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Ze Frank is manipulating our lizard brains

I’ve been reading The Media Equation, by Stanford’s Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves. A quick read and yet I’ve been struck by how quickly I changed my mind about its main thesis.

The basic premise is that people treat computers like people – since we have old brains and in the past, everything that seemed real, was real. We are hard-wired to react (prior to thinking about it) that what we’re seeing is real and so, we have physiological and psychological reactions to media that mirror our reactions to other people.

Consciously, we know the representations of what’s in front of us are not real, but we do not react as such – most of the time. We feel connected to media in the same automatic ways we feel connected to the real world. Our old brains, our lizard brains, have not caught up with new technology.

This work was originally published in 1996 and was fairly controversial. Since then, the thoroughness and overwhelming consistency of the research has grown a healthy following and body of related research in the field of Human Computer Interaction.

I would like to posit that Ze Frank has read this book. I would like to further posit that Ze Frank is genius and he has taken Chapter 3 and made it his own during his work on The Show.

The Show

Chapter 3 of The Media Equation works through a series of experiments where people are shown a series of shots from different distances and at different sizes – all of the human head/body. The participants were questioned afterwards and the faces that had the most impact on the viewers were the ones with screen-filling faces and that seemed ‘closer’ to the viewer, those with the least interpersonal distance.

This matches directly with prior social science data whereby we interact more deeply and remember better those people who are physically close to us. It’s how we’ve developed over a few hundred thousand years. Only this time, it was representations of people, not real people.

Ze has taken this to the extreme with his screen-filling shots from his chin to just above his eyebrows. His entire head does not fit within the screen. This extremely close crop forces the viewer to pay attention to everything Ze has to say and not be distracted by anything else in the shot.

I would guess this magnifies his audience’s feelings about his topic for the day. The viewers feel a closer connection to Ze than if he had decided to shoot The Show from a few inches farther out. Ze has used Reeves and Nash to his advantage, and leveraged his understanding of (viral) media to boost his show’s popularity. We feel a connection to Ze that we do not feel with other broadcast personalities.

Lizards like Ze.

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