Selfish or Supportive?

Nature says as humans we have a tendency toward our own self-interests considering that we are rational beings.  This is according to political philosopher Thomas Hobbes as described by Rheingold in Chapter 2: Technologies of Cooperation.  When it comes to the Internet and social networks, users are looking out for themselves, unless there is a higher authority or some benefit to the user themselves for what they are doing.

Keeping what Rheingold describes in mind, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody Chapter 1: It Takes a Village to Find a Phone seems highly unusual.  After gaining an immense amount of followers on Evan’s website, Internet users start to take action against Sasha.  This could be an example of collective action as Rheingold explains, yet many times in regards to collective action, people are willing to take but not give.  This is the opposite of what happened in Shirky’s Chapter 1; followers worked together to take down Sasha and get back Ivanna’s phone, but there did not seem to be anything in it for them.

Perhaps the thought of social justice being prevailed or a sense of community was enough for the large amount of followers to cooperate.  Maybe followers saw Evan as a figure of authority fighting for social justice and felt compelled to help him like the chapter suggests.  Either way, the unusually large number of followers that helped Ivanna get her phone back, and the extreme measures went through just for a cell phone is odd when comparing it to Rheingold’s reading.

Looking at these readings as examples, it might be interesting to look at how much self-interest plays a factor when working toward a greater goal such as social justice, and especially when collective action is as easy and fast as writing something on the Internet.

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2 Responses to Selfish or Supportive?

  1. Neha says:

    I think you bring up a great point: when trying to understand people’s reasonings for using the internet and engaging in virtual networks and communities, it is difficult to perceive whether they are doing it for themselves or to fulfill a sense of collective action. I believe it is a little bit of both, but the strongest argument for self-interest, I think, is that users might gain “social capital” when engaging with others. Although it does not seem like all those people sharing Ivanna’s story were gaining anything physical from trying to take Sasha down, so to speak, but I think it is the internal feeling of gaining internet-merit that drove them. Something like today’s Klout score could be understood as the tangible prize from engaging in these situations, but otherwise, I believe that they simply participated to obtain a feeling of “yes, I did something good for this community and people might know my name now”.
    It also has to do with that sense of inclusion that we discussed in class today. I think that plays a key role in why someone might participate in an effort that does directly impact them. Primarily, it is that feeling of wanting to be a part of something that everyone else is doing, which might indirectly be to achieve a sort of self-interest. All in all, I think this is something that should be talked more about because it is definitely a topic that is relevant in today’s highly tech/social society.

  2. erikpeulicke says:

    This is a good counter argument towards Rheingold’s thoughts on collective action. Additionally, I think it is interesting to examine how different it would be if the community action would have taken place on an early internet community. If the early internet sense of anonymity was still the case when operating online (in chatrooms and online groups), would there be such a rally from followers to help Ivanna? Those involved would not get any recognition for their actions, and even though there was no physical benefit for helping get the phone back, one must think that Ivanna’s follows felt some sort of emotional benefit from helping. Without this recognition, I’m not sure if Ivanna’s internet heroes would have been so willing to go through that much trouble to find a phone. Being recognized for a good deed can be enough of a benefit, but recognition can only go so far when anonymity is involved.

    Overall, I think this is actually a testament to the fact that one’s identity online is now the same as their identity in “real life.” In some cases, it actually forms a stronger bond online than what we had before. Again, you had a great observation! I wouldn’t have made the connection if I didn’t read this.

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