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February 05, 2012

Is Social Media adding to the collective consciousness or collective chaos?

I have often wondered, can two people truly stay star-crossed in this time and age? Somehow the filter of tragedy that one could apply to romantic stories in the past has vanished. Chances are, if you know this person's first & last name, you will find them somewhere on the world wide web. We are 'everywhere' and we are over-doing it! But, is all this information leading us somewhere?

A while ago, I watched an online talk on how social media is working as a catalyst towards bringing about an evolutionary change in the world (Think Egyptian revolution). Sid Mohasseb, in this talk addresses the clash between virtual and real world. You can no longer separate these two-- local and global have become a huge part of our lives. Not only are we in touch with our communities, networks like Twitter/Pinterest/LinkedIn leave our brains open to grasp the global knowledge. Pre-smartphones era, you had to log onto computers to open your door to the world but now it seems as though we never really shut the door (checking social networks in the middle of the night-that has me written all over it!)

Being a psychological-spiritual pseudoscience geek, I have read quite a bit on collective consciousness.

What is collective consciousness?

"The term collective consciousness refers to the condition of the subject within the whole of society, and how any given individual comes to view herself as a part of any given group...
...the phrase collective consciousness implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons. The easiest way to think of the phrase (even with its extremely loaded historical content) is to regard it as being an idea or proclivity that we all share, whoever specifically “we” might entail." - 

There is vast amount of literature on this subject but for this post, I'm only going to consider the standard meaning. For anyone who still finds this concept complicated, the Star Trek geek in me has a brilliant example to offer, -"Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated".

So is social media causing this assimilation of human minds? Are we really moving forward towards a new spiritual awakening? Sounds rather extreme but I personally think that on some level, our consciousness is moving from individual to universal. Now this "universal" consciousness is further divided based on the "community" or rather the "school of thought" we belong to but when we embrace social networks, on some level we do lose our individuality. Whether as a simple user or as a marketer. This is a nice read on the topic of losing our individuality to social networks. 

Our user layouts look the same, our timeline cover photo might express our individuality but we all have the same 840 X 310 dimension allotted by Facebook! 

As a collective consciousness, most of us spend everyday trying to chime in our 2 cents to add to our ever growing community online. We share and tag and like and share some-more only to end up re-tweeting/re-pinning even more. If you spend even a couple days with no internet contact, you've quite a bit of catching up to do when you go back online!

Just like in the real world, we are trying to fit in by doing and saying what is considered acceptable and what entertains people within our social circles. Nothing wrong in that really, as a people lover, I strongly feel we need to say the right things to connect with others, else we'll be left alone. I doubt that most of us were designed to survive alone. 

When it comes to Marketers relying on social networks to spread their messages, the same applies. A little competitive research and we are trying to do what the other guy does but hope we do it better. Fitting in has somehow been equated with presence on every social network known to mankind! Its all well and good but the problem arises when we start using online marketing channels only so we can tick off "digital marketing" on the Marketing plan. The same monotonous statements are fed across all social networks and people on the other end are expected to have gained something from it! Where is your individuality and customised effort? I personally am of the opinion that you cannot Market without Research! 

Venting aside, back to the topic at hand. The fight between collective consciousness and collective chaos seems like a war between wisdom and stupidity. As a brand, what do you aim to spread?

Do you see your fans/followers as a breathing mass or humans with the capability to think?

Social media can't be effective if you are spending resources targeting the wrong audience. This is why experts suggest investing in market research to figure out what segments make up your audience. If there's something to learn from Pinterest's success, it is that Pinterest targets categorizing. Recently, I read an Oglivy article on what we can learn from the Sh*t We Say meme. The author Blake Bowyer, talks about the importance of targeting based on segmentation. Segmentation would mean using unique/individual approaches to market. You can't leave one segment out in the favour of targeting another. Each and every one of your followers/fans is an individual who is a part of a local collective which then is a part of the global collective. Obviously one cannot shape marketing based on every individual's likes/dislikes but you can definitely target the local collective. By engineering a marketing environment that uses a customised approach to target smaller collective communities, you have a better chance of winning their hearts and in turn making enriching additions to the collective at large. 

The picture social media paints cannot be black or white. Those shades of gray leave me unsure and I can't make a definite conclusion on whether the overload of information is adding to the collective consciousness or collective chaos. 

The reality as I see it is,

For true collective consciousness to occur, there would have to be a much greater percentage of people involved. Furthermore, any information shared would have to be accessible by everyone in the network and this information will have to be honest

Another issue is that the sense of community is stronger in some countries as opposed to others. Collective consciousness is community based and therefore it is more likely to work in developing nations than developed where individuality finds itself placed on a higher rank than community. Born and raised in India where community ranks higher than individuality but having spent years living in UK, I have friends on Facebook (the ones in India) who are quick to think as a community and friends from UK, who would much rather express their individuality than be a part of the local community. I suppose this is where segmentation plays a key role in any marketing plan. 

If not collective consciousness, then is the over load of information on social media causing collective chaos? 

From my point of view, our brains are wired in ways we will never understand. We can grasp and rationalize bits and pieces of information thrown at us to create a collective story. Makes me think of the chaos theory. In simple terms, chaos theory is about finding predictable information within chaotic random data. It appears that our brains are still extremely efficient at making sense of the 'chaotic'. Somehow it makes me want to believe that we are evolving and adapting to the chaos around us. 

There is no way to determine if our brains will someday burn out like an overheated electronic appliance. Between collective consciousness and collective chaos, I'm inclined to believe that we are somewhere in between. Our brains have smartly adapted to the chaos and we are building collective stories but for the sake of mankind, I sincerely hope it will lead to a positive collective consciousness. 

I like to believe that people are inherently good or at-least want to be on some sub-conscious level (if they haven't yet turned complete sociopaths). As brands, it is important to consider the effect you have on your audience. Corporate social responsibility can't end offline, it has to continue through your online efforts, after all the virtual and real have become one world! Sharing a bulk of information without consideration is crap marketing. On the other hand, I don't believe any brand can aim to create a spiritual experience like collective consciousness! You would be in a happier place if you were smoking a blunt and dreaming that can happen. What I believe is that by using the right tone of voice, actually investing in understanding your market segments, taking time to be considerate and then providing enriching individual content can help you go a long way in creating a collective story.

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