Using Old Books to Exploit New Media
Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator exposes the twisted incentive system that makes the media susceptible to manipulation, and the boiler room environment in which much of the “news” is manufactured. The book outlines tricks used to steal people’s time and attention. while serving some other agenda. By understanding the logic behind business choices that the media makes, readers can better predict and anticipate actions(some might even be able to use the book to redirect, accelerate and control stories). It was written back in 2012, but after reading, it makes sense that clickbait could help swing an election.
In the the book Ryan Holiday also hints at what gives him an intellectual edge:
I began to make connections among these pieces of information and see patterns in history. In books decades out of print I saw criticism of media loopholes that had now reopened. I watched as basic psychological precepts were violated or ignored by bloggers as the reported the “news.” Having seen that much of the edifice of online publishing was based on faulty assumptions and self serving logic, I learned I could outsmart it. This knowledge both scared and emboldened me at the same time…
He then goes on to discuss tracking down a century old cartoon from an out of print newspaper. All while he was manipulating blogs from behind the scenes. Devouring everything about media history helps one understand the current environment. The chapter outlining the history of US media and showing how blogs are the new yellow journalism is worth the cover price alone. Old, forgotten, techniques, have become valuable again, perhaps even more than they were originally:
Instead of being a nineteenth-century press agent manipulating newspapers, I am a twenty-first-century press agent manipulating blogs. The tactics are the same, but I ply my trade with more influence, less oversight, and faster results than ever imagined. I got all sorts of inspiration (and ideas) for the job by reading old books like The Harder They Fall and All the King’s Men, which are about press agents and media fixers for powerful politicians and criminals of many years ago. You want to know how to con bloggers today? Look at Media hoaxes from before your grandparents were born. The same things will play. They may play even better now.
This logic applies in other arenas as well. Its important to understand the assumptions and logic that underpin an ecosystem. Many people do their jobs without thinking about this at all. Since history rhymes, old books can be a key to understanding a seemingly new, rapidly changing environment.