Edo the Reliable

Curb Your Utopias

In Social Networks on June 29, 2011 at 7:41 am

“Social networking ‘utopia’ isn’t coming” is the title of a post by Chris Taylor, Mashable San Francisco bureau chief, written especially for CNN.

Taylor doubts the visibly glowing future represented in Facebook’s global spread map, and suggests that regardless of the light fantastic rushing across network lines, there are hardwired limitations to social networks:

Turns out we’re hardwired to get along best in tight groups of no more than 150, and have been since we were living on the African savannah. Armies take advantage of this hardwiring, as do the smartest corporations, not to mention wedding planners.

The Dunbar number is certainly going places. It’s just 6 months since Dunbar’s NYC op-ed. Exactly a year ago, in May 2010, I wrote about the significance of the Dunbar number for social networks in The Product Guy blog:

Is Facebook stretching the cognitive boundaries of friend management?

Perhaps the current decline in social mood has opened us to thoughts about smaller, more closed gardens. Perhaps, after MySpace is sold for about 5% of its 2005 valuation, we’ll let go of utopias based on the wisdom of crowds, and as Taylor notes, concentrate on the wisdom of our smaller, chosen tribes, our stronger connections:

Instead of being lumped with the village we happened to be born in, as happened for most of history, we each get to construct a virtual village that suits us — cobbled together from family, old friends, our best co-workers and mentors, and that like-minded spirit you met on vacation one time.

Maybe. One lesson I would like to take from the demise of the “crowd wisdom” utopia is that the point is in following, supporting, not replacing, what we happened to be born into for the most of our neurological history. Great work could be done – when we learn more about our social nature and accept our limitations.


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