Monday 18 April 2022

Everything is connected to something and someone else; the age of ultra connectivity

We're now more interlinked than ever, with the swipe of a phone or the click of a mouse allowing us to see, hear and hence speak to each other ANYWHERE in the world at any given moment; quite literally, on a whim. Does this mean we can solve more problems faster, better and more easily? More importantly, do we now have a better understanding of each other, in a global context? 

Getting older usually means getting wiser. Invariably some things never change as rapidly or at all, but it’s a given yet unknown quantity that innovation, progress and change are an inevitability of life. Either you embrace change, or in some way or fashion, you’ll feel a little sidelined and confused at the rapid pace with which the future arrives at your doorstep. Or so it seems.

For all the rapidity with which innovativeness is thrown at us in a maelstrom of sound, smell, colour, texture and taste on an almost daily basis, it’s also a relief to know that there are constants in our daily lives. The sky is always in the same place, and our nearest & dearest are also people that aren’t as transitory as a bullet train; that's a comfort & a relief.

And as you get older, you can end up realising other things with pristine clarity. The obvious one being that nearly everyone & everything is connected to everything and everyone else, by a marginal degree of separation.

The most obvious example lies within our social circle. The classic “friend of a friend” concept which is better known as the six degrees of seperation, was coined by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, almost 100 years ago, in a short story he wrote called 'Chains'.

In essence, this refers to the idea that everyone is approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth. There have been various iterations of this theory, with a more popular one being a play on words called 'Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon'. This has the intent of illustrating how everyone in Hollywood is supposedly connected to the aforementioned actor, by six identifiable people ( the steps in question).  On a more readily relatable note, the social networking website Facebook (or Meta), is a more obvious modern day iteration of this concept.

If you have a Facebook account and have 6 friends or more, note how many different people come up in the “people you may know” suggestion box. If you selected every suggestion and carried on in this vein, you may eventually be able to propagate to everyone else on there.

Think about it. That’s only 6 steps away from almost three billion other people with accounts on there; that's almost 18 billion ways to communicate and connect with each other.

The six degrees of kevin bacon, is a humourous way to illustrate the 6 degrees concept

In theory, it's great to have the potential to be connected this way,  as it rekindles our innate need to connect with each other. It has the added emphasis of  belonging to something and grouping together, even if in a superficial manner; after all, we do want and need to feel liked, loved and accepted at some level. 

Furthermore, in our communication oriented world, it becomes much easier than before to spread a message quicker (and also cheaper),than  using the traditional & standardised methods of communication that have prevailed for centuries.

But there are downsides. What about those, for instance, who need to innovate and want to prevent early leakage of their 'eureka moment'? What about those whose livelihoods depend on the next version of a product or service being kept under wraps for as long as possible; an accidental ( or otherwise) leak on the web, can be detrimental with time and money sometimes being spent to revamp the product or service from the same sort of 'early reveal'

More importantly, think of the effect on our personal lives, when literally anything and everything we type/say on the world wide web can be held up to scrutiny like never before.  Can this level of connectivity be used to prevent rather than propagate frredoms & innovation? In order to answer this, the behavioural changes in the real world due to such all encompassing connectivity need to be examined more closely.

Think of how a newer generation has a social skill that my generation (and older), doesn’t take for granted. That is, to talk to complete strangers via social media apps & sites, and to then extend that cyber-relationship into the real world with the minimum of fuss. This has even extended to dating and matrimonial sites, where if you spend enough time using them effectively ( there's a learning curve), you're likely to not only find someone to date, but also to find someone you’ve either already dated or are acquainted with via the aforementioned six degrees of separation concept.

It's as if the world has shrunk into the palms of our hands. With the aid of technology we can now see, hear and say what we want to, with whoever we want, at any time we want. It's an almost limitless and permanently switched-on experience. 

And this has consequences. Some of which we can see & experience immediately,  others are less obvious and cannot be ascertained with immediate effect. In essence, we're all subjects to a myriad of side- effects of using the internet so freely. 

The six degrees of seperation is more prevalent than ever, due to modern technology

In order to deal with what an older generation would probably have deemed an almost irreversible carving into the invasion of privacy, there has been a gradual but noticeable self re-education of sociological and psychological norms. In effect, we’re all becoming participants in a huge cross-pollinated, self-regulating diary, where those of us who use social networking sites are systematically listing our lives in the form of audio-visual sound bites.

And all of this is for the world at large to potentially see, hear and read. Most people who use social networking sites ( including myself), are probably well versed in auto-censoring themselves without too much thought.  This in itself isn’t a bad thing per se, as we all understand and hopefully accept the various levels of netiquette (online etiquette), in order to get along together and share our experiences and lives too.

However, it’s not just about learning (and realising), that behind any number of online identities (both real and imagined), there are actual people responding and engaging. It is also about the awareness of a newer, faster, near Boolean logic-style of cognitive operation. 

In other words, everything starts to become more calculated, with less spontaneity.  There's a constant computational effect of  if/then style coding statements ; “what would happen if then i should/should not...” becomes the instinctive response. And as this increases in frequency,  the time to think through a reply and then respond, for example, becomes quicker. It's a calculated micro-hesitancy, because we're looking at ourselves online, comparing it to other responses and then responding accordingly. 

Just as in the physical world we inhabit, this “world within a world” also carries some level of consequence for responses in activities taken and participated in. For every person out there constructively using the internet, with all its ever evolving tools, there is also the darker side to internet use.

“Trolling” for example, is a form of internet stalking which is tantamount to abusive and unacceptable behaviour. This has resulted in people (and organisations) being charged and arrested, thereby mirroring the consequences of similar actions in the physical world. 

"trolling" or cyber harrasment and bullying, is the unpleasant side of internet use.

Many people, including high profile celebrities and public figures,  have enteried into the realms of lawsuits, because the fingers have acted too quickly for the mind to self-check both the spelling and the content; that's why (and how), the instantaneous nature of social media can sometimes be a weapon, rather than a tool .

But the key point here, is that it's truly up to the individual as to how they conduct themselves at large, amongst an increasing gamut of online  communication portals. In effect, it’s not dissimilar to the real world, where effective communication skills are essential to progress (and even survival), on a multitude of levels.

In essence, those who are better adopters to a more instinctively rapid rhetorical ( combined with other media), expressivity on the internet, stand a better chance of reaching into areas not everyone else can easily reach. Not just online,  but by consequence (and luck), in the real world too; a positive chain of side effects ensues. 

For instance, this would not only increase their knowledge and broaden their horizons per se, but also allow the internet (and indeed the world wide web), to reach their fuller, newer and better potential. Remember, the internet & the world wide web were designed to share information effectively and efficiently. To believe that the original remit would have led to newer industries and jobs at the scale we currently have (and hopefully still growing)'s hard to imagine how anyone would have reacted over 30 years ago to the size, potential, complexity and abundance of what that experience is today. 

Again, as in the physical world, there are websites/ portals and groups of individuals who organise this information sharing, on a profit and non-profit basis, in order to ensure that anyone (from a novice to a heavy 'net user), can find what they need with ease. Of course, as in the physical world, there are barriers to entry and even exit, too.

In effect, the internet, the world wide web and technological innovations such as smartphones and social media have made the six degrees of separation concept an absolute inevitability from here on in.

Furthermore, this has propagated into a newer level of communicative skill that a younger generation have been born into, whilst the rest of us have adapted to this open-ended sociological restructuring, with varying levels of skill and finesse. Inarguably, because we're now more aware that we truly are more connected than we thought possible, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of understanding our inner selves, as well as knowing and understanding the world around us. Self-regulating has also become more de rigeur. In fact, it's essential for a good online experience 

In amongst all the millions of potential friends, faces and data that is available to access, share, and collude over, there can also be an overwhelming amount of 'net noise'. It's analogous to being in the physical world, only the barriers to entry and exit are far easier to navigate. As already mentioned, you're self-regulating to prevent getting lost and even overwhelmed by it.  For example, heavy internet usegse can create patterns of aimless 'net surfing, which can lead to disrupted sleep, anxiety disorders and mood swings,  with their own knock-on effects. 

And it’s not just about keeping an eye on your useage away from work, but during work hours too. For example, many workplaces either ban or limit the use of social networking sites, due to the potential for distraction and taking energy away from the productivity required for the job. 

Conversely, others thrive on it and even need it, as part of the workflow. The design & marketing department of a multinational company, for example, that has it's workforce scattered across the globe,  with different timezones and languages; they're pulling together using slack & zoom for competitive advantages at all hours of the day.

To conclude, it’s better to know what you want out of your online experience, rather than be lost in the myriad of words, sounds and pictures for a lot longer than you intended to be. 

As in real life, discipline and focus are the keys to a healthy internet experience. Having fun online is essential, but in a similar vein, the world we live in isn't a 24 hour, 7 day a week, lawless & freeloading experience. You work, rest, play and pay your dues accordingly. 

At its core, the online experience is similar to who we are at that moment in time; after all we're the ones using it, nurturing it & (re)creating it. It's still a healthy way to learn, connect, grow and thrive, both individually and collectively. Let's keep it that way. 

(c) S R DHAIN (revised & updated).

The original version of this article was available via The American Chronicle publication & website.

For writing / consultancy related enquiries , email here
LINKS TO MY :-   Twitter     

No comments:

Post a Comment