The value of Facebook and social networks

This is not another post about Facebook’s falling stock price or about what Google is doing to keep up with the social network. There are plenty of bloggers jumping on that bandwagon already. Most of whom miss the point entirely and remind me of the quote from Oscar Wilde that goes “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

With an IPO valuation so disproportionately out of whack with any metric that investors might normally use to value a company, it is obvious that the price of the stock of Facebook has little reflection on the present value of the company. The value of Facebook has little to do with its share price and everything to do with the value it can deliver to society in the coming years. Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies offer society the potential to achieve a new level of self awareness and decision making ability on a collective level. That potential is what I would like to explore here by look at how self awareness on an individual level changes when we scale up to a societal level.

Lets start with individual awareness.
Have you ever heard of the mirror test? The mirror test is a measure of self-awareness to see if animals either possess or lack the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror.
Animals that have passed the mirror test include:
Bottlenose dolphins
European Magpies

Importantly, humans fail the mirror test until they around 18 months old. This is what psychoanalysts call the “mirror stage”.

So if we as adults all have a degree of self awareness, how do we fair in terms of self awareness as a society.

I always remember this quote from agent K in the movie Men In Black “a person is clever but people are stupid”. One only has to look at traffic jams, political decisions, war and what we are doing to our environment to appreciate what is meant by the statement “a person is clever but people are stupid”

My understanding is that In the same way that babies are yet to make sufficient neural connections to pass a mirror test. We as a society are yet to make sufficient neural connections (connections between thoughts, ideas and opinions of individual human beings) to pass a collective mirror test.

This is evidenced is almost every aspect of politics where instead of functioning as an integrated whole, we elect individuals or groups of individuals to make our decisions for us. Many of which prove to be against our shared next interest. This top heavy, hierarchal model is increasingly dysfunctional as evidenced by the increasing lack of faith in our political and economic systems.
The world problems are not the fault of one nation, corporation or individual. They are the result of a society yet to develop a decent means of reflecting on its own best interests.

Social networks however have the power to change this.

In the same way that our young minds at 18 months old make sufficient neural connections to become self aware, our society is now developing millions of new connections every day. As a result I suspect that society is on the verge of a huge leap in our collective self awareness and ability to make collective decisions.
Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have access to data about what we as a society are searching for (Google), care about (Facebook) and are thinking about right now (Twitter).
With connectivity and computing power unavailable in a previous age. That data can be made available to corporations, small business, government, NGOs, schools and even individuals to help interpret what we as a society what truly value.

If we are smart this can help us to grow from the societal equivalent of our emotionally charged infant screaming with frustration at it’s failure to communicate its most basic needs,
to a mature, self aware collective of individual human beings capable of fulfilling our true potential.

With the aid of connected technology are we on the verge of a giant leap in collective self awareness where the greek aphorism ” know thyself” becomes a collective as well as an individual challenge. I wonder…? If social networks and the Internet truly are a mirror for society, will we like what we see or will we smash it because we cant stand the sight of our own reflection?

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