You Could Be Outsourcing Your Brain to The Social Network. You Better Watch


You never really liked Facebook. But you signed on when all your friends opened accounts. Despite your privacy concerns, the alternatives are few. Leave it; you have lost a stream of networks.


In this era of social networking, we simply follow the path of least resistance. And it has been proven that in doing so, we lose a bit of our independence. We begin and end the day with checking emails. Our lives resolve around people that make up our social networks (and to a lesser extent, professional networks).

Unlike before, reaching your friends demands immediacy. Otherwise, why will someone provide GPS feeds of his movements to the world? The human networks have become more communal and increasingly our social networks influence us so much that we risk losing our independent ideologies.


The reality is that when a friend begins a conversation and finds it great, others in the networks just agree, most times. Your friend rates a blog post high, even without reading it, you also rate it high. A friend likes a video and nearly everyone in the network will follow thus.


From CNN to Facebook, I have noticed that the very first comments in any post influence the dialogue the most. Those early ones will decide the direction other subsequent commentators will follow. Though there are deviations, on average, the individual judgment is lost. We just follow the path of least resistance by not disagreeing with those in our networks.


There are many reasons we act that way. One, we want to retain that friendship and will work hard not to oppose our friends. Two, we never actually read the post; we just made a decision based on the comments of our friends who might have read the entire post. Three, the desire of least resistance and fear of being attacked by providing independent insights by our networks encouraged us to follow the popular opinion.


Unfortunately, irrespective of the reason under which we make comments, our digital identities are registered and to most people, we made the comments. That create a risk as in most cases we come back to notice that we misjudged. We suddenly noticed that our casual comments were wrong and very embarrassing to the issue under discussion.


In general, our personal independence on new ideas is under siege by social networks and Internet. We follow a lot and new insights are lacking because like buyer recommendations, we believe our social networks and follow their leads. There are both positive and negative consequences to this new aspect of human existence.


On the positive side, we can easily learn new things and some really good ideas can inspire and motivate us. When a friend shares a good idea on investing, the social network can help it go viral and it can benefit most that will follow, even without asking questions.


On the negative side, it can make us very dumb. The reality is that most people do not believe that the Internet is not edited and they believe everything they read or see on the web. When someone passes an idea, we rarely ask for facts. Take the PEW poll that 18% (24% from Time Magazine) of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the most important being his relationship with his ex-pastor. He was vilified for his pastor’s actions, yet he is still a Muslim. Before the Internet age, the network TVs would have edited out most of the issues that derail honest dialogue in political arenas. But with Internet, there is no editor and any idea can go viral.


When you watch some videos that have gone viral, nothing comes clearly on why they did. But on more observations, you can notice the social energy of networks. That brings the question of quality in media. Who truly cares? In most cases, it is not the quality that wins but social congregation. Provided that more people click a post, it has more chances of becoming more popular. And popularity is defined under the constructs of advertisement; more clicks, more money.


Personally, I will say that my article is popular if a university professor cites it, though few people have cared to read it. But in this age, it is not what matters. Popularity is simply the click rate and how it can be monetized for money.


As this dynamics emerge, firms must adapt to understand that man is inherently being changed by the social circle. Having a good advertising campaign need not focus on expensive ad, rather a focus on pushing the content to few choreographed people with larger networks and then task them to give positive reviews. As soon as they do that, others in the networks will follow thus and a viral ad is born.


Also, companies must understand that immediacy triumphs over quality. A website that is updated ten times in a day will be ranked more than one that has a higher quality (who decides?) but updated once a day. To avoid this challenge of the web algorithm, firms open visitor comments thereby increasing the level of activity.


Man is passing through a very transformative phase. Today, a student can post his homework on his Facebook account and his friends will provide answers. When he is asked to develop a class concept, he goes to Yahoo Answers and someone offers a free solution. We are increasingly outsourcing our minds to our networks. We depend less on facts today than we did a few decades back. Anything flows into the web and the world consumes. We can edit an encyclopedia (yes, Wikipedia) and reference it immediately. It does not seem to be a progressive evolution of the human species.


Author: Ndubuisi Ekekwe

Share this post

Post Comment