Lately, I've been obsessing about what the next Twitter will look like. Even writing this poses some questions : Was Twitter the new new thing everybody jumped on ? The latest must-have fad ? Or did it capture a quintessnetial human need other services hadn't figured out hence attracting the crowd ? In other terms, did it appeal to our nature or to our superficial sheepish habits ? As always, it was probably both.
And the next Twitter will probably leverage both of these trends. Only it'll have to appeal to something more fundamental than our shortening 140-character long shortening attention span. What might that be ? Our belligerent souls. This is from a recent article in The Economist discussing advancements in game theory and software-based solutions the field has been developping :
Could software-based mediation spread from divorce settlements and utility pricing to resolving political and military disputes? Game theorists, who consider all these to be variations of the same kind of problem, have developed an intriguing conceptual model of war. The “principle of convergence”, as it is known, holds that armed conflict is, in essence, an information-gathering exercise. Belligerents fight to determine the military strength and political resolve of their opponents; when all sides have “converged” on accurate and identical assessments, a surrender or peace deal can be hammered out. Each belligerent has a strong motivation to hit the enemy hard to show that it values victory very highly. Such a model might be said to reflect poorly on human nature. But some game theorists believe that the model could be harnessed to make diplomatic negotiations a more viable substitute for armed conflict.
Just as direct reciprocity ("I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine") has helped us get through the first stages of our tribe-centered evolution, direct, proportional retaliation was a mechanism just as important in ensuring our survival ("an eye for an eye" or "hit me and expect me to hit you at least as hard"). And this come as no surprise since both are based on feedback. We are an empathetic species with mirror neurons ... mirroring what we see and whom we interact with.
So the recent non-controversial manifastation of that meaty desire for fights is, of course : the civilized debate. A fresh French website is actually trying to recreate Internet debate : Newsring.fr. And it is right in doing so, though I don't think it does it well : Internet debate is broken. Look at blog comments, which are actually supposed to host Internet debates, they are linear and refutals are simple indents inside other commenter's posts. This is ridiculous and Nick Denton, who heads the blogging empire Gawker, is looking to disrupting it by turning commenters into debate curators. This is smart and better than what's been tried beofre i.e. the gamification of commenting through badges which doesn't draw the best commenters to the table.
In The Edge's "Is the Internet changing the way you think ?", Eric Drexler talks about the next Wikipedia and describes it as a debate arena. Why ? Because Wikipedia is incomplete : It shows evidence of presence and helps you confirmp what you've been thinking about. only it doesn't show you the anti-arguments. The potential balck swans that might contradict you. Only a debate can do that. Only a debate can bring out an evidence of absence. Only a debate arena can flesh out the black swans related to a given interrogation or issue. How deep and beautiful is that ? Debate is the soundest error-proof platform of intellectual evolution.
Beyond the civilized debate however, our belligerent souls often express themselves without being aimed at anybody, and without refuting any argument. Just by expressing an extreme opinion. Like a shout of anger, the warrior's rage morphed into a scream in the middle of the ancient savannah (... !). That is what the Amen app helps exert.
Techcrunch decribes Amen by writing :
Put simply, Amen is about finding the best of everything, often via arguments over the worst. [...] Here’s how it works : You fire up the app on the iPhone or web browser and say a person, place or thing is “the best” or “the worst” ever, like, the Best Dubstep track ever. Or perhaps, as actress Demi Moore (a beta user) puts it, “After Sex is the Best State For Amening Ever.” Hubbie Ashton Kutcher – an investor – “Led Zeppelin is the best rock band ever.” You can agree with this statement with an “Amen”. But with a “Hell no” you have to suggest an alternative answer. It’s a rigid structure, but you can post whatever you want.
Of course, Amen leverages a very simple aspect of our belligerent souls : Just like all of this universe's entities, we are one effing lazy species that'll always try to do the most with the least energy. So instead of refuting arguments, we'll just state our view of things aloud and in an extreme manner. We like simplicity + we like expressing our opinion : Welcome to Amen. Plus, Aknowledgement comes easier with extreme opinions. People nod more quickly when someone is confident about his opinion. Seems like a recipe for virality. Btw, the next illustration is such an easy way to illustrate what I just wrote (told you we were a lazy species).
Since the original form of debates were fights, at this point, many readers' thoughts might have wandered to the ultimate fight movie : Fight Club. But though I believe in the importance the movie's script gives to the revival of physicality and direct physical contact, this isn't where i'm getting at. Of course, at the heart of my argument is the fact that we are meat. "What what what ?" Stay with me. Yeap. We are meat. Touch your skin. You are, primarily a body. One always swimming in its thoughts, lost in its mind. But first and foremost, you are a body. Antonin Artaud tried to remind the French nation that fact decades ago. To no avail. We are lost in our minds. And by the way, this needs to be struck out of the Internet's to do list : a picture of Fight Club and Antonin Artaud side by side.
That's why we look for debates and fights, naturally. Somthing inside us tells us we need blood on our fists. I'm not joking. You've been there and you know it. And if you haven't, you lineage has been lucky to stay alive this long you gentle pacifist. May the world hold more people like you. Seriously. This changes nothing to the fact that at heart, we, as a species, are collevtivly, constantly, looking for a fight. Why are fights so important ? Evolution-wise they prove we deserve to survive ... Only if we win. So they force us to focus. Because the winner is never the strongest fellow, it's the guy who's mind and focus will snap last. And since it helps us focus : Fights allow us to become ourselves. Fight on !