Do social network technologies make us better or worse off as a society?


The Freakonomics blog, which is now part of the New York Times online, asks the following question of six prominent academics and participants in the space:

Has social networking technology (blog-friendly phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made us better or worse off as a society, either from an economic, psychological, or sociological perspective?

The responses to this ‘Freakonomics quorum’ are well worth a read, with many thought-provoking perspectives.

It’s a question that in various forms is very prominent in people’s conversations today, either in excitement at the possibilities, or concern at evils ranging from distraction to dehumanization.

My view has always been that any change holds potential positives and negatives, so we must work hard to accentuate what could be good, and contain the things that could be bad. However as social animals, any new communication form enables new possibilities to express what I have described as our ‘latent humanity’.

Social networking technologies have been abused in major and minor everyday ways, and will continue to be so, particularly as we all work out what they mean and how it’s useful to us to use them. Far outweighing that is the potential for us to connect in new ways, to bring together people and ideas across the globe in ways we are still only dreaming about, to enable wonderful connections that never would have been possible otherwise. On the way, it is up to us to find out how we can make the most good come from these new tools.

  • Better off is one way of looking at it, but I think there is also something that runs in parallel to social network technologies…
    In general, I think that much of the social network technologies tend to speed things up in terms of raising awareness, building (and dismantling!) relationships and generally getting closer to what an economist might call ‘perfect information’.
    The fact that people are ‘satisfycing’ and are not ‘perfectly rational’ is perhaps best left for another time 😉