Illusion in Social Media

Feb 232012

Earlier this week, Trey Givens, Paul, and I discussed the questions of the upcoming webcast over dinner. (Trey was visiting us, which was super-lots-of-fun!) In our discussion of the differences between online and in-person relationships, Trey told us about a horrifying case in which an unfriending on Facebook led to a double homicide.

Obviously, that particular case wasn’t really about Facebook: something like that only happens because some people involved are unstable and depraved. However, this general observation on social media in the article struck me as quite insightful:

Facebook crystallizes the dynamics of our friendships and social interactions — bringing them a clarity that can be measured by clicks, visits, and comments. Having our social interactions brought into that level of focus means that a relationship that might have once ebbed over time naturally through avoidance and ignored phone calls can instead be cut off in a dramatic and confrontational way. Perhaps laying bare the end of a relationship in such a deliberate way means an intensified emotional reaction for those involved, or a sense of finality that one wouldn’t usually get. (When I blocked an ex-boyfriend on Facebook years ago, he was angrier about that than at any other point in our breaking up.)

I’ve certainly found that to be the case, and I think that’s why social media has the potential to cause so much disruption in online communities. (I’ve got a question on that topic in the webcast queue that needs your votes!)

Social media like Facebook and Twitter enable people to easily connect with others with similar interests — more easily than ever. That capacity to find the kinds of people I like is one reason why I’ve been active on e-mail lists for nearly two decades, why I’ve maintained a personal web site for almost as long as the web has existed, and why I’ve blogged for almost a decade. I use those venues as a filtering mechanism, so that I can find the kinds of minds and souls that I enjoy knowing. However, those older internet venues tend to be more one-way than social media: it’s too easy to be seen but not to see others. I like social media because people are more apt to speak out in large and small ways that reveal their personality, character, and values. That enables me to see others, and them to see me. So I can come to understand acquaintances better, as well as find likely potential friends.

However, that transparency comes at a price, as the article indicates. That price is not that people see the stupid, ignorant, annoying, and/or mean facets of distant acquaintances. Often, it’s a bonus to see that from afar because then people know to keep their distance! Rather, the price is that that online interactions make people within a far-flung community seem closer than they really are. Then, when people in those communities conflict, as they inevitably will do, people often fail to recognize the true distance and insignificance of the relationships involved. As a result, minor annoyances and disagreements between people who barely know each other turn into nasty public conflicts. That level of social drama used to be saved for bitter divorces, not people who’ve never even met.

These problem will sort itself out with time, I think, as people come to a better understanding of the nature and limits of these new social mediums. Certainly, I’ve made mistakes myself, most notably in fostering some unhealthy acrimony in the debates about the 2006 election. My attitude toward that is “Yippee Mistakes!” I’m not indifferent to my mistakes, not by a long shot. However, since Paul has yet to build me a time machine, I can’t undo those mistakes. I can apologize and make amends as needed, but mostly, I can use those mistakes as prime opportunities for discovering how to do better in the future. I can’t control what others do, but I hope they adopt the same approach.

Mostly though, I’d like to see a warning sticker on social media — something like the warning on passenger-side mirrors on cars: “People on your screen are further than they appear.” Taking that to heart could do a whole lot of good for online communities.

Videos: Friendships Despite Philosophic Disagreements

Aug 262011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed two questions on maintaining friendships despite philosophic disagreements.

The first question was:

How can I maintain my integrity in friendships with people of opposite philosophic views? I struggle to keep good relations with family and friends who support our current political system in which some people are helped at the expense of others, which I regard as slavery. They support ObamaCare, EPA restrictions, and welfare programs. Through years of caring discussions, I realize that they do not hold the individual as sacred but instead focus on what’s best for “the group.” At this point, I often feel more pain than pleasure being with them, even though we have many other values in common, yet I hate to cut them off. How can I maintain good relationships with them — or should I stop trying?

Here’s the 9-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

The second question was:

Should I terminate friendships with people who steal music and other intellectual property from the internet? I don’t know a single person who doesn’t steal something off the internet. I used to do this myself, but stopped when I realized it was wrong and why. Normally, I would cut off contact with anyone who violates rights, because that’s worse than just holding wrong ideas, but the activity is so prevalent now that doing so would end my social life. Even now, my clear moral position strains my friendships. So what should I do?

Here’s the 7-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

Questions on Family, Rational and Otherwise

Aug 122011

In early September, I’ll be speaking at the MiniCon of the Chicago Objectivist Society on the proper egoistic approach to family, rational and otherwise. The conference is already sold out, but even if you’re not able to attend, the lecture likely will be available later for purchase.

To help me prepare, I’d like you to tell me what kinds of problems you’ve had with your family that you’d like me to discuss.

Basically, I’d like a series of case studies to analyze, and I hope that you’ll contribute them! If you have one, please post it in the comments. Please give some — but not too much — detail about the particulars, perhaps a paragraph or two.

Or, if you have some general topic regarding family relations that you’d like me to cover, feel free to post a question. Also, if you like someone else’s scenario or question, hit the “like” button.

Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Family, Rational and Otherwise

Many people struggle to maintain ties with destructive family members, often sacrificing their own values and interests in the process. As rational egoists, Objectivists reject that “family-first” moral ideal, instead seeking mutually beneficial relationships based on shared values, including with family. Such egoistic family ties are often an invaluable source of visibility and support. However, family relations are not always easy: many are fraught with difficult and persistent conflicts.

In this lecture, Diana Hsieh will discuss how to be consistently rational and selfish in your dealings with irrational, altruistic, and/or religious family members. She will answer questions such as:

  • When should you tolerate people you dislike or that you judge immoral?
  • How can you make those people more tolerable — or even acceptable?
  • When and how should you cut off relations with a destructive family member?

In short, this lecture will help you to better understand how to extract the most value from your family.

Now… comment away!

Video: What’s Wrong with the Ideal of Moderation

Jul 192011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed what’s wrong with the standard calls for “moderation,” including in diet. Here’s the 17-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

For Sale: Podcast on Finding Good Romantic Prospects

Jun 172010

Now that my podcast on finding good romantic prospects is safely in the hands of the fine people who generously pledged to make it happen, I’d like to offer it for sale to people who didn’t pledge. However, the process will be somewhat unusual, as I explain below.

First, let me tell you about the podcast. I’m very pleased with it, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

Most obviously, it’s ninety minutes long, rather than the promised thirty to sixty minutes. (Bonus!) Somehow, my problem is never that I don’t have enough to say. Fancy that!

More importantly, my advice in the podcast applies just as much to seeking out prospects for friendship as it does to seeking out prospects for romance. That’s because I think the best opportunities for romantic prospects come from expanding and mining your social network of friends and acquaintances, rather than seeking romance directly. So even if you’re already happily married or attached, you’re likely to find the podcast of value. Or, as Kelly Elmore said on Twitter: “It should have been entitled Social Advice for Everyone for Every Situation. ” True!

The basic structure of podcast is as follows:

  • Opening remarks
  • A bit of theory:
    • Types of social relationships, visualized as a target
    • Major axes of compatibility in relationships
  • Practical advice
    • Make yourself a good prospect
    • Expand your social network
    • Engage with other people
    • Cultivate your social skills
  • Questions and answers from pledgers:
    • How can a person get better at evaluating other people’s characters when meeting them?
    • When should I reveal a psychological problem like bipolar disorder to someone I’m dating?
  • Closing remarks

As promised, much of my advice can be put into practice at OCON, or rather, even before that.

Also, one of the themes of my podcast is that you can take rational, purposeful control over your social life, rather than relying on luck. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my course at OCON in just a few weeks.

As of this very moment, I’m selling the podcast, but not by the ordinary means of setting a price. Instead, I’ll be accepting or rejecting your offers.

If you want the podcast, here’s what you need to do. Fill out the form below, offering whatever you think reasonable. If your offer is satisfactory to me, then I’ll accept it. I’ll send you a link to the podcast, as well as instructions for payment. If your offer is too low, then I’ll reject it. You’ll owe me nothing, but you’ll get nothing from me.

I’m not interested in haggling. You’ll have one chance to make me a good offer. So your offer should represent your judgment of the likely worth of the podcast to you. As with the pledges, I’ll happily offer a refund if you’re unsatisfied with the podcast, provided that you explain your reasons why. Also, you’re welcome to share the podcast with members of your household — but no one else.

Why am I using this method, instead of offering the podcast at a fixed price? Basically, I want to see what the podcast is worth to you, just as I did with the pledgers. And I want to be paid on that basis.

Finally, as I mentioned when I solicited pledges, I might offer the podcast for free at some point. Originally, I thought that might be sometime this fall, but now I’ll say that it won’t be until 2011, if ever. At this point, I just don’t know what I’ll do, but I wanted to give you fair notice.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments or e-mail me before making an offer.

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