To take a minor detour from my usual posts here at “The Philosophical Fighter,” I want to tell you about some of what I’ve been working on academically. I recently had the chance to present my research on QAnon, a meta-conspiracy theory, and the media ecology perspective taken by Neil Postman. You may have seen me quote Postman a fair amount recently and for good measure. He was an educator, media critic, and language enthusiast, among many other things. He also drew heavily on historical analysis. I share many of his concerns about how technology shapes, influences, and even takes over our human capabilities.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge, precisely what we know, how we know it, and to what effect. Following many others such as Postman, Marshall McLuhan, and Jacques Ellul, I am critical of what modern technologies are taking from us, or rather, what we are giving away when we cede our abilities to some innovation or invention. It becomes a “Faustian Bargain,” to use Postman’s metaphor, when we look longingly at what technology brings and fail to see what it will inevitably take.
Applying the Media Ecology tradition to conspiracy theories, more precisely the 21st-century phenomenon QAnon, I looked at how modern media enabled these subaltern ideas to grow. Everything from algorithms to Facebook groups, YouTube influencers to Twitter hashtags allowed the ideas to spread and influence individuals across the United States. While the prophecies of the QAnon church have not come true, there are still those who have hope that they are correct. This hope was arguably created, elevated, and remains in large part due to the media environment in which these individuals live.
For a deeper picture of my research, here’s a 20-minute video of the major points. The speech was given at the 2021 General Semantics Symposium in New York.