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Human Nature

September 11, 2012

I struggled initially to identify the common theme with the articles and video from this week. Had I read them in a different order, it may not have been such a struggle, but I think I identified at least one common theme: in today’s world, people genuinely want to be a part of something, a “community” type environment. What ultimately led me to this conclusion was when I read about the success achieved by collaborative offerings (Wiki, Craigslist, Facebook, etc.) and the success has been confirmed on a scientific basis. The Unselfish Gene mentions that through field studies, they have identified highly cooperative systems that are more stable than those based on incentives. So, what that says to me is that people would rather participate in something (i.e. volunteer for Wikipedia) in order to be connected to others rather than participate in something for some other incentive (i.e. money, perks, etc.).

How is this connected to the other readings, Wikipedia in the Spotlight and Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus? Let me start by briefly discussing Wikipedia in the Spotlight. The article details the “experiment” that became Wikipedia, called Nupedia. The idea was to create a peer-reviewed, closed-content, encyclopedia, which they intended to produce in a variant of the traditional peer-review process. In 2001, Nupedia was altered to a “wiki” format, which gave editing power to any user with access to the site and would, in principle, speed content development. After refining the process of who could edit or delete an article, an elite group called “Wikipedians” was identified. These users could delete, restore, and protect pages, as well as block other users for violating policy.

Wikipedians all had a common desire to explain a topic and to have some authority or control over its presentation on the site. Many contributors liked interacting with each other and felt a bond with others who were committed to the goal of making information accessible to any Internet user. I think above all else in that is written in this article, that is the single most important statement for me to draw my conclusion on what the relationship is between all these readings. The last article in the bunch, Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus was much easier for me to understand and identify the theme for this week.

Essentially what this article is explaining is that before the 2nd World War, there was much “free time” for people. However, after the war, increases in GDP, education, and life span led to a dramatic increase in unstructured free time. So, what do we do to fill this time? Watch TV of course. The article states, “The sitcom has become our gin, an infinitely expandable response to the crisis of social transformation, and as with drinking gin, it isn’t hard to explain why people watch television programs – some of them are quite good.” It goes on to say, “toxicologists like to say ‘the does makes the poison’; both alcohol and caffeine are fine in moderation but fatal in excess.”

Are we watching fatal amounts of TV? Americans watch roughly 200 billion hours of TV every year, roughly 100 million hours every weekend watching commercials! I think where this ties in to the previous two readings and my analysis from those is the fact that two psychologists, one from University of Buffalo and the other from Miami University of Ohio, concluded that people turn to favored programs when they are feeling lonely, and they feel less lonely when they are viewing those programs. That is because a lot of times the people we see on TV constitutes a set of imaginary friends. And if more evidence is needed to further make my point that people are partaking in so many hours of TV or social media because they are seeking to be a part of a “community”, try this on for size. Three behavioral economists concluded that not only do unhappy people watch considerably more TV than happy people, but watching TV also pushes aside other activities that are less immediately engaging but can produce longer-term satisfaction.

In a world that is so fast-paced and so demanding, with a society that is all about the “now” mentality, one of the most common phrases we hear is “I don’t have time.” I enjoy watching a little TV as much as the next person, but I think a lot of people have that so engrained in their schedule, that they will sacrifice other, more important things (i.e. family, friends, etc.) in order to tune-in to their shows. Why? Is it because they enjoy those shows, or is it because they feel they are a part of a fantasy life? Personally, I think for the majority of people, it’s the latter.

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2 Comments
  1. People do have a desire to be ‘part of something’. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Wikipedia, and sites like it, are run with this in mind. Think of Linux; it’s free, took time to code, and takes a lot of time to maintain. Why do people have a desire to be a part of something with no monetary reward involved? It’s because as humans, we feel good when we help. Not just helping mom bring in the groceries, or cleaning up the kitchen… when we are genuinely part of something which has as much of an impact on people’s lives as Wikipedia or Linux, that’s when we want to be involved. I think sites like Wikipedia are great. Typically the information is solid, because of how many people have access to it and are willing to keep it accurate. You make some great points!

  2. Thanks for explaining brief details about Wikipedia. I didn’t know how its working and operating. After reading your blog helps me understand lots of things about Wiki.
    Also, I like the concept that people does have desire to part of something. I consider this as an positive expect. Sometime watching a TV, once could gain quite bit knowledge that can’t be gain through book reading or verbal conversation. For example, watching a cooking show is not kind of show that people can get rid of their loneliness. People watching these kind of shows because they have desire to learn something. Also you mentioned that we heard one term all the time “I don’t have time”, but that’s true for some people. People like me who worked more than 60-65 hours a week don’t have time when we get home. After having long tiring working day, when we go home we feel like to sit on couch and watch TV to get relax rather than turning on laptop and do other work. So, I think its depends on an individual, what they are using television for.

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