How Interconnected World Spawned Era of Selfishness

Ivan Pollard From London

By Published on .

Language is a funny thing. We take it, reshape it and misuse it. Take the word "network," for instance. In my 1930 dictionary, the single definition is "any work showing cross lines like the meshes of a net." The 1994 dictionary entry increases tenfold, including "a system of units, e.g. people, constituting a widespread organization with a common purpose." Wikipedia has hundreds of options under the heading "any interconnected group or system."

We are moving toward a state of hyperconnectivity, in which any individual can connect to everything, anywhere, all the time, with anybody. This state should be an incredibly fertile one for those in the business of propagating ideas and influence. But underpinning it is the sense that any connected network has the property of behaving as if it has a common purpose, as if it is a homogeneous entity. Yet, there is a countertrend, an opposing force to the idea of connected networks, and that is the rise of selfishness.
Ivan Pollard
Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, a communications-strategy shop with offices in six countries.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and heard the need for personalized widgets and customized interfaces? How many sites are there out there that build networks precisely on the basis of self-interest? Many of these connected networks (eBay, LinkedIn, Love Services) are there for people to achieve their personal aims, not for the "common purpose" of the network.

We can all have multiple, differentiated versions of our selfishness. We can be many things to all people, and doing this breaks down the old notions of privacy and identity.

In the U.K., some government minion just happened to lose the private information of 25 million people. This caused an outcry, as the vulnerability of people's identities in this networked, computerized world became all too apparent. Yet we happily give much of this information away on other networking sites. Facebook users in the U.K. are up in arms because their shopping habits are being made known. This has outraged the group "Facebook: Stop Invading My Privacy" -- as ironic a title for a collection of networked individuals as there ever was.

So how do we use this self-centered hyperconnectivity to do our jobs? Google "R. Alexander Bentley and Cultural Evolution," and it might set you on the way to an answer.
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