It's a small world after all

Arnold Kling writes:

Marc Pesce delivers a few facts and a lot of breathless prose.

Somewhere in the last few months, half the population of the planet became mobile telephone subscribers. In a decade's time we've gone from half the world having never made a telephone call to half the world owning their own mobile.

...fifty thousand years of cultural development will collapse into about twenty...each behavioral innovation is distributed globally and instantaneously...Any fringe (noble or diabolical) multiplied across three and a half billion adds up to substantial numbers. Amplified by the Human Network, the bonds of affinity have delivered us over to a new kind of mob rule...the more something is shared the more valuable it becomes...All of our mass social institutions, developed at the start of the Liberal era, are backed up against the same buzz saw. Politics, as the most encompassing of our mass institutions, now balances on a knife edge between a past which no longer works and a future of chaos.

Pesce claims that cultural change is going to accelerate. I wonder what this means for educational and political institutions.

I wonder what it means for social institutions.  In the last few months, I feel as if I've started seeing the seeds of a radical shift in social networks, thanks to the nexus of Facebook and Twitter.  Now, Washington has always been, at least for the wonk population, a pretty small town:  a friend and I recently estimated the mean time from first date to showing up at a party and having someone you barely know ask where the other person is at about 10 days.  But Twitter, and to a lesser extent Facebook, have supercharged those networks.

Last Friday, I was supposed to meet an old friend from New York at a bar at 11th and U Street at 7.  By 5:30, thanks to IM, I was already having drinks with another friend, so we wandered over early together.  By 7:30, two other DC friends had found out about us on Twitter and wandered over.  Julian Sanchez joined us from the Subway a block away, then Dave Weigel stopped by.  Several random friends drifted past and sat down.  By 11, drinks for two had turned into drinks for 12, basically all courtesy of Twitter.

Yes, yes, I might as well just get a latte and a copy of Finnegan's Wake tattooed onto my bicep.  But there's also the fact that Facebook is keeping me updated on people I haven't seen since high school.  The big city--hell, the whole coast--is starting to feel a lot more like a small town.  Last night, one of my friends said, "I love Twitter.  I go out a whole lot more because there's always something going on."

I suspect that Twitter, Facebook, and whatever comes after them will mean denser, richer social networks in the future.  Already, email is holding people together after college a lot more tightly than the people I graduated with--the last graduating class, basically, before the Web.  People know what's going on in the lives of a whole lot more people than the mobile coastal types of yesteryear.

This has its downsides, of course, which is why so many people flee small towns.  I've encountered widespread regret that it's becoming impossible to have a small party anymore, because the people you didn't invite always find out.  Or unwanted guests show up to your intimate soiree.  Or the broadcast invitation puts two people together who really oughtn't to be in the same room under any circumstances--someone I know in New York recently discovered that her twitters were allowing an unwanted beau to quasi-stalk one of her friends.

We're going to need to re-evolve the manners that smoothed these ripples in an earlier, more intimate time--a sort of willful blindness to the social activity going on without you.