Social media is everywhere now, but there was a time not so long ago that it wasn’t much more than an abstract theory. In the 1980s, a few academics theorized about virtual worlds, and Howard Rheingold was among them.
Rheingold has written extensively about the capacity of technology to act as a “mind amplifier.” His latest book, Net Smart, discusses how the “social web,” a term that he coined in 1996, is making us smarter, and more distracted. He discusses the “knowledge divide” and the myth that all young people are digital wizards.
Between launching a book and teaching students how to set up blogs, Rheingold is a very busy man. He didn’t have a lot of time for me, but what he had to say was very intriguing.
Change is in the air, and most people can tell. The economy has undergone some serious disruptions. Marketers are starting to say that companies need to start speaking with, and actually listening to, their customers in order to survive. Protest movements, from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, are popping up without central leadership. The open source movement questions the very idea of proprietary technology.
While some people think that these disruptions are temporary, others think they are signs of the future. Peggy Holman is one of these thinkers, and I share her position. In Engaging Emergence, she talks about how the new science of complexity applies to these types of organizations.
Could organic networks replace a strict chain of command? As you’ll see, it’s a definite possibility. In some places, it’s already happening.
Today you can do something that wasn’t possible for any previous generation. You can take a class from a Stanford professor without paying a dime. For the past month, I have been watching Robert Sapolsky give twenty five lectures about the biology of human behavior. As much as I’d like to ask all of you to watch them, I know that few of you will. For that reason, I couldn’t resist the urge to pass on the key insights that I learned from his class.
I urge all of you to give the lectures a try, and to take a look at his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He is one of the most engaging professors I have ever seen. Providing his lectures with a healthy dose of humor, he has compressed some of the most interesting information in the field into a single course. I will attempt to compress it further.
Self-help gurus would probably counter that I’m just afraid of self-improvement, but I find myself very skeptical of the entire movement. New-age mystics and self-proclaimed experts all claim to have the secret recipe for happiness. Whether arguing that reciting affirmations will realign the universe to do your bidding, or providing folksy insight that you’ve already heard from your grandparents, the majority of these books don’t have much to offer.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that I was immediately skeptical of Peter Spinogatti when he contacted me for an interview. The marketing surrounding his book, Explaining Unhappiness: Dissolving the Paradox, didn’t get me riled up either. It wasn’t until I exchanged a few words with him that I realized we could have a very interesting conversation.
When it comes to psychology, Peter is skeptical of the scientific method. This simple fact caused me to put my guard up. After spending some time talking with him, however, I found myself realizing that I had always been skeptical about whether or not psychologists can really call what they do science. Instead, Peter argues that psychology is more like math. It’s about definitions, not causes.
That’s when he had me.
I’d like to welcome you to your universe.
This is a place where the order of events and the distance and time separating them depends on your speed and direction. It’s a place where even the ground you stand on is made of nothing more than vibrations in a quantum field. The very DNA that encodes the building blocks to create you could be made from nothing more than fragments of viruses and bacteria.
Amazing what happens when you let hydrogen atoms float around for 13.7 billion years.