The great success of social networking tools on the Internet have raised many articles and reports on the media where most users just express their satisfaction and their doubts, while experts foresee big social changes after the spread use of tools like Facebook, Twitter, etc.
What I’m interested on is not only the possibilities that these social networking tools mean to improve and share knowledge, but also the way this happens inside the networks. This is the main goal of my PhD thesis where I’m studying a community of tourism professionals and experts wanting to use the Internet to stay connected.
After some experts on cognitive science the decisions that people take when analyzing the issue individually or through cooperative group discussions are very different. Individually we tend to think on the benefits or the risks that situations and decisions will mean to ourselves, but after a group discussion, we tend to support decisions that have rather social benefits than individual ones. At the CRED (Center for Research and Environmental Decisions) they’ve studied the opinion of US Americans in regards of Climate Change and most people individually agree that they are concerned about it and are willing to help to reduce Carbon Emissions. Though they realized after some studies that humans are less concerned on disasters to come in a long run rather than if this should happen in a short term. As individuals we also have priorities in our concerns and we don’t put long term threats in first places of the list of our concerns. The idea to work in group and cooperate sheds a conscience of belonging that fosters more social consciousness.
The theories of social capital are also supporting these observed behaviors of community members, though what happens on the Internet? The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio explains in a recent article appeared at the scientific review PNAS that most people need a specific time to react to social emotions, thus it can be that the online social networking dynamics are too much stressing and putting pressure to users to react too fast to the social emotions inside the networks. It is not difficult to imagine that this may lead to erroneous or not clearly desired decisions inside these social networks when using online tools.
There are communication gaps when using e-mail to express emotional or personal feelings, because asynchrony and lack of visual contact may cause some confusion. In online social networks we could add to this communication gap another one that we could call bio-emotional time gap, when members of the network have to deal with social emotions (sympathy, compassion, etc.) too fast.