Is social media forcing human interaction to a higher level?


I’m one of the last people you’ll find on social media. Yeah, I have a Facebook account (who doesn’t?), but I’m rarely on it. Like any new form of communication that has come in the past, it brings with it some negatives, and a potential for positives.

Of the many negative things said about social media, some include, “Facebook destroys productivity”, “Twitter shares too much”, “Youtube is a waste of time”. And the few good things mentioned about them are usually about how much exposure it allows. It’s a godsend for advertising and media. It’s the perfect way for businesses to access a billion eyes, focused on their phones and laptops.

But it also brings a different challenge. A challenge that, if overcome, would escalate human interaction to a higher level. The challenge of calibration.

So what’s calibration?

Calibration is the skill to get the “Goldilocks effect”. Not too hot, not too cold, but juuusstttt right. You want to share not too much, and not too little, but just enough. You want to share the right kinds of information on this new media. You want to be the Goldilocks of social media.

Calibration is an ability, but an ability that only comes into play when something has grown enough to have layers and layers of complexity. It’s often the final step that comes before complete mastery of a skill.

  1. Learning. You first learn how to use a skill.
  2. Training. Then you train and develop your basics until they’re strong enough.
  3. Combining. Then you start combining those basics to start doing more and more complex moves until you’re really good at them.
  4. Calibrating. Then you understand when to use those skills, not just how to use them.

Human interaction and communication is much the same. We learn many ways of communication, including speech, writing letters, passing verbal messages through friends (e.g. sending your regards), and calling on the phone. That’s already a whole lot of ways to communicate that you have to learn and keep track of.

Calibrating is about getting the “Goldilocks effect”. Not too hot, not too cold, but juuusstttt right.

More recently, new ways have been introduced including sending SMS’s, sending emails, sending Whatsapp’s, poking on Facebook, liking comments, liking Instagram photos, leaving comments on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / LinkedIn / Google+, sharing websites/articles, blogging, vlogging (recording YouTube videos), etc. There are too many ways to list out, though they generally stem from the concept of social media.

What does it mean to have so many ways to communicate?

It means that in the past, when we wanted to say sorry to hear about a tragic event, or to say congratulations on a happy one, there were only a few ways to do so, and it was clear which methods were acceptable and which were not. Important things? Say them face-to-face. Live far away? Send a letter or call. Email? No. Just no. Unless it’s a business dealing. Even then, it’s better to follow up with a personal meeting for the final step.

Now, with the influx of new communication methods, we’re lost as to how to respond when an event takes place. If you “like” a comment on Facebook for a happy occasion like a wedding, is that enough of a congrats to the happy couple? If you say sorry to hear about a sad event through Whatsapp, is that enough? Do you share personal family stories on YouTube?

We have to relearn which methods are acceptable to communicate at which times.

We’ve learnt ways to communicate using speech and writing. We’ve trained with them since a young age and ideally our family and community has given us the training to appropriately combine their use in daily life. Previous generations had already calibrated on which methods were acceptable at what times.

This new generation is still learning. Still trying out new ways of combining these communication methods. We’re still calibrating our use of social media. That’s why there was such a huge backlash. Some people were forging ahead too far, while others cut themselves off the Internet completely, because everyone was still trying to calibrate and reach the “Goldilocks point”.

Humanity might not be ready to adopt so many new methods of communication

Technology is trying to force humanity to evolve as a group to communicate better. The very existence of more options can be a good thing in and of itself, simply because we can then choose the best tool suited for the job. Unfortunately, it appears that the way humans are designed, we’re not ready yet for such an evolution.

Analysis paralysis

Too many options will paralyze you. Barry Schwartz, in his book “The Paradox of Choice”, argues that when you have too many options, you start to over-analyze each of the, trying to find the best option. When you have 2 options that’s kinda alright. Should I meet them face-to-face or just call? Easy choice usually. Even then you can make mistakes.

But what if you had 10 options? Or 50? Do I call? Or text? Or send a Facebook PM (Private Message), or Twitter PM, or LinkedIn PM, or contact them on Whatsapp, or LINE, or Skype, or Google Duo, or Facetime, or comment on their wall, or or or or or….

In some situations it’s still easy to choose, but what if you just want to say hi? Or ask a question or a favour? How do you decide which way to interact with them? Eeny meeny miny moe…

So will social media die?

No, it won’t. We’ll just learn to adapt and calibrate our communications. We won’t adapt to all the types of social media. Instead of learning them all, we’ll fight against analysis paralysis by reducing our options.

We’re already trying to do that. You’ll find that nobody uses all the websites (not unless they’re manager of social media marketing or something along those lines). People will stick to a few that they and their family usually use. Me? Just Facebook every once in a while. Twitter is practically abandoned. So just the one Facebook for me. Others may prefer Twitter, or Instagram or LinkedIn or Google+ (or etc).

As time goes by, we as a society will adapt on what is suitable to be shared on which platforms.

But I’m actually fascinated by a less noticed side-effect of social media. What might be more interesting is how social media affects our groupthink.

Groupthink and the Filter Bubble

Eli Parisier is the CEO of Upworthy that does viral content. He noticed that Google and other search engines tailor their search results to fit what you like. What this means is that you get less and less exposure to different views and are stuck being served news that you already agree with. Basically, you become dumber because you are only exposed to one point of view (and one that you already agree with). He wrote a book on this in 2011 called “The Filter Bubble”.

But let’s go back a step. Aren’t we filtering ourselves in social media? We add people to our friends list who already think like us and are part of our community (which is fine). We cut out methods of social media that we aren’t comfortable with (hmmm… starting to sound troubling, but still fine). Then we proceed to get all our news from people on our friends list who share the news they deem important. All our news. Uh-oh.


Yes, that needed to be repeated because of how troublesome it sounds. It’s particularly scary because when it’s your friends who are sharing it, you believe it much more quickly (without checking facts). You spread it and share it much more quickly too.

And it goes viral and people (including you) start believing it that much more quickly because everyone in your “bubble” is saying the same thing. And no (or very little) news leaks in from outside your bubble to counteract any of these views, whether true or false.

Our individual-think quickly becomes compromised and becomes groupthink.

Because of social media, our method of getting information needs to evolve as well. After all, communication is always a two-way street. So we not only need to calbrate and master how we give information on social media, we also need to calibrate how we receive it from social media.

We need to learn both how to share information on social media, as well as how to receive it.

But humanity will learn…

But we’ll slowly learn. We’ll calibrate.

When books were first made and printed, the method was hard and expensive, so only the most important things were put out. So we believed anything that was written. When newspapers first came out in the 17th century or so, it was also expensive to make and disseminate, and so we believed it all too. Because something so hard to do must be true right? It’s only now, after a few hundred years, that people are questioning whether what the media says is always true. Even then we usually believe it anyway.

TV news came out a few decades ago and people still generally believe everything from that.

It’s only now, after a few hundred years, that people are questioning whether what the media says is always true.

And now we have social media news. So easy to spread that very little time is used to verify it. I can’t believe the number of times that people spread news from a satirical fake news site and everybody believed it. And I mean everybody, including major news websites also posting and sharing it. If we, as a society, can get through this and learn to question the credibility of the news in our bubble, we will evolve to a better society.

We will grow more logical, able to understand what makes a story true and what doesn’t. We will grow to be tolerant, looking for all sides of a story before passing judgement. We will grow more critical, looking for as much evidence as possible and judging which evidence is important and which is not. And we will grow kinder and more compassionate, because we have heard the stories that led up to whatever tragedy we are investigating.

And if we can grow kinder, we will have evolved.

But perhaps, just perhaps, it might take a few hundred years…


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