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Altruism in the Digital Age

The distinguishing feature of the digital age is the connection of people and things driven by the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. The Internet is connecting billions of people and trillions of devices so that everything is connected with everything else and that will change how people relate and their relationships.

Our Increasing Dependence on Others

The changes brought about by the digital economy will increase our dependency on others. The fall of Lehman Brothers caused financial pain out the back of Bourke. Drought in one food bowl now causes food riots on the other side of the world.  The essence of power will change as networks become more important than individual people, companies or nation states and this change will resurrect the intimacy of the village because in trusted groups valuable collaborative behaviours will flourish and relationships will not just be driven by self interest ie “I help you in exchange for you helping me” but will be driven by people wanting to do the right thing to help others for rewards in reputation, respect and munificence.

The Role of Social Networking Sites

Social Networking Sites and the available Social Media tools assist people to create a public or controlled access profile that they can use to connect, communicate and collaborate with their networks of people. This online environment varies substantially from a traditional network in that connections of connections can be traversed and used to dramatically expand both ones own network and the understanding of who is connected to whom. Established networks of people can use a social networking site to operate more effectively, to enhance the depth, ease and speed of communication and collaboration but groups that have physical as well as virtual connections usually build trust more easily. Networks of people established online will require additional functionality and engagement to establish the trust that is required to conduct desired effective online collaboration or communication.

A Long Way to Go

With hundreds of millions of people signed up to the major social networking sites the potential for understanding both constructive and destructive behaviour is enormous. Without breaching privacy these sites could aggregate information and connection patterns to identify and harvest productive practices and design tools to accelerate outcomes. Techniques to both hunt for new connections and to farm existing ones are today pretty basic. LinkedIn is seen as the preserve of recruitment companies and sales people but as the power of collaborating with people networks is established in most people’s minds then many more people will see the value of such services. Tools to define interests, opportunities and ventures to encourage valuable connections whilst protecting a member from unwanted, annoying approaches are clearly in their infancy.