Monday, May 7, 2012

Being like the Borg?

I really enjoyed this week's readings and how Kadushin as well as Benkler and Benjamin Phelan transitioned from small social networks to the way organizations network.

The Hive (quibbling aside amongst the researchers in the first half of the paper) really delve into the world of eusociality - is a term used for the highest level of social organization in a hierarchical classification (Wikipedia definition). At the heart of this article appears to be moral behaviour and the differences between altruists and individualists - with the belief by Darwin that the actions of altruists would overpower the selfish actions of individualists. And all of these beliefs are understood and derived from looking at how ants perform in a colony and how bees perform in their hives.

If you apply this type of mentality to the social networks of today, does Phelan's article still ring true? Can altruistic traits be encoded in DNA and passed on from generation to generation (as Darwin tried to determine)? Well it seems that good character traits, like altruism, aren't just a part of your physical make-up. It's also determined by the environment one is raised in and the behaviours that exist in that group.

I was drawn back to an article that I had analyzed for our first assignment in COMM 501 - Communications Research. In the article I read about the Sichuan earthquake in China, and how media helped spread the message about how survivors could be involved in the relief efforts. I kept thinking that while we as humans are more socially networked today thanks to the Internet, it seems to take a worldwide catastrophe to motivate us to altruism. 

Gone it seems are the days where people did things out of the good of their own hearts. Now it seems that only when disaster visits the doorstep do people feel motivated to step out of their insular bubbles and help their fellow man. I would like to think that personally I could have my altruistic side tapped for much less than disaster but I don't truly know how I would react. How do you think you would in the same situation?


  1. Andrea, I absolutely agree with your insights. It seems like any time there is a big disaster, people come together to help immediately. However, on a daily basis we rarely see people paying it forward. Whenever I can, I try to spread smiles, hold open doors, acknowledge people for a job well done, etc. Sometimes the little things we do have the same affect on others as a large gesture would, especially when you do them more frequently.

  2. Insightful post - really helpful for me - your question is a good one to reflect on - when we hear stories of people who go beyond the call of duty to help complete strangers and risking their own lives as a reflex - it gives one great hope for human kind. You will not know the answer to this question until you are thrown into the scenario. But we do know how George (Seinfeld) would react, remember this one?

  3. Oh Teresa, that is the best video clip ever. You're right you never know how you'll react until you're thrust into that situation.

  4. Thanks Crystal. I am so glad to hear that the idea of paying it forward isn't lost on everyone. All that you do every day to bring some joy to others is not in vain, that much I DO know.

  5. Great post Andrea. Altruism is such a difficult concept.

    I think the problem I have is with the concept of altruism. It a long debated concept in philosophy. At the end, altruism feels good or we wouldn't do it - so we get something from it.

    Have you heard about Daniel Pink? He wrote DRIVEN, where he tries to explain the different types of motivation - monetized and non-monetized ( Altruism is a form of non-monetized motivations (but it can be mixed -- see below).

    I think Twitter/Facebook, like our own networks nodes,that these platforms make altruistic acts more visible (with a bit of viral in there).

    I was a nurse in Cancer Care for five years and always wondered whether the profession could be considered altruistic because you get paid to do it. In reality, yes I was remunerated, but there were things I felt compelled to do that you couldn't pay me not to do. Work yes... altruism... sometimes.

    The other thing to consider (because of it's nature) how unpublicized alturism is. You brag about it, is it still altruism?

    I believe altruism is still out there - you've been charitable to an orphan 2010 MACTer. See... right under your nose.

  6. Great post Andrea. Here comes my personal soapbox... (and 100% Kadushin free)

    Altruism is a difficult concept, and I don't think it's truly pure. Altruism must provide some sort of emotional return, or we wouldn't do it. However, I believe it's around but tacit. Bragging about altruism is self-serving, which equals zero. So, I believe altruism by nature is hard to observe.

    If anything, social platform like Twitter and Facebook make altruism more visible by shear mass, eclipsing what ever minute rays of lights that occur day-to-day.

    Altruism can be camouflaged as well. Daniel Pink wrote about monetized and non-monetized motivations. I was a cancer nurse for 5 years, and I was stuck in-between - an "altruistic profession'. Can you be altruistic if your getting remunerated? Like society, the best of us nurses feel we are.

    Yes, there are days where what we do is routine, but there were other days where caring for a patient meant doing something that no one could pay you enough not to do.

    Utopia? nope. But individualism creates a market for altruism.

    Still can't find these small bits of altruism? Orphans.. remember that you took in an orphan...2010 MACTer.

    See... right under your nose you altruist.

  7. You do not know how you will react but I truly feel that it is "human nature" to help someone in need.

    I thought I had limits but I had an experience a couple of years ago when my sister was in the hospital. There was an elderly lady next to my sister and the nurses on duty were "not around". Anyways without going into too much detail, this lady got extremely sick (lots of yucky stuff) and I just jumped in as I did not want her choking. The only thing going through my mind was she needs help and I need to do this. I did not think of any risks to myself. This may not be a "pay it forward" but it was a mini diaster (literally)!