Your brand is compression of sensation, here's why
Your brand is compression of sensation, here's why
A pretty clear trend in human history is that as we become more technologically advanced, the speed of transfer of information increases. Ancestors alive only a few hundred years ago couldn’t move faster than the speed of a willing horse; and relative to the history of humanity even the willingness of the horse is a rather new development. The last 50 years alone have brought us impossibly interconnected road networks, supersonic flight, and—quite literally light-speed—global communication.
Compare sending an idea—a simple thought—from London to Tokyo. In the modern world it is something that is certain, guaranteed, and expected. Just grab your personal chunk of magically arranged rock and metal, tap it a few times; and what was in your head is now on the other side of the planet within seconds! A millennium ago it was an almost impossible task with a high chance of failure (see death.)
The cliché is that the world is getting smaller! But it is far more accurate to say that the individual is growing larger and to fully appreciate the impact of technology on our consciousness—we have to consider it as an extension of ourselves.
A stick is an extension of the leverage provided by the arm, and technology as a whole is an extension of our entire beings; albeit in a far more abstract form. As we create and surround ourselves with tech to increase the reach of our individual awareness and impact—each one of us grows. Your great-grandparents literally had a more limited perspective on the world. Their view was far more empirical and real; they could see, touch, smell, and—depending on the subject in hand—most likely taste the things they spoke about, the things that occupied the entirety of their attention. An existence quite different to spending the morning commute watching 4k videos of cats dancing for treats in Seoul.
The ever-increasingly talked about disconnect we love to point at when it comes to “modern life” is a direct result of this sensory overload—something that we as a species have already overcome multiple times in our evolutionary history through a mechanism that defines the way we experience reality itself;
Although digital compression is fundamental to our ability to process and transfer the ever-increasing volume of information1 that technology exposes us to, the abstract mechanism of compression itself extends far beyond our current WiFi-riddled context; it has always been an essential component of the human experience, one that is ever-present in even the oldest sacred texts and images.
In Buddhist philosophy, the idea that thoughts arise from emotions, which in turn stem from sensations, is part of the teachings on dependent origination. The teachings of Pratītyasamutpāda elucidate the interconnected and interdependent nature of all things; an understanding that acknowledges the fundamental link between our sensory experiences, emotional responses, and the thoughts that emerge as a result.
Here’s a tldr;2 we experience sensations—such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile stimuli—through the apparatus of our senses. These sensations provide the raw data that our experience is made of, and as we encounter various sensory inputs, our brains are constantly processing and evaluating these experiences in relation to our personal histories, beliefs, and predispositions; namely our past. In doing so, we compress the almost infinite amount of information and attach labels, meaning, and significance to the sensations we perceive. This process gives rise to emotional responses; almost automatic reactions to familiar sets of sensory inputs compressed into an “ideal” image.
Emotions are, in essence, the body’s way of decompressing a familiar set of sensory data into pre-defined action. For example, when we encounter a set of stimuli that match the compressed “ideal” of threat or danger, our minds and bodies respond by generating feelings of anxiety, fear, or aggression—and a hefty dose of adrenaline. Conversely, when the compressed image is close to the “ideal” of something pleasurable or comforting, we experience emotions we call happiness, contentment, or joy. 3
In this way, emotions act as a bridge between the raw data of sensation and the resource intensive cognitive processing that occurs within our minds.
From this emotional foundation, we use another form of compression; language. Through the intricate arrangement of words and grammar, we condense the carnal, all encompassing, emotion into thought. Thought begins to take shape as we engage with our emotions, we start to create narratives, explanations, and rationalisations that contextualise and make sense of our feelings. These thoughts, in turn, feed back into our emotional experiences, amplifying, sustaining, or transforming them, often giving rise to new emotions and further thoughts. This cycle of sensation, emotion, and thought is a continuous, dynamic process that shapes our perceptions, understanding, and interactions with the world around us.
It is important to highlight that in Buddhist philosophy, recognising the interdependent nature of sensation, emotion, and thought is seen as a vital step on the path towards greater self-awareness, mindfulness, and ultimately, enlightenment.
In other words; this compressed mode of existence feels limiting, as it does not capture the full depth of our sensory experience. Meditation and psychedelics, both of which are fast regaining the popularity previously evident across cultures and throughout history, offer us glimpses into more “raw” and uncompressed states of being. These practices temporarily disable the relentless, automatic brutality of language and thought, allowing us to once more experience the uncompressed, unadulterated essence of our perceptions. Just like lizard on a warm rock in the sun… in these moments we are reminded that the world is infinitely more immense, luscious, and chaotic than the neat and tidy packages of information that we so often rely on to navigate our lives.
But just as having the uncompressed experience of petting a cat in Seoul requires a sacrifice most of us aren’t willing to make, the cost to pay for the raw, pure, corporeal sensation is speed and resource; there is simply too much data to process everything effectively. So we live out our lives in the only way that is bearable; trading depth for breadth, directing the torrent of raw sensation through the lens of compression into our every day experiences.
By observing our own emotions and thoughts, we can identify patterns that contribute to who we see ourselves as, our identity. Our personal histories, emotional reactions, and thought patterns come together to create a unique self that stands in contrast to the other. Just as compression allows us to make sense of and navigate the vast sea of sensory data that we encounter, our identity serves as a mental shortcut for understanding—and interacting with—the world.
As we navigate our lives, we continuously face encounters that shape and re-shape our identities. These experiences act as threads in the tapestry of our self, contributing to a unique and ever-expanding portrait of who we are. Through the compression of these experiences, we not only create a cohesive sense of self, but we also establish the foundation for building connections with the world around us. After all, our ability to place ourselves in relation to one another is based on our capacity to recognise and acknowledge the similarities and differences that define us.
Extrapolating this to its logical conclusion brings us to the notion that organisations themselves are a form of compression of a multitude of human experiences.
Any organisation is ultimately the “ideal” of the beliefs, values, and goals of its constituents; a compressed representation of the carnal sensations which trigger emotions to inspire thought woven into stories that make up a collective of individual identities… something I call brand. From this perspective organisations become more than just the sum of their parts—they transform into an identity in their own right, one that resonates with us on a deep emotional level and allows us define and express our own individuality.
As we progress through this book, we will explore the relationship between individual identity, branding, compression, and the foundation of sensation itself; contrast. We will go through the process of compressing sensation into a brand that provides the individual a tribe to belong to; and in doing so, show branding as a deeply human process that transcends the surface level to encompass the very essence of our shared experiences and collective aspirations.
So let’s begin…