Dirk Knemeyer

Group behaviour

My buddy Lou tweeted into the ether a few minutes ago, trying to get an impromptu little meet-up of people who happen to be on the same flight as he, heading down to the South by Southwest conference. Assuming there is modest response, I can envision half a dozen or so design industry-related souls happily seeing and greeting each other at the gate before the flight. How strange that will seem! Having flown literally hundreds of time in my life, the idea of a group of people meeting in a pre-arranged way, chatting enthusiastically, possibly trying to convince others to change seats with them so they continue to kibbitz – while those same others are tortoise-shelled and stressed, waiting to hear their group number called out and hoping their carry-on bags will have enough overhead space – is a bit surreal.

Social network technology is going to create these weird moments of juxtaposition, where people are suddenly friendly and familiar in public spaces that were previously – and almost universally – uncomfortable, anonymous and inhuman. What is the impact going to be? Annoyance? Appreciation? What will the other people at the JetBlue gate think and feel? How will they react? In five years, will MOST of the people getting onto an airplane have “pre-arranged” to socialize in more comfortable and familiar ways? What will that mean? If its really “open” and too many people get involved for it to be comfortable, will it create a new form of isolation? Could it lead to further class warfare and stratification?

Yes, I’ve pretty much just put my imagination on autopilot at this point. Those are spewings, not predictions. But what I do predict is that, if these things accelerate and increase over time, it is going to create new and unexpected strangeness, awkwardness and social isolation of a very unpredictable nature. Of course, in the shorter term it will also turn some inhuman group social situations into more microcosmic happy, familiar and comfortable situations for those who productively connect. This is certainly not a condemnation of happy gatherings, it is more a counter-balance, an identification that in the longer now the group dynamics will be changed in ways we can’t predict until we get there. We’ll see what that means.

In the meantime, hopefully I too can participate in some warm-fuzzy happy familiarity with people I know and perhaps even care about, in what would otherwise be a cold and unpleasant group public context.

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