Louis CK has a great bit in his new HBO special about road rage. His take: It’s amazing how hateful and angry we can become when we’re separated from people by a glass window and a bit of road.
Louis goes on to make the analogy about what road rage would look like if you were in an elevator — how ridiculous and disproportionate your rage would seem if someone gently bumped you.
It’s a fascinated comment on our situational criticism of others. For some reason we’re ok with judging those who we don’t know. The more detached we are, the more extreme the lack of empathy. I think this also shows up in our observation of celebrities as public objects and how their misfortune becomes lively cocktail fodder.
I worry about the degree to which this behavior is expressed in social. We’re each still hiding behind the safety of a consequence-proof window — but now it’s a computer monitor and a browser window. It’s easy to criticize and judge others online. Perhaps YouTube comments are the best example of this internet rage in action. Reddit is also a great example of where usernames give you a license to say anything you want.
People who tweet or blog on a regular basis come to terms with this over time. You will be judged from afar, you will be called stupid or incorrect on occasion. People will disagree with you online in the comments or offline to their friends.
I believe that’s why you rarely see creators criticizing another creator’s work — they know how hard it is to put yourself out there and to be vulnerable. They’ve been criticized and know it doesn’t result in the creator feeling very positive.
A New Social Contract
I think there is an opportunity to create social networks where empathy — rather than judgement — is the norm. Sounds cheesy, but it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be about happiness or personal growth or achievement or puppies. It can still be about the same type of content we all love consuming online: photos, videos, written posts, and creative works in general.
If we require the consumers and the creators to play by the same rules, then we get closer to an empathetic online network.What would a social network look like where content itself was the price to admission?
From a product perspective, it would strictly embrace a club house or exclusivity model.
For example: I take a photo then I get to see a photo. I write a blog post then I get to read a blog post. I upload a new song I wrote and then listen to a song.
What if we put the creators and the consumers of content in the exact same shoes by forcing all consumers to be creators. From a product perspective, there is no empty room problem because content is created and consumed at an equal rate.
In addition, I’d bet the quality of the content is actually be higher than for a broadcast model beuase there is a definite, specific audience (even if it’s a stranger). You’re truly the part of a like minded community that is participating and exchanging. There is literal empathy for the content creation process.
It’s About Relationships
The downside of this sort of content-exchange model is the reach. You don’t have thousands of followers or friends to influence. You just get one other person as your audience for each time you post. Some may see that as silencing, I see it as intimately social. By pairing the content of two creators, you form a bond between the two people that can form foundation for a relationship.
You lose the reach of Twitter’s broadcast model but I’d wager the benefits are made up in the strength of your relationships on the network. These relationships would be safe, powerful, and empathetic. They’d be honest, surprising, and fun.
There is an opportunity to create systems and products where empathy is the norm and truly social networks can from them. There is an opportunity to shun the follower count and embrace meaning. There is an opportunity for new online relationships and more enjoyable content.
We need to start building more elevators and less freeways.
If you want to see our take on the future of social media, check out Hollerback.
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