Aug 28, 2014

Facebook and the Social Reality

Taken from  Essential Personalities, and why humans found love, adapted to monogamy and became better parents, UK, 2nd Edition 2012, ISBN 9870954483159

" Sociability

The Landscape, as part of the TO8, is the foundation of what we might call our sociability because it fixes the presence of the social fundamentals in human culture. Nowadays we would think of this as describing the social networks that we all seem to want to belong to. Social networks are only part of the story, and theories of human sociability do not explain why there are ever-present types who do not want to belong to social groups, who do not necessarily find their fulfilment in the now of society. These non-Landscape individuals (in the TO8) provide a necessary balance to the social network; the balance that comes from independence and creativity. Social theories have yet to explain the mystery of why individuals do not torture on command or who demonstrate at risk of death against oppression, or who love at any cost, or who are generous against their own best interests; who keep their word in the face of pain and death. We find these types throughout the ages and societies of history. If sociability was a benefit driven by nothing but genes, it would be selected preferentially and any drive for independence would be driven out very quickly, in a few generations. But not only do humans give themselves up to group behaviours they also very prominently act on their own account even against their own best material or social interests which is not something one would expect to be reinforced by natural selection or explained by conventional theories of altruism. Without a theory that also explains systematically these ever-present types in human society, a theory of social behaviour that only deals with the giving up of individuality to the collective will fail. 'Groupthink' is not the only way we make decisions and solve problems.
Interestingly, a 'resistance' to a collapse into pure sociability can be shown. Research into social media overstates its case for connecting people. People may have huge numbers of contacts in their 'friends' list (I have a friend who happily links to anyone on Facebook who has a connection to her whether or not she knows them) and recent research into the reach of Facebook may put the average steps of linkages to any other member at between 3 and 4, yet the difference between contacts in social media and real life friends is enormous. A Melbourne based analysis of online and real time socialising data shows an average Australian has about 154 online friends, but only 14 friends in real life. Women have an average of 174 contacts online but only 12 genuine friends. Men have fewer contacts but slightly more real friends. World-wide mobile phone analyses show that 80% of all mobile calls are made by people to just 4 others.
I argue that sociability found with Landscape behaviours in the TO8 certainly involves information, and this is why social media is successsful, but it also involves relationships of a certain quality, and genuinely cohesive society is formed from a mix of types.
Even so, could there be a gene for sociability? And people who don't have it are loners and mavericks occurring at random? Could there be a gene for the maverick? Obviously there are conditions which require more sociability than independence, and where independence is a liability to the survival of the individual, and situations where this is reversed. It's hard to come up with a theory of gene selection that maintains a balance of both behaviours over long periods of time. So the chances are that there is a gene for sociability - being the dominant behaviour - and not the other. Researchers seem to have found evidence that a sociable person can be assessed as such by strangers within seconds, and that this relates to the higher likelihood of the presence of an allele of an oxytocin receptor gene in those observed. (Receptor distribution in general is related to sociability in several species.) People with this allele report being more social, and are less inclined to autism. (Otherwise known as the 'love hormone', oxytocin is now sold over the counter in nasal spray form as a 'relationship facilitator').
There are problems with this particular study. It employed already established couples (23 of them, a small sample) in a contrived social circumstance (confession of a serious nature) and did not look for the presence of the gene in those doing the guessing. Even if the action of the receptor is unequivocally linked to greater oxytocin levels and feeling cuddly, the question how much of it one needs to make a relationship or the relevance of the hormone to real-life social interaction is not answered. Its actual lifetime in the blood is about 3 minutes, and although oxytocin may be secreted in several places in the body, such secretions fail to get across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain. Many studies use a nasal spray to deliver the oxytocin but it is not clear how much oxytocin enters the brain from their use. Some studies even show an adverse social reaction to oxytocin, and too much of it in women giving birth can inhibit labour and 'freeze up' the womb.
The oxytocin research does throw an interesting light, however, on one of the functions of the female orgasm – giving birth.  The birth canal is surrounded by tissue similar to the tissue of the penis, and there is evidence that the female orgasm assists in the birth process, and indeed can be used to help difficult births along. The ease with which men and women achieve orgasm is related to their testosterone levels, and testosterone levels seems to be modulated by socialising and parenting behaviours as much or more as they are indicative of male aggression. Sex is very much the significant purpose behind human relationships, so we can begin to see a neat link up between relationships, sex, and birthing success.
Social behaviours exist in a context, and our actual consciousness is metagenic, that is, the result of actions of many genes and the autonomic systems that they initiate. The human personality is composed by many such systems, so while there are genes whose actions could have overt behavioural effects, if a distinct human personality were in essence heritable, consistent types could be traced through families and this is clearly not the case (welcome types would multiply rapidly while unwelcome types could be easily eradicated from the gene pool by heavy policing). How do genes explain the observations that marriage modulates male behaviour, or that levels of testosterone in men are not related to aggression per se but to status-seeking, socialised behaviours or that happier more engaged fathers have higher levels of testosterone than remote un-engaged fathers. How do we explain the bizarre preferences of parents for their children, of siblings for parents or for each other, of fans of people they have never met? And yet, personality types are recognisable and found repeatedly through the generations. This persistence can be related systematically in the TO8 to the solar year and to the hemisphere of birth, an astounding piece of confirmatory evidence that shows our personality is less simply controlled by genes than we think.
Sociability and the Landscape

Much is made of recent news that members of social media seem to have larger grey matter in areas of the brain, although which came first cannot be assessed. As I hypothesise, Landscape behaviours, the dominant personality influences on individuals, makes up the majority of behaviours described by the TO8. Out of 64 distinguishable types, 48 of them have some Landscape component or resolve to it in later life, while 16 experience no Landscape at all and will find it both difficult to make their way in social life and be able to resist social pressures. So it is reasonable to assume that if there are structures in the brain (like grey matter - also connected with intelligence) that can be related to sociability then they are connected to the system of development I propose. Furthermore, since individuals resolve to the Landscape in later life, it is reasonable to suppose that the grey matter might increase over time in some individuals but not all, which could be verified experimentally. The solutions of the TO8 cover the questions of why sociability is stronger in some but not in others and also the evolution of sociability throughout an individual's life.
The TO8 Landscape is a useful tool for clarifying many mysteries of a social nature. An interesting example appeared in the British press recently and caused quite a stir. A recent study showed significant achievement differences between children born in the UK in August, at the end of the school year and those born in September, at the beginning of the school year. While it is easy to appreciate that the youngest of a school year are likely to have more problems than the oldest, it is difficult to be clear about all the causes of this difference. In my observations, the difference between August and September marks a difference between a non-Landscape type and a Landscape type, and so I do not find it surprising that August types have more difficulty succeeding in the social context of school than September types. This is true only of England. In France and Spain for example, the school year ends on the 31st of December. All those born between 1st January and 31st December join the same school class when school begins in September. So any class in Spain say, has pupils younger than those in an equivalent class in England and not as old. Their transition - December/January in the TO8 represents a change in self-consciousness and individualism (actually occurring around the 13th January) and does not mark such a critical change in Landscape/non-Landscape behaviours so clear in English schools.
So, do the social media represent Landscape forms of personality more than others? Almost certainly yes. And because of this, I believe the social media will become monetised quite extensively. Facebook fans buy more than non-fans and what's more they buy more brands than others (another sociability marker - the axis 1 - 7 in the TO8). Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that he just wants people to be connected and happier, but this is perhaps the kind of conscious naiveté one might expect from a 2:4 (TO8) and is quite out of sync with the market valuation of around $140 billion, in July 2011. A lot of media marketing companies have been founded around Facebook in order to take advantage of its subscriber base to sell, sell, sell, and while small ads currently appear on Facebook pages (more than double the number of only a year ago), a simple advertising scheme along the lines of Google's AdWords that rewards individuals for the ads allowed on their web pages will inevitably arise and turn friends' interactions - up to now freely exchanged - into marketing leads and they will be inevitably less trustworthy.
While on the one hand, social media will continue to be informative, which is their attraction being the most significant way we share in news, on the other hand our preferences will become too individualised, and we will be stuck in an internet to which information is brought to us according to what they think they can sell to us. So most social media members will drift along with the tide into this monetised future where we all will be selling something to somebody. I wrote a short story long ago, Affiliate World, that satirises this Landscape future and can be read here.
When writing Essential Personalities in 2007, with Facebook only recently appearing over the horizon, I underestimated the Landscape attraction to many ordinary citizens, and took it mostly at its marketing potential.  I saw the nascent social media ending up filled with pedlars of opinion for marketing purposes, and so it is proving to be. Certainly sites like Facebook have enabled social organisation on a small scale as well as more serious political organisation, but one can also see this connectivity exploited by more prosaic needs and desires.  I belong to a number of discussion forums and it interesting how every single forum collects its fair number of selling messages. It may be that we will have to live with this mix in order to communicate with each other; certainly it is difficult to see how to keep these messages down to an acceptable level.  Recent research by a Canadian company shows just how many and by how much PR companies flood forums and chat lines with 'fake' messages in order to launch their products and how companies, individual entrepreneurs and simply interested parties go to great lengths to make their videos or web pages 'go viral' for publicity purposes. The use of social media on on-line sellers' web sites also calls into question the proportion of marketing opinion to that of the general public.  There are already disputes about the lack of control over planted user reviews on product pages and how one will always find a positive opinion planted among those of a generally panned book. Even authors are now reviewing each others' books on the site, confirming the long term trend that displaces dispassionate reviewers from the marketplace. Because social media is enjoyable and we are still in its first flush of enthusiasms such interference may be tolerated, but it is hardly innocent, and it is certainly powerful. Not even talking to your family and friends will be free. Luckily, If I am right about the social mix of types, then users of Facebook and the combined social networks will probably plateau at around 75% of the available on-line population, of which 2/3 will be wholly committed to it, and a 1/3 less so, with the rest involved in counter-culture alternatives.
Landscape instincts are in some ways immoral. They follow the connected trends and the decisions surrounding them regardless of what they mean in abstract moral space. The end is the means, as long as it's not anarchy, and the end is belonging.