My exploration into the world of social computing began with LinkedIn. The demographics that make up this social computing subculture appears to be very mature in terms of well-defined mores that inform acceptable behavior.
Members of the LinkedIn digital subculture seem to have a common understanding and accept and follow certain rules of etiquette. The members are largely composed of professionals seeking to connect with each other which would explain the predominantly professional acumen that members exhibit and abide by.
Social mores establish the type of behavior that will result in either approval, disapproval or penalty. As in the physical world, these rules of etiquette extend to all customs of proper behavior in a given society but can be highly unpredictable and vary radically from one culture to another.
While I have had the opportunity to be exposed to many different cultures, never have I entered one with such trepidation as with my foray into the “digital culture”. Even though it appeared civil, I approached it with my usual caution so as to not make a mistake that could possibly offend someone and result in public persecution for my ignorance.
Years of cultural observation have led me to a rather dismal conclusion, the world would be perfect if it were not for humans. This sad commentary also applies to the social computing phenomenon. As humans, our actions are motivated by many things, most of which a relatively harmless.
At the core, we are “social” beings with a basic desire to be “connected” with others of which we have something in common. This holds true in the physical and digital world.
Professional and personal interest digital social subcultures such as LinkedIn, Facebook and countless others provide affinity forums where we can connect with others that share our liking for, or identification with, somebody or something. The breadth of subcultures one can join is truly astonishing.
Social computing has also provided a way for us to connect with others who share the most primal human emotions; anger, bitterness and resentment. Through my research, I found some sites (whose names we dare not speak) that actually promote themselves as forums to defy social norms and encourage behavior that is unthinkable within a civilized society.
These sites evoke and inflame the most dangerous of human emotions. They are free-for-all forums for those who feel they have been wronged in some way to share their “pain” with the rest of the world.
There is the safety of anonymity that empowers members of this subculture to say things that they would most likely not feel comfortable saying in public. The “truth” can also be easily embellished as there are no editorial standards or rules of conduct.
An interesting phenomenon occurs in a place like this, one without social and moral guidance. As in a lawless society, it can create a mob mentality that draws other angry members to join in on the tirade. These members may not even be stakeholders but have anger, bitterness and resentment towards something or someone else entirely unrelated.
I am reminded of the L.A. riots. One of the things that surprised me most was watching the BBC news coverage of a preppy looking, young white male in a BMW. He stopped his car in the middle of the street and ran into a shop that was being ransacked by rioters and stole a television.
He had no stake in the decision that initially triggered the riots and likely didn’t even care. Yet he apparently got so swept up in the raging anger of the crowd that he lost all sense of societal convention that would normally enforce “acceptable” behavior. Regardless, it apparently unleashed some underlying anger or feeling of entitlement that empowered him to act in such a way, simply because others were behaving in the same way.
Alright, so as humans we become angry, bitter and resentful at perceived or actual events in our lives. Often times we respond with an angry outburst and let off some steam but we return to a calmer state where objectivity and rational behavior prevails. The digital social subcultures that promote anger as an appropriate response only serve to sustain and increase the anger of the member and also incites a riot mentality among other members.
I fail to see the value of these lawless digital subcultures as they provide nothing beneficial to its members or society as a whole. The social computing phenomenon has evolved from the simple bulletin boards of yore into a global digital culture with no universally accepted mores to inform and enforce socially acceptable behavior.
This is after all Thunderdome, a digital social culture where there are no rules and anything goes!