Social media and how humans work – take 2

Yesterday’s post sparked some interesting comments from Rob Paterson and Mark Dykeman.

In referring to my comparison of a Facebook social graph to the Halifax Farmers’ Market, Mark said:

The resemblance between the two pictures would be even stronger if everyone in the Halifax Farmer’s Market was wearing a sandwich board that advertised their interests, their friends, and their contributions, much like the stall owners do.

This reminded me of something I heard from Seth Godin recently while watching his new DVD set. Seth was contrasting the way humans historically have processed information as members of tribes versus how we deal with everything in today’s connected world. He said (and I’m paraphrasing quite a bit): “When we were in tribes and saw someone who needed help, we knew what to do. Now, we see someone on TV who is in distress and needs help, and we struggle as humans to know what to do with the information.”

Then I think of how Hugh has said on occasion that “human beings don’t scale” or how Doc Searls quoted a friend a while back saying something to the effect that “while technology may enable you to have 3000 friends, your brain doesn’t”.

So, I guess I feel that Mark’s concept of everyone in the Halifax Farmers’ Market wearing a sandwich board advertising their interests, their friends, and their contributions, much like the stall owners do is something we’ve seen before the days of Web 2.0. In the small town where I grew up, this was exactly the case – although we didn’t need the sandwich board. Everybody knew everyone. You knew what they did for a living, their family, their 4th cousin twice removed, etc. Vendors in market stalls knew everyone they served on a first name basis. Everyone. Whether we go back to our tribal days, or simply think back to when we were organized largely in communities of geography, there was a level of connectedness and community that was somewhat baked in.

Perhaps many people viewed Web 1.0 somewhat like a large city – you could go about your business in blissful anonymity. I think it is likely quite useful to think of Web 2.0 more like the small town market where everyone knows each other…. and it seems to me that this is closer to how humans naturally function and interact with each other. What do you think?

Previously posted on

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