Public Perception, Reality, and Narratives Part 2.


Part 1: Perception, Reality And Narratives

In the first lesson on Symbology and Semantic analysis, we looked at the opening minute of one of the last  pure “propaganda”  films produced by the government. Before we move on, consider what I just wrote.

Do words like “propaganda” make you uncomfortable?

Why? Because this is a weighted word. We have been taught that “propaganda” has a negative connotation. Here in America, the contextual frame for that word includes “communist”, “dictators”, “false”, “oppression”, and more.

But take a look at the ORIGINAL DEFINITION, ACCORDING TO OXFORD. It comes from the Latin, and simply means propagation/propagate in the verb form. You might chuckle when you see the original common usage :-).

To Spread Or Disseminate. To Breed. To Transmit Through a Medium. And in this case, the word is in quotations to inform you that it is a weighted term being used as a descriptor–so should either be taken in its original meaning (typically from the Latin), or disregarded when analyzing. *Observation*, must come from as neutral a perspective as possible. Just as any scientist must view their experiment objectively, and not allow their personal bias to color the interpretation of the result, someone analyzing a project must do the same.

But on to this first look at how powerful contextual framing can be. Here is a picture, Image courtesy of Goldy at


The only context we have is a raised right index finger, apparently male, light blue button down shirt, black background. If you asked 1000 random people to write a caption for this picture, you could, conceivably, end up with 1000 entirely different perspectives, and hundreds of different perception frames.

A *Perspective* would be what the picture means. What is this saying?  A Perception frame gives you clues as to how the subject internalized it. How did the subject “own” this? What does it say about their psychological viewpoint? So in this case, one person might caption this:

“Hey! Coffee Lady! The Usual!”  This gives us a Perspective of ordering something or asking, a “signal”. It gives us little Perception about the subject, other than the fact they are a probable coffee drinker and a creature of habit.

IF we include the finger as a quantity, we can also assume that this subject has in the past ordered “the usual” for more than one person–though this probability would be regarded as highly questionable, unless we had other information on the subject to support it.

Another Caption might be ” Teacher, I really need to gooo…” This gives us a Perspective of a notification coupled to a fairly urgent request–that is passive/agressive. The Perception in this case is very interesting. This person would likely be a male subordinate, in a highly controlled environment, that is expressing a level of irritation/resentment and likely feels unappreciated, if they are an American.

This particular perception is based on the standard cultural profile for America, as in most adult  work environments where a shirt like this would be worn, the subject would just get up and quietly leave without asking permission. Even in highly regulated work environments like call centers, you wouldn’t see this type of rigidity when informing a floor manager, for instance, that you needed to get up. You wouldn’t typically see a caption using this “childish” semantic structure, either.

Given the choice of words,  we have to take the infamous finger into account, also.

The finger, when coupled with the deliberate language choice, shows the subject is  expressing his resentment in a passive/aggressive fashion, as in elementary schools in certain regions of the country some decades ago, the student would signal the need to go to the bathroom by holding up either a #1, or a #2, so the teacher would know how long they would be gone.

If we were deconstructing a group of captions submitted by a large company for analysis, and had been asked to scale the captions to find potential thieves or saboteurs, this subject would get tagged.

He is probably a cubicle inhabitant who is feeling  resentful. He/she (though the odds this is a woman are quite small, as women don’t typically express their resentment in “potty terms”) has probably been written up more than once for things that are against policy that they consider to be “stupid”. The odds are high this subject’s write-ups were break related, and the latest one would have warned of possible suspension or other wage related punitive measures.

And yep–this is the guy who stole the stapler ;-).

Context is everything. A context free picture for captioning would be the simple outline of the hand in this picture, on a white background. This would allow for the best analysis of the captions, as the subject would be providing ALL of the context. This particular project was aimed at a particular subject group–employees in a service business.

The Back Story Behind This Example…

Some time ago in a telephone survey company in middle America, HR felt that too many employees were just logging off their phones to take bathroom breaks, and decided  to require employees to raise their hand when they needed a 3 minute break. They assumed this would cut down on people taking unnecessary breaks, as the employee would be publicly telling everyone they had to go to the bathroom. The time they chose was based on the size of the call center floor, locations of restrooms, and the average time employees were logging off. They were also experiencing an uptick in petty theft of supplies.

So, they ordered a project that would do two things–get the employees’ perceptions of the new rule, and also reveal the likely supply thieves. They then posted the project in the break rooms, in the company newsletter, and on their internal email/social network system, in the form of a “fun contest”, with minor prizes to be awarded for the “best” captions.

The context of the project was designed to encourage maximum engagement from the employees, but beyond that, the number of captions submitted by each employee can be used as an indicator of employee dissatisfaction. A happy, engaged employee might submit more than one caption, but when all the captions that employee submits are considered as a group, we can determine they are just an enthusiastic team player. And UNHAPPY employee on the other hand, might also submit more than one caption–but they would as a group show the employee was unhappy.

The resulting analysis indicated that they had far more disgruntled employees than they thought, that the new rule was actually causing a measurable backlash effect that increased the loss of work time to bathroom breaks, and correctly identified over a dozen thieves.

They ditched the rule–and the thieves.

Next, We’ll look at how the objective of a project determines the level of context and type of context included, and the importance of framing a project that allows for high internalization when dealing with mass perception management.





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