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Greyscale

Greyscale

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It might feel a little bit strange, new, kinda-awkward. You notice Youtube or Reddit doesn't have the same flare, neither does the Messaging app—or any other app for that matter. On Spotify, it gets hard to tell whether you have selected the repeat button: the light grey "off" looks similar to the now medium grey "on".

Here's what greyscale looks like: 

Why would you turn on greyscale? There is an important and honest reason.

Your brain is being tricked into biological addiction.

Greyscale is the great equalizer—vapid, unseductive, tasteless, and honest. Did you notice the slight sepia-tone on my colorized background-screen? It's gone. There's more focus on the form of the content, is what you start to notice after a while.


It's been about a month and a half since I turned on greyscale. I've observed three things:

  1. There is only a very slight loss in experience quality
  2. I am more aware of my compulsions to get on my phone, as in, from impulse when struck by boredom or anxiety or feeling awkward.
  3. I am less easily sucked into my my phone, and for less long.

While I am still compelled to get on my phone, I've mostly stopped doing so when waiting for things. I've re-learned how to wait. God it sounds so infantile, learning how to wait.

Part of being a human being means deciding how much active participation we want to have in our own lives. I’m not trying to make it sound like I’m anti-TV or anti-Entertainment, but I just think that it’s sort of an exciting opportunity to decide whether our relationship to the world is going to be fundamentally passive and infantile, or one that’s active and hard and takes more work. (7:26)

The scariest thing about our relationship to pleasure and entertainment is that as we get more and more quote “decadent” and more and more unhappy, I think at a certain point we are going to be desperate enough to have people just tell us what to do that the form of fascism . . . is gonna look viable to a lot of people. (9:31)
— David Foster Wallace interview on "Infinite Jest" on WPR (1996)

I feel the need to bring up an anecdote: A while ago I was melancholically strolling through a bookstore, and I noticed this book on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and on-impulse bought this book. CBT is about redefining your relationship with yourself by positively reinforcing positive thinking. For instance, if you encounter an embarrassing moment—such as being late for class/work or accidentally saying something unintentionally offensive or uncomfortable—instead of thinking negatively about yourself, you try to become aware of what you're thinking/feeling and say a positive thing instead. So "I'm worthless" turns into "everyone makes mistakes." Or "I look ugly" turns into "I love myself." It sounds sappy and sentimental, but cognitive science has shown that it works, and that participants often feel more confident and self-accepting, and better in social situations. Here's the connection between this and greyscale.

When you put on greyscale, you start to become more aware of how you're interacting with the different media you expose yourself to. It reminds one of the idea "the medium is the message" by this guy Marshall McLuhan: essentially that it's not the actual content (the message) that has the greatest influence on how you think/behave, but the medium through which the content is delivered. For instance, viewing videos on Youtube reinforces the viewer to passively accept information without having to expend much energy on interpretation of the content. This feeds into an exciting and frightening discussion on narrative suppression in literature (i.e. how much the author allows the reader to imagine who is narrating, and how difficult.)

TV-type art’s biggest hook is that it’s figured out ways to “reward” passive spectation. A certain amount of the form-conscious stuff I write is trying—with whatever success—to do the opposite. It’s supposed to be uneasy. For instance, using a lot of flash-cuts between scenes so that some of the narrative arrangement has got to be done by the reader, or interrupting flow with digressions and interpolations that the reader has to do the work of connecting to each other and to the narrative. It’s nothing terribly sophisticated, and there has to be an accessible payoff for the reader if I don’t want the reader to throw the book at the wall. But if it works right, the reader has to fight “through” the meditated voice presenting the material to you. The complete suppression of a narrative consciousness, with its own agenda, is why TV is such a powerful selling tool.
— A Conversation with David Foster Wallace By Larry McCaffery From “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2

CBT forces the participant to actively fight through their already-formed versions of themselves. 

There's also this idea in cognitive behavioral psychology called Inertia. Here's one definitition

  • The psychological meaning of the word “inertia” implies an indisposition to change – a certain “stuck-ness” due to human programming. It represents the inevitability of behaving in a certain way – the way that has been indelibly inscribed somewhere in the brain. It also represents the impossibility – as long as a person is guided by his habits – of ever behaving in a better way.

The topic of Inertia applies to the topic of biological addiction in technology in a couple of ways. However, I feel as though a prime example is through "Dark Patterns;" essentially "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills." -Wikipedia

There are plenty of Dark Patterns on the web—whether it be making it hard for you to unsubscribe to a monthly payment, or signing you up for a newsletter, or accidentally purchasing an ancillary item. But they also exist in real life: such as a U.S. Tax System that remains intentionally complicated in order to raise demand for politicians to make it less complicated, although politicians are paid to keep it complicated, creating a situation where it becomes too much effort for the individual to really try to change anything and a multibillion dollar corporation (TurboTax) profits by selling people something that should be free, saving both the government and the taxpayers a lot of time, money, and frustration, but is not. Another dark pattern lay in water bottle companies, which pipe water out of local areas without giving notice to local towns, and literally sell the water right back to the townspeople for 100-300x the initial price. Any townspeople who want to pass legislation to prevent this must endure months of fighting legal battles and must spend their own time and money trying to change this against the top-lawyers of Nestle et. al. 

Greyscale is an easy way to attenuate a very subtle dark pattern. Your phone is literally designed in order that you will spend as much time on it as possible. As an individual, it is up to you—not your mom and dad, or your government, or anybody else—to decide what you consume and spend time on. 

 

The Philosophy of "Primitive Technology"

The Philosophy of "Primitive Technology"

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