The Rise of Social Networks

February 7th, 2004 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

The more I use social software like Orkut, the more I realize how its potential is only just begun. Before too long, a set of open-source p2p social software standards will emerge that bring all its participants increasingly closer together. Ming has a piece where he writes:

To imagine a world where we all had a high level of telepathy is an excellent starting point for a lot of revolutionary possibilities. Lies would no longer have any manipulative value if everybody could see right through them and know the truth without bias. You’d have to really do good things to be seen as doing something valuable. Duh. Same with hypocritical morals. You can’t get away with applying different rules to others than what you live by. If you’re a schmuck, everybody will know it.

And then the point Bala is getting at. If you somehow could perceive directly and instantly what everybody in the world needed and wanted, and what resources were available, there’d of course be no reason to waste time and energy on all the stuff that doesn’t fit and doesn’t work. If you really KNEW, you’d of course do the things you most want to do, where they make the most difference, and with the people who’re most suited and interested in doing it with you. No need to do useless activities in a job you don’t like, for a company that produces some junk that people wouldn’t really want if they knew what it was and what the alternatives were.

And you’d help others do what they want to do when it is easy for you to do so. If you happened to know your neighbor also needs a bag of sugar from the market and that he’s currently busy, you can just bring it for him, instead of you both having to go. If you’re done with that book you’re reading, you can just toss it to a guy on the street who also want to read it, rather than taking it home and hide it in the garage.

This is where the power of the network is taking us despite attempts to curtail it. So the next question is, once we are so intimately connected, how profoundly would our sense of individuality be changed? Would it diminish it, expand it or transcend it altogether? Probably all three. I certainly know that my sense of self has expanded since joining social networks, as it has allowed me to feel an increased sense of connectedness and intimacy with people all over the globe who share common ideals and goals. Just sensing that increased level of connection has inspired me to contribute more to the group, to the world, and in turn my sense of self has expanded to fill the task. So that seems to be the paradox, my sense of self has expanded the more I become intermeshed with others, but being part of a group also has deeper influence on myself as an individual than if I was alone.

The borg this is not. Suppressing the individual for the “greater good” harms that greater good, precisely because that individual’s unique maximum potential contribution has been crushed. The promise of the decentralized p2p social network however is that it empowers the individual to connect with others who will maximize thier purpose and goals, while simultaneously connecting others for the maximum benefit of themselves, which is by definition an optimized ad-hoc hive mind, all its member maximally acting in concert. Highly liquid and intimate social networks are synergetically more powerful than both an individualist libertarian paradise and a communal hive mind combined. The best of both structures is maintained without any of the apparent drawbacks.

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