The evolution of device mind control…and why we’re helpless to stop it.
It was not until March 1648 that the first advertisement appeared in print in England’s Imperial Intelligencer. About 250 years later, the average magazine had over 100 advertisements, and the average American received over 100 periodicals a year. From Harpers and Cosmo to the Saturday Evening Post, these publications now made their money not from purchases but from ADs. Humanity has slowly but effectively perfected the concept of repeat imprinting on consumers.
But there was one facet missing: psychology.
In 1895, psychologist Harlow Gale published his theories on the process of persuasion in ads and the effects of ads on attention and memory, concluding there were “unconscious attitude formations.” A few decades later, in the 1960s, Madison Avenue became the center for using psychological manipulation in powerful ad campaigns. Catchy slogans, smiling celebrities, and subliminal messages all took off to “double your pleasure, double your fun!“ The fix was in.
But still, the tools were primitive. Consumers could turn off the radio and walk away from the TV. What “they” needed was a way to prevent the consumer from controlling the means of delivery.
“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along those changes everything.”
Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone on Jan 9, 2007. The smartphone was born, and we were doomed.
The smartphone has always been with us, and the tech companies went to work, spending millions to study our everyday behavior and decisions. Ever consider why push notifications are red? Why likes are hearts? Why the next suggested video is just like the one you watched? Every touch, sound, and aspect of our steel cage experience is to ensure we always respond to their beep.
But all of that alone is not enough to complete the mind control circle.
For that, we turn to our sci-fi thriller MINDSET, from Vault Comics, by myself, John Pearson, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. In our story, a young grad student, Ben Sharp, longs to make a name for himself in the tech industry. But Ben has grown disillusioned with the manipulative practices of Silicon Valley to farm our data and sell our attention. He longs to do something meaningful.
Then Ben and his friends discover a form of real mind control. They decided to put it in a meditation app to help people combat the corruption of tech companies. By all accounts, Ben Sharp is the perfect hero to save us from this technological plague. But there’s a problem: the central drama of our story. Ben lacks influence. And Ben has been raised by social media.
The final nail in our coffin. The invention of social media and its cross-pollination with advertising. Social web platforms have been around since the internet itself, but Facebook changed the system by making it a game of influence between you and your friends. The rival social platforms were happy to follow suit and offer the same challenge. Who could have more friends, more likes, more fun, a better life, and more influence?
Now, advertisers have the perfect mechanism to deliver their slogans. Your friend would do it for free, and the farce would seem like reality. And you would answer the beep and face a choice.
Our entire world has adopted a sociological system of behavior and communication. We will depend on our devices, post our lives on our phones, and view other people’s lives on social media. It’s decided. No going back. So what do we do about it?
Do you banish yourself from modern society, or do you play the mind control game to feel loved?
Consumers are now always on their phones, chasing that endorphin rush of feeling popular and persuasive, doom-scrolling for some video or post that will make them feel connected or valued. Corporate advertisers and tech companies can take our every habit, analyze our every click, and perfect their methods to deliver the most subliminal ad for the most engaged viewer.
In the past year, it seems the veil has truly been lifted over the phenomenon. Most consumers are now aware that their apps are reporting on them, and they’re being conditioned to be more addicted to their devices. They know they are online too much, doom scrolling without the rational ability to stop. But despite knowing, the swipes and clicks continue.
This is what we hoped to present and explore in MINDSET, this existential dilemma that we all face today. How do we engage without being controlled? How do we maintain our ideals and values, and dare we say, our identities, hell, our damn humanity, without being mind-controlled?
Are we doomed to perpetual technological mind control?
For more about Zack Kaplan:
Zack Kaplan is a break-out science fiction comic writer and creator of such comics and graphic novels as ECLIPSE, PORT OF EARTH, THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS, JOIN THE FUTURE, BREAK OUT, METAL SOCIETY, FOREVER FORWARD and MINDSET. He has worked with publishers such as Image/Top Cow, Dark Horse, Aftershock, Vault, Humanoids, Scout Comics, and DC Comics. His first three series were all optioned for TV adaptation, with PORT OF EARTH currently being developed by Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment and Amazon TV Studios. Zack has taught screenwriting and storytelling at the International Academy of Film and TV, located in the Philippines. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
Keep in touch with Zack:
Linkedin: Zack Kaplan