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Substance

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, written and directed by the legendary game designer Hideo Kojima, was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001. One of the plot points revolves around the control of information - namely, how a flood of trivial information will overwhelm humanity to the point where challenging facts and valuable knowledge will be completely drowned out.

If you’re familiar at all with modern culture, this is scarily prescient. We live in times of FOMO, where hashtags compile what a system believes is the most popular - and therefore, the most useful - information about a topic, where we can block or ignore anything we don’t agree with, where increasing myopia is the decree of the day. If we believe that nothing is beyond repair, than the steps being taken by the tech giants to make people more aware of their device usage is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t fix the underlying issue: information overload.

It’s that same information overload that paralyses our decision-making process, making us weary and agitated. There are an endless number of competing arguments for why you should pursue a particular strategy, or use a specific platform.

For example, some people may stubbornly stick to Twitter because they’ve experienced prior success, but for each one of those successes there might be a hundred instances where failure was the result. If something happens and the results aren’t repeatable, it’s simply not a good marketing strategy.

Never mind that social media users are so entrenched in their curated experiences that they respond to anything they don’t want to see with vitriol or apathy. As you can imagine, branded hashtags and native advertising may be considered worthwhile initiatives, but based on personal experience it seems as though there’s such a low level of relevancy the only legitimate reason to engage would be to express one’s displeasure with the message.

When it comes to advertising, too much information can obfuscate what is really important - hyper-targeting dilutes the effectiveness of the message. It doesn’t matter that Ted is a married man in his mid-30s with a six-figure income and a two-bedroom home. All that matters is that Ted’s beverage of choice is Dr. Pepper.

While there may be lots of great connections that marketing data can provide, it’s very easy to try and make connections between data where none exist. All of the extra information, seemingly important, is actually trivial - especially in the age of vanity metrics, where we’re sure our message is being communicated if we have high numbers of impressions and likes, even though these metrics usually don’t have any meaning. As with all advertising, popularity can help a product go a long way - but it’s not the number of eyes you get on your product, it’s how many people are engaged with it, and ultimately how many buy it.

Similarly, likes are a terrible engagement metric because they’re generally used to show the momentary approval of something, before that something is buried by new things for approval. People generally don’t spend time sifting through the things they’ve liked in the past. However, they are a perfect example of how digital has commoditized attention, where amidst the even the smallest interaction is extrapolated to have some grander meaning.

Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and all information overload does is add needless complexity. To paraphrase one Reddit user, we have the entirety of human knowledge on computers in our pockets, and we use them to look up funny cat videos. Rather than trying to figure out what to do with all of the information given to us, we should take steps to act upon the information we know how to handle. The clearest path forward is often the best.

Matt