The Networked Mind

The Networked MindResearchers at ETH Zurich, Thomas Grund, Christian Waloszek and Dirk Helbing, have published an interesting study recently that looks at how a ?homo socialis? economic man might emerge, distancing us from the assumption of self-interest that is a part of classical economics, and moving us towards a conditionally cooperative environment.

While the ?homo economicus? optimizes its utility independently, the ?homo socialis? puts himself or herself into the shoes of others to consider their interests as well. This establishes something like ?networked minds?. Everyone?s decisions depend on the preferences of others.

Might our future economic success then lie in our ability to empathise? We have already seen the damage that traditional self-interested economic greed has caused: corrupting states, destroying environments, or exploiting others - all driven by unviable short-sighted interests that in time become worthless. In contrast to this self-destructive economic model, the Internet's growth and the development of other connectivity enabling technologies might provide us with the opportunity to hit the reset button and create more trustworthy and viable economies.

Social media will promote a new kind of participatory economy, in which competition goes hand in hand with cooperation. It will be hard to tell who is consumer and who is producer. You might be both at the same time, and this creates a much more cooperative perspective.

Going beyond social media, this also ties in with wider increasing global information awareness, which the internet has been driving for some time now. To borrow a news agency's catchphrase, "all news is global" now. This increased awareness of the outside world and the many peer to peer interactions that lie within it, all help to reduce ignorance, prejudice, misunderstandings, selfishness and even hostile behaviour. It's a lot harder to disregard the interests of someone or worse, to hate them, when you come into contact or trade with them on a regular basis.

Will the rise of such an economy do away with the purely self-interested though? Unlikely, but in a more cooperative environment, such behaviour is more likely to be weeded out and ostracised. In this new evolving reality, not only will honesty and empathy be the best policy, but quite possibly the only remaining viable policy.

Photo: Roger Sadler

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