Network effect

There is a thought experiment I try out sometimes with my audience in talks, that requires them to imagine themselves as that very first caveman coming out of the cave in broad daylight. What must it have been like in his mind? (And for illustrative purposes only I’ve chosen to make him a “he’).

To answer that question we need to bring together concepts such as knowledge, memory and beliefs that make up perception. Perception acts as a filter that allows us to assess, amongst other things, the threat level we experience in the world we see. And then, immediately, a lot of issues become apparent.

For instance, where does knowledge come from so that it can be trusted? How far can we trust our memories? How do we formulate our beliefs? And, most important of all, how do we manage our perception so that we can control our emotions and don’t freeze up every time we encounter the unknown?

Interestingly, most reasonable people agree that on his own, my imaginary caveman stands very little chance of survival. He has no way of testing his beliefs and theories. He can only acquire what little knowledge his own senses can report and from that he can deduce very little because most of his mental bandwidth is taken up by the effort required to perceive threats from his environment. And, his own memories are, because of the limitations of his physicality of being just one person, of little material use.

In other words, that one, single caveman has nothing going for him. This is where my thought experiment gets interesting because, multiply that one caveman by 20 as his fellow caveman come out of the safety of their cave to join him and suddenly the world appears to be way less threatening. The puny humans standing on a rocky ground and looking at the landscape around them appear way less fragile.

This is a very glossy way of exploring the benefits of the network effect. The internet, for instance, plays a pivotal role in creating new social ties and reinforcing social capital. The way we use social networks defines what we perceive at times and affects, directly, the way we develop trust in each other and our perception of the world at large.

Our technology gives us the ability to move beyond the caveman model of interaction and towards networked individualism. Networking doesn’t just make us smarter and stronger, it also makes us more resilient.

It is resilience we need now. Which means we need each other.

I hope you’ve stocked up on coffee and sweet things. Cookies and donuts, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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