Group Mentality and Social Media
Hello Everyone! My name is Thomas Stubblefield and I am a professor of Art History at UMASS Dartmouth. I hope that you all have enjoyed reading Jonathan Haidt’s engaging book as much as I have. In my posts, I will try to introduce some specific questions that will help us focus our discussion a bit. I would also like to frame these, where possible, through the disciplines of Visual Studies/Media Studies in order to give you some sense of what happens in the Art History department. There is so much to say about this rich and thoughtful text. So, let’s get started…
Last week, I was forwarded Beloit College’s annual list of facts about incoming college freshmen (http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2016/). Circulating this list before classes begin is something of a ritual among faculty. The purpose is to give professors insight into the mindset of our new students, but more often than not it just makes us feel very old. In any event, one of the claims this year’s list makes is that your demographic is “probably the most tribal generation in history.” That’s a pretty bold claim. As readers of Haidt’s book, you can probably see why I was so struck by this statement. Before we assess this claim, let’s revisit Haidt’s discuss of group mentality in Chapter 9 in order to get some information on the table.
In this chapter, the author claims that human nature is both “selfish” and “groupish.” First of all, what does he mean by this exactly? How is it possible for both to be true? To build this argument, Haidt revisits the notion of “group selection,” which was largely discounted in academic circles in the 1970’s. Drawing upon “new evidence” he describes the ways in which thinking about the competition of groups is actually critical in approaching a whole host of larger issues. Why? How does this prove Haidt’s claims regarding human nature? (Feel free to grapple with any of these questions in your response. Please don’t feel as though you have to successfully answer all of them.)
Now to return to the Beloit mindset piece I referenced earlier. The “tribal” quality of this new generation (your generation) is obviously closely connected to social media, which according to some has abolished the possibility and perhaps even the desire to simply be alone. I would like to hear your views on how Haidt’s theories relate to your experience of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Do the interactions that take place on these platforms confirm or contradict Haidt’s position in this section? Is there a connection between social media and the simultaneously “selfish” and “groupish” quality of human nature?