Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Interconnectedness and the Contagion

Just after I posted an entry about interconnectedness, and just a day after I added some social networking widgets to this blog, I serendipitously came across this aptly-titled article on one of my favorite thinky sites, Edge.org: SOCIAL NETWORKS ARE LIKE THE EYE.
It seems like a weird coincidence that I would see this article after I wrote about 'interconnectedness', but then again, everybody may be noticing the same thing: The world is getting smaller. With the proliferation of social networking tools like friendster, myspace, delicious, facebook, linkedIn, multiply, mybloglog, digg and so on, they actually extend the networking capability of each individual. This simple fact has now dawned on us. We are in a powerful new social era of networks.
We all know how the individual is empowered by social networking, but we overlooked how social networks can overpower the individual.
The example cited about this so-called 'social contagion' that spreads to the members of networks is quite visceral: Obesity. And it can spread through social networks!
The article also talked about the property of networks as ever-changing and mentions about their dynamics and topology, as well as the contagion's flow through the network.
Here are some important snippets from that article:

"..things happening in a social space beyond your vision — events that occur or choices that are made by people you don't know — can cascade in a conscious or subconscious way through a network and affect you."

"{The} norm. It is a kind of meme (but it is not quite a meme) that goes from person to person."

And so I pose a two-fold question to members of a network, "What are you spreading to the network?" and "What are you learning from your network?"
I have been wary of the meme eversince the day I learned about it, but now I realized that there is even a more dangerous thing - the norm and the network. If left unchecked and unfiltered, these things could morph me into something I dont intend to be. So if social networks are like the eye, then it deserves vigilance to guard it as the gateway of the mind and body. A metaphor from an ancient book rings true, "The eye is the lamp of the body." (Matthew 6:22)
To conclude this post as it seems like a sequel to my previous one,
We are all interconnected, one individual can spread a 'contagion' or a meme. Yet, looking at it the other way around, the 'norm', which comes from the network, could infect the individual. The "norm" could be artificially created by a network, and a member of that network would be affected by the false norm, consciously or subconsciously. The dark side of the social internet is that its also truly like a spider's web - a sticky invisible trap.
It's been said that the network is the computer. Could it be also true that, the network is the contagion?
The timeless warning stays true: Just because everybody's doing it, doesn't mean you should do it too. It pays to constantly seek the truth. And to know the real true values in life.
Know your true self apart from the influences of this world. Know your heart. Then turn that 'filter' on (and clean it, as you would on any other filter). You have a mind and intellect to discern what is true and what is right. And most of all, you have a choice on what you 'feed' yourself. The pun rings true in our age of RSS - "Choose your feeds wisely".
As we march onwards to the era of social networks, with all the fun it brings to everyone online, there still needs to be a warning to check the contagions running to and fro our network:
"Networks, be careful of the individual. Individuals, be careful of the network."
I shall end with an old cliche, not in a judgemental context but as a caution against the contagion, specially in today's social networks where "friendship" is just a click away.
"Show me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are."

1 comment:

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