Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, had an opinion piece in the Sunday Times describing and lamenting the phenomenon of a smart phone-equipped society that is lonely despite being constantly connected.
It’s a good read and I was struck by the following paragraph:
And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.
It seems pretty obvious to me that almost no one can be honest in front of hundreds or thousands of barely known Facebook friends. But this observation got me thinking about who people feel comfortable sharing honest feelings with in real life. People share when there is trust and the quickest way to develop trust is to make yourself vulnerable. Maybe this willingness is a variation on mutually assured destruction; as in, once I’ve made myself vulnerable by sharing personal with you, you can safely make yourself vulnerable by sharing something personal with me knowing that I won’t betray you for fear of you then betraying me.
Assuming that observation is accurate, a few questions: Would the quality of reflection on social networks be improved if you trusted your social network more? Could you somehow determine who you could trust by looking at their posts (e.g., the more open, honest and candid the posts, the more trustworthy they are)? Could this analysis be done automatically? Once trustworthy friends are identified, will people be more willing to be honestly self-reflective?