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Subliminal Messaging is a term I first heard approximately 15 years ago. It was explained to me by a graphic designer working in the advertising industry1 where this technique2 is very much en vogue. Its history3 stretches the entire last century and during my travels across different international airports, I realized just how much we’re actually exposed to it on a daily basis — whether we want it or not.
What’s “Subliminal” Messaging?
Subliminal messages are defined as signals below the absolute threshold level (ATL) of our conscious awareness which means that we cannot become consciously aware of subliminal stimuli even if we look for it. This purposely designed communication technique is aimed at generating a response, so that people will do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
In Mentalism4 for example, one of the key elements is subliminal communication, probably best portrayed in the TV Series “The Mentalist” and partially in the hollywood blockbuster “Now You See Me”:
Knowing the Unknown?
I don’t believe that the best defense is a good offense, but being helpless to “subliminal attacks” simply because we have a lack of understanding of how our minds work, to me isn’t acceptable. Therefore I think we need to learn more about the invisible art of persuasion and how thoughts enter and manipulate our world through our own subconscious.
We can do this by first understanding the subtle mechanisms of our psyche and subsequently training ourselves to spot the subliminal messaging tendencies of our modern mass media which are now powered by technological innovations and advancements in artificial intelligence5 that can provide highly personalized subliminal messaging experiences to the respective target audience and even individual recipients.
Subliminal Messaging comes in many ways. It’s not only about hidden messages or reinforced information on a single medium, it’s also important to understand how technology is used to track and push longer stories subliminally across different channels6.
For instance you may watch TV and see a certain ad and after a few minutes or hours, the same ad or a sequel thereof may appear on your social media feed. How is that possible?
Meet “Ultrasonic Beacons”
We all know the concept of “website cookies” which allow for our digital movements to be tracked across different websites, much like a fingerprint. Taking this to another level can be achieved by using “ultrasonic sound cookies”, i.e. pieces of sound included in a video (e.g. TV, Cinema etc.) or audio (radio, podcast etc.) clip which you can’t hear, but your cell phone could.
If you’ve given certain apps7 (browser, social media, chat apps etc.) microphone permissions, they can pick up on those subtle sound bites and use them to identify what you just saw or heard and subsequently pursue the messaging on a different medium or format.
To find out whether there are ultrasonic signals in your clips, there are different detection mechanisms8 which you can use, from software firewalls9 to hardware solutions, perhaps even a self-built detector for bats could work?10
Feedback Loops and Profile Building
Feeds on social media contain algorithms that are tracking your speed of movement, where you stop dragging, how long you pause etc. — all of which help to reinforce a better understanding of the effectiveness of a subliminal messaging campaign.
Perhaps you have noticed that when you scroll through an Instagram or TikTok feed and keep looking at e.g. recipes, more and more recipes appear on your feed. This isn’t by accident, but by design.
These “addictive” algorithms are carefully crafted to work in tandem with subliminal messaging techniques and can provide a feedback loop of your (non-) reactions and ultimately be used to create a detailed psychological profile.
Documentaries like The Social Dilemma illustrate how the manipulative algorithms and addictive design of social media helped bring us to this precarious situation:
In order to influence us through our subconscious, social or mass media isn’t even required. In humans, sensory resonances can be stimulated by subliminal atmospheric acoustic impulses11 tuned to the resonant frequency.
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