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A “germ theory of disease” for ideas?

by Greg Krehbiel on 20 November 2017

Here’s a cheery thought for your Monday morning.

Early towns were great places for germs to wipe out a lot of people in a short period of time. Humans weren’t prepared for it. We brought lots of people and animals together into a small place, and didn’t have any idea how diseases spread or where they came from. We didn’t have the immunities we needed, and we were generally not that healthy. Calamity often ensued.

Today, we don’t know how ideas spread, but we’re gathering people together in a new way, somewhat analogous to the old towns. Could social media be the launching point for bad ideas in the same way that early towns were the launching point for diseases?

The “bad ideas” I’m talking about aren’t simply bad economic or social ideas, or even things you can articulate. They could be attitudes or a feeling you’re picking up without knowing it. Recent studies have suggested strange correlations between social media use and psychological problems, or even suicide.

Humans aren’t (yet) adapted to this kind of interaction. Our minds may not be ready for this in the same way our bodies, social habits and immune systems weren’t ready for towns.

Then again, maybe it’s not a big deal, and it will all be replaced by something else in ten years anyway.

I’m not saying bad things will happen — other than amusing stuff, like people walking into telephone poles with their faces glued to a device that makes a telephone pole obsolete. But I am saying we shouldn’t assume we know what we’re getting into.

“Hey, what could be wrong with a town?”

See Social media threat: People learned to survive disease, we can handle Twitter

2017-11-20  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 7

  1. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    20 November 2017 @ 10:06 am

    Many people believe that the majority of our communication is nonverbal. People roll their eyes, smile or frown, nod their heads, Etc.

    This can be observed with little children. When they see something new, they will sometimes get close to it and then look to an adult for a reaction, maybe smiling and nodding, maybe shaking their head no and having a different expression.

    And so I say that whatever resistance we have traditionally had two bad ideas has been dramatically reduced in online discussions, despite emojis.

  2. Robin R.
    20 November 2017 @ 11:43 am

    There are good ideas as well as bad ones. As far as we know, good ideas could spread in the new form of communication, as indeed they did in towns. On the whole, human life has improved through urbanization, regardless of its periodic side-effects. And indeed there are certainly ways in which it has improved through recent innovations in communication. These good effects may well prevail over its bad effects.

  3. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    20 November 2017 @ 12:44 pm

    @Dave — perhaps less reliance on non-verbal cues will require people to be more literal. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

    @Robin — yes, there could certainly be good developments as well.

  4. William
    20 November 2017 @ 1:02 pm

    Seems social media is the fruit, not the root of the issue. It’s more of an enabler than a cause. The same types of things were occurring prior to the advent of social media, just with less exposure, frequency and impact. For instance, there was a very bad idea that developed in Nazi Germany and grew to the point it led to a world war (all without the utilization of social media).

    Robin made a good point. Social media enables good and bad ideas. Whatever social media leads us to will likely be driven by human nature. Will we allow our better nature dominate or be subject to our lower nature? That will be an interesting dynamic to observe as we move forward with social media and like tools.

  5. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    20 November 2017 @ 1:15 pm

    The thing about social media is that it’s a different form of communication than we’re used to. As Dave mentions, we’re used to hearing tone of voice, seeing a smile or a frown, smelling body odor, sensing pheromones, etc. Switching from that form of communication to something that is mere images on a screen may have consequences that we don’t foresee. Maybe good consequences. Maybe bad. Maybe indifferent.

  6. William
    20 November 2017 @ 2:10 pm

    Throughout modern history, people have readily used written correspondence. As well, email has been used en masse for over 20 years. Therefore, people have been growing accustomed to indirect communication for some time. Despite social media being a different form, I see it more as a communications channel than something that introduces dramatically new elements to human interaction. Many of the dynamics we’ve seen in previous forms of indirect communications are present when using social media. It’s just that social media is more immediate and widespread. As I said previously, it seems the bigger variable is human nature. I suspect that if people are inclined to be jerks, social media simply enables them to do it more readily and broadly. Yet, the full impact of social media remains to be seen…we’ll see.

  7. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    21 November 2017 @ 9:02 am

    A germ theory for disease has applications beyond social media.

    For example, I remember hearing a news reporter saying, “he killed so many people, what was he thinking?”

    If we think of “what he was thinking” as a germ, apparently the reporter wanted to infect millions of TV watcher with “harmful ideas”.

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