Chronic Déjà Vu

In the near future, chronic déjà vu is a common symptom of a heightened breed of misplaced anxiety. As native advertising based on data and behavior becomes more potent, it does its job as advertising sometimes a little too well and creates a greater tensions for alternative versions of the self. It is this particular loss of self and fracturing of identity that leads to déjà vu, the false sensation of remembering. If persistent, the experience can be terrifying, you feel as if you are trapped in a time loop, repeating over and over. Normally, when the brain begins to experience déjà vu, you can fairly quickly grab ahold and reckon the fictional sense of memory. Within the new state of increasingly destructuring self, it becomes difficult to stop the sensation of déjà vu once it begins, and you quickly begin to experience a déjà vu of a déjà vu of a déjà vu.

As “big data” becomes increasingly aware of our patterns of living and ways of being, it gains in the accuracy with which it projects near-future versions of us as individuals—except, of course, motivated by whichever company is leveraging those tools. These projections work differently than regular advertising in which you see a beautiful woman or man driving a car; traditional advertising is abstract. You know you don’t look like that, you don’t live in the Tuscan countryside, it wouldn’t even be fun to drive that car in that city, and you require space for kids. But, as big data grows increasingly aware and interconnected, it can project near-future versions of you. Your lifestyle, precisely, but in this different apartment; it suggests services that you would use and can see immediate benefits. As these visions of alternate versions of you become increasingly concrete, they create a certain, specific tension with the real; perhaps what advertising has always sought to do, they create an uncanny visions of your life containing the ecologies of devices, people, and services that you already own adorned with new things and services, in perfect compliment. This tension, for many, can quickly build to anxiety.

It was this anxiety caused by the many versions of yourself floating around that triggers déjà vu. With a fragmented sense of the present, comes a fragmented sense of the past. Do you already have those things in the banner ad? Did you want them at one point or do you now? The ads create a great sense of tension between you and possible “yous.” Identity becomes more viciously fragmented between the many ways in which we already split and frame ourselves and these new pulls into the uncanny. It is harder to identify the source of desires, wants, and memories. Déjà vu, once a novelty, becomes an insidious force. Chronoclaustrophobia, the fear of being trapped in time, becomes a predominant symptom of chronic déjà vu. You feel like you are falling down through a series of events, but really you are still skimming across the surface of time. The problem is, in feeling cyclically that you have already experienced an event, you are building a virtual hole around yourself, you are at the bottom of this long string of repeating events.

Some ideas for enhanced native advertising: pulling from actual media you have posted and informing it with products that are a bizarrely perfect fit for your lifestyle (I have learned that LinkedIn is already doing this to a lesser extent.)

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Story (on chronic déjà vu):

There is also an excellent John Oliver piece on native advertising that I’m sure had some kind of influence on me.

And, of course, it probably references Minority Report‘s personalized advertising billboard things–though I can’t say that I was thinking of it while I was working.

I was also considering the thoughts and works of these folks:

Björn Franke, “Design Fiction Is not Necessarily about the Future.” Franke recommends creating fictional worlds by embedding design in other media.

James Agre, “Speculative Design: Crafting the speculation.” Agre recommends six kinds of bridging to connect with the viewer. I try to take advantage of observational comedy and the uncanny here. I also reference his use of verisimilitude and his tooth project, but, unlike his project, mine does not have the same claim for realness.

Tobias Revell on Critical Design and Design Fiction referencing The Post Office Research Station’s vision of the 1990’s. Specifically, the sometimes dubious quality of the speculative design relates to my own low quality gifs.

Google Doc:


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