Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Borg and Social Networking

I've mentioned it before but there's this great definition of public opinion:

Public opinion is no more than this,
what people think other people think
It's a line I use in my grad class on public opinion, on a research paper I published a coupla years ago, and probably too often in casual conversation. I've always been fascinated in people's perception of opinion and how they tend to project their own opinions on the public at large. In other words, if I think this way, most people think this way (false consensus).

Yeah yea, but so what? Well, I was in a doctoral meeting the other day and we were talking about social networking (Twitter, Facebook, et al.) and it struck me that we now have, thanks to technology, access to a "group mind" of sorts -- we know what other people think. This kinda changes the dynamics of spiral of silence, of pluralistic ignorance, of false consensus, and all those other great theories that rest on the notion of people and their perception of opinion.

Someone needs to study this stuff.

It's kinda borg like, if you remember Star Trek Next Generation. The borg operated on a linked group mind and warned our heroes: "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." Tweets and Facebook posts and all the rest, are they a potential groupmind, a creator of consensus, or are they merely shouting into the dark to people who really aren't reading the posts in the first place?
My own hunch is we're going to see some influence on people's perception of public opinion if they happen to use these social networking tools -- but not in the way you might think. Selective exposure to similar others, hanging out with people like yourself, is one reason we tend to project our own opinion (or of a handful of others) on the public at large. If our various social networking links resemble our real world interpersonal relationships (people a lot like us) then this actually increases our likelihood to project our own opinions on the world at large. If our social digital networks are broader (I hope so, but not sure, again to be studied) then perhaps this will mediate this tendency in people.

Sunday morning thoughts after too much coffee, I admit, so enough of the theoretical, unless of course later today something about this comes to mind and I have to shout it out to the darkness.

Oh, on a historical note, that great quote is from a book entitled Prince Lucifer by Alfred Austin. Lucifer is one who says it, which is kinda neat. Came across it in graduate school and have used it, off and on, many times since.

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