Filling linguistic holes in social networks

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Good Old Trend

This is a long post that just follows my brain´s way of reasoning, not a coherent idea from beginning to end. Bare with me 🙂

I ended up in an interesting discussion the other day. If you speak Swedish you can find it here. In short, I responded harshly (although it was initially meant to be sharp, rather than harsh) to a comment about the legitimacy of the IPCC in a Jaiku-thread. As the discussion went on, I found myself having quite an unpleasant tone and started to reflect on that rather than yet another argument about the climate.

Two things stood out in the discussion. Firstly, I responded in such a different manner from my normal “Jaiku-tone” that many people reacted. A few examples:

1. I received several supporting comments via IM, IRL and so forth. But none in the thread.
2. Seven people, almost instantly, added me as a contact on Jaiku. Writing these things must have sparked some sort of interest.
3. Another few people said that they were very surprised because they had never seen me like “that” before. My behaviour was clearly outside the realms of what was expected, and, in some sense, accepted.

Secondly, I noticed that it was I that couldn’t handle another point of view. At least not in that social setting. I’m usually not like that.

In the Swedish Jaiku-bubble we all tend to agree and pat each other on the back. When someone steps outside of this jargon, it obviously gets disproportionately large (social) consequences.

Fredrik had a theory that Jaiku was the place for all social media enthusiasts that were sick of not being taken seriously or understood in their usual surroundings. It therefore became a safe haven and a continuous backchannel for all things social. In that context it makes sense to agree and cheer as the escape from criticism is what unites the people there.

There is much to be said about all of this. But let’s focus on one thing for now: is discussion and critique really a pre-requisite for development and improvement? Would Jaiku be better, or more interesting, if we’re argued more and were more different?

My friends know I often refer to Edward de Bono as one of the most interesting thinkers I have ever read. If you are not familiar with him I recommend that you start of by reading this 1997 article from the Guardian. A summarizing quote:

“Traditionally, we have solved problems by analysing them and seeking to identify, and then removing, the cause of the problem. Often this works, but at other times there are too many causes to remove or we cannot remove the cause because it is human nature. The ceasefire in Northern Ireland was squandered because the Government could not design any constructive way forward. That is mostly a design problem, but it is not getting any design attention. Argument will never solve the problem.


Does all this mean that traditional thinking is wrong and useless? Not at all. It has been and continues to be wonderful and highly useful. The front left wheel of a car is wonderful and essential. But it is not enough.”

What de Bono is saying is that design, not oppositional discussion or argument, is the way forward. And he means design as in the creation of new ideas rather than “graphic design” that it is often confused with.

With this is mind, the social framework that Jaiku offers to the Swedish crowd could have excellent pre-requisites to become a truly constructive area of ideas. No arguing in the way of designing ideas. Still I find that surprisingly few new ideas come up.

My current theory regarding this is that the framework itself lacks a way of presenting an opposing (or rather, parallel) view in order to drive the discussion forward without giving the impression that is was written to disprove the first persons idea. The sense that we should all get along is sympathetic – but limiting – as that makes the assumption that presenting another view would mean not getting along.

Before the mindset of parallel thinking is standard, we need to design social networks to minimize the flaws that language and traditional reasoning have created for us. Jaiku and similar social networks therefore needs a button or a symbol that indicates something to the effect of “I respect your idea and think you have an interesting point, but in order to expand the way we can think about this I will now present another idea. Although it may be perceived as opposing your idea – don’t take it that way, but simply regard it as a provocative statement aimed to help us improve and expand your initial idea.” Let’s call this button “PO”, as that is what Edward de Bono calls the same concept outside the internet.

In the spirit of this, I’ll end with a PO myself:

PO: Let’s rebuild Jaiku to fill in all the linguistic holes that modern society have created for us. Let’s leverage the fact that the internet can offer more sophisticated ways of communicating and not just recreate the same old patterns that have limited us all for so long.

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