The Economist recently published this insightful article entitled” Six Degrees of Mobilisation: To what extent can social networking make it easier to find people and solve real-world problems?” The notion, six degrees of separation, comes from Stanley Milgram’s experiment in the 1960s which found that there were, on average, six degrees of separation between any two people in the US. Last year, Facebook found that users on the social network were separated by an average of 4.7 hops. The Economist thus asks the following, fascinating question:
“Can this be used to solve real-world problems, by taking advantage of the talents and connections of one’s friends, and their friends? That is the aim of a new field known as social mobilisation, which treats the population as a distributed knowledge resource which can be tapped using modern technology.”
The article refers to DARPA’s Red Balloon Challenge, which I already blogged about here: “Time-Critical Crowdsourcing for Social Mobilization and Crowd-Solving.” The Economist also references DARPA’s TagChallenge. In both cases, the winning teams leveraged social media using crowdsourcing and clever incentive mechanisms. Can this approach also be used to verify social media content during a crisis?
This new study on disasters suggests that the “degrees of separation” between any two organizations in the field is 5. So if the location of red balloons and individuals can be crowdsourced surprisingly quickly, then can the evidence necessary to verify social media content during a disaster be collected as rapidly and reliably? If we are only separated by four-to-six degrees, then this would imply that it only takes that many hops to find someone connected to me (albeit indirectly) who could potentially confirm or disprove the authenticity of a particularly piece of information. This approach was used very successfully in Kyrgyzstan a couple years ago. Can we develop a platform to facilitate this process? And if so, what design features (e.g., gamification) are necessary to mobilize participants and make this tool a success?
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People Secretly Fear Creative Ideas
Based on the research by Mueller et al. 2011, people in business, industry, and academia all have an unconscious bias against creativity. This finding actually conflicts with what business, industry, and academic leaders say they want–which is more creativity. Connecting this finding to the study of science, technology, and society, one can only imagine how innovators throughout history were able to break through the constraints of this contradictory thinking: “We want more creative ideas, but your idea is too out of the box.”
Before creative ideas come into fruition and affect society, the novel contenders must battle against current society’s norms and communities. For example, Albert Bandura, often known as the father of the cognitive revolution, had to go against the norms and communities at his time: the behaviorists (followers of B.F. Skinner). It was not until 20 years later of constant publishing and fighting for his “creative” idea of we can learn to do things by observation that it was accepted. In other words, it took 20 years since an introduction of a “creative idea” for it to be accepted and legitimizing that particular society (United States). This follows Mueller’s findings that people constantly shoot down “creative” ideas and have a hard time recognizing them as “creative” ideas as well.
Further, I want to connect Mueller’s research to Philpott, Dooley, Dooley, O’Reilly, and Lupton’s paper on “The Entrepreneurial University: Examining the Underlying Academic Tensions.” Mueller found that teachers actually disliked the most creative students in their classes. This theme can also be found across the academic tensions in the “Entrepreneurial University” where creative ideas are abundant. Even when a university is built on top of creativity, the decision makers are unconsciously against “creative” ideas. But as we know of other technological and psychological innovations, they will be able to break across societal norms and status quo. Let the battles begin!
Chandra Mukerji, “Intelligent Uses of Engineering and the Legitimacy of State Power,” Technology and Culture 44 (2003): 655-676.
K. Philpott, L. Dooley, C. O’Reilly, & G. Lupton, “The Entrepreneurial University: Examining the Underlying Academic Tensions,” Managing Technology 31, no. 4 (2011), 161-170.
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