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  • Writer's pictureSantiago Garcia

Digital Aesthetics In Society

Is the way we transmit information more important than the information itself? It is apparent that we live in an age where the aspect of visual appeal is valued (by society at large) more than the content of the message. Digital pictures and videos are available to everybody, and with the pressure placed on society to present themselves in a unique way, an environment currently exists where the quality of the image or video is valued, acknowledged, and (generally) appreciated more than the content.

I can’t think of the last time I went to a concert where the primary focus of the artist wasn’t necessarily to showcase his music, but to provide an environment where the attendees could take memorable pictures for their Instagram accounts. Emphasizing the visual aesthetics, these artists are able to promote themselves more effectively and give the audience what they came for (an opportunity to share with their followers how amazing the concert was). This personal anecdote exemplifies Marshall McLuhan’s study of media theory from 1964: “The way that we send and receive information is more important than the information itself.” It wasn’t about the quality of the music being played, it was about the opportunities provided to the fans to document the aesthetic environment that the artist created. McLuhan correctly predicted that it would only be possible to understand social and cultural changes with the knowledge of the workings of media.

Are the shifts in expectations and changes in behavior that come from new mediums necessarily bad things? It is now possible to reach people across the world and for any reason, closing several communication gaps that existed prior. Those who take advantage of this recognize that we are all micro-producers, with the full capacity to display and distribute the content and information of our choosing, to observe what we want to, and to connect with people who share similar interests.

These changes in societal behavior patterns are a result of the prevalence of digital and instant platforms of self-expression. The ease of access provided by smart phones and wearable tech presents positives (convenience and reliability) and negatives (invasion of privacy). Some experts suggest that the future of information warfare has already begun, and is being fought by electronic media under varying conditions.

Many of the negative factors that arise from smart phone usage often go unnoticed, but are critical in explaining behavior. Even the subtle presence of one’s cellphone when working can influence performance. The research suggests that at large, society’s memory span is constantly operating in a degraded state. In an experiment conducted by the University of Texas, where participants’ dependence and cognitive performance in the presence of their cellphones were observed, the researchers found that participants who were most dependent on their cellphones performed worse than their less-dependent peers, and that the presence of one’s smartphone reduced their available cognitive capacity.

The extent to which peoples’ behaviors are determined by these positive/negative factors is uncertain.

What is certain, is the impact digital and visual availability have on people’s decisions and the way they approach opportunities. Whether this technology is used to benefit or degrade society is entirely dependent on the user. The frequency, content displayed, and message delivered is up to the individual and their will. It is no longer a society where we can do things just ‘for the sake of doing them.’ It is a society where people achieve validation and feelings of personal self-worth, fame, or (in extreme cases) self-incrimination by visually depicting some variation of what actually occurred.

While it may seem that society no longer rewards excellence in artistic and creative quality, it is important to recognize the shift in distribution and projection mediums and their importance in influencing behavior. Change is constant, and 5-10 years from now the presence of new technology will shift how and what society values. While these new communication platforms present endless opportunities, it is important to use them to share knowledge, creativity, and content that will better our community.

Relevant Media:

The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power, Study Shows:

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