Social Media is like early Cities: Full of Shit.

Jonathan Haidt auf Twitter: „A great analogy for understanding effects of social media on society: we are like the first city dwellers, subject to epidemics we don't understand“. I agree, I'll steal this analogy and „intellectual indoor plumbing“ seems to be my new job. Sure, why not.

USA Today: Social media threat: People learned to survive disease, we can handle Twitter

We don’t know much about the spread of ideas, or what would constitute the equivalent of intellectual indoor plumbing. But civics and skepticism would be a good start. […]

an early city was more like a refugee resettlement camp than a modern urban area […] the pioneers who created this historically novel ecology could not possibly have known the disease vectors they were inadvertently unleashing.

Then I ran across this observation on Twitter: “The Internet is rewiring brains and social relations. Could it be producing a civilizational nervous breakdown?” And I saw another article noting that depression in teens skyrocketed between 2010 and 2015, as smartphones took over. It made me wonder if we’re in the same boat as the neolithic cities, only for what you might call viruses of the mind: Toxic ideas that spread like wildfire.

Hunters and gatherers were are far less risk for infectious disease because they didn’t encounter very many new people very often. Their exposure was low, and contact among such bands was sporadic enough that diseases couldn’t spread very fast. It wasn’t until you crowded thousands, or tens of thousands of them, along with their animals, into small dense areas with poor sanitation that disease outbreaks took off. Instead of meeting dozens of new people per year, an urban dweller probably encountered hundreds per day. Diseases that would have affected only a few people at a time as they spread slowly across a continent (or just burned out for lack of new carriers) would now leap from person to person in a flash.

Likewise, in recent years we’ve gone from an era when ideas spread comparatively slowly, to one in which social media in particular allow them to spread like wildfire. Sometimes that’s good, when they’re good ideas. But most ideas are probably bad; certainly 90% of ideas aren’t in the top 10%. Maybe we don’t know the mental disease vectors that we’re inadvertently unleashing.