No 1595 Posted by fw, February 16, 2016
“On average, we check our smartphones 200 times a day – for emails, alerts, tweets or text messages. That’s before using any one of our phone’s multiple applications. It is a degree of connectivity to one another, and the world beyond, that is unparalleled. And it’s difficult to imagine life without it – to be so connected is to have access to instant knowledge, instant exchange, instant laughter and anger…. Nobody can handle the volume of data in 2016 without relying on ifeelings to come up with instantaneous responses, often triggered by how you see others reacting. There is less scope for deliberation and discussion – the pressure is to make a snap judgment and move on. I love this film, this article is deplorable/fantastic or politician X is a welcome breath of fresh air/duplicitous bastard.” —Will Hutton, The Guardian
British political economist, Will Hutton, worries about where the Web, with its instantaneous connectivity, is taking our understanding and the structure of the way we think. “Apparently”, he argues, “we are 10 times likelier to retweet an item that makes us angry than one that makes us happy. Thus the character of much social media – bullying, misogynist, negative.” He cites Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web in 1989, who deplores the negativity and bullying of much social media. And Martha Lane Fox, a tireless campaigner for better use of the net, reinforced his cry: “we need social media with heart.”
To see a sample of online stupidity and bullying at its worst, at the end of this post is a sample of readers’ comments copied from a fairly credible online news and information source. The article that prompted this outburst was about Obama’s criticism of Republican presidential candidates.
Below is a repost of Hutton’s article, featuring added subheadings. To read the original piece, click on the following linked title.
Volume of data prevents debate
As even Tim Berners-Lee has recognised, the volume of data with which we’re being bombarded prevents us from engaging in genuine debate
We have access to instant knowledge, instant exchange, instant laughter and anger.
On average, we check our smartphones 200 times a day – for emails, alerts, tweets or text messages. That’s before using any one of our phone’s multiple applications. It is a degree of connectivity to one another, and the world beyond, that is unparalleled. And it’s difficult to imagine life without it – to be so connected is to have access to instant knowledge, instant exchange, instant laughter and anger.
Where is instantaneous connectivity taking understanding and the structure of the way we think?
The darker side is where this connectivity is taking understanding and the very structure of the way we think. It’s not obvious that the good outweighs the bad. Instantaneity is the new god – instantaneity of presence, of communication and response. I know one highly paid CEO who will reply promptly to an email, although he must receive hundreds in any single hour.
No room for debate and argument because these are too time-consuming
On one level it is admirable – the access and responsiveness is extraordinary. But on another, it is worrying. What possible depth of thought can be associated with such fast replies? All there can be is the retelling of stock positions and relying on gut reactions. There can’t be challenge, debate and argument because these are time-consuming; at the very least, it will distract you from answering the bombardment of emails arriving every few minutes.
Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee deplores the negativity and bullying of much social media
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web in 1989, went out of his way recently, at the Sundance launch of the film ForEveryone.net, to deplore the negativity and bullying of much social media, with Twitter particularly in his sights. In a fast world without much thought, retweets in particular, he argued, have become a driver of anger. Apparently, we are 10 times likelier to retweet an item that makes us angry than one that makes us happy. Thus the character of much social media – bullying, misogynist, negative.
He has called for the reinvention of social media – social media with a heart, says Martha Lane Fox
Berners-Lee called for a reinvention of social media; he wanted platforms that were both open and configured better to express “constructive criticism and harmony”. The internet should be a force for good. Martha Lane Fox, tireless campaigner for better use of the net, reinforced his cry: we need social media with heart.
We are immersed in a fast world without much thought – a driver of anger
In a fast world without much thought, retweets in particular have become a driver of anger.
A constructive social media network would have to be much slower
It’s hard not to agree with both of them, but equally hard to imagine what such a constructive social media network with heart would look like. Above all, it would have to be much slower.
Our primitive brains relied on fast, irrational decision-making, vital for survival
In his bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman argued that the human mind is configured according to two basic systems. As we emerged as thinking primates, we had to rely on fast, instinctive, emotional reflex thinking, especially to handle danger; instincts were a way of staying alive. This he calls System 1 thinking. It may often make mistakes, be irrational and rely on the subconscious, but it allows for fast decision-making, vital for survival.
As the human brain evolved, cognitive processes slowed down, became more deliberative
System 2 thinking is slower and more deliberative. You marshal evidence, you exercise judgment, you discuss with others and you try to arrive at conclusions that will hold up. It is time-consuming, intellectual and hard. It would obviously be better if more decisions were subject to System 2 treatment, but in the hurly-burly of life it is just not possible.
We fall back on System 1, with all its inherent cognitive biases, to get through the day. We are over-optimistic, over-emotional, too readily influenced by the way a recent event has framed our thinking, too anxious to avert risk rather than seize opportunity for no other reason than this is where fast, intuitive System 1 thinking takes us. We simply have to rely on the intuitive to manage all the impulses hitting us.
With smartphones in hand, snap-judgment thinking has become the dominant mode of thought
With a smartphone in your hand, System 1 thinking becomes the dominant mode of thought. Nobody can handle the volume of data in 2016 without relying on ifeelings to come up with instantaneous responses, often triggered by how you see others reacting. There is less scope for deliberation and discussion – the pressure is to make a snap judgment and move on. I love this film, this article is deplorable/fantastic or politician X is a welcome breath of fresh air/duplicitous bastard.
One of the reasons there is so much misogyny on the web is that criticizing a woman’s looks and style is the default mode for too many men. There is no logical link between disapproving of the opinions of a woman and of her appearance, but System 1 thinking does not care.
In the main, the Web has made browsers of us all, driving us into a world of trivia and trigger-quick responses
Tim Berners-Lee and Martha Lane Fox are right: the internet is the greatest device for opening up the world ever devised. It is democratizing and enabling. But that assumes its users draw on it to aid System 2 thinking. Plainly, there are times when we use it to inform key decisions – to find out about an illness, to research a holiday, to track a scientific breakthrough. But in the main the web is for skating and browsing. We drift round YouTube or Facebook to be diverted by the idiosyncratic or unusual; it’s compulsive because of its endless capacity to divert us into a System 1 world of trivia and intuition.
It’s probably too late for transition to a heart-based social media network
Maybe Berners-Lee’s call will be heeded and someone will come up with a heart-based social media network, in which one of the basic protocols will be time to think, but it seems improbable and its success uncertain.
We are stuck with online conversations that are more emotional, more angry than we are in real life
For the moment, we are stuck with what we have – social and wider public conversations that are more emotional and more angry than we are in reality.
Political parties are pulled away from the centre to the extremes, not the best place to be for good governance
Both main political parties have been pulled away from the political centre in part by the volume of social media-based anger that fuels an extreme position. Corbynistas on the left and Eurosceptics on the right quickly find a social media resonance: fulminating about the useless, anti-democratic EU or the inadequacies of Tony Blair and his wars doesn’t require much thought and triggers an intuitive response. But at the same time, there is an understanding that the fast and emotional is not necessarily the right basis for good governance; for that, System 2 thinking is necessary.
Ironically, social media triviality may eventually teach us we need more time to think, to find a space to be serious
[UK PM David] Cameron has built his success on riding on the emotions of social media while presenting himself, whatever his faults, as the serious System 2 thinker that we know is needed. It’s a political – and communications – lesson worth pondering. Social media is changing the rules. Paradoxically, it is teaching us that we need more time to think – and space in which to be serious.
***** END OF ARTICLE *****
SAMPLE OF READERS’ COMMENTS (Made in response to article about Obama’s criticism of GOP presidential candidates)
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