Truth in Juxtaposition

Often, big thoughts emerge from small coincidences. Interesting thoughts blossom when fed by two divergent influences, the intersections.

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I saw a pair of Tweets back to back today, and they got me thinking.

Technology cannot replace people. You can’t have a relationship with a database.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Social media report: Twitter most effective for click-thrus, yielding 19.04 clicks vs. Facebook’s 2.87: http://ow.ly/2ScTWless than a minute ago via HootSuite

At first glance, Cam and Alexis (two amazing thinkers on my “People to have coffee with one day” list) seem to be at odds. But not really. Yes, one pines for the gentility and authenticity of actual personal connection – the other coldly notes a data point that drills to a level of absurd statistical precision.

But the truth is, that’s all of us in there.

Hemispheres

Our complexity is rooted in our brains, and the wonderful division of labor in our grey matter. It includes zones of specialty that are redundant and fluid, which allow us to not just process more than one thing at a time, but to be more than one thing at a time. You can be a Marine, or an improv comic, or both. You don’t have to choose.

Yeah. Hemispheres.

With multiple processing centers running in parallel, it’s normal for individuals to be divided on issues. “My heart tells me _______, but my brain tells me _______.” Often, there is no way to resolve this Gordian knot of logic and emotion, and we’re left with another choice: cognitive dissonance, or outright denial. Strict behaviorists, by the way, will tell you to ignore the expressed thoughts and feelings, and simply watch what people do. According to the Behaviorists, those who spend all day on Facebook complaining about how Facebook is the problem with society are a part of the problem.

Looking beyond the wiring of our brains, and into the network of our relationships, Facebook is being hailed for making another step toward the Search for Relevance. The new Groups feature is supposed to mimic the way we would map our acquaintances and friends, with several large “spheres of relation.” These Hemispheres sometimes overlap, and often don’t. My loops?

  • People I graduated high school with
  • People I went to college with
  • People I went to school with in Idaho
  • People I go to church with
  • People I used to go to church with
  • Marketers and communicators who share great ideas
  • People with interesting political beliefs
  • People I worked with in TV
  • People I worked with at Red Cross
  • People I work with now
  • People I know in Birmingham
  • People I studied Kung Fu with

…and the list could conceivably go on for a while longer. I am currently using Facebook’s list feature to curate all these Hemispheres, but only 1 in 20 accounts use this feature. Facebook Groups is supposed to be the answer to bringing “relevance by segmentation” to the masses. But it will not work as advertised.

Groups and Masses

Groups seem like great ad-hoc ways to divide your online experience, so you’re only sharing things that are relevant to the people in that circle. This might be wonderful, or it might be horribly disastrous.

Let’s say someone created a Group for my fantasy football league. 16 people, we keep it nice and private, and we’re able to trash talk as nasty as we’d like without being noise in other people’s streams. That would be an effective implementation — if indeed everyone were on Facebook. Private groups would be better if there were ways for non-Facebook users to subscribe by email.

Now let’s consider the public Groups with a wider interest. What do you suppose is going to happen when someone creates a Group called “Tea Party Rally?” Or a group called “Social Media for Realtors?” Or one called “Technology for Educators?”

I see much potential for abuse, spamming, hard-core marketing pitches, and sabotage.

I also see a lot of disenfranchised and disengaged people, who were at first attracted to the oncoming rush of great ideas and insights from people with similar interests, but in the end trailed away because they lacked something.

Connection.

Corpus Callosi of Networks

In the realm of personal relationships and networks, you are the Corpus Callosum, the part that unites the Hemispheres. You are the common denominator through which all those networks flow. You grab ideas from one, and take them into another. But in order to do that, you must first be connected to the Hemispheres!

I can already subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds of various topics, find ways to weave them together, and synthesize something new and interesting. I don’t need social networks for that. What makes the social networks “special” in that regard is that I know the people there, and they know me. In a large public Facebook Group, you’re looking at too many strangers with too many mixed motives, and you’re not looking at enough of your friends.

You can’t be a nexus for so many divergent things when you’re not truly connected to them.

Which brings us back to Cam and Alexis.

Cam, the ex-Marine, reaching out for something non-clinical and emotionally real.

Alexis, marketer-by-day, improv comedienne-by-night, who shares a nugget of truth from the depths of statistical nerdery.

Both prove in a short period of time that they are more than just the sum of their interests. They are the nexus of their interests. And in their happy juxtaposition within my timeline, they yield another truth, where *I* am the nexus:

“You can’t have a relationship with a database, but databases might yield useful information about our relationships.”

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Comments

  1. Two things you said really struck me:
    1. I  hope to someday be on your “people to have coffee with someday list.”  :-)
    2. “What makes social networks ‘special’ in that regard is that I know the people there, and they know me.”
    When I’ve tried to follow Twitter hashtags for things like the Superbowl or the Olympics, I quickly realized – I don’t want to know what the Twitterverse is saying about these things. I want to know what people I KNOW are saying about these things, and join their conversations. As you’ve implied, these groups, by design, don’t acknowledge the collective sum of our parts (interests).
    For now at least, the human brain remains more complex than machines.
    Very interesting perspective on all of this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kary, you are definitely on my “People I would want to have coffee with if they lived somewhere interesting” list.
      ;)

      (First latte is on me. If you can find me.)

  2. Any posts that manages to make a psychology joke referencing strict Behaviorists is going to be a highlight of my day.
    It also reminds me that, as data mining tools get increasingly more sophisticated, my value is going to be in keeping that data interesting and relevant.
    For example, as nifty as Facebook’s Insights dashboard is getting these days, I doubt it’s going to ever specifically call out to a brand “Guess what? More people are reading your Page in Pirate English than in Spanish.”  Which may or may not be relevant, but it certainly keeps things interesting…

  3. What I think is most interesting, though I don’t believe the new Facebook Groups feature gets at it, is when two people from different spheres of my life turn out to know each other through some third connection I was unaware of. So when I see a old college friend and a co-worker’s boyfriend tweeting to each other, and I realize there might be another connection there I didn’t know about. I am still waiting for an app that will efficiently (without me having to scroll through a lot of long lists of friends/connections) tell me about this. 

  4. I agree, in part, and dissent (perhaps) in part.  (It’s the lawyer in me, I can’t help it).I agree that we–humans–can hold competing ideas in our brains. And, as a general rule, we pick and choose between competing ideas from our personal networks or “spheres of relations.”My dissent is this: An increasing number of Americans are narrowing their “spheres of relations,” at least in terms of the diversity of their informational networks. Today, we have a cable network for every interest, multiple blogs to support any particular political philosophy, value or interest and “consultants”, “experts” and pundits who pontificate ad nauseum on the theory or crisis du jour.To deal with the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, many Americans simply tune out any idea or position that is inconsistent with a set of preconceived values and ideas.In short, we are losing the marketplace of ideas as it relates to the majority of Americans.There’s still a sizable percentage of folks who look for competing ideas and learn from a variety of thinkers, visionaries, pundits, journalists and friends-with whom they may, on surface, disagree. These are the people you are writing about.Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever to live in an echo-chamber where we never have to hear ideas that might challenge our particular worldview. Personally, i don’t want to live in that world. If nothing else, we come to cherish and believe most sincerely in those positions we are forced by necessity to defend (loosely paraphrasing Milton in Aeropagitica).In short: Today, it’s easier than ever to learn from the best and synthesize ideas from a multitude of sources. But it’s also easier than ever to build a cocoon that eliminates the need to ever be exposed to any idea that contradicts a preexisting worldview. It will be interesting to see which side wins out: The synthesizers or the cocooners.

    • We’re in total agreement, and I don’t know that there’s anything in my synthesis that invalidates our seemingly shared vision of those dangers.

      People deal with cognitive dissonance, for the most part, by whistling past the graveyard. Most don’t get to the level of conscious selection of sources.

      My take on the different spheres had more to do with things that are never in conflict: I have an interest in economics, Alabama football, physics, mathematics, marketing, crisis communications, and many other realms. In my experience, it is rare to have several common denominators in that many overlaps.

      I like the Synthesizer/Cocooner idea… to refine it, I guess you could define us by what we do with spun silk. Do we weave it with other strands coming from cross directions, or do we wind it around ourselves as a protective barrier?

  5. I like your refinement of the Synthesizer/Cocooner dichotomy–weaving in strands from many sources or using as a protective barrier. Maybe we can take that and build on it more. Interested?
    Although I think you and I are in agreement, I still think there is a sizable subset of the population that consciously selects sources. Or, more accurately to me, consciously ignores sources that present a competing worldview. But maybe I’m focusing too much on politics.
    Like your post–a lot. I’m a synthesizer and I love exploring ideas.

  6. This thought illuminates the post from Duncan Geere that 71% of tweets are ignored – http://bit.ly/dpHaE0 He goes on to define ignored as not being retweeted or replied to.
    But obviously, with an absurdly high click through rate, they aren’t being totally ignored.  So what can we infer from no responses or retweets but  high click through rate?
    That people are quite happy using Twitter as a means to receive broadcast messages.  How often do you reply to tweets in your timeline?

    • For that matter, most of my blog posts go uncommented. Yet I know that people read them.

      To say that they are “ignored” doesn’t reflect at all the silent assent many have.

      Maybe Geere wants us all to be more controversial, to get people fired up about firing back?

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