Hype is the awkward and desperate attempt to convince people that what you’ve made is worth buying.
The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. —George Orwell.
Hype is most commonly defined as (noun) extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion often times with intentional deception. Hype as a verb means to promote or publicize (a product or idea), often exaggerating its importance or benefits. Lastly, hype is slang for excellent or cool.
As I pen this article, I am at a consequential crossroads. I have returned to the University I left High School to attend. Now, I am a graduate student working toward a Ph.D. decades later, believing in a late-life reboot. For me, the ad nauseam hype surrounding the college experience has faded into youthful obscurity. I am not anticipating a Will Ferrell “Old School” sequel. Age and experience have unmoored me from the idea of recapturing my youth or the notion that all that glitters is gold. Hyperbole or hype is pugnaciously wasted on me. I can weed through the endless promotion, publicity, and propaganda of the digital portals without being sparked into action as a matter of necessity. I control my urges. Or at least most of the time.
But that is not the case for most Americans. The psychological influence of the “crowd-men or woman” (social engineers) charged with shaping our wants and desires have trapped the unsuspecting masses in an endlessly hyped echo chamber of their own manufacture. To these souls, their foundational certainty takes the form of digitized talking heads and experts of dubious origin serving up an ever-fluid fear-laced drama. This threadbare theatre of the mind bears no resemblance to our reality. A quick comparison of the growth of smartphone ownership (Graph A) versus life satisfaction (Graph B) suggests something is amiss in the fourth estate.
Data derived from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/
Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2013) – “Happiness and Life Satisfaction.” Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/happiness-and-life-satisfaction’ [Online Resource]
With more news and information at our fingertips, why is our quality of life satisfaction not on the rise? Our trust in the information flowing to our personal portal on the world is at an all-time low. Have Americans grown tired of the hype? According to Gallup polling (Graph C below), the percentage of the U.S. population that does not trust the media “at all” has reached 38%, with an additional 28% indicating “not very much” trust. Only 34% of Americans trust their media. To no one surprise, the media fails to report Gallup’s trust data.
Source: Brenan, Megan “Americans’ Trust In Media Remains Near Record Low” October 18, 2022https://news.gallup.com/poll/403166/americans-trust-media-remains-near-record-low.aspx
The American relationship with the public relations and advertising industry, with its “crowd-men and women” pulling the levers on our attention and taste buds, goes back over a hundred years. In 1917 George Creel wrote a letter to President Woodrow Wilson on the brink of the U.S. Great War on the brink of the U.S. Great War. Creel was a journalist who most notably served as the Commissioner of Police in Denver, where he earned national notoriety for working to reduce police brutality and prostitution. He had learned the U.S. military was calling for censorship of the press. In a memorandum to the president, Creel outlined an alternative approach. Instead of muzzling the press, he advocated for a campaign focusing on asserting positive values and patriotism. Creel pushed for the propagation of uniquely American values. Impressed, Wilson invited Creel to employ his strategies as the chairman of a new Committee on Public Information (CPI). 1
As chairman of the CPI, Creel became the mastermind behind the U.S. government’s propaganda campaign in the War. For two years, he rallied American public support for the War while selling Wilson’s plans for a new world order. Though controversial, Creel’s efforts re-engineered the ideological landscape at home and abroad. His pioneering efforts, methods, and approaches became standard U.S. statecraft.
CPI strategies included large exhibitions, posters, and leaflets. Hollywood produced movies for the CPI, including feature-length documentaries like Pershing’s Crusaders and America’s Answer. For the first time, Tinseltown became a tool for American foreign policy.
Edward Bernays, the future “father of public relations,” chaired the CPI Export Service and went on to adopt Creel’s techniques for commerce uses and public policy. Bernays saw himself as an intellectual and a theorist of public relations. In an interview, he said he was one of the “intelligent few” who was “charged with the responsibility of contemplating and influencing the tide of history.” 2
As a member of that intellectual elite, the public relations professional aimed to socially engineer the destiny of society. Working behind the scenes, the P.R. expert is an “applied social scientist,” educated to employ an understanding of “sociology, psychology, social psychology, and economics” to influence and direct public attitudes.
This highly educated class of opinion-molding tacticians works continuously by analyzing the social terrain and adjusting the mental scenery from which the masses, with limited intellect, derive their opinions. The crowd or the irrational masses of humanity require the unseen hand of guidance as they can’t restrain their overwhelming passions, hysteria, and lack of conformity.
In the early 1930s, to better cope with the unruly crowd, social theorists began to explore ways to engineer a better society. Creel and Barney’s use of the new social sciences promised to illuminate the previously messy world of human action. The basic idea was to implement the expert knowledge gleaned from Creel’s CPI. Add to it the sociological surveys, economic analysis, and psychological theorizing, crafted into cohesive social programs bettering the unwashed masses. The result was a hyper-commercialization of America.
As of 2022, the largest advertising agency in the world is Omnicom Group, with a revenue of $14.29 billion. Global ad agencies have a market size of $383.67 billion, exposing the average American to between 4,000-10,000 ads per day, and there is no letting up as global advertising is projected to grow at 9.6% through 2026. 3
Moving Beyond the Hype refines a reader’s awareness and closes the gap between their perception and reality. A gap created and fostered by rampant misinformation, expert misconceptions, and society’s collective denial of the science of being human. With our perspective cleared of bias, we can firmly align with reality bringing our passions and actions into better focus. This process takes a minute. Each of us has spent years constructing our worldview, and change does not come without formidable resistance.
Research points to yet another reason necessitating a move beyond the hype of advertising, media, and social engineers to deal with the ebbs and flows of the known reality. An investigation into textual markers of cognitive distortions in over 14 million books over the past 125 years yields surprising finds. Over the last 40 years, hundreds of short sequences of one to five words (n-grams) bolstered cognitive distortions in our society. Labeled cognitive distortion schemata (CDS) by the researchers, this new abundance of triggering words in books exceeds the Great Depression and both World Wars. This recent societal language shift potentially triggering disorders like depression are troubling for its impact on the collective consciousness. 4
Examining the data shows declining CDS from 1899 to 1978, with minor peaks around 1914 and 1940 (World War I and World War II) and notably 1968. This decline was followed by a surge of CDS prevalence starting in 1978 that continues today. The graph above represents a Z-score as a statistical measurement that describes a value’s relationship in terms of standard deviations from the mean. If a Z-score is 0, it indicates the data is identical to the mean (average) score. A Z-score of 1.0 would indicate a value that is one standard deviation from the mean. Notice the Z-score is hovering around 2.0, which indicates a substantial and persistent rise in CDS above the historical averages since 1980.
Depression is associated with distinct and recognizable maladaptive thinking patterns, referred to as cognitive distortions, wherein individuals think about themselves, the future, and the world in inaccurate and overly negative ways. In this study, the researchers considered the following known cognitive distortions: 1) Catastrophizing, 2) Dichotomous Reasoning, 3) Disqualifying the Positive, 4) Emotional Reasoning, 5) Fortune-telling, 6) Labeling and mislabeling, 7) Magnification and Minimization, 8)Mental Filtering 9) Mind-reading: 10) Overgeneralizing: 11) Personalizing, 12) Should statements. The research found high Z-values in every cognitive distortion except “should statements.”
I believe the increase in CDS in our books is a function of legacy media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos. They alone possess the megaphones bellowing loudly in our public square. However, researchers don’t indicate a cause of the elevated cognitive distortion.
It is important to reiterate that cognitive distortions cause individuals to think about themselves in inaccurate and overly negative ways, likely triggering prone to depression while rubbing the rest of us the wrong way. These distortions, along with the agenda-driven advertisers and media, represent a coordinated effort to hijack and spin our news and information flow for their ends.
To thrive, we must move beyond the hype delivered by our handheld data portal, intentionally vetting, selecting, and managing our sources of news, data, and information in the construction of our worldview. We should question anything, and everything presented to us as fact or truth before we act. Only then can we be free to cope with life’s imperfections on our own terms.
Until next time. Travel safe.
1) Cull, Nicholas J., Master of American Propaganda PBS.com Accessed on January 7, 2023 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/the-great-war-master-of-american-propaganda/
3) Zippia. “The 10 largest Advertising Agencies in the World” Zippia.com July 14,2022 https://www.zippia.com/advice/largest-advertising-agencies
4) Bollen J, Ten Thij M, Breithaupt F, Barron ATJ, Rutter LA, Lorenzo-Luaces L, Scheffer M. Historical language records reveal a surge of cognitive distortions in recent decades. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Jul 27;118(30):e2102061118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2102061118. PMID: 34301899; PMCID: PMC8325314.