The maths of manufacturing happiness

Visualisation in the information age, as a means of representing things in a meaningful way, has, in turn, given rise to the standardisation of “happiness”.

The spectacle of representative imagery created by data collection research is transposed into the definitive categorisation of social divisions, and by doing so, creates a marketplace-like exhibition of imagery created in order to organise social life. We, the consumers, are directed towards the representative imagery that is most appealing, and thus, most beneficial to a sense of happiness we wish to fulfil.

Paul Virilio talks about an “industrialisation of vision” and the pending standardisation of it, which is fuelled by the technological advances that question the very accuracy of the human eye. Eye-tracking systems such as oculometers, have extended the human eye’s natural ability, in an attempt to improve it, to make it more accurate, more visible, and essentially, to standardise what we see and don’t see.

However, this is not creating a more accurate reality of what we see. Plato’s notion that, “a resemblance is not real” negates the notion that technological accuracy represents a finer, sharper, and more real reality. Anything which is seen not using solely the eye becomes a replica of an image of reality, because, what we are essentially doing is creating different versions of the same reality via different technological advances. Only that which is seen by the naked eye is representative of immediate actuality.

What does this mean for the visualisation of data collective practices? It means that we’re receiving a fragmentary version of reality that presents itself as a standardising tool for understanding the world around us. By giving it to us in small, aesthetically pleasing doses, we are able to attach reason to ideas too abstract to articulate syntactically or to ideas that are too vast to be expressed in a language that is compressed enough to understand. Visualisation of such statistical data allows us to receive an immediate answer to a question too large access in the short term.

And now that we’ve established a way of delivering this data to the public, we have, in turn, established how to buy the ideas they’re selling. We take the one that looks like will give us the answer we’re looking for in the easiest and most aesthetically pleasing way possible. The same marketing strategy is used for the everyday products you see in stores. The most expensive product is probably the most attractive one, created by a design that will ensure the consumer’s satisfaction.

What we’re thus presented with is a choice between misery and happiness created by focusing on the differences between certain images in the information age and the things which they represent. They do this in a way that makes them independent of the idea that other, similar products exist. The attention placed on differences make them catalysts for consumer conflict.

However, it must be noted that none of these images can be pursued in a way that will satisfy our desires, because, they are transitory; constantly being replaced by new data that is packaged in a new way for our benefit. Because of this, our pursuits are passionless.

Some things are indeed better than others and our preferences are going to inevitably be swayed towards one outcome or another. However, as Dan Gilbert states: “when our ambition is unbounded, we cheat and we lie… we are reckless and cowardly.” We are cowardly because we fail to harness genuine, autonomous intuition when we choose the capacity to manufacture the commodity over our capacity to experience.


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