ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Mental Inertia & Social Momentum

Of Castles, Peasants, and Wanderers

A theory of progress, and how users get locked into privacy-invading platforms

Have you ever wondered why entire populations live oppressed by dictatorships? Or why even experimented users end up locked into social networks or apps that are detrimental to them even when there are better alternatives? If you do, then continue reading. If you don’t then read it as well!

Other than what defines me as a professional, I am an introvert traveler. As that I have come to observe more than to speak, but yes, I do write a lot. I am also an avid reader since I was in primary school. We had the Encyclopædia Britannica and a few others at home. Our parents would usually leave us as homework to read something we chose out of the many volumes. Finally, as an immigrant, I learned to adapt to other cultures and learn my 3rd and 4th language.

As a result of all that, I came to conceptualize the world into a basic model. The title of this article describes my model. But if we want to make it a bit more modern, let’s call it Villagers, Explorers, and Marketers.

“If a beard were a sign of wisdom, then goats would be philosophers.” — Syrian proverb.

I would like to add that it doesn’t make me a wizard, an illuminated person, an authority on the lessons of life, or else. But, I hope my non-existent beard qualifies for something.

Perspectives

My perspective relates to the inherent nature of how information, or the lack of it, can be an asset or a liability. It affects how you perceive your world. That in turn influences your State of Being, your happiness and all related to that.

I have my own taxonomy of the State of Being. Beware that I am not saying that any of these groups is better than the other. Whether by destiny or your own forging, you may or may not choose your own:

  • The Villager (Peasants). Someone who has never seen or experienced anything beyond the borders. These people cannot compare anything beyond their limited frame. They only know what is within their own bubble (their village).
  • The Explorer (Wanderer). Someone who has gone beyond their borders to experience matters. With the right mindset, they can weigh the pros & cons of a wider set of concepts. That is due to their expanded operational frame.
  • The Marketer (Castle): As someone who belongs to either of the above two groups, but that has something to gain by exalting the beneficial aspects of their product and ignoring or minimizing the adverse aspects of their product. This is the spirit of the social science of marketing.

“The devil knows more because he is old than because he is the devil”

I am not saying I am the devil or even devilish, either. Yet, I would like to believe that what I have lived has made me wiser. I for one thing like to observe more than talk.

The Villager

There is nothing wrong with being a villager. In fact, it may even be helpful to your own well-being. How do I know it? In my years of exploration, I pondered a lot about the purpose of life and happiness. That was a somewhat turbulent period with considerable introspection. My origins were in the Developing World, but I worked in a Developed nation in Europe. A nation that had a long history of conquest and exploration, and a “better” quality of life.

One day I came to think about the peoples in small tribes in the plains of Africa. Some would call them poor by their standards. I asked myself whether they were happier than we. Nature, and their tribe, fulfill their basic needs. They have no Internet, no TV, no radio, no communication with the outside world. I concluded that yes, they were happier than most of us.

If you have not seen or heard about what is beyond, and it limits your vision of the world. The limited context of your surroundings color the decisions you take. People, living in countries with corrupt governments, learn to perceive it as normal. It is all they know. Often, their young will also grow with the same beliefs.

Villagers could turn Explorers, but not every villager can be an explorer. A Villager sometimes has the proper mindset to become an Explorer. Yet, the lack of opportunities usually hinder that transition.

The Explorer

Throughout history, the Explorers have expanded the horizons of civilizations. They, too, have influenced the mindsets of people. They have been instrumental in the conquest of new geographical areas and in fields of study.

You don’t have to have a machete and go deep into the jungle to be an explorer. Their curiosity and different mindset, enables them to go beyond for new possibilities.

You can be an explorer by going abroad for extended periods of time and experience all it has to offer. I have a particular anecdote of my first years in the Old World.

By then I had already been living abroad for 6 years. At the time, I was an IAESTE exchange student in The Netherlands. I remember this pretty Canadian girl, a new arrival, who had gotten the great opportunity of doing her term at Philips. But, she did not survive more than two weeks. Yes! Two weeks! She wanted to return to Canada because she greatly missed the guy to whom she was recently engaged (at that young age!). All peers in our group advised against it. But return to Canada she did! It was an unwise decision. Could you imagine a life of regret? Giving up an opportunity for something that may not have survived the test of time? The divorce rate in Canada is over 30%.

“Inertia: The tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.” — Dictionary definition.

The knowledge acquired by Explorers can enrich the receptive minds of the Villagers. I say receptive because there are always people with what I call mental inertia. While it is natural to question new beliefs or new information, it has to hold to reason. Mental Inertia is the resistance to accept this new knowledge. Negative emotions like envy or dislike drive this resistance.

Mental Inertia becomes a problem when used to poison the minds of others for a personal agenda. Likewise, it is a problem because it translates to a marked reduction of positive change. This I call the Social Momentum.

“Momentum is a vector quantity with both magnitude and direction: p = m × v”

I named it Social Momentum for a reason. It is a group of people with Mental Inertia. These people, that prevent change, represent the mass ‘m’ in the formula. The more people that are early adopters of new ideas, the faster the change comes. Alternatively, the more people with resistance to change (or the stronger their influence), the more laborious change becomes.

Sorry for applying Newtonian mechanics to social behavior! Let us use a clear real-life example of both Mental Inertia and Social Momentum.

Consider all those WhatsApp users herded by Zuckerberg. They refuse to switch to a better messaging platform like Telegram or Signal. Instead, they stay locked in that network of blind sheep because the rest decided to stay. That even when they know the dangers the Facebook empire represents to their privacy!

As a side note, Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $22 billion. That is how much your data and the invasion of your privacy is worth to them.

“Knowledge is Power (Scientia potentia est)” — Sir Francis Bacon.

When used in the right manner, this knowledge results in great benefits to The Village. We must keep in mind that it is also a double-edged sword.

The Marketer

This is the last category in my pyramid of the State of Being. It could also be the pyramid of social enlightenment.

If we use a medieval analogy, the nobles in the castle would represent my marketer figure. They would assure people, the villagers, that they would be safer from invaders. But that came at the price of high taxes and oppression.

Marketing is a normative management discipline with its origins in the 1950s.

Have you observed and analyzed the behavior of consumerism in a capitalistic economy?. Marketing can be many things, but to me it is the art of selling you a dog and making you believe you are acquiring a hare.

Marketing exists since the ages when bartering drove local economies. A marketer has an agenda: to sell you something — a product or an idea — for their benefit and optionally yours. They will tell you all the positive things they can think of, whether real or imagined. But they will avoid, or completely omit, any adverse effects. For example, when I was a kid, a sling was a common toy in some spheres. With it, you could throw stones at high speed and distances like ancient hunters did. Back in those days, the marketer would tell you that a kid could entertain himself with a sling, only to sell it. But they wouldn’t tell you that you could suffer or inflict a serious injury to others.

Not every Villager or Explorer can be a Marketer, but a Marketer can be either of the two. I placed The Marketer at the bottom of the pyramid. With that I am not implying that they are less than the others, or the lowest in the chain of humanity. I placed the marketers at the base of the pyramid because you can find them in both Villagers and Explorers.

Oftentimes when I shop around I do an experiment.

I am an Electrical Engineer. I also worked many years designing and developing software, sometimes both. First, I inform myself about the pros & cons of the product (for example a smartphone). The dependents trying to sell me the product, talk of virtues the product doesn’t have. Sometimes, when I point it out, they still swear by it. Can you imagine how many consumers end up buying something that doesn’t do what they want?

Conclusion

Rest assured that your level of happiness is not related to your role or category in the pyramid. You can find true happiness as a plain villager, or you can find it as a marketer or explorer. It all depends on your attitude and what moves you.

When it comes to Social Momentum, change begins by yourself. You cannot expect your life to improve, if you leave it up to others to improve your environment. Without that, the status quo would remain, and that hinders progress. The Mental Inertia making up for the Social Momentum becomes like a shackle in a sinking ship. You do not want to be in a sinking ship.

Actionable Advise

  • Learn to recognize a Marketer (the Noble in the Castle), and whether they are telling you the whole truth or just what benefits them.
  • Try to be an Explorer and absorb the best of what you discover and complement it with the beautiful things of a Villager’s life.
  • Question everything, but don’t block yourself from accepting an idea, or solution just because you have an aversion for the messenger (the Explorer)
  • At times, try to live like a Villager. When you stop comparing yourself, or your possessions, to others then you will have a happier life.
  • Listen to the experts in the field. Contrary to many other professions, IT people happily give you free advise others would charge you for!

Afterthought

I originally titled this article “The World According to Dídimo”. That title was sort of a pseudo-satire of the title of a book a friend lent me: “The World According to Garp”. But then the subject of my article became too elaborated to reduce it to a title look-alike.

Given that Medium still doesn’t offer equal opportunity to all writers on the platform, we have to seek our own ways. Those of us excluded from the limited Stripe world have the right to monetize our hard work, because quality content has a cost.

👉 Want to know more about my work?

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Didimo Grimaldo

Engineer by birth with an inquisitive mind, driven by logic & feeling. Worked for high tech companies in USA/Europe. Privacy advocate, & Whatsapp dissident.