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In the Anthropocene epoch, a time marked by the significant influence of extractives, productivist and consumerist activity on the planet’s ecosystems, a new cognitive phenomenon is surfacing, known as ‘sense-jamming’. It is a consequence of pervasive mobile phone addiction that mimics the psychological traps of a pocket-sized casino. Our global village, once romanticized as an interconnected, cooperative utopia, is turning into a digital swamp.

Indeed, the smartphone, while disguised as a reliable compass and a tool for navigating our daily lives, is in fact acting more like a cognitive jammer.

The rise of social media, coupled with the sophisticated use of artificial intelligence, has been fuelling this trend. The smartphone, once hailed as a beacon of convenience and connectivity, now functions like a high-speed, reward-based slot machine, constantly bombarding users with marketing-driven narratives, memetic hostilities, and a saturation of largely irrelevant noise. This relentless stream of stimuli keeps individuals engaged, yet disoriented.

Seven lenses into sene-jamming

  1. Cognitive Quicksand: Like stepping into quicksand, sense-jamming is initially unnoticeable. We get caught in the suction of our smartphones, deceived by their convenience and connectivity. The more we struggle and engage with the incessant stimuli, the deeper we sink into cognitive passivity, our critical and creative thoughts suffocated beneath the deluge of distraction.
  2. Distraction Crocodiles: Lurking just beneath the surface of our smartphone interactions, like crocodiles in a swamp, are the hidden threats of sense-jamming. They wait in stealth, masked by the seemingly tranquil waters of digital convenience, only to strike suddenly, pulling us into a disorienting spiral of distraction and cognitive passivity.
  3. Digital Mirage: A smartphone, under the guise of a useful tool, acts as a mirage in the desert of the Anthropocene epoch. We chase the illusion of productivity, connection, and enlightenment, only to find ourselves lost in a mirage of irrelevant information, marketed narratives, and memetic hostility. The oasis of knowledge we seek fades into a hostile desert of confusion, disrupting our sense of direction and reality.
  4. Echolocational Errors: Bats use echolocation to navigate and find food in the dark, sending out sound waves that bounce back to them, indicating obstacles or targets. However, sense-jamming is like a disruptive echo – it creates false signals and distorts reality, causing us to collide with distractions and lose our way in the digital ether.
  5. Static-Filled Frequency: Much like trying to tune into a radio station amidst a barrage of static noise, sense-jamming fills our cognitive channels with irrelevant data, making it harder to tune into the meaningful signals we need to navigate our lives effectively.
  6. The House Always Wins: In the world of gambling, it’s a truism that the house always wins. Similarly, in the pocket-sized casino of our smartphones, sense-jamming ensures that our attention is perpetually lost to the flashing lights and ringing bells of trivialities, while the grand stakes – understanding and grappling with the complexities of the world – remain unclaimed.
  7. Periscope Limitations: The periscope allows for limited viewing from beneath the surface, but any distortions or obstructions render it ineffective. Sense-jamming acts like a murky layer in our cognitive ‘periscope’, restricting a clear view of our surroundings and our understanding of reality.

Zizek and the distortion of political perception

Using Slavoj Zizek’s understanding of ideology, the concept of ‘sense-jamming’ – the cognitive disorientation produced by a relentless stream of digital stimuli – emerges as a potent tool for misrepresenting power relations and inhibiting an accurate understanding of the political landscape.

The constant distractions offered by smartphones and social media, under the guise of providing connection and convenience, subtly lead us into a state of cognitive passivity. This dynamic reinforces existing power structures and relations, as it obscures the nature of these structures beneath the noise of seemingly benign digital interactions. We are drawn into a cycle where the more we engage with these digital distractions, the deeper we sink into a state of uncritical acceptance of the status quo, our potential for resistance and critical thought suffocated under a barrage of trivialities.

Zizek’s conception of ideology as a material practice, located more in our actions than our beliefs, becomes particularly relevant in this context. Our daily, uncritical interactions with digital devices and platforms are not just passive consumption of content; they constitute active participation in the reproduction of a distorted digital reality.

Also, the digital swamp of sense-jamming serves to commodify attention, reducing our cognitive faculties to yet another resource to be exploited. This adds another layer to the ‘naturalization’ of exploitation that Zizek discusses, where sense-jamming can be seen as a tool to make the commodification of attention seem normal and inevitable.

The digital swamp

In this context, sense-jamming can be understood as the societal equivalent of getting lost in a digital swamp. The dense undergrowth of irrelevant information and the treacherous footing of misleading narratives hinder our ability to find solid ground, to form a clear understanding of our experiences and the world around us. What was once a tool for enhancing our lives has become a labyrinth of confusion and distraction, eroding our ability to make sense of our environment.

In the face of our current era of futurbulences and wicked problems, we encounter a significant challenge known as memetic reinforcement. This phenomenon occurs when individuals’ beliefs and perspectives are continually fortified by exposure to information that aligns with their existing views. However, this process becomes even more complex due to sense-jamming, where deeply entrenched and rigidified belief systems are perpetuated through artificial intelligence-driven algorithms and mobile-phone-based paradigms. As a result, engaging with diverse perspectives becomes increasingly difficult, leading to ideological polarization and echo chambers.

Understanding the mechanisms and implications of sense-jamming is essential as we navigate this complex era. The consequences of this pervasive phenomenon extend beyond individual cognition to the very fabric of our society, underscoring the need for a critical examination of our relationship with technology and the structures that drive its use.