Moral Networks

I learned it from watching you. This line forever etched in the minds of those of us over 25 years-old is from a public service announcement run on television through the early 1980’s and is rivaled only by the This is your brain on drugs campaign that preceded it.

Morals are instilled. I doubt any behavioural scientist or psychologist would dispute that our manner of conduct; that is our judgment of what is right and wrong is not supplied and/or derived primarily from our immediate surroundings. We take from our environment what is put forth in words and mostly actions by those we respect or fear.

Social Gestures
You may have heard this term as of late. If not, here is a short primer on what it represents. The most common social gesture people identify with is the “Check-In”. The broadcasting of your location and/or activity out to your social network in a mostly passive manner. With the click of a button or two. There are many forms but let’s just say these lightweight pieces of content are a simple way of making a statement. The concept of a social gesture is not new nor unique to our post internet world. Bumper stickers and tattoos are too meant to in part represent our identity and culture to which we associate ourselves but now with the mobility and overall ubiquity of internet technologies, combined with the sheer scale of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, disseminating our activities is easier than ever and for the first time, truly global. People all over the world can now consume the content you produce in the process be affected by it as they would their neighbour, classmate or co-worker. The weight of this effect varies dependent not on the location but the value of their character in your eyes. For example, I consume pretty much everything Tim Brown, CEO of @IDEO and @Rory Sutherland, the self described fat bloke @Ogilvy, say in short and long form. These two men some 3500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from my home would never before have had the influence on someone as they now do from such a distance. Nor would it be unbeknown to them as it is.

The value of a social gesture to society as a whole is currently being obfuscated by how much of this data is being used to do things like serve discounts. We must understand that the current most popular use case is the low hanging fruit for those serving an incredibly under served small business community and that like Twitter and the “Tweet” in the beginning, we are discarding these gestures off-hand as an autonomously adverse reaction to the inevitable shift towards a more public life. Still people everywhere are beginning to view these tiny, auto-communications in a socially acceptable way. The fact that the content describing their actions is coming from a service is what breaches the social norm. If they were to write on their Facebook wall: “I am going to the Gym”, we would all cringe but because it is passive, coming 3rd-party and lightweight it is accepted. More so everyday.

Soon, in the hands of smart marketers, the opportunity to send gestures out to our networks will be a big part of our daily lives. Be it with discount, convenience or other deeper layered methodology, we will be given incentive to share our activity and in the process represent those brands we participate with. ve rage these lightweight, integrated communications to make a statement about their life style. A cursory glance at Foursquare check-in data shows work-out gyms and art galleries as among the most frequented venues with users. Are we to think that these two categories are in actuality attended more often then say the grocery store or the gas station. I think it is safe to deduce that folks seek to identify themselves, in the case of these two examples, as healthy and cultured individuals.” You can already see these gestures being integrated into marketing campaigns created for some of the worlds biggest brands. Coca-Cola for one recently registered 10 thousand recycling bins on Facebook places and asked their fans to check-in at recycling centres each time they dropped off cans and glass. They have also created an amusement park experience in Israel where park attendees were outfitted with special bracelets that let them “Like” their favourite rides and games. 
Soon these gestures will permeate into the physical world. Hospitality and entertainment sectors will be the first movers but soon most buying experiences, from which grade gas you pump to where you buy groceries to what clothes you buy will have these opportunities to send a communication out to your network integrated along with the incentives to do so. I know what you are thinking. People are not going to check in everywhere they go. It sounds like big brother and all that. People will adapt to using this technology in their daily lives because it is useful to them and integrated into their on and offline worlds. People said the same thing about sending tweets on twitter or being active on Facebook. Maybe for the young, right? Wrong. The fastest growing demographic across social media is actually the over 50 crowd. The fact is that in time these gestures will become common place. The eventual ubiquity of these opportunities to communicate combined with the incentives, intrinsic and extrinsic to participate will make it so.

This section an ode to @sethgodin in that it is titled the same as one of his books. Tribes are in essence our circles networks, each of them trusted at varied levels. Be they our immediate family, a group of friends from school, a council of authorities or any other group we recognise in a personal hierarchy of influence. It is innate in us, the human  behaviour of looking to those we respect and in turn wish to emulate. The rise of these social gestures allow for the passive consumption of others actions. Aggregate data delivered to us as it happens, where we are and from the people we find value in. Whether that person is our best friend or an author we’ve never met and whose books we read from halfway around the world.

Those having or coming to soon have ready access to the internet will no longer need to be lucky enough to find suitable role models in their immediate community. Socially integrated gestures spreading throughout the network, some of which we will seek out and others we’ll stumble upon will from now on allow us to widen the net of influence in a passive and often serendipitous manner. Over time, years for some, generations for others, this data passing in and out of our social connection points will inevitably influence our behaviour. Morality above all else is that which differentiates what is right and wrong in any given situation. The actions, perceived or otherwise of those we seek to emulate will in time become part of us in the same way a parents job or friends chronic illness gives us a perspective unique to is as individuals. While these tiny bits of data appear mostly without purpose, in total, they change us over time.

I say for the better.