Take, for example, Stanley Milgram and his visionary theory of the “small world” subsequently becoming “the theory of Six Degrees of Separation” to which we have dedicated an article a while ago.
Milgram had empirically proved how an individual could reach a perfect stranger by means of a parcel post with a number of passages between five and seven. Theory largely debated over the last few decades by the international sociological community and definitively proved in 2011 by the University of Milan through a concrete experimentation on the social network Facebook; an experiment which underlines how much all of us are really close in this globalised world, reachable and even closer if we use a social network.
Do we have other cases in which the bond between sociological analysis and modernity can be seen?
In the 1895 Gustave Le Bon wrote the test “The Crowd: A study of the Popular Mind” in which he stated the destructive power of the crowd. An individual in the crowd, in line with the mass, abandons his own personal sense of responsibility, overcoming his own limits allowing himself to be dragged: a very present argument even on the net where the virtual context becomes scenery for situations of collective mockery and cyber-bullying.
The net, meaning the crowd, submits very fast new tendencies to comply with, the comments quickly overlap, one after the other and the opinions become provocations and then insults.
The web determines very fast new dynamics of thought. It praises, debates, defames and in the end destroys.
But are we really sure that Internet, through its social networks, produces only negative effects on cyberusers? Is it real this alarmist and catastrophic vision of Internet or is it the digital divide’s creation? Is Internet only a jungle where to move in packs?
To this topic we got help from Francis Galton, still in the early 1900s, who decided to ask, during an agricultural fair, the weight of an ox to passersby and sectoral experts and subsequently to find out that the median calculated on the judgment of the passersby is by far more accurate than the hypotheses feared by the experts. We refer to “the wisdom of the crowds” a concept diametrically opposed to the precedent one for which the mass is able to provide best answers and attitudes compared to what are the possibilities of one single person.
Theory that in our view sustains the network work and the Wikipedia’s organization; Universal Encyclopedia based exactly on the contribution of the users, on the reciprocity determined by the common synergic effort, although with full regard of its role.
Wikipedia is an example of flow capable of channeling in a positive way the great energy present on the web; an imperfect but tangible example, valid both for the quantity of the proposed contents as for the anthropological value of the organization which proposes them; theory proven by the strong network presence of beneficial movements and voluntary organizations as well as onlus and humanitarian associations. All examples characterized by a strong collective identity along with a strong presence on social spaces where sharing, searching for solutions, communicating, showing, reaching unthinkable goals are above one person expectations.
Theory which sustains some “web colossuses” such as Tripadvisor, where 385 million reviews wrote by “normal” readers constitute a framework of together which goes far beyond the individual.
Internet is the participatory space that, despite its enormous contradictions and its multiple deviant events, exceeds the limits of the previous social models. The web produces dynamics of sharing and thinking “from the bottom”, collective and emotional; it is indeed the web of “say” and “do” anything.
Often these dynamics are diametrically opposite, extremely positive or extremely negative where the network group becomes a super group, a frisky herd running on the virtual prairies powered by hashtags and webtrends.
The bond between social analysis and modernity, between dynamics in progress and sociological thought proves the continuity between past and present; it reveals the foundations on which is based the new web, explains our history and motivates our present.
After all these reflections, what really matters is our need to participate, in the town square, on the window, in the window, on a disco podium or sitting on the couch and telling a story.
Network’ safety in numbers creates confusion, stimulates new ideas and new tendencies, makes a mess, does what all of us do every day in this world, a 2.0.world.