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Social software – social intelligence?

Some thoughts…

Consider this quote from Castells, talking about the difference between data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and judgement:

"we must consider how much the recurrent interaction between computers’ programmed decisions and the feedback from their environment can influence future programs, thus modifying the information base and, with it, the knowledge base for decision. In other words, is there self-evolving programming capability?... this does not seem to be the case nowadays. However, there is a co-evolution between the human brain and the computer, learning from each other, but learning from an individual human brain, so that the co-evolution is always specific to a given personality system. So a computer cannot become a subject in its own right, but I could have (actually my grandchildren may have) a computer as an extension of the mind, whose reactions and help affect the mind, inducing individualized co-evolution between people and their machines. So knowledge-management software is a low-level application for routine operations that can be truncated and distributed, but cannot respond to an evolving context, where the critical decisions have to be made.” (Castells 2003:137)

Interesting, and it makes sense to me. My computer has become like an extension of my memory: my memory is not very good, but one could argue that depending on computers has made it worse. How many of you out there know another person’s telephone number off by heart? Apart from your own that is; you probably know a few, but not many. Maybe the ones that you do remember are the ones you have to physically dial a lot (at the office, on the home phone). If you had to depend on your memory for numbers, and didn’t have autodial and all that on your handphones, you would probably remember a lot more. And when your brain has to do the same thing a lot it actually physically changes, different connections are made, and so on – especially when you are younger (see this interview with Jay Giedd, for example).

Therefore, the more we use computers to extend our brains, the more our brains will become less able to perform those functions that the computer takes over. The pessimistic possibility is that we just develop the skills of using a computer (like when you spend ages trying to fix a bug in the wireless connection just so you can send an email…); the more optimistic option is that our brains get liberated from the more mundane tasks and reach ‘higher levels’ – whatever they might be…

Anyway, to get to the social software part. If there is such a thing as ‘social intelligence’, i.e. a form of consciousness that specifically develops with and through dynamic social interaction, then as we use more software to manage our social life (from the contacts function in Outlook, to dating via social networking sites, where ‘compatible’ potential partners are selected for us), what ‘social intelligence’ that we now take for granted will become atrophied? What will replace them? Will it make any difference?

Works cited
Castells, Manuel, and Martin Ince. Conversations with Manuel Castells. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003.
Giedd, J. (n.d.). Interview with Jay Giedd. frontline: inside the teenage brain: interviews: jay giedd, m.d. | PBS. Frontline. Retrieved 27 July 2004, from


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Sarapen on :

Advances in communications technology have always affected the way people think. The invention of writing, for instance, has worsened our memory-retention skills, just like your cellphone example. In fact, I believe Socrates or one of his intellectual descendants decried widespread literacy as reducing the rhetorical skills of debaters, since they could not come up with counter-examples as readily. Also, more people apparently dreamed in black and white when that was the dominant colour scheme in which movies and tv shows were displayed. Sorry, I can't supply you with references since my books are all on another continent, but certainly these examples are food for thought.

julian on :

I hadn't thought of the writing, but that's obvious too when you think of it.
I guess another question is what is meant exactly by 'thinking': would a poor memory change how one thinks?

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