Me, me, me, me. My favourite person — me.I don’t want to get email from anybody; I want to get memail– Seth Godin
Yesterday, I got my very first memail. Finally! It was magic.
It was from Spotify entitled: Your 2016 in music: personalised stats and playlist, and it jumped right out of my inbox at me amongst all the other stuff I keep getting in this commercial festive frenzy period we have now entered: Save on this, 50% off that, Free delivery, Last chance for Christmas blah blah blah.
I might be slightly biased because I like to talk about data and I like playlists; but I think I am like everyone else, in that, when you think about me, just me, and say or do something for me and me alone: You’ve got me.
My email said this:
You have listened for 1,827 minutes to 107 artists, and 162 unique tracks.
And then, *drumroll* ta daa, it gave me a link to my very own playlist – my very own mixtape – which I am listening to right now. It’s fantastic. It contains 78 of my current favourite tunes and I love it. And, if you want to hear them for yourself (because let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), then I can share it with you via Spotify or Whatsapp or any other social media platform of your choice. How cool is that?
This is a perfect demonstration of the connection economy in action.
Now, I am not always a huge fan of Seth Godin, his blogs can be like fortune cookies because, brilliant marketer that he is, he likes to communicate in soundbites. I will never be his target market because I like to ponder anything you say for a very LONG time and come back at least three weeks later to let you know what I think and feel, and whether it is working for me. Yesterday thanks to Spotify sending me memail and a mixtape, I understood for the first time what Godin means by creating something extraordinary and making a connection with your customer. It was no longer just noisy marketing talk.
Create the extraordinary
For, the world has changed and we are overwhelmed with advertising. Everyday we get a million email, and those dreadful impersonal Twitter DMs saying Thanks for the follow please can you do this for me. (Err, no I can’t!), and 10 bajillion adverts on Facebook and everywhere else telling me to buy this, read this, feel this. I am exhausted.
So, to have Spotify send me this was so refreshing. I have said over and over on this site that at the heart of any interaction is our fundamental need to matter. We all want to be heard and we all want to feel like someone is listening to us. When a person or business, ignores you, or changes the way they interact with you, for no apparent reason, it is painful. And, being talked at, like the emails in my inbox which threaten me with scarcity, deadlines and missed opportunities, is dreadful. The subtext is that you don’t count, you are not special, and you will have to fight for everything you want.
Yesterday, I got memail and a playlist, without even knowing I wanted them. Bottom line: I counted. Someone (well, software) took the time to understand what I liked and then created something for me – my story in song, my soundtrack of 2016 – just for me. I was recognised as having likes, dislikes, preferences. I was seen as me. How often does that happen in life?
Thank you, Spotify, I am thrilled. Merry Christmas!
I had my phone snatched out of my hand on Monday morning as I was wandering along listening to some tunes and texting. To be absolutely fair, I have scalded my left hand (the hand I would normally text with) and it was mega cold, so I was holding the phone awkwardly in the wrong hand, numbly and higher than usual. Plus, I was completely distracted as I composed IMHO, a very funny text, the very thought of which was making me laugh out loud with my head thrown back. So, when a hand reached out and took the phone out of mine, I did not see that coming.
As my phone zoomed off the pavement and turned right at the traffic lights on the back of a moped in that very warm hand which had briefly touched mine, my first response was to phone someone to say I had been robbed. When, I realised I couldn’t, I felt its loss. And, for the following couple of days, anytime I reached for my phone, I was right back there in that moment, feeling the loss, like it was a new emotion, and feeling disconnected.
The truth is no I don’t. I don’t need social media, I don’t need to respond to emails the minute they come in, I don’t even need to have a phone, the last couple of days have shown me that. I had no phone and nothing major happened and even if it had, people could have still reached me without a phone on my person. I would still show up if you asked me to, I don’t need a phone for that.
However, I love social media, I love email, I love having a phone because it augments me and the easiest way to augment a human is by connecting that human to another human who has the specific skill set that human needs. I am not in need of any skillset in particular, I just really enjoy walking about knowing that I can reach out to my favourite people with the touch of a button. I also really enjoy walking about listening to music, as if I have my own soundtrack to my life. Even the other day when I was seemingly inattentive to the moment in the street long enough to lose my phone, I was in an augmented moment on that street, in which life was enhanced and expanding – listening to music and laughing out loud whilst you chat to someone cool. What could be more present than that?
Little sips add up to a long cool drink of water
So, I disagree with Sherry Turkle more than ever when she says that social media is taking us to places we don’t want to go. I would disagree, it is reflecting us – all those cat pictures, and memes. All those lovely thoughts. We can also have proper conversations on Twitter, those little sips, as Turkle calls them, definitely add up to a long cool drink of water.
But, there is a lot of negativity online, you might say to me. And I wouldn’t disagree. It is, however, all a question of who you connect with, and how you want to spend your precious energy: Who refreshes you and who wears you out? It is the same question to ask yourself on or offline. And, when you get caught out and have to spend time in a meaningless mean spirited interaction, whip out your phone and transport yourself elsewhere. Or if you are online, click away, don’t get poked or prodded if your needs are not being met.
We are apparently the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Personally, I am an extremely lucky girl. So, if someone does come along again and take my phone off me, I will be ok, I am the average of some incredibly lovely people.
Social media may be changing the way we do business and how we connect with others, but I don’t believe it is changing us fundamentally as humans. My theory, after writing this series, is that social media reflects the way we behave, and we behave the way do because we are human. And, because we are human, we just can’t get enough of social media, which really isn’t our fault, it is just the way we are made.
Social media not only lights up the nucleus accumbens, the part of our brain which deals with rewards, but does so randomly, which is called a variable interval reinforcement schedule. Rats or birds who have been trained to get rewards randomly will work harder for rewards, and take longer to give up checking once all rewards for the behaviour is removed. We are the same, we will randomly check all our social media for a very long time, before it no longer rewards us.
It really isn’t our fault. Brene Brown, Professor of Sociology, says, that we are neurobiologically wired to want to connect with our fellow human beings. We all want to feel that we matter. So, of course we would choose social media. Why not choose the quickest and easiest way possible to feel connected to others? It seems like less of an emotional investment, but as this series has demonstrated, it really isn’t.
It might have been okay if social media had stayed as it began: easy and quick ways to share pictures, videos, texts between groups of friends, or networks for sharing interests across time and space. But once, we realised that anyone could be a star in the land of digital culture, then we all spent more time there trying to be loved or trying to make money – it amounts to the same thing, after all: money=influence, influence=feeling loved and valued.
And, then once news could get delivered the way we liked it, via, for example, the Huffington Post who serve up the same article with two different headlines and then they go with the headline which attracts the most hits (aka A/B testing), we never stood a chance. Web media started giving us what we want, right around the clock which encouraged traditional news outlets to try and keep up. Consequently in-depth coverage and accuracy seems to have suffered. Facts are cherry-picked for nice looking memes which can remain unsubstantiated assertions because the rest of the facts don’t get checked half as much as what the crowd says. Journalism is engaging in groupthink.
Dunbar’s number, proposed by an anthropologist of the same name, postulated a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is. In reality the number is a series: 5 – 10 close friends, then 5-10 x 3 = people you might have to dinner, and so on, until you reach a maximum of 150 (for a wedding or party) of close people you know who are there to celebrate an event in your life. Dunbar’s number is tiny compared to the numbers seen on Facebook.
I’d rather be anywhere than here
Google Designer, Jake Knapp wiped social media and email off his iPhone because he felt that by constantly checking social media apps he wasn’t present in his present moment, which is so true. If we are constantly distracted by our apps, or eager to share or capture a moment, then we are not really present in that moment.
This got me thinking, if we are constantly looking at other people’s moments and memes on social media, then when we get to experience that moment for ourselves, aren’t we having a second hand experience? Will the landscape remind us of a photograph? Will an emotion remind us of a meme? Are we experiencing what we feel we should rather than what would make us feel good?
Meditation teacher davidji, has said that those voices who are ranting on Facebook are usually the loudest voices (not normally the most accurate or uplifting, just influential) and they have an impact on us. We react to what other people are saying and doing online instead of following our own agenda. daviji believes that we need to get nuanced, and know what we are feeling, so we do not get hijacked by other peoples’ opinions. Otherwise we don’t stand a chance of not being influenced, and this is why we are endlessly fascinated by people who influence us. We want to know how they do it so we can wrestle back our power or try influence others so we can be heard.
I still believe that social media has the capacity to augment us, even though I have seen throughout this blog series the many ways it can diminish us, but that is because we are human, who haven’t yet realised that we all count and are all connected anyway. Social media just can’t do that for us. It is not a brave new world, it the same old world on a small screen. To find a brave new world we have to do that ourselves, and we have to start by looking inside ourselves, instead of inside our phones.
Being liked is one of our fundamental needs as shown in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and also a major topic of research in the field of social psychology where much research has been given over to: How should we behave so people like us more?
The fear of not being liked, or rejected, causes us to conform and sometimes betray ourselves. Sometimes we get aggressive, and other times we need to reduce the cognitive dissonance between what we believe we are like and our actions which have caused suffering either to ourselves or to other people.
Elliot Aronson in his classic text book, The Social Animal, asks: How do we pick our friends? And, says that we pick them for similar beliefs and interests, skills, and abilities and competencies, and quite simply, we pick people who like us.
We also like people who give us maximum good feelings for minimum effort. A recent social media study shows us that when we receive positive feedback about ourselves from Facebook likes, our brain lights up its reward area, the nucleus accumbens, in a way that a money reward does not.
So, it is no wonder many of us spend time on social media in search of validation.
However, if praise is too lavish, we tend to mistrust it, and view it as manipulation. Indeed we saw in Part 5, if someone gets us to do them a favour, we are more likely to like them because we convince ourselves that they are worthy of the favour, even if they are not. This is because it is much easier for us to believe rather than admit that we are chumps who got duped, again. And so, it makes sense that a like or heart is a great reward without having to get involved with people who might want to manipulate us.
We like attractive people because the way they look is an aesthetic reward. Research shows that the anterior insula, the part of our brain which lights up when we eat food or find a life partner, things which are biologically important to us, is also used to appreciate aesthetics.
Consequently we treat people who are more attractive, better, which is known as the halo effect. We assume them to be nicer and more intelligent that they are, simply because they are attractive, which is a self- fulfilling prophesy because when you treat people well they respond well. And, then people who mix with attractive people are viewed as more likeable and more attractive and so we want to be perceived as attractive by attractive people, and be with them.
It is cyclical. Research show that we are more likely to be attracted to befriending people who share our opinions. We all want attractive and intelligent pals, and if they are like us, they socially validate us.
So, it makes sense that to reduce our anxiety we don’t want to be friends with people who are perfect. We prefer our people to be human and not too perfect.
Aronson did an experiment where researchers were recorded answering questions. In the first instance they answered the questions perfectly. In the second the same only, at some point they threw coffee down themselves. In the third instance they answered the questions in a mediocre manner. Ditto, the fourth plus the coffee trick.
Everyone preferred number two – smart but still human, which has become known as the pratfall effect. We prefer it when we meet people who are vulnerable. In the same way, we like it when our friends fail as it gives us a holiday from own self-esteem issues.
But how do we measure our liking for people? Aronson developed his gain-loss theory to find out, and discovered that we feel more strongly about other people when their liking for us changes. So, if there is an increase or decrease in the rewarding behaviour we receive from another person, it will have more effect on us than if someone constantly likes or dislikes us.
Obviously, we like best of all the people who started out behaving negatively towards us who have changed to behave more positively towards us. Inversely, we like least of all a person who starts out behaving positively towards us and becomes negative towards us. This is often demonstrated by twitter spats between celebrities who go on to become firm friends or deadly enemies.
The triangle of love
How do we fall in love? Apparently, proximity and similarity play a role, whilst psychologist, Robert Steinberg, has defined love in a one-to-one relationship as made up of three factors: Commitment, passion, and intimacy which he calls the triangle of love.
Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness and connectedness for the experience of warmth in a loving relationship.
Passion refers to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship.
Commitment refers to the commitment needed to maintain that love.
Steinberg says that in order to keep love alive, people in long term relationships need to keep all three sides of the triangle going. This means that they must be authentic and work at communicating well with each other. However, this is difficult to do, given that we are so afraid of rejection.
Our loved ones have the power to really hurt us with their comments in the way that strangers’ comments don’t. Our loved ones can make us feel so vulnerable. Conversely, our loved ones’ compliments do not carry half as much weight a stranger’s compliments, perhaps because our we have heard our loved ones’ compliments before – familiarity, it seems, really does breed contempt.
Professor of Sociology, Brene Brown says that being vulnerable, which she defines as: exposure, risk, uncertainty is our best measure of courage, in whatever area of our lives. People who are willing to be authentic and risk rejection, are those people who live most whole-heartedly, and most happily, without regrets.
Brown say that connection is the reason for our existence and if we want connection then we need to live whole-heartedly, which means that we must be ready to be vulnerable and risk rejection, for it is the only way which will enable us to find our way back to each other.
When you have an intact, healthy sense of worth, you value other people. You know who you are, which means you can accept others as they are. When you are not sure that who you are is good enough, you will do your darndest to prove that you are better than someone else. – Iyanla Vanzant
We have all experienced prejudice, or been prejudice towards someone else at some point in our lives. Social psychologist Elliot Aronson, in The Social Animal, defines prejudice as:
A hostile or negative attitude towards a distinguishable group of people on the basis of generalisation derived from faulty or incomplete information.
Prejudice behaviour can be based on gender, race, sexuality, religion, class, location, looks, intelligence, and so on. The list is a long one.
Spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant said on Supersoul Sunday that prejudice – she was talking in particular about racism – is a form of dishonesty, and has in the US historically taken the form of : I am superior because I said so. And even today, sections of US society still function on some dishonest assumptions. If certain groups of people look and behave differently, then they are inferior and deserve less. Vanzant said that the US must have a conversation about this dishonesty and find a different way of living together, otherwise more tragic acts of violence will occur.
We all like to think we are educated and thus, we know that prejudice is wrong. However, Aronson says that sometimes we fool ourselves and behave in a prejudice manner even though we don’t believe we do. We engage in subtle prejudice. For example, when people deny that racial or sexual discrimination continues to be a problem, and behave antagonistically towards any group which encourages conversation around these discriminations.
Men may behave in what they deem to be chivalrous manner, and provide protection and affection to women which really is just prejudice. They are judging women to be weaker and crossing boundaries. This behaviour is not chivalrous, it is just patronising. It is benevolent sexism.
Aronson’s research shows that people will engage in prejudice behaviour if they can deny it. Otherwise, they may try to justify their words and behaviour. For example, citing the Bible and referring to family values instead of acknowledging their prejudice towards people who are gay or bisexual.
Stereotypes facilitate prejudice and deny someone their right to be seen as a unique individual with their own positive or negative traits. Instead, we attribute characteristics and we self-attribute characteristics negatively and positively.
Apparently, this is left over from our decision making abilities back when we were living in tribes. We saw very few outsiders and when we did, we immediately had to decide if someone was friend or foe. So, we used stereotypes as shorthand to categorise the people we meet and imply lots of information about them.
Because, stereotypes encapsulate a lot of information and are a handy short cut when communicating, they are regularly used and new ones created today by mass media.
We tell stories about others and about ourselves to encapsulate information, which can be negative like stereotypes, or they may be just a way of identifying ourselves with labels or things that we do. For example, I am: female, computer scientist, yogini, mum, cat lover. These are our social identities.
However, like stereotypes, social identities can be used negatively. And, then once we believe something about someone or about ourselves, we take that as truth, as reality. For our beliefs create our reality.
Causes of prejudice
Evolutionary psychologists believe that we are basically predisposed to favour our own tribe family, culture, and to fear outsiders. However, as the film Zootopia so aptly demonstrates, if we all just decide to believe that we are biologically programmed to behave a certain way, then nothing will ever change.
We have to take responsibility for our prejudices.
Aronson has a list of reasons as to why people are prejudice:
Economic and competitive: If resources are scarce and people are competing for the spoils then this will breeds prejudice. One example is how Chinese immigrants were treated very badly during the Californian Gold Rush and railway construction.
Maintenance of self-image: It is easier to live with ourselves if we think of other people as sub-human – like the slave trade.
Dispositional prejudice: some people are prejudice towards others because they have learnt that from their parents and/or it is prevalent in the culture within which they live. When this is so entrenched, it is difficult to find another way of thinking.
Comformity: People are prejudice because it is a social norm and everyone behaves the same way. We are conformists for so many reasons.
In this series we have seen that social media facilitates aggression and hatred. People will conform and only say what they think others want to hear online. Or, they will find liked minded people in order to vent their anger or justify their behaviour.
However, not all is lost, social media can be used for change because people reach out and support one another more easily than they could do in the real world, crossing groups and providing inter-group support.
Aronson says that if you engineer society to facilitate inter-group support – if you set up different groups of people so that they have equal status and equal contact between them, then prejudice is automatically reduced. This is because regular exposure to the groups of people you might have prejudice towards reduces the dissonance of beliefs you may hold. And, a proper mixture of people reduces the need for anyone to reach for their social identity and band together. Interdependence forces people to work together and get to know people.
Other research has show that if we reduce competition in class and make winning a dysfunctional activity, kids learn to work co-operatively, instead of operating a zero sum approach to life.
Only by getting to know people do we learn to empathise with them and empathy is key. We learn empathy and we can teach empathy. However, we can’t just wait for the next generation, as Iyanla Vanzant said, we need to be honest about the dishonesty behind prejudice and we need to question the beliefs we hold in order to discover truth. We need honest, empathetic conversation. Once we do, we will be better equipped to advocate the next generation into a more equal world, one without prejudice.