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Going Global

April 5, 2010

As we all know, that dreaded blight, ‘civilization’, is rapidly reaching all the corners of the Earth.  Projects like Summit on the Summit demonstrate the new meaning of being “in touch”.  Social networking websites keep us in contact with co-workers and preschool best friends alike.  Computers allow us to categorize, filter, and wildly expand our social circles, so that we don’t have to remember all those birthdays on our own, or make multiple phone calls when a Tweet or status post will suffice.  This also means that we’re eliminating social boundaries.  We share personal information that would otherwise be limited to our close friends and family with acquaintances, coworkers, and friends of friends online.

Expanding social interaction has some promising aspects.  Technically, we’re all communicating more, and with more diverse groups of people.  Because the internet is, by nature, multi-vocal, the ease of access to information online encourages cultural understanding (at least in those cultures where internet access in the first place is viable).   Wikileaks and anonymous are just two examples of what can be accomplished when internet users work together.

But are we ready to take on the responsibility of globalization?  According to the writers over at Cracked.com, our brains might not even be capable of it.  It’s called the Monkeysphere, and it’s based on a study conducted by the University of Liverpool about the social structures of primates.  In summary,

The Monkeysphere is the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people. If the monkey scientists are monkey right, it’s physically impossible for this to be a number much larger than 150.  Most of us do not have room in our Monkeysphere for our friendly neighborhood sanitation worker. So, we don’t think of him as a person. We think of him as The Thing That Makes The Trash Go Away.”

Now, while this is an idea that may be somewhat unpleasant in daily practice, it’s long been accepted online.  When we interact with somebody in a virtual environment, we can pretend they are not a real person.  Nobody has embraced this concept more than the 4channers, as exemplified by Rules of the Internet #20 (Nothing is to be taken seriously), and #30 (There are no girls on the internet).  How are we to balance the massive social structures the web encourages us to build with our own tendency to objectify people we aren’t close to?

I think humans are more than capable of learning to treat strangers as individuals, even in a time when the definition of “stranger” is changing.  Most of our legal system supports this goal precisely.  But where our Monkeyspheres leave off, stereotypes pick up.  And we base our stereotypes on our beliefs, despite the fact that the people being stereotyped may or may not hold those same beliefs.  But without stereotypes, how do we make judgments about what is good or bad?  Without judgment, why do we need belief?  We are simply not capable of personally knowing every individual on the planet, despite living in a socio-political environment which requires some form of acknowledgment of billions more individuals than we are capable of.

I’m not sure if e-networking is going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.  Either way, it seems like a good idea to push the limits of our Monkeyspheres, online and in our daily lives.  Nice to meet you, individual reader, I’m The Thing That Makes Posts Appear On Folkloregonian.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lynne permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:43 am

    “We have met the enemy and he is us! ” Pogo, 1953

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