Hubs, Hives, and the Paradox of Social Innovation

Any place or program designed to foster connections between people can facilitate the formation of an exclusionary bubble. This is one of the curious paradoxes of intentional communities. A socially ‘sticky’ group runs the risk of becoming a victim of its success. When we humans meaningfully connect with one another, we tend to congeal. We tribalize and clubify. As a result, even our best-intentioned efforts to create places for human relationships can seamlessly morph into socially impenetrable fortresses of their own.

Sure, in theory, we love the idea of clique crushing, silo squishing, and bubble bursting places where we can find common cause with one another. But once we have identified our allies and compatriots, and settled down to work together, it is far easier to batten down the hatches than to practice an open door policy indefinitely. Out-groups are guaranteed, unavoidable byproducts of social cohesion.

Sociologically speaking, cliques are a normal part of human social behaviour. But the critical question for today’s waves of ‘social innovation’ communities to address is: who is specifically marginalized or excluded in the process of establishing collectives that purport to exist for the broader social good?

Humans have needs that can make only be met by membership in an ‘us’ — which inherently requires there to be a ‘them’ out there somewhere. The question is not, ‘Is anyone structurally marginalized or excluded by our community?’ but ‘Who is structurally marginalized and excluded from our community?’ The challenge for every would-be hub of social good and connectivity is to figure out how to become more like a public library and less like a golf club.

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We are known by what we know

What do religions, comic books, fashion, politics, entertainment, academics, and sports all have in common?

They are shared. They are the platforms and lexicons of our conversations. They are ways of knowing and being known.

The sports commentator and the preacher offer interpretation. The foreign policy expert, the talking head, and the opinion-maker — they are all like the weather we live in: they provide the prompts, cues, and insights to narrate our discourse. The exploits of the hero and the controversies of the politician shape the substrate of our informal conversations.

What do religions, comic books, politics, entertainment, academics, and sports all have in common? They are languages. They are the domains where we achieve rank and status. They give us ways to know each other, opportunities to predict the future together, spaces to analyze the world collectively, and opportunities to demonstrate our expertise to one another.

They allow us to be known by what we know.

What do religions, comic books, fashion, politics, entertainment, academics, and sports all have in common? They provide the ground for what it means for a group of us to define ourselves as ‘us.’ It’s not they are all the same thing — but they all share something in common.

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Rehumanizing Twitter?

I tried an experiment on Twitter last week:

Set @tweetbot filter to remove links, media, retweets, quotes, and auto-posting clients [i.e. IFTTT, Buffer, Hootsuite] from timeline. Feels like old @Twitter — human again.

By ‘human’ I mean: all that remains is conversation; people talking to each other…not so much selling, promoting, positioning stuff.

Zapping the automaton, self-promotive stuff, and graphic eye candy out of the feed does a lot to refocus attention on human interaction.

“It’s frustrating watching yet another promising platform disintegrate on its own doing,” @EliotLandrum said.

Which made me think, “Twitter’s redemption might be that it still allows the deep customization of the experience through third party apps… But I don’t think it can attract new users to the same highly relational space that it originally spawned when it was only text and people.”

The end of user growth spells deep problems for platform sustainability.

The problem with social media right now? It is no longer principally designed for socializing, but for commercializing.

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