Psychological Gravity and Ambient Humanity

Dan Cohen is another person who is forsaking social media and returning to blogging. His reasons and opinions reflect mine, although he is probably more eloquent about it. In the linked article, he makes a case for why people fled blogs for Twitter and Facebook in the first place. Over on Kottke’s site (which never lost faith in the blog), Tim Carmody talks a bit about what needs to happen to make blogs viable and competitive again.¬†Two phrases that come up in Cohen’s piece, which are discussed by Carmody as well, are psychological gravity and ambient humanity.

The psychological gravity is that we flock to where people are. Social media acts as an aggregator, putting all of your friends in one place. We get to see more things at once, which is convenient. Our views and opinions will be seen by more people, too. As an added bonus, we get to be intellectually lazy, simply repeating (retweeting, sharing, whatever) what other people have said rather than composing our own thoughts. Assuming, of course, we actually look at the things we’re repeat and not just passing it along based on a headline that tickles our confirmation bias.

The notion of ambient humanity is the sense that there are people around you on social media sites. This illusion is the result of new content constantly streaming in. Even if none of your friends are online at the moment, the algorithms will feed you content that they withheld from you previously to make you think that there’s constant activity. This is why timelines are no longer chronological. It’s like removing clocks from the gambling floor in casinos, so that you lose track of time and hang around longer.

The fact is, I would rather have a handful of people who actively and intelligently engage with this site than have a huge following on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We’ve forgotten the concept of quality in the blind pursuit of quantity. We assume that people with a lot of followers have influence. As a marketer, I know that only a small percentage of people actually read your social media post, and even fewer will click a link. Those numbers increase on blogs, because those people have sought you out, rather than passively watch you float buy as part of an endless stream of updates. So much for psychological gravity.

As for ambient humanity, that’s also just a comforting lie. I follow hundreds of people on the various social media platforms. I’m still sitting alone on my kitchen. Yes, it’s cool to occasionally chat with friends and leave comments, but I am not surrounded by people. I’m not wrapped in the warmth of a crowd of friends and acquaintances. I’m all by myself. So are you, most likely. Even if there’s someone else in the room, you’re not engaging with them. You’re reading this. And I’m not here.


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