The Dark Side of Consuming Content
And protocols to remain objective.
The only way to win at content marketing is for the reader to say, ‘“This was written specifically for me.” - Jamie Turner
Did you ever have a friend or a family member that was addicted to watching TV and avoiding all exercise (walks and chores included 🙂)? Maybe, you yourself would have been in this zone temporarily. I still remember my early days in Dubai, when I spent my entire weekends watching the entire seasons of Prison Break or 24. Nothing and nobody could take me off my hyperfocused binge-watching.
It felt like I had zoned out of the real world, and been transported to the grounds of Fox River State Penitentiary where Michael Scofield devises an elaborate plan to help his brother Lincoln Burrows, who has been falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to death, escape from the prison.
I loved the show, I enjoyed my weekends, and I am amazed (even today) at the ability of great directors/authors to invite us into their story worlds and make our stay there for as long as they would want. Mentally, it was a fascinating experience with truckloads of thrills and tension, eventually leading to a happy ending or suspense, only to be revealed in the next chapter.
On a deeper reflection, I think I know what was exactly happening - my dopamine release seemed to have no bounds, and was feasting like a glutton. This caused me to be high and happy throughout my transfixed state of affairs in front of the TV. I got lazy and wasn’t even bothered to do any rational reflection on using my time well, building my stack of skills, or deepening my relationships. All that mattered was “What would Michael Scofield do next?”
Wow. I’m glad I got off that bandwagon a long long time ago. But many are still enjoying the ride with one difference, the shows and characters have changed and many have even entered the realm of journalism on mainstream and social media.
Let me give you a glimpse of the information that is getting created and distributed today.
With so much information around you, it is practically impossible to consume, distill, synthesize, and absorb it all in a useful manner. And hence we have no option but to resort to the only shortcut of viewing our favorite channels, reading our preferred books/newsletters, or listening to our favorite podcasters/radio hosts. And years of consuming content from these preferred sources makes one believe that everything coming from them would be true or must be true.
And ‘truth’ it does become, for you. You believe everything that gets written, you endorse the opinions of others, you start mirroring these views, and you get morphed into the personalities that various mediums would like you to become. And the more they succeed in doing so, the more you give them your attention and money, and the deeper you go into a transfixed state, like I did when watching Prison Break.
This makes you lazy in your thinking, filling you up with emotions of fear, anxiety, or happiness, depending on the context of the content. But it doesn’t stop here - it eventually leads you to avoid any exercise of your mental faculties to reason or question the claims being made. It blunts your ability to weigh the odds of any information being false. It even suppresses your curiosity for digging deeper to discover the nuances that could alter the view completely.
And that’s ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ for the perpetrator of opinions for vested interests. You could even call it ‘The Dark Side of Capitalism’ or ‘Survival of the Fittest’. I refer to this as the Subscription Economy, where most subscribe to views blindly and talk about them confidently as if it was formed by their own due diligence and research on the ground.
There were 3 news clippings that disturbed me and made me think along the lines of this piece today -
“Narendra Modi is anti-democratic and India is heading down the wrong path.” - George Soros at Munich Security Conference on 17th Feb
“XYZ hospitalized due to over-supplementation and protein powders” - India News Publication
“Jobs report is good so markets are down because Fed will continue hiking rates” - International News
The first quote would make you question the strategy and policies being executed on the ground in India, especially when it comes from an Investing legend like George Soros. I have had many people, especially non-Indians, come to me and point out their concerns about investing in India, especially after reading his comments. And the not-so-surprising element is that none of them had checked the growth taking place in India, especially in the context of the global players. This video from the Treasury Leadership Forum 2023 can fill you in on the tectonic shifts happening in the Indian economy.
The second quote would make you doubt the credibility and utility of supplements and protein intake. And there is no shortage of people already believing in the futility of supplements or nutrition in general. I have had doctors recommend me thyroid surgery when all I needed was eating healthy and better wellness protocols, which include supplements and regular workouts. I have friends who have warned me against protein shakes or coffee intake, but I am in my best shape at 43 than I was at 25.
The third makes you feel that you know the exact reason why markets fell. But the funny thing that will happen tomorrow is that the markets may rise and the news would read somewhat like “markets rose because fed may not hike as much as the market feared”. And this ping pong continues daily.
With so much information fighting tooth and nail for your attention, it is not a surprise that you get overwhelmed and resort to the shortcuts I referred to earlier. This blind belief or lazy thinking may even radicalize some audiences making them choose extreme courses of action, with severe consequences for the actor and/or the affected.
George Dillard expressed the same thought in three insightful paragraphs in his medium post -
“Much of the internet — and our economy as a whole — feels like a series of traps, as bad actors, from nation-states to corporations to hackers try to manipulate me. There are phishing schemes and hackers and counterfeit products and fake reviews and misinformation and ads posing as the news and … God, it’s exhausting.”
“ If you’ve ever kept tabs on a breaking story on Twitter, you know what it feels like — both exhilarating and confusing. Little snippets of partial information, along with plenty of confident-sounding hot takes, come at you faster than you can really process them. You don’t have time to verify the reliability of what you’re reading, but you know that some of what you’re reading is true, some is well-intentioned but misleading, and some is deliberately false. It all settles into your brain as a confusing sludge of information. Hours later, you can’t really remember what came from a legitimate source and what came from online “politics influencers” who rake in the likes by provoking outrage.”
“The social-media news ecosystem prioritizes speed and engagement over trust. We have access to far more information, but we have no idea how much of it is true.”
I can’t claim that I have a solution for this predicament but I do know that finding a solution that works for me is crucial for me to make better decisions, be objective in my thinking, keep an open mind, and not get sucked into narratives. And I will share a few protocols that work well for me -
I don’t make good choices when I am rushed, angry, hungry, stressed, anxious, or not well rested. Hence I ensure I sleep well, plan my meals well in advance, stock my cabinet with enough healthy stuff at all times, hydrate myself well, and say NO to everything that needs me to decide NOW.
I read a lot on many subjects but I also make sure that I read different points of view on the same subject. If George Soros speaks about the Modi-Adani nexus and India being on the wrong path, then I would like to explore why Howard Marks is willing to buy Adani bonds inspite of all the negative stories going around.
I surround myself with people from different walks of life i.e. choreographers/doctors/engineers/YouTubers/educators/biohackers/analysts/sales professionals. I spend time with them, read their works or consume their content, experiment with lessons learned, and arrive upon things that work for me and things that don’t. This keeps me objective in my choices instead of being sucked into a tunnel vision and holding only borrowed conviction.
I don’t use the words “100%”, “certainly”, “has to be”, “cannot be”, “this will happen” and everything that could make me sound certain about a particular point of view or about the future. I choose to use “maybe”, “can be”, and “I don’t know” liberally even if it makes me look less assertive or not so sure in my expressions.
I ascribe to Nassim Taleb’s theory in ‘Fooled by Randomness’ wherein he postulates - “It certainly takes bravery to remain skeptical; it takes inordinate courage to introspect, to confront oneself, to accept one's limitations--Scientists are seeing more and more evidence that we are specifically designed by mother nature to fool ourselves.”
In summary, create an environment around you and work on daily habits that increase your odds to stay objective and self-aware at all times. The rewards for achieving this state of mind are phenomenal and the costs of failing at this endeavor are not trivial.
As Charles Spurgeon once said, “Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”
Recommendations for the Week #
Morgan Housel wrote a fantastic piece on Risk and Regret and elaborates on the Regret Minimization Framework famously espoused by Jeff Bezos. This is a very short piece but filled with tons of wisdom and it will make you take pause and reflect on the message therein. It’ll be worth it.
I would urge you to read the 2 blog posts that provided me with a nuanced understanding of consuming content online and that also provided me with inputs for writing my weekly piece on the same subject. It’s a Must Read if you are as curious as I am and spending hours on weekly basis to get smarter and wiser. George Dillard wrote on Medium and Rohit wrote on Substack.
Mr. Deepak Bagla, Managing Director & CEO of Invest India, delivered a keynote address at the Treasury Leadership Forum 2023 in Mumbai. He spoke about India's future, the country's digitization change, and the most unprecedented transformation that we are facing in terms of both scale and pace. He also spoke about the story of start-ups in India which is about entrepreneurship, the new generation, and the ability to access unique opportunities. Every Indian must see this and so should anyone exploring investing in India.
Wishing you all a fantastic weekend ahead🥂
Sending you loads of Love & Luck too.