Via this Forbes article we hear from Joshua Michel-Ross at Oreilly Media that the internet is transforming social activity into what he calls “The Rise of the Social Nervous System”. It’s a provocative concept that is appearing more and more in the technical and sociological literature. Although clearly part of the comparison of the collective mental activity to a “hive mind” stems from Science Fiction such as the Borg in Star Trek, it’s also true that human social relationships are of profound importance to the species. Online social networking has clearly reached a high enough level of use and social interactivity that “virtual socializing” is poised to eclipse “real socializing” in terms of how many hours we spend with each in a day. Although I’m sure on average we still spend more “real time” than “virtual time” with friends and family, I’d predict this will change within a decade or so, in part as passive TV viewing habits shift to more interactive online social activities.
As I noted over at my personal blog, Twitter is very important as its simple intervace and explosive growth bring millions of mainstream users into the social media maelstrom. It’s certainly not clear when all this socializing is going to take humanity, but I’d argue it’s already clear that human relationships are undergoing one of the most significant transformations since the rise of the types of social interactions that came about as cities began to replace rural living, and associating with others of like interests became more important than associating with your neighbors. On balance these changes are not necessarily good, but I think they are inevitable as people tend to flock most easily to those of like mind who share the same general sensibilities about the world. Ironically the very technologies that are theoretically connecting us to billions of others may also serve in part to advance our tendency to practice “group think” and only associate with the niches that suit us. On the optimistic side we may find that the global social network and ubiquitous interactivity will – for the first time in history – present us with opportunities to collectively solve problems we could not possible solve alone. As with most technologies it’s up to us how we choose to use the power, so let’s use it wisely.