story – Losing the Plot in the Era of the Image, sociologist Yiannis Gabriel sums up one aspect of this phenomenon, saying,  “As our daily universe has become saturated with images, jumping at us from our television sets, our magazines and newspapers, our computer screens and our digital cameras, our advertising billboards and our shop windows, we have mostly given up trying to fit them into stories and have learnt to accept them as spectacle pure and simple, pleasing or annoying to the eye, evoking, prompting, comforting, upsetting, entertaining or irritating. They are mostly part of a spectacular rather than a narrative universe.”

Video and Individualism

A videocratic news system has a distinct bias towards an Individualistic Thought System.  This is distinct from a Systalectic Thought System.  This bias is a result of commercial pressures, specifically the demands of advertisers seeking to address the “monetization crisis” to which I referred earlier.

I am not describing here a conspiracy to indoctrinate.  What I am talking about is just the predictable outcome of the interaction of the various business decisions that have been made, and are being made, as the digital information universe evolves in the context of late-stage capitalism.  Put simply, the collection of resources that we know as “advertisers” don’t care how we think, they just want us to look at the ads.  But the end effect is to change the way we think.

But how, specifically, does our over-reliance on video work to suppress Systalectic Thinking?  There are a number of ways:

1.    Systalectics asks us to understand something by backing up and looking at the big picture.  When we watch videos, the “big picture” is out of the frame.  So we learn to think small instead of thinking big.

2.    Systalectics asks us to focus on patterns, not individual incidents.  A video tells a story that must stand on its own, and typically focuses on a particular incident, which is the subject of the story.  So we learn to ignore context and narrative and think only about what we are seeing.

3.    Systalectics asks us to think holistically and include context.  Video speeds by and focuses on the emotional connection.  So we learn that everything we need to know is what we can see or feel.

The speed of video, the pacing of video, the focus of video are all beyond our control.  Video simplifies and flattens a world that is complex and multidimensional.  In the process, the world with which we are left asks less of us, asks us to stop thinking so much.

The Canadian-American writer Rivka Galchen recently remarked that “firsthand knowledge is an obstacle to insight,” and an over-reliance on video illustrates the point very well.  By focusing on what can be seen we are encouraged to individualize everything we take in via the screen.

The old saying goes, “Seeing is believing,” not “Seeing is understanding.”  And that is sadly true.  A graphics-oriented information system is aimed at getting us to believe things rather than understand things.  For true understanding we need to engage with language, to take some time to make connections and truly test our thinking.  That’s what Nygaard Notes is here to do.

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