Social media and the culture of silence

“This strange machinery is keeping you from seeing me. We’ve all moved on from here, the colour’s running dry. A drowsy line of wasted time bathes my open mind.” Ride, Chrome Waves

Is technology bringing us together or pulling us apart? A 2014 report hints at the emergence of a culture of silence in social media, where people suppress their views if perceived to be in the minority, for fear of rejection. Pre-internet studies show how people tend not to be vocal about policy issues in public (or among family, friends and coworkers) when they think their views might not be shared. This is called the ‘spiral of silence’.

The Pew Research Center ran a survey to gauge people’s opinions on Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records. The survey found that far fewer Americans are willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they are in person, illustrating how the ‘spiral of silence’ holds true for popular social networking sites.

The report also found Facebook users half as likely as others to share their opinions in face-to-face (F2F) settings, suggesting the emergence of a more pervasive culture of silence as mainstream social media grows.

World Urbanization Prospects, 2014 revision

“Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda.” John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division

Urban population worldwide has grown from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014, and is expected to surpass six billion by 2045 — the largest projected growth taking place in India, China and Nigeria. The number of ‘mega-cities’ (10 million inhabitants or more) has grown from ten in 1990 to 28 in 2014, and will hit 41 by the year 2030, with rural populations decreasing as urban populations continue to grow. [ via ]

On the verge of an epic win

Elite: Dangerous, Frontier Developments’ new deep-space flight simulator, bored Ian Birnbaum out of his mind in just a few days. Birnbaum describes what he calls “the loneliest video game” as having a wanderlust draw — jumps through star systems, asteroid fields and remote colonies — a lot like Mikael Levoniemi’s two-month journey through 60,000 light years of trading and exploring across the galaxy.

This deep space scenario of “venturing out beyond the borders of civilized space” takes me back to Starflight, a simulator my big brother and I would play, sometimes together, sometimes asynchronously (dare I say ahead of our time). We would chart new worlds on graph paper — a collaborative practice for overactive imaginations that made the fantasy real. But just as Birnbaum realized a few days into his personal space odyssey, simulations of the universe aren’t exactly what we see on Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine:

Thousands of players have spent their time plotting courses out into the blackness of space, scanning undiscovered systems, and journeying back to make bank. Traveling through hyperspace tunnels is pretty fast, but the process of plotting a course, jumping, and refueling off of nearby stars can make a hundred-light-year trip take half an hour. Multiply that out by tens of thousands, and you start to rack up the hours spent alone, in the middle of nowhere, in the empty blackness of a galaxy-sized massively multiplayer online game.

It’s a similar dynamic (albeit less painfully human) to ICBM, a ‘reality is boring’ historically accurate Cold War simulator where “the only real challenge is passing the time”.

No matter how lonely, simulators will never get old. But will they always be boring? I’ve been thinking about how to put all those hours of gaming to work — to ‘gamify for good’ — and even with limitless possibility hurting my brain, I can see how folks like gaming guru Jane McGonigal are onto something when they say “games are essential to the future of the human species”.

McGonigal is a big proponent for gamification for social good. In this 2010 TED Talk she points out how humans invest billions of hours a week playing online games. She says the number “is not nearly enough gameplay to solve the world’s most urgent problems”, but we’re headed in the right direction. As of last year more women and people over the age of 50 are gaming, and our gaming habits are going more mobile across the board (source: The State of Gaming 2014).

With technology and gaming more ubiquitous than ever, and initiatives like IGDA in the lead, ‘global good’ might just be on the verge of an epic win. And you can’t win if you don’t play.

Image: DiscoTomato

LinkedIn’s plan to bridge sectors

Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner has a big vision for the next 10 years — a plan that now involves matching professionals with social sector projects that can effectively utilize their passions and skills, while giving underserved communities access to creating more economic opportunity. Last year LinkedIn identified TechSoup Global as a potential partner to help build demand for its LinkedIn for Good program, which really excites me and here’s why:

Between 2008 and 2013 LinkedIn membership jumped from 32 to 277 million. (My LinkedIn profile was one of the top 10% most viewed — out of about 200 million — for 2012.) Then in 2014, more than two million members (and this number will grow) signed up for LinkedIn for Good, showing there are plenty of able hands willing to get dirty for a good cause. But the current lack of available work caused by an imbalance between volunteers and program partners means there’s a lot of expertise sitting on the sidelines. Not good if you’re in the game to play.

In this article from Stanford Social Innovation Review John Cary, the former lead of Public Architecture’s 1% program, warns against ‘learned helplessness’, a psychology term that describes what happens when volunteers sign up for work that fails to utilize their potential. Sure disengagement is rough, especially where it can be avoided, but solutions do exist, I’ve seen them. Cary says “building demand is a high-touch affair”, one that “requires significant relationship building” across sectors that are “very segregated in general, so there aren’t a lot of authentic relationships between contrasting cultural boundaries”.

Kyle Reis, TechSoup’s senior director for Global Data Services, sees “an opportunity to collaborate with others working in the space to unlock a potentially enormous resource for thousands of nonprofits around the world”. Translate: it won’t be long before the pro bono space becomes a prospector’s race for the best human resources on the planet. And with a database of more than 600,000 nonprofits worldwide and a service list of more than 100,000 organizations per year, TechSoup Global is in pole position.

Finding a solution to bridge sectors won’t be easy but we know where to start. When we do we can apply that solution to larger cross-sector initiatives. The ‘every day social’ of what we do on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is a fine way to forge connections that can lead to the cross-sector collaborations Cary alludes to. More demand means we’ll find a solution sooner. And one thing science taught me is that when you find a plan that works, you stick to it.


Soft melancholic melodies mixed with fits of fleeting bliss, Grimes’ REALiTi follows a young girl’s journey through urban Asia. Grimes:

Since this is no longer gonna be on the album, I’m releasing it as a special thank you to everyone in Singapore, KL, Manila, Jakarta, HK, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo who came out to the shows! It was an honor to play with a bunch of amazing bands and travel to places I would never otherwise be able to go. This song was never finished. its a demo from ~ the lost album ~, recorded early 2013. i lost the ableton file, so its not mixed or mastered. i tried to doctor the mp3 into a listenable state, but it was poorly recorded in the first place and never meant to be heard by anyone, so its a bit of a mess haha.

Replicas of real-life spaces

Remember Second Life? In March Business Insider reported its membership as stable at nearly one million active users per month. The numbers haven’t changed much in 10 years despite little media coverage. Now, two hot little letters are about to make the Second Life experience more relevant than ever: VR.

Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Second Life developer Linden Lab, says “the world is waking up again”, which is probably a reference to immersive virtual reality, the hotbed of emerging tech that’s set to literally transform the virtual office:

Linden Lab is marshaling its expertise and experience in building immersive, functional virtual worlds to make a proper successor to the Second Life platform and take advantage of the bold new world of immersive VR. Specifically, Linden sees a huge opportunity in making it easier for people to build and share cool virtual reality experiences.

You could say my client in SF, TechSoup Global, is already there:

[Second Life] has workplace applications too: San Francisco-based nonprofit TechSoup hosts its monthly all-hands meetings in Second Life, where as many as 50 people meet in the virtual world — tools like Skype are too unwieldy for them at that scale, Altberg says, and it provides a way for them to be in the same room even when they’re not.

(Update: those meetings are weekly.) As time passes and business ebbs and flows, collaborating across sectors and borders will call for more user-generated content and virtual spaces fashioned after real ones — creating and collaborating — what I like to call the stuff of the future.