A comic book, then a Hollywood movie led an entire generation to think that Vendetta is the most important V word. It’s time for a change.
Let’s make V for Vulnerable. Seth Godin made it a book telling us about it 10 years ago.
“Vulnerable is the only way we can feel when we truly share the art we’ve made. When we share it, when we connect, we have shifted all the power and made ourselves naked in front of the person we’ve given the gift of our art to. We have no excuses, no manual to point to, no standard operating procedure to protect us. And that is part of our gift.”
There are more occasions to feel vulnerable other than when you share your art or idea, of course. And I’m not such a great writer so I’ll be more blunt : a lot of very smart people study how altruism and collective action is and has always been a survival condition for our specie. From fighting larger animals to remediate the climate crisis. If you can read this words it’s because at birth, though you were likely in your most vulnerable position ever, you’ve been receiving a lot of help, years long.
We also know, and on that all have a personal experience, that help is not always what we think it is. Unexpected consequences can ruin your efforts, not mentioned the dubious “help” that is sometimes not truly driven by an altruistic purpose. No need to get into the colonialization debate, I’m sure you’ve been witness of well-intentioned, ill-fated help on both the giver and the receiver side.
We need genuine help, and genuine help starts with the receiver asking. Asking requires both the acceptance of your own vulnerability, and a dash of hope, of trust. Please take 13 minutes if you haven’t yet listened to Amanda Palmer testifying :
This world definitely needs more genuine help, and Twitter has been a catalyst in Amanda’s experience, but is Twitter really the best we, engineers, designers, facilitators, can achieve in terms of creating a safe space that would put people in a sufficiently comfortable situation to show up vulnerable ? Or, for that matter, any of the leading social networks ? It seems to me that none has cracked the code, despite they virtually unlimited resources and R&D power. Or even if they have, they have chosen a different route, and there is a good reason for that.
Social network are public spaces where connections are made at surface level, where showing up weak is a privilege of a few strong. The objective interest of the platform operators is to maximise stickiness, keep your attention and fill that braintime made available with paid-for content. The human-to-human connection that we users can have with fellow users is a necessary toll on their resources that they must pay to acquire that available braintime. From that perspective, the meaningful connection time should be optimized, not maximized. So once the quota is reached, the platform therefore has no interest in deploying the power of the long tail, in other words, connecting us with weak ties or even strangers who share our purpose.
It’s a shame, since the power of the long tail is precisely what makes social networks so powerful, and restraining it is precisely what drives to the “bubble filter” effect that locks people in their beliefs.
We need a social network that is not biased by the economic model of advertisement, so that it can be genuinely focused on creating a safe space around each individual, connecting us with like-minded people. We can then show up vulnerable and trigger project cooperation at scale. If these cooperations are fruitful and productive enough, they will have a financial interest in maintaining the platform up and running.
Nice dream, but is that even possible ? A virtual place that, purely by the way interactions are designed, would feel safe ? Already online, with a small group, a community, it’s not an easy feat. Lots of people called facilitators have made a full time job a holding temporarily a safe space for collectives. It doesn’t always work, there is no miraculous recipe. Some would argue that it would be easier online, because the platform can put restraints as interactions can be designed. Yet, I still believe that the human nature of the facilitator is playing a key role in the success of her mission. From there, we can take three directions :
- It can’t be done. Focus on a platform to train more human facilitators around the globe.
- It can be done with a delicate and careful design of interactions, benevolence can prevail.
- It seems that a human factor is irreplaceable. That means the social network will have some kind of real human facilitators acting.
What’s your call ? I’m listening !