How We Are Connected (Beyond Facebook)

The great poet/philosopher Modest Mouse once said, “My friends, my habits, my family, / they all mean so much to me” (from their song “One Chance”).

This is the continuum to remember: individual / habits / obligations / systems

The word selection here isn’t perfect (feel free to slot your own in, and please let me know your word choices) but the BIG idea they express is important.

When we think about the problems Facebook is having with meeting their mission statement (to give people the power to build communities and bring the world closer together), just put this this rank into your mind, and mix in a little Modest Mouse.

What gives our lives purpose is, as Modest Mouse says, our friends, habits, and family, while systems are the higher level that we organize ourselves into (your country, your school, your job, etc.). Facebook the company (a system) is different from your user experience (ex. “liking” your friend’s picture mixes individual interest in your friends, with social media checking habits, with “social” obligations such as “liking”).  Facebook exists across the continuum.

Modest Mouse continues, “I just don’t think that it’s right. / I’ve seen so many ships sail in, / just to head back out again and go off sinking.”

The individual gives purpose to the system, and not the other way around. Because we’re human, there is a vulnerability to having a purpose (ego!). Sometimes the purpose can be hijacked and the system enables the abuse. Sometimes the ships sink and it just doesn’t seem right.

Having a mission unites people. I grew up going to church because my family, in a simplified sense, believed in the power of community. My family (a formal obligation) attended service every Sunday (habit), where we spent time with other people (individuals). Church (the system) didn’t give us purpose, we collectively gave church purpose by having the mission to be active individual parts of a community. The mission exists across the continuum too.

Famously, religion (and pretty much every other massive system) has enabled abuse of various forms. Rotten people with their own rotten missions have long abused the obligations and habits of good people within the system to horrifying extents.

So when does, “don’t let a few bad apples ruin the bunch” apply?  Sometimes you keep a system, and other times you have to toss out the whole thing. People are going to judge Facebook, and the rest of social technologies, with greater scrutiny than they have before – as they should. Do we not let a few bad Cambridge Analytica’s ruin the bunch, or do we throw the whole bushel out? It comes back to mission and its role across the continuum.

As individuals, we need to remember the importance of having a positive mission. We need to make sure we shape our habits to take advantage of the obligations that a system sets forth, and positively compound the results. We have to put in work in the name of our mission. It’s too easy to get off track. It’s too easy to develop bad habits or blindly check the boxes the system demands that we check. How many people do you know that social media actually stresses out? There can be negative consequences when we become disconnected from our purpose.

The chorus in the Modest Mouse song says, “I’m just a box, just a box in a cage.” That’s the definition of where we are in a system. It feels like we don’t have control and that we’re in a box in a cage, but here’s the thing: because it always starts with the individual, it spreads person to person. So long as we remember that our own purpose – whatever we set out to do – dictates the value of the system, we’re all going to be alright.

We’ll end this as Modest Mouse starts the song. “We have once chance, / One chance to get everything right.” While that’s true of the individual, collectively we have many chances. It’s the output of all of our contributions that matter most. The full continuum is embraced by the mission, we have to make it a good one.