Sunday, February 21, 2010

Act like me

Everybody conforms in some way. It's common to ignore the evidence in front of us in order to fall in with the expectations of those around us.

We take the path more travelled because, well, it's easier to go along with the consensus. And sometimes there's a comfort in knowing you're traveling with the a crowd, even if they are heading in the wrong direction.

But the striking thing about conformity is that for each voice that rises up, even a single voice, the group's consensus can be considerably shaken. A single, competent individual can sway a majority view extremely effectively. Numerous studies have shown that one person in the crowd can persuade as many as two thirds of that subscribing group to adopt an opposing point of view.

Think about that for a moment, one person in the crowd can shift the focus of two thirds of that group opinion, as long as they are consistent, and competent.

Now think about your influence in terms of social media. How big is your crowd? How many follow/friend/subscribe to your thoughts? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?

Of course, there are a dozen other influencing factors involved. Do the group know each other? Are there cultural influences that might affect the outcome? Is there social pressure to conform? But these traditional influences on the crowd opinion change when you take your argument online. Often there's a leveling effect online that works in favour of the strongest argument.

Just look at the education demographic on Twitter: classroom teachers, administrators, students, specialists, lecturers, all from different walks of life, all exploring teaching and learning together. Learning in a space that strips away many of the traditional peer influencing factors.

Even if you have only a small following, if your argument is strong enough, it can be disseminated quickly and powerfully online.

So why am I talking dissent? Why am I so concerned about where the crowd is going?

It seems to me that influence over the crowd dynamic is shifting as fast as the pace of technology quickens. What if that more easily influenced two thirds in the crowd was that proportion of the population of Facebook or another vast social network?

Just something to think about.