Wednesday, October 24, 2007

10-24-07: The Internet and Social Positive Feedback

A lot of people, especially experts, like to talk about how the internet, or technology in general, has both positive and negative effects in society. As far as things like medicine and business, it has its positives, but people are always weary of its effects on social interaction.

I’m no expert, but I do work in control systems, so I see it as a sort of system with positive feedback in a lot of places. Basically, positive feedback works by driving something to the extreme high or low depending on the input. It’s used in a lot of systems to prevent a mid-range value from appearing in the output, which can meddle with a lot of systems. Think of it like 1’s and 0’s. You don’t see 0.3’s or 0.7’s or anything like that. That would make computing really complex and uncontrollable, so that’s where positive feedback can help.

Anyway, one way that positive feedback comes into play in the internet’s effect on social interactions is how it affects the extremes. Let’s say you’re a really shy person who doesn’t like dealing with people face to face. You use the internet to talk to people you don’t know personally, and thrive in that environment. There’s no reason for you to want to change your habits, since things are working out better. So, you keep doing it and find it more and more attractive, especially as more and more web innovations come around to allow you to do it better. It’s a cycle, and it’s not necessarily bad. Unless something comes around that makes you not want to do it as much, you’ll keep doing it. Another factor is that you are less and less practiced at face-to-face conversation, which makes you afraid to try it, so you revert back to online socializing.

This isn’t a uniform system by any means. It’s just a funny observation I had. Negative feedback is constantly being put into the system (i.e. things happen that make you not want to use the internet more exclusively). Here’s another example of some more positive feedback:

You’re 45 years old, and have been on the trailing edge of the technology craze since you were in your late 20’s when PC’s started coming about. You remember the days when offices only had a few computers, and they were often shared by many people. You don’t feel you’re cut out to “get it” and get the most out of the technology, and it simply isn’t worth your time. So, as technology expands faster and faster, you are less and less likely to use it. Since things become obsolete so quickly, you don’t see a reason to keep up, and fall behind more and more. Didn’t that computer they’re selling for $500 cost $1000 when you bought it a year or two ago? Where did your money go? Should you even bother wasting your money, knowing you’ll learn the technology too slow to keep up?

Just an observation.

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