The technological revolution and the advent of social media completely revolutionised the way we communicate, assimilate and respond. This shift has been sudden and drastic, and it has significantly altered the way we react as a collective. Thus, scientists are now increasingly interested in our civilisation’s collective behaviour in order to understand how “actions and properties of groups emerge from the way individuals generate and share information”.
The flow of information through social media is at best “drastic, opaque, effectively unregulated, and massive in scale” while its functional consequences are poorly understood. This enormous gap in our understanding poses a significant challenge to science, democracy and crisis disciplines. In other words, social media has added an element of contingency in society that we have not been able to come to terms with. It is this contingency, this organic response that determines how we react as a collective to contemporary crises such as Covid-19 and climate change. We lack the scientific framework to understand such contingency and we can no longer predict our own future.
Since the world is now an interconnected global village, understanding the effects of emerging technologies on global behaviour now requires an interdisciplinary approach. This means we need to move away from rigid scientific frameworks that mostly deal with quantitative analysis and evolutionary theories, and approach the problem from multiple different aspects i.e. we must move from “scientific to actionable insight”. This is essential when it comes to solving modern-day problems such as healthcare, poverty and natural disasters.
It is in the wake of global threats and great uncertainty that collective response becomes absolutely critical. We must first engage in the historical understanding of how humans have responded to similar situations in the past and how our response has evolved with time, before we attempt to understand our current contingent situation. For that, a marriage of different approaches is required.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2021.