Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Skinner box

I have come to think of social media as "the Skinner box". Or, rather, the very arbitrary rewards and punishments they bestow/inflict on us users.

Now, I'm the first one to admit that the rush of getting into a high speed communication frenzy is exhilarating beyond words - especially if it happens to be about something close to my digital heart. There is undeniably something about the act of dishing out messages at the speed of cognition that goes directly to the reward system of the not very digital brain.

And I bet you've been there.

But it's not only the rush of a constant now. It is also somewhat subtler than that, and sometimes somewhat slower. Especially when the punishments - most often in the form of a complete lack of interest from your peers - sets in. Over time, you find that you stop doing those things that get no response, and more often tend to do the things that gets likes, retweets or comments.

Which, of course, is the whole point of a Skinner box. To change a persons behavior by over time administrating rewards and punishments. Though in the case of social media, there is no telos involved. The aggregate of social mediums we use in our everyday lives just happen to reward some activities and ignore others, and it is good to be reminded that there are bigger things in life than arbitrary numbers.

Like the numbers of likes, retweets or comments.

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