Collective – or swarm intelligence – the Coronavirus crisis in media…
Maybe being a bit provocative? But we have it is us (all of us) to behave like scared horses - who sometimes defend themselves by hiding in a group (swarm/herd)...
I have been looking at cohesion, swarm intelligence, collective intelligence versus individual decision making in smaller versus bigger groups in horses.
So, what has that to do with the Coronavirus? Today many of us are globally connected on different media platforms, like Facebook e.g. I have followed what different people are writing about the virus and looked into clusters of people and their writings. And I find it fascinating…
E.g. how the hoarding of toilet paper started? Nobody seems to know how it started, or why, but many people rushed off to stack up on toilet paper, people got anxious, maybe thinking – if everyone buys toilet paper, they know something I do not know? And then even more people get out and buy toilet paper, just in case?
I have seen conspiracy theories that would beat any zombie apocalypse and any Stephen King novel… – and how people support each other in this – finding “evidence” in the strangest places, and with the most illogical reasoning.
When in crisis – many animal species (humans are an animal species), gather together and give up their own thinking. Then they follow the 3 simple rules for how to act in a big herd/collective. That is: do not collide, do as the one closest to you do, move in the same speed and direction (Lucy Rees, 2018)
So, depending in what context you find yourself on social media (and in real life of course) – you will behave differently. The thing is – social media – here Facebook – keeps us in a collective. We get impacted by what other people write and share. And we pass it on.
What we know about swarm, or collective intelligence is that they tend to filter out a lot of information, just because the sheer amount of it. And the collective default to the 3 simple rules (think about humans running a marathon, cyclists in races, people in big crowds – schooling fish, horse herds, or gnus, bison… that moves in big numbers together – in a stampede…
So, what happens when someone panics in a collective/herd that is moving? And start to behave irrational? The person will either be lost – there are always losses in big crowds. Or the person will initiate a movement in another direction. People in the middle of the crowd can’t do that – they do not have enough space to move on their own, just to follow, but the ones in the outskirts – they will change the direction of the whole collective.
And there is definitively a lot of panicking going on, on social media, and I real life. In this state of mind – are we making the best decisions? Are we able to see that there is no black and white truth? That nobody can for sure foresee what the future will carry? That the decisions we are making now – might save lives now – but cost more lives ahead? The way we globally behave now – is probably putting us on a path to economic recession. In the tail of economic recession follows more diseases, like cancer, autoimmune diseases, ill mental health, addiction, interpersonal violence, unemployment, poverty, homelessness etc etc. Are we creating a bigger crisis by trying to avoid this virus- crisis? Is it a virus-crises? Even if it is – is what we are doing now the right thing to do – in a broader context, seeing the bigger picture, thinking ahead? What are we risking by focusing on saving the old and the vulnerable? Where does this leave the younger population? What do we do to their future?
Doing something now I not usually do – I quote myself (from the article below) – mostly so I do not have to write it all over again:
“The collective intelligence doesn’t think. It coordinates.
This is the essence of being part of a very big group, every individual become a “dot”, who do not need to think and make decisions. Alone, or in a small group, this advantage of the many disappears.
Big groups are dependent on filtering information out, they have a negative feed-back loop, this is what keeps the collective together. Everything that has not to do with the collective's task at hand, is filtered out, and the easiest, most energy saving, and safe way emerges through the collective intelligence which is formed by the many following the same simple rules.
This is due to the shear overwhelm of interactions in a huge collective. There is no way to take in all that information and use it, so it is filtered out and leave very few possible outcomes open. The larger the collectives, the more interactions, the fewer impressions are dealt with. This is a form of distributing processes into a mass of individuals. And this is how large complex systems emerges out of basic simple interactions between many different agents, without any central plan (reference; Kahn, 2017)”
As I see it – this – what goes on globally now – is a huge social experiment. And in my opinion, this is not looking good. If we could listen to what the majority of the virologists, epidemiologists, bio-engineers etc are saying – I hear them say mostly the same thing – this is not a dangerous virus, it can be dangerous for certain people, yes, also young people, but it is not the virus in itself – it is the immune system reaction in each individual that will decide how each individual will handle and react to the virus. The ones who get really sick has an immune system over- reaction, what they say release a cytokine storm, that is what is dangerous to the individual’s body. The ones who should isolate are the ones with for different reasons have a suppressed immune system, they are the ones who are vulnerable here, but they are vulnerable to all kinds of infections, not only the Coronavirus, and then also the ones who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.
So, which is it more important? To flattening the curve – and all that the decision to socially isolate whole countries and continents and the impact from that – which will last for years. Or is it better that most of us get the Coronavirus – and then when we have reached an infected rate of half the population – the spreading will slow down?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. In this setting of crowd panicking I do wish we could start thinking – for ourselves – and dare to voice what we think. Nobody is gaining anything from acting before thinking. Take that from someone who has had to learn that the hard way… it will only result – already have resulted in a “collective acting-out”?
Are we following the wisdom or the “un-wisdom” of the crowd? What are our “leaders” doing? What is the motivation behind their decisions? (Voters?) What is the motivation behind people sharing on social media (massive amount of self-esteem boosting clicks? (Being/becoming an influencer?) What is media’s role in this – talking about the death virus? (Selling – money?)
How are you impacted by this? How are those around you impacted? The ones you are in contact with? Short-term? Long-term?
I want to hear more discussions and more questions asked…. And not receive simplistic answers… this is complex and layered – let’s then think complex and layered thoughts – let’ stop following the 3 simple rules of swarm intelligence?
This is not a contest of who is most “right” – this is about navigating uncertainties, the ability to think – and re-think – as more data comes our way, it is about weighing, about thinking on our feet, learning, assessing – not about rule-following…
And this is not a case of safety in numbers… this is a case of – let’s use our human capability to think – all of us as individuals, but also together? And remember to also listen to each other, not compete – there will not be one answer that fits all people and all situations… so one global solution will NOT be the answer… Lets figure out what fits our society – where we live… because those are different.
Read the original artice on Cohesion, Synchrony, Swarm Intelligence, and Hierarchy – Group-Structure and Dynamics in Horse Bands
Text and pictures are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren, Live the Change 2020