Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Social Baitwork



It was the time I just completed college and at home for last 2 months and preparing to leave for the job to the another end of the country.

My desktop was sold off, too old. I couldn't carry my laptop either. My parents are going to be using it. Good for them. Finally, they will have a computer to fiddle with whenever they feel like, I won't be occupying it anymore.

In my enthusiasm to get them habituated with what all the nitty-gritties possible in that time I started introducing to multiple social media channels. It was more motivated by the fact that the never ending flow of contents will keep them hooked to internet, or at least will keep them interested enough so they won't dump the PC and go back to age of postcards.

I got them the first mail accounts and ran a few demos of those. Then obviously came our eternal source of knowledge and wonder  YouTube. And then Quora. Yes, I wanted them to stay on the better learned side of the internet. But little did I realize that all my intentions are going to be undone by my one mistake every over-enthusiastic person has ever done, stepping over the safety line. I got them a free ticket to magic land where trolls reign like there's no tomorrow  Facebook.


I was used to getting different form of queries from them about all sort of odd details previously. But once they got the hang of Facebook, it all turned different. Earlier most of the queries used to be about the technicalities of using a website, like how to find more appropriate content or maybe how to save them. Now, it’s centered only around one product, Facebook and the details are less of any technicalities, more about the particular features of the platform that validates their choices — the instant gratification story all over again.

I never thought about it like this. Turns out our tendency to be validated by others is quite powerful. Also we became social around some natural inhibition factors that controls us from overdosing on our social behaviors/activity and now that is pretty difficult to model reasonably when your product is based on the idea of removing the inhibition at the first place. Thus, there goes the over-social populace of today.

Initially my conception on social media was that teenagers overreact in it. I often did when I was one. My friends took it to some other spectacular level, some to a level where no amount of face-palms were enough. But my expectation was I would see more matured behavior from the people older than me, my parents' generation. I assumed they know their way around humans from the fact that they have more experience around them.

Interestingly enough, it turned out to be more of a function of time than anything else. People who were the first group to join the networks were my age group. They overreacted there for like 10-12 years before life dawned on them. There were two factors, they were getting more used to meeting humans, as a function of age. And their mentality calibrated itself to work around the current low friction communication medium.

When I introduced my parents to Facebook I had the opportunity of noticing the nuances once again from their behaviour, under a similar condition like that of my friends. This gave a clearer idea of what impacts our behaviour.

Most people hesitate meeting new people and talking to them for the first time. But this barrier is removed online. So they seem to approach people in a manner which might seem over-enthusiastic for you, if you're not habituated doing it online regularly. We get a certain subconscious feed back from the other party in a conversation, we call it body language. This was useful in letting us know know what kind of response we might expect. Someone seemed uninterested in communication, most will not approach the person at the first place.

Our mind has calibrated itself in such a manner to save itself from handling the social rejection. Now this body language is absent online, we tend to approach people without having any clue about their attitude or preconception towards us. Thus people tend to get a overwhelming stimuli of negative emotion when the "Hi" on messenger goes ignored.

Now this all makes so much sense when I think back about the news of children committing suicides or going into depression over social media interactions. I used to think these are the folly of themselves, that they got involved so much into these superficial ecosystem. But the fact is quite far from these. By no choice of them they were born into a time when they have these products at disposal, but nobody to warn them about what to expect from it. Thus their natural function misfire and the result is classic cases of overshoot-and-collapse.

Obviously this will get fixed over time. People will learn to live and work their way around such products. And our brain will learn to actuate it's reaction for such stimuli, until something similar again disrupts the system. But until then so many people would be affected by it in various manner and we will see this impacting increasingly significant part our personalities.

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