Last week we looked at trust circles, truth clusters and the way information travels. We tried to map Truth, truth and facts as narrative traveled through our connected world. In this final installment of this series, we will look at message management and explore the techniques that may help us temper truthiness in our connected world.
It is axiomatic that trust circles, our smallest most inner circles of trusted sources, have always existed. Information Age technology empowers us to overlap all of our trust circles (the one for consumer electronics, the one for religious studies, the one for political guidance, the one for stamp collecting, etc.) and see the results collected in one place. Facebook is a good example. Every one of your Facebook friends is not in every one of your trust circles. They may not be in any, or they may be in a few. Sometimes they are clearly defined by Facebook groups or guests attending a particular event. Other times, they are simply people who you group together when you are thinking about a specific topic. You assemble your trust circle(s) and you are assembled into the trust circles of others.
By definition, trust circles are private. We now know that you can’t “bark” or interrupt your way into a trust circle, you have to be invited in or earn your way in. How you do this is the essence of modern social media marketing. (You can retain my company if you need help with this, it’s one of the things we do best!)
Trust circles are the last bit of conscious control any of us have over the contextualized, editorialized transference of information (raw data) into knowledge. As a story propagates through our connected world, truth clusters self-assemble. This too, is exactly what happens in the offline world.
As we can see every day, super clusters self-assemble around the most compelling narratives. We can track truthiness along the line of best fit (to use a mathematical metaphor) and we can also intuit that super clusters have offline counterparts because we experience them everywhere.
While the structure of human communication (beginning, middle and ending; rising action, climax, falling action) hasn’t changed very much over the past 3,500 years, there are two remarkable, non-trivial attributes of narrative today. 1) The most compelling narrative (true or false) cannot be erased from the searchable body of knowledge and, 2) the technology propagates the most compelling narrative (true or false) at speeds that are almost beyond the threshold of our ability to react.
That being said, there is an argument to be made that, although the technology makes us faster communicators, it does not make us better communicators. We know this because bad ideas travel just as quickly as good ideas. Facts and truthiness travel equally fast. So, it is logical to assume that since good and bad, true and false, right and wrong all travel at the same speed we should take it out of our thought experiment. But we can’t. Speed is, as we will soon see, a huge factor.
That leaves us the indelible attributes of the world wide web and wikiality to deal with.
If a crowd-sourced wikiality is the most compelling narrative, but it is not verifiable or fact-based, does it become the truth? And if it does, what should we do about it? The answer is, nothing. There is a single word that describes a crowd-sourced, compelling narrative that is not verifiable or fact-based … “faith.” We do not have any tools, electronic or otherwise, that will reliably, effectively inspire or incentivize people to question their faith. There’s no reason to try.
Which leaves us with the only possible tools we can use in the information age to help us propagate Facts and Truth … filters. Thinking this through and listening to hundreds of learned colleagues tell me stories about truthiness and wikiality, it occurs to me that clear, concise, branded filters are probably the best defense.
Sadly, actual Facts and Truth are the victims of the information age because filters craft narrative and tend to blanket us in the comfort of the information we want to hear. Fox News vs. MSNBC. Which is truthier to you? Man-made Global Warming vs. Natural Climate Cycles. Which is the more compelling wikiality? Life begins at conception or A woman’s right to choose. What does your faith tell you? I could go on forever. But each super cluster believes what it wants to believe, so we don’t need to worry about changing minds, we simply need to brand our filters along the lines of best fit.
To aggregate the largest audience and keep it, apply the branded filter that matches the most compelling narrative. Wait … that’s what TV programmers do. Yep, that’s what they’ve always done. Is it the “boob tube” or is it “programming to the lowest common denominator?” As we all know, popularity has never been a measure of quality and quality has certainly never been a measure of popularity.
My sons, Brent (21) and Jared (19) both took exception to my idea that social media would empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It was their collected contention that I was enamored with the technology that I failed to see that all of the ambient social media noise was self-canceling. The math, they argued, was simple. I’m pretty sure they are right.
It is interesting that this week, Freedom of Religion, is front and center in the national news. It made me think back to the conditions surrounding the birth of our nation. It occurred to me that, the idea that America needed to be independent from Great Brittan was so powerful that it persuaded people, who would describe themselves as British citizens, to pick up weapons and commit treason.
America, the brand, was a powerful idea. But treason was a serious crime. Then as now, anonymity was an appropriate tool. Under the nom de plume “Written by an Englishman,” Thomas Paine anonymously published Common Sense in January 1776. It was an instant best seller. When adjusted for population, it may be the best-selling document in American History. Historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense as, “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.” Common Sense was just a pamphlet, written in the style of a sermon. Would Information Age technology have done a better job changing the minds of British Loyalists? Doubtful.
History, as we well know, is written by the winner. In our time, the Truth (note the capital “T”) will be determined by the truth (note the small “t”) that makes the greatest number of indelible copies of itself. This is not new and apparently, the transformation of reality to wikiality is not new either. What is new is simply the speed at which all of this is happening. We need tools to interact with information traveling at this speed. And, we need better filters to help us sort out and curate the data that is most important to us.
Is there a way to save Facts and Truth in the Information Age? It’s easy to predict the evolution of tools that will empower users to find root threads of ideas that are propagating online in near real time. As hand messenger services gave way to faxes, and faxes gave way to email, and email gave way to txt messaging — we will find a way to adapt to the new speed of information — after all, it is directly equated to economic success.