More Than Our (Social) Network

Our social world is our network. Always has been. “Tribal” was a kind of network, and it still is. Rolodex was a kind of network, and no longer is. It has been replaced by digital integrations. 

We still have Tribes but in some cases they have reshaped around whatever creates the most “engagement”, as measured by profit from those providing the algorithms to ‘show us what we want’. 

It was never supposed be the case.  While I don’t believe that it was ever unbiased, at one time the masses listened to the same voices at the national level, and at the local level, voices representing their region. That is now broken for many. In part due to unavailability of truly ‘local’ news, and in part due to the faction-oriented (think cnn, fox) spin introduced by the replacements.  So we’re all hearing a different message, one that resonates with us and those who ‘think like us’. 

Is it any surprise that the systems that ‘give us what we want’ match us up with people who ‘think like us’?

The dangers of “group think” are well documented. Though if you use that link I can’t guarantee what you’ll see, because what you’ll see is biased to what it thinks you want, unless you are in “private mode” and in a region similar to where this is being typed.

So how do we get away from group think? I’d say stop reading social media, but that is just part of it. I’d say stop watching your mobile news feed (be it google news, apple news, or pretty much anything else!) but that is just part of it.  I’d say stop watching the TV news…but that’s is just part of it.

All of the options I listed, that most of us are consuming, are financed by biased opinions, either for or against certain key political issues. In other words, the richest finding ways through sprawling unbelievable influence chains to put their ideas in our heads – or stop ideas from coming to us.

Or maybe you are the big social media user “I get my news through Facebook” type. That’s even more filtered, still highly influenced by ad dollars but also fine tuned to the things that inflame you because anger is the strongest attractor and retainer of the user. That’s what the ad buyers like.

You know what is missing? What can’t be bought? Honest, critical thought in conversation. Heated? Sure. Angry? Sometimes. It is unfortunate that so many of us, this author included, dislike having conversations about political things and the like. Perhaps this is why it is generally seen as impolite to discuss in all but the smallest of gatherings. Or the largest such as rallies of already-like-minded constituents.

Of course we ARE more than our social network. Yet I fear our social network is “just enough” for us to feel the barest need for connection has been met!  Too often we’d rather not work harder and have larger social interactions. It takes guts and faith to be an activist.  It takes guts, grit, vision and confidence to be a concerned citizen willing to sit and listen to the merits, not the emotions of arguments; to decide and follow through on action.  This level of nuance is nearly always lost in social media posts and feeds.

“The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. …  How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”

Autobiographical dictation, 2 December 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2 (University of California Press, 2013)