Community, Mob and Overwhelmed

Image by Sue Waters via Flickr


Below are a couple that I have read this weekend: 1% Rule – Wikipedia States that only 1% of the people on the Internet actually take the time to create content there. Then it goes on to state that about 9% take the time to comment on information that they view on a forum or other Internet content.I don’t really want to believe that the figures are that low. However, when I look realistically at how many blogs, tweets, news articles or other Internet sources that I read and how seldom that I take the time to add my comment to what is being discussed. My own participation online does probably fall within the 1% – 2% range.

This, That and the Other, by Mark Pesce This article discusses Dunbar’s magic Number of 150 which is supposed to be the threshold that where community ends and the beginnings of a mob. That through the use of technology we have amplified our ability to do more than our “natural gifts allow us to. Pesce states that:

“All of this means that every time we gather together in our hyperconnected mobs to crowdsource some particular task, we become better informed, we become more powerful.”

This to me is a very accurate statement as we have witnessed the power of social media in the Egypt, Libyia and even Wisconsin. People are using social media to communicate ideas, do logistical arrangements that in the past were only available to organizations along with so many other uses, it is as Pesce said “the people manage themselves”.

On a more personal level, I use social media to expand my knowledge of education and find answers to questions or resources from what many call their Personal Learning Network (PLN), that I wouldn’t have had access to in the past. Without my PLN it would take me much longer to create lessons, blog posts or other things that I have posted to the Internet over the past couple of years if I had been left to research solely on my own.

I do agree with Pesce’s comment “We need and we need and we need.” Sometimes it seems as though we want others to bring what we need to us without wanting or having to do anything to get it for ourselves. I wonder how this goes along with Learned Helplessness, but that is a different rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down right now.

For me the RSS feed reader is a good example of this “we need” and how it is being met. Once you subscribe to a feed it is pushed to a reader, so you don’t ever have to go back to that website or blog unless you choose to. It is easy and convenient and you don’t miss any “good” articles. However, by not visiting the author’s website or blog you are not supporting that person and also not providing yourself the opportunity to comment on what has been written. So while RSS Feeds do meet a we need, they do take away opportunities to create and maintain communities.

Also it seems that so many of us can’t be inconvenienced by having to take the extra time to do something beyond whining and complaining about something that we don’t like or don’t agree with. Most of us don’t actually do anything about what we are complaining about and believe/expect that someone else will probably take care of the problem any way, so why bother. We find it is easier to do nothing. In other words are we lazy and want/expect someone else to do take care of problems/issues for us.

According to Pesce “The future – for all of us – is the battle over the boundary between community and the crowd”. I prefer to think that I want to be a part of a community and not part of a crowd, but as we spend more and more time online, is our definition of community and crowd changing? I “know” many more people online in my education PLN than I do in the town that I have lived for 10 years. Is that sad, is that the future or is it just the way things are in my life?

Even in my online communities I have found myself becoming ovewhelmed with the amount of information that I am attempting to process on a daily basis. I have known for a while that I haven’t been commenting and adding my voice conversations in my social media sites as much as I have previously and these articles just increased my awareness of that. This feeling of being overwhelmed is for a variety of reasons, which if I listed would sound simply sound like excuses, but are real to me.

Like many others I try to accumulate and process too much information and can’t read, digest, follow and comment to every conversation that I am a part of, in the time I have available for it to still be pertinent to the conversation. Some of the reasons:

  • numerous RSS feeds (81 in gReader today) in the past I have had upwards of 150,
  • following almost 300 people in Twitter
  • almost 100 friends on Facebook
  • plus keeping track of newsfeeds for the local newspaper and Google News feed
  • In addition to the work load that a special educator has with paperwork and lesson planning
  • trying to have a personal life too

I find that when it comes to using social media that I have to go in and reduce the numbers that I follow/keep track of every two to three months. I was doing this before I had ever heard of Dunbar’s Magic Number by trying to keep RSS to less than 50 feeds, following around 150 people on Twitter and Facebook combined (I tend to hide a lot of former students – I don’t want to know what 20 somethings are doing). Otherwise in my experience the information stream, just becomes too much for me to keep track of and I tend to not participate at all.

The problem I have with attempting to reduce the amount of information coming in, is that while online you meet so many interesting people, new websites or news feeds that you want to keep track of that you experience what I call RSS feed/Twitter/Facebook/News “creep”. In other words you keep adding new information, but don’t realize how much, until you are not really participating in the conversations as they fly by you on your preferred social media site.

As more people use Web2.0 tools to create on the Internet, I wonder if the percentage of people who create or comment on what others have created will increase or if the 1% rule will pretty much remain the same. I have a feeling that some manufacturers are leaning towards the 1% remaining about the same and that most/the majority of the users on the Internet are going to consume information versus creating it.

It seems that many of the newer devices are designed to consume information more easily than to create it. The Internet has changed how we process or use information and our definition of community. I believe that these are the initial stages of significant shifts in how we view face-to-face relationships, our sense of community, relationships with individuals we have met online, the ability of the mob to facilitate change due to the improved ability to communicate quickly and reliably is unprecedented in history.

All these shifts are occurring as we speak and many are having a difficult time adjusting to those changes. On a more personal level we are also inundated with more information than we can actually process as a result of the Internet. The new tools that we use to create on the Internet or receive what we need are extremely powerful, easy to use, readily available and relatively inexpensive or free, which is flattening the world, like no other tool ever has. There is so much information available instantaneously that we have not had time to learn, how to determine what we actually need, want or how to share that knowledge with others so they can use it as well.

That is part of the human experience, that most of us want to share our knowledge with someone. With all of the Web2.0 tools available to us, how do we determine which one meets our needs both in our personal lives or at work and how much crossover should there be. The lines are blurring between work, learning and home, no longer is work or learning a certain place or time, it can be 24/7 where ever, whenever. This is something that most of us have not come to grips with or completely understand how to effectively be a part of this new reality. This is part of the reason that I wanted to take this iFacilitate open course.

Now I have to go back and cull my gReader and Twitter numbers back down to a more manageable number for me. This way I will be able to participate in more fully in a smaller, but more manageable online community. Hopefully, I will be able to process this smaller amount of information and have better conversations than I was when I was becoming overwhelmed and attempting to follow a crowd instead of a community.