Following on from my post the other day, it occurred to me that Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon is a bit like social media. We enforce a social norm not through pressure but through constant mutual observation.

This post on the election of Obama and the Facebook effect seems to be a different slant on the same idea: Unit Structures – Regarding the Facebook Effect. Fred Stutzman claims “Social Networks like Facebook reveal our lives to one another in novel and interesting ways. I’m able to friend you and watch your life pass by in a News Feed. Because of the pragmatics of daily life I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with that information otherwise. A side effect of this is that I’m also influenced by you – your decisions about the information you share or the identity you create…Obama was not elected because of a “Facebook Effect.” No, what happened is that the internet helped us pull the veil back on one another.”

Stutzman sees this as a positive “moderating” effect, but it seems rather like the “dark side” of social media discussed by James Surowiecki in The turning point for social media | Video on Surowiecki argues that the “wisdom of crowds” only works when the members of the crowd think as independently as possible, but that when you join a network or group, you begin to lose some of that independence. The network influences what seems to be important (“groupthink”) and independent thought can actually suffer as a result. He uses the analogy of ants who get trapped in a “circular mill” where they just follow each other round and round in a circle until they die. This is the “dark side” of social media, which contrasts with the positive power of distributed intelligence.

So, although it is good to share, if we watch each other too assiduously, we risk losing the individuality and independence that made us intelligent in the first place. We may be social creatures, but it does us good to be a little bit anti-social too!