I have called them PTMIs: networks of People, Technology, Messages and Ideologies.
I am provisionally suggesting that they are the reason why what I would prefer to call “mental distress” (dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours due to the environment) and what others individualise with the terms “mental illness” or “mental ill-health” (dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours due to the individual’s own internal being) has hit levels of 25 percent in the English-speaking countries of the world. In non-English countries the levels are half or less.
I would begin, tentatively, to classify such networks in three different ways:
(I) The least well-defined – and perhaps the oldest known to humanity – I would describe as acting through what we could argue were behaviours akin to the flocking of birds: in truth, the connections between each individual intelligence – whilst apparently tenuous – do lead to actions which in some way are coordinated, normative and structuring. Here we might include the relationships people generate amongst themselves in shared moments experienced via pubs, over garden fences, around the water-coolers, in coffee-shops, etc. In a purely work context, these moments are what Katherine Whitehorn once described as Work B: the glue no one trains you up on, which holds together and facilitates the overt tasks that the Work A of job descriptions requires to properly function. In other contexts such as family, informal PTMIs such as the ones I am describing serve either to enable proper and open communication amongst members or, alternatively, can lead to a negation of reality with implications for mental distress such as schizophrenia and paranoid schizophrenia later in life.
(II) The most utilitarian I would define in the next section: these are PTMIs designed to sustain business or related sectorial opportunities and interests. Here we might include the relationships between large companies where such interests coincide and are common to their entities, and in particular coordinated industrial activities relating to the lobbying of political representatives; but we might also argue that political activity itself has a similarly utilitarian focus, designed to maintain a practical hold on the levers of democratically couched power dynamics. Other organisations and communities such as clubs and masonic lodges would also have a utilitarian aspect to their PTMIs. Such PTMIs impact directly through what we might term activities of “marketing” (whether corporate, political or community-based), applied to users, consumers, voters and relevant constituencies.
(III) The third type of PTMI we might define covers off what I would suggest are the most influential of such networks (influential in the sense of being able to impact their environments); yet – whilst influential – their visibility is extremely low, mainly because they choose, and are able to choose, to hide themselves. In a recent assignment which I wrote for my MA in Criminal Justice, I asserted that since 2013 and Snowden’s revelations around the reality – no longer fiction – of total surveillance, an important paradigm shift has taken place. I argued that before those revelations, anyone of minimal importance in society who claimed they were being followed or tracked in some way could easily be imprisoned via Mental Health legislations, processes and procedures. A delusion of grandeur here, a cognitive disconnection from a societally sanctioned normality there – and it was as easy as putting the subject of the action behind closed doors in the presence of a family member and two professionals, for deprivation of liberty to then take place in a way the Criminal Justice system would never – quite rightly – legally allow. Since Snowden, however, processes whereby cognitive disconnections from a supposed reality are alleged to be the case, through fundamental assumptions underlying clinical diagnostic tools that were created before total surveillance was publicly recognised, do now surely need to be revisited – even where not automatically revised. It is in the actions of these PTMIs of surveillance, tracking, observation and covert interaction – sourced in government, security agencies, corporate figures of all kinds: every institution where the instinct to collect Big Data is to be found, in fact – where an explanation of the astonishing increase in mental distress over the years may be found, particularly in relation to those English-speaking countries where Snowden has revealed that the security agencies – and other organisations which track – operate most aggressively.
In truth, any PTMI whose primary mission is to adjust the environment for their own benefit runs the risk of increasing the mental distress of its participants, especially when nudge theory and methods are used to change behaviours without any corresponding ownership being taken.
For ownership of one’s actions is a key validator of reality to the observer of such actions; and in its absence, most realities will remain firmly denied.
One final point: whilst I am not necessarily implying PTMIs are inevitably bad, any PTMI which exists to counteract the toxic effects of another will clearly begin to act in similar ways. The old Internet meme which says “Be careful whom you choose as your competition for you shall become like them …” is perfectly apposite here. Yes. It may be possible to create PTMIs of a benevolent nature, but my own personal experience has yet to suggest that to refuse ownership for a nudge is ever constructive behaviour.
As far as my own interest in and future relationship with these matters is concerned, I will be looking to find funding for a PhD into the subject shortly. If self-funding is needed, then I shall wait a year, earn my living in the meantime, and proceed to use government funding streams when they come through in 2018. Either way, I have lived the effect of such PTMIs for a long time: probably for most of my life; probably as long as that, yer know. And I really don’t believe I am the only person who has. The 25 percent of my fellow citizens who suffer – or will suffer – mental distress during a period in their lives are testament to this.
A year’s wait longer now hurts me in no way at all.
No way at all, dear friends.
No way at all.