A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I don’t believe in coincidences. They are the transparent devices of CSI (in its many incarnations) and bad mystery novels. Over the years, I’ve found that when random acts are connected for no apparent reason, there’s usually a reason. That’s not to say that I think our lives are preplanned by three beautiful maidens casually spinning and snipping yarn. However, I do believe that there are way more patterns to life than we’re willing to admit. Coincidences are just those patterns boiling to the surface. Let me demonstrate.
In the last 24 hours, I’ve had three different techno conversations with three distinctly different people. (FYI, two of them were with people less cyber-savvy than me.) I did not initiate these conversations nor were they planned in any way. Yet, all three, although totally unrelated, somehow ended up scolding social media for discouraging dissidence and promoting groupthink and behaviour. No big deal, right? Social media is a popular topic, and these days, it’s catching the blame for everything from childhood obesity to the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi. However, think about it. What are the chances? Three unconnected conversations come up with a consensus — the straightjacket of groupthink — when that very consensus is an unwitting demonstration of groupthink itself. Irony, yes; coincidence, no — because here’s the hot fudge on that ice cream sundae. In each of the conversations, the person I was talking to (texting, in one case) used the term “hivemind.” I realize “hivemind” is a perfectly acceptable internetism, but again, what are the chances? Especially when two of the three conversationalists shouldn’t even know the word, let alone what it means. The laws of anti-chance simply don’t allow for this kind of randomness.
So if this isn’t just a coincidence (which it isn’t) what pattern are we seeing? The obvious one is that people are concerned that social media promotes groupthink or the “hivemind.” D’uh! Take a look! After you’ve been “awesome” and “amazing” on Facebook, the only other thing you can do is “Like” or “Share.” There’s no icon for “Bugger off!” The mere fact that people are mentioning “hivemind” in conversation tells us that, beyond the constant hype that social media is an eclectic gathering of all ideas — a virtual Classical Athens, if you will — there’s an uncomfortable awareness that this might not be strictly true. People are beginning to worry that our cyber-social world is actually just an assortment of techno rich primitive tribes. The concern is we are simply digital Cro-Magnons gathered around our backlit campfires with other members of our own group, who, by selection, share our values, opinions and ideas: no others need apply.
This is not a problem in itself. Generally, like our heavy-browed ancestors, we prefer the security of the clan. People have always been willing to adhere to the restrictive nature of a group (even a virtual one) in exchange for its safety. Unfortunately, the by product of this adherence is a suspension of our individual egos to conform to the socio-ego of the tribe. People are uneasy about this kind of subordination, even if they don’t fully understand it. That’s why it’s coming up in unrelated conversations.
It’s no coincidence that I was told by three different people, in rapid succession, that social media is not all it’s cracked up to be. Nor is it happenstance that they all agreed that the monolithic socio-ego of things like Facebook and Twitter are overpowering mere individuals. The problem is they all used the same terminology – “hivemind.” And that was no coincidence, either.