The Social Internet as Self-help or 5 Things the Web Taught Me

If you read my blog very much, or hit it at the right times you know that I am an advocate of the self-help concept. The idea that we can read books and listen to lectures/sermons and derive enough direction to work out our personal problems. That doesn’t discount therapy, necessarily but it is to therapy what preventive medicine is to the medical community. We hope that by implementing good health habits we forego the need for intensive professional care and intervention.

One of the reasons that I spend so much time reading and trying out self-help literature is that by origination I am a very faulty person in social contexts, relationships. Aren’t we all? you are saying ( well, lots of us say that…) but honestly some of us are more than others;) And for a number of us who qualify for that category it creates a highly uncomfortable situation that drives the desire to understand, solve, and change.

Which brings us ( finally?!) to the point here of how the observers of the internet have gathered lots of information on how people work together and how they undermine each other and the better types of social goals. When you join a forum, or enter the blogging community, or participate in a list, you deal with a range of social interactions that at times mirror business communities and at times mirror friend and family relationships… only there is the possibility of distancing that isn’t easily replicated in RL.

Reading recently in links that radiated off of the sites, Commoncraft and, which echoed and elaborated on things read in the past concerning forum behavior, I started to realize how much of our interactions in these group situations have haunting similarities to RL social aspects.The screen is not so great and mysterious barrier as all that. It wasn’t til I read Cory Doctorows article and the subheading, “Abusive Contempt Vs. Slobbering, Cringing Remorse” that I recognized a behavior that runs very strong in my husbands family of origin ( it is always easier to recognize it first in an other… then it dawns on you how much you have some of that same trait). It didn’t take too much thinking to start to connect the dots on how much of social interaction often falls into this ineffective, destructive manner of behavior and then taking it to the main question of the article: “The Web Can Humiliate Dumb Companies. Can It Make Them Smarter?

“Can it make them smarter?”.. there is the pivotal question. Do humiliation techniques get you want you want for the long term, if what you want is love, loyalty, and respect.
To look at it that way… manipulation through humiliation, getting someone to the state where they change because they are “caught” and repent in dust and ashes to grovel their way back to the power status of domineering abuse of taking someones trust and relationship for granted in a solo agenda. wow. There is a harsh reality for you. In business you have media hounds who will go to the fray for you… but what happens when it is a family dynamic? what then? The self help steps in to give tools to those who want to implement change. who want something healthy, safe, and edifying ( to use a trusty Christian term).
I started to see how this behavior is related to the impersonal. It is when one has no intimacy or connection that the contempt/remorse cycle takes on such prominence. The investment is relegated to what one can get, only, in these cases where humiliation is what brings results; it starts out on one side, but spreads to the entire relationship.

In Shirky’s article are many tidbits of wisdom, not the least of which is the Cassandra syndrome and the sad fact that history is doomed to repeat itself, only because those who ought to take note and change…won’t. They always have a better way. And that is our Achilles heel as humans. We think we are immune , immortally immune, to truth and the way we are, the way the dynamics work. Somehow we escape the norms. Only we don’t, and that is “learning the hard way”. Which might not be so bad if there wasn’t a scarcity of time and a passel of damage involved in learning that way.

Some of the lessons learned on the internet are that

  1. “A democracy without oversight is a totalitarian failure waiting to happen”-Cory Doctorow. This lesson could be called: “someone has to be in charge, and there have to be rules.”
  2. ” a pattern I’ve seen over and over again in social software that supports large and long-lived groups. And that pattern is the pattern described in the title of this talk: “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy.”-Shirky That care and protection of something good requires the oversight plus the personal investment of a core group to whom this matters. Wise control of the negative forces within. This lesson might be that we should check into our own contribution before blaming some outside force.
    There is such a thing as consequences for behaviors,too. That is what ‘form’ does draws the lines, protects the good, corrals the harmful.
  3. That we are individual, but also connected, and we can’t escape either part of our existence that expresses that.
  4. That technology is limited in what it can solve on the human side;”technical and social issues are deeply intertwined. There’s no way to completely separate them.-Shirky” You have to deal with human messiness on some level. It isn’t going to be an elegant solution.
    In another quote from Shirky’s article:
    “We cannot separate the technological aspects from the social aspects of running a virtual world.
    “So we’re back, and we’re taking wizardly fiat back, and we’re going to do things to run the system. We are effectively setting ourselves up as a government, because this place needs a government, because without us, the place was falling apart.” ”
    I guess I could call this lesson: someone has to take responsibility.
  5. That there is such a thing as tyranny of the majority, and that it isn’t always for the good of everyone. Or necessarily good for anything.

How do I summarize this for family dynamics? There need to be parents in charge of the place and they need to take personal responsibility, they need to relay that sense of protection and value to the rest of the members ( I guess we could call this “modeling”). There needs to be a structure of rules, and everyone needs to be fully informed. Freedom in the family needs the same freedom and form structure that government does, for the good of all the individuals for the majority of the time. The care for one another is a good thing and that intimidation is inimical to that care, as much as shirking of responsibility is… both sides work against the higher good of all involved. And the great unspoken in all this is that there is a higher good and that is important for any group dynamic.

I think I was most helped by the revelation that it is a pattern for the group to be its own worst enemy and that things can be done to avoid that. I have beaten myself up for years feeling I was just simply a failure. The truth is that failure is not permanent if we just take some steps to allow for success. Success in our family can start now. and by success I mean the beginning place of treating each other with love and respect. Isn’t that what people on social networking platforms clamor for as a whole? A place where we can talk and be ourselves, sharing ourselves, with respect given and received. This doesn’t mean homogenization, but it does mean that the members of the group have to want it and work for it. Then they have to protect it. It is a group project and one person is not the group…. as Shirky pointed out: “It’s obvious that there are no groups without members. But what’s less obvious is that there are no members without a group. Because what would you be a member of?”
so it asks me to understand whether my group ( family, blogging community, whatever…)is truly important to me? And if it disintegrates then what am I resolving to be a member of, exactly? The group of isolated couch potatoes? Of the lonely and alienated? am I defined only by negatives in comparison with other peoples positives. By what I don’t have?

Failure will do that to you, give you that mindset, but what the internet is ultimately teaching me is that there are lots of fresh beginnings and fresh ways to look at problems. Sometimes it is a refreshing taste of what’s available and sometimes it is a cold slap in the face, but either way:”thanks…. I needed that”.

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