I have reasonably high social intelligence. Yes I’m willing to flex on this. I’m able to suss out the contours of most situations quickly and code switch my language, aesthetic and context cues. Sure as a white woman in America’s vast “upper middle class” many social interactions and norms are designed for my comfort. But I spend time in spaces that are very much designed to exclude like finance. But I rarely feel out of place as I can find some point of intersection that allows me to find purchase with the leader (or norm setter) that sets a group’s context. To say that this is beneficial is an understatement.
I recently came across a piece of writing titled “A Theory of Collision Spaces” written by scientist who goes by the handle Generativist. The intended audience is folks who think probabilistically or at least have a firm grounding in computational thinking but if you have a head for logic you should be fine. The topic is how social media can do often lead to what is called “context collapse” but you might recognize as “people screaming at each other in bad faith in the comments section.”
The premise of context collapses is that online we may theoretically interact with infinite possible audiences. Infinite contexts makes it much harder for us to adjust or code switch such that we can telegraph that we care about the audience to whom we are speaking. It’s not impossible but it’s much harder. This is how one can make a statement that sounds innocuous but will end up pissing off some group that will come down hard on you. If the reaction is bad enough some audiences call it cancel culture.
Because I have a high social intelligence I’m less prone to getting caught in a context collapse situations. A quick scan of a profile and a few sentences of text is generally enough for me to subtly adjust my language and response. Of course, I cannot adjust for how others respond to me but I can respond to how they respond to me.
Think if it as second derivative social signaling. Limiting the possible permutations enables safety driven actions on my part. While I cannot survive an internet mob (no one can) even a tweet that goes reasonably viral is still bounded by social cues. The more adaptive you are at these cues the less likely you are to instigate a context collapse.
A lot of reasonable people have concluded that context collapse and internet mobs make social interactions on the internet too risky. The likelihood of encountering someone who will go splat against your reality and make a fucking thing out of it is none zero.
But I’d argue you have a weighting bias issue for the magnitude of the risk. You are much more likely to build something of worth from being social than you are to become “canceled” and I think this Theory of Collision Spaces essay just might convince even the twitchiest rationalist groupie. Why? Ensemble learning and computer mediated relationships are super powers for humans. Our ability to extend our thinking has two powerful tools in this era. We can learn from others. And our tools like our computers and their application layer act as extensions of our mind. But don’t my word for it. Nothing I can say will remotely compare to the paper as I’m just not as smart as this scientist.
So you get that social media has many opportunities for expanding our mind. So how do we become comfortable with the perceived risk? One point I want to get across here is that assuming all interactions online are bad makes for poor heuristics. So why is it not as risky as you think?
“Social cues mal-adaptively increase the unconditional variance of expressions while minimizing the group-conditioned variance.
Basically social media makes you lean into identity cues. We fight with negative identity opponents and align with positive identity proponents. The only issue? You might be talking to someone like me that code switches. “You cannot easily distinguish between unreliable counterparties, deceptive ones, and whether or not you are wrong.” So you could be talking to someone deliberately fucking with you, someone who legitimately just misunderstand or you yourself might be wrong. How do you know? You don’t really. All this “in group” signaling doesn’t make a ton of difference. It’s just the environment of the internet honing some badly social engineered aspects that are not inherent to the human mind or social behavior.
So go read that piece. Tell me what you think. And then go enjoy being social on the internet! Don’t let being wrong or being polarized scare you. We are still figuring out how being part machine mediated. A few bumps are to be expected