- Global Brain
- Human Brain
The global brain is our playground, fueling a growing structure of community and commerce. This article asks the question:
“Have we overshot the limits of social expansion?” The subquestion might be: “What does it mean that we seek the familiar in our online interactions?”
In the global brain environment, we are constantly presented with new faces, new arrangements, new vehicles, new “parks.” We’ll visit the park in a minute.
Human neural pattern tracks the familiar. It is designed to do this.
Human brain goes to the park
When we walk (or jog or bike) along a curving sidewalk in our park of choice, we take in the landmarks we’ve seen before.
We may look across the river at the familiar skyscrapers of our city. We may notice the huge crane and the scaffolding of a new structure still buried in the context of buildings we already recognize and understand. We know what’s inside those buildings; we’ve been there.
Tracking the up-close familiar, we notice the benches, trees, the shape of the horizon. Other joggers, moms with strollers, neighbors reading the newspaper, a man in a suit typing on his phone.
We note the familiar. It’s in place in our world and in our brains.
A group of stilt walkers in orange stripes may catch our eye and tickle the brain with newness. Ridiculous newness. We accept this too, as a familiar occasional intrusion on our regular world. We’re ready for a little bit of irregularity in the pattern. The world feels alive.
Neurons jump up to see the spectacle, then quickly recede into their pattern. A giggle is a response that tells us not to bother with meaning.
In our familiar circles, at jobs, groups in our communities, churches, business groups, anywhere we’ve chosen to interact, we track the familiar.
Introducing the new through the familiar
Consider your process when you meet someone new. Say they were introduced by your closest friend. Already you have a brain area prepared to be deeply affected by this new person. They’ve walked right into your inner sanctum — at least briefly. An army of neurons go to work instantly, forming thousands of new connections in the petri dish of your commonality.
Now let’s say you’re introduced to someone new by a co-worker. You like the co-worker but know little about his history or home life. You know he is funny, and smart. The new person has just met the co-worker. They are discovering each other too.
Your conversation is polite and runs along the lines of previous work places and industry terms. You get a good feeling, shake hands, and go on with your day. The neurons involved are tentative and instantly shrink back to their usual paths.
The experience takes on meaning
That evening over burgers and beer, you talk with your partner about your day. It’s no surprise that the story on your mind is the impression of your closest friend’s new introduction.
The global brain chatters too much
Tracking the familiar in the global brain may be substantially more arbitrary and even artificial.
The human brain keeps looking for the potential of deep, appropriate, and familiar connections.
I’ve seen complaints here and there that people only find “likemindeds” to connect to on social media, along with the assertion that this adds to a lack of diversity.
And that’s a load of bat guano.
Of course we do. That’s our brain wiring. It doesn’t add to or subtract from diversity. People branch out into diverse areas and cultures when they feel safe and connected in their own. Or, they do it because they are driven by personality, curiosity, demands of work or family. The biggest impact social media has on diversity is to make it more accessible to the seeker of same. You can’t force diversity on unsuspecting or unwilling minds. Take this from a girl who went to school during “desegregation” and the bussing of kids an hour away from their familiar culture. It doesn’t work.
Beloved familiar tribe
So the question we ask on social media is, “Where is my tribe?” Our neurons reach to their own edge, but cannot go further without a mandate.
Smelling stew bubbling on the stove: That’s a mandate. Hearing a melody that haunts. That’s a neural mandate. Familiar, laced with a shot of something new, may draw neurons into curiosity. The curious brain is the one that can change and grow.
We’re curious, but we want and need to work with the familiar as we reach into new territory.
Global gone galactic
On the interwebs we wheel without gravity, through brand new galaxies playing their own vibration, a messy cacophony of human outreach.
We may become adept at surveying these unfamiliar space-scapes but our brains continue to build on the familiar. “Yes! I relate to that. Let me squirrel that away in this drawer here. Oh! Yes! I’ve seen that before too! I’ll take it.”
Each of us go deeper into a potential relationship when we catch a resonance we understand. Eventually our web worlds take on a fitful, patch-quilt form. We’ve used planks cantilevered across massive, fading tools, and hands are now reaching for each other from high up on ladders which are sinking in the exponential stew.
The vehicles must, and do, evolve
Here we’ve arrived on Google+, intrepid explorers every one of us.
Willing to try a new and possibly better way of connecting, we believe we can again return to the familiar with people we know and like. And then, build a better world with our combined strength — our collective intelligence: Our brain power.
Curators are essential
Round Table (#OTable on Twitter) draws me because of my great respect for the mind and the consistent behavior of Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu of Social Media Notes. @mediasres on Twitter, Kevin curates his world and shares it in a way I can (usually) grasp. I like that his understanding is a tad beyond and different from mine. I have a curious mind.
The familiarity of #usguys has also grounded me in a small group I hope will enter the Round Table playground. Right now there is very little familiarity, but enough to keep me coming back to the tether ball a couple of times a week.
Recently I began to post on Twitter that I now need “fewer connections and deeper relationships,” so #OTable’s mission to connect in the deep end of social media (my version of the mission) couldn’t have come at a better time.
(“What? Are you missing the whole point of social media? It’s exponential!”)
Yes. I’m happy to broadcast my world to a readership of any size. Of course. But the pathways of my brain through the people I want regular interaction with must collapse down to a small number. I’m not sure how many. Maybe thirty or so?