“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Isaac Newton
In a world of the new web we have never been this connected. The farthest nodes of our social networks have never been this close. In a world where everything has become at arm’s reach, where all our acquaintances are a phone call, a text message, a tweet away… we have never been this disconnected. I’m not being a better-never and I’m not blaming it on the technology. I believe we are the ones using the tools the wrong way. A fool with a tool makes a more empowered fool and thus a worse one. I’m merely voicing out some thoughts I’ve been rummaging lately and I’d love to discuss this further in the comment section if you’re interested.
When friends become our main source of information
Our social network is turning into our main source of information. Scoble often boasts about how his Twitter timeline has come to replace his RSS streamline. While the latter can be a rather objective source (assuming it’s diversified enough to gather different points of view) the first is more susceptible to subjectivity. Whereas we used to mine the information from soi-disant its source, we now get it second handed, digested, reassembled by our social network and presented to us with a thick layer of our friends’ opinions.
I’m aware that even while making our opinions based on blogs, books, newspapers or TV channels, we are to fall for a reductive conception of the world. But the lines are not that much blurry. If I solely watch Fox News, God forbids, tagging me wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Now if my like-minded friends and I are the core of your social network, for any reason other than our “sensible” positions of the world’s issues, you are to become a Fox-News-paradigm-adherent without even being conscious about it. You are getting so drowned in a deluge of consenting opinions that you would subconsciously end up thinking: If everyone thinks so then it must be true (Let us not get into the insurmountable wrongness of such assumption, we however can’t deny it’s a common trap we fall for). We have become the window through which you see the world, and that window is small, limiting and colored (the politically correct for stained). The issue isn’t our capacity of bias, which is somewhat high if you think about it, the issue is rather our non-awareness of being biased.
Here is a quick fix you might say: “I can add up some sane dose of opposite poles here and there to my social network and Problem solved!” It’s easier said than done. The main issue is its being counterintuitive. While building our social network, the most solid connections are those with people who resemble us. And according to the Strong Triadic Closure property, if the node has strong ties to two neighbors, then these neighbors must have a tie between them. This translates into more connections to like-minded people. Breaking such mechanism takes much more effort than most of us care to deploy. So, we end up with chunks of the network, tightly knitted more or less biased sub-networks that are almost oblivious to the world outside, Autistic networks.
So I’ve been really thinking, how do we fix this? How can we lead our social networks and thus ourselves out of our autism? Here is my humble attempt at finding answers.
1) Reaching out to networks outside our social circle might be a first step into becoming aware of positions different from our own. I have experienced this firsthand last year and realized how little I knew about the Arabic Blogosphere and how much of good content I was missing out on.
2) We need to stop preaching openness and really start communicating (as in listening first). Social Media offer us a stage to voice out our opinions easily and freely (in most cases), but it is often used in a self-centered kind of way. Engaging into meaningful constructive conversations should be one of our main concerns.
3) We need to accept our differences, get out there, embrace fresh perspectives and learn to appreciate an idea for itself and not for the person voicing it.