By Richard Neal
Opinion Dynamics and Collective Decisions, as a scientific practice under the multidisciplinary force identified as Computational Social Science (CSS), represent the next phase in expanding the specialized methodology for understanding the complexities inherent with holding, sharing and changing individual preferences and judgements within the context of the social system from which said individual holds membership.1
For most of us, the science is exactly what one would deduce from its title. Computational Social Science refers to the academic sub-disciplines concerned with computational approaches to the social sciences. This means that “computers are used to model, simulate, and analyze social phenomena. Fields include computational economics, computational sociology, cliodynamics, culturomics, and the automated analysis of contents, in social and traditional media.
It focuses on investigating social and behavioral relationships and interactions through social simulation, modeling, network analysis, and media analysis.”2
Evolution of the Meme
CSS is a significant step forward when applied to unraveling the complexities of “idea spread” across a social structure from the almost 45 years since Richard Dawkins speculated upon that of a “meme” based on a comparison with genetic transference. The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme, based from the Ancient Greek meaning, “imitated thing”. He postulated that memes shape the basis of our cultural history and are responsible for arc of evolution for humankind.
Specifically, a Meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme.”3 Fast forward over three decades to when Susan Blackmore sparked wonderment by defining memetics within the context of it spread via a technological substrate (such as the web) while illuminating this variation as a “teme”.4 The timing of Blackmore presaged the solidified recast from “Web 2.0” to the extreme powerhouse that we know today as Social Media.
This was the beginning of when “virality” and its constituent “viral messaging” or colloquial “gone viral” became the core driver in defining influence in society via the Web. Obviously, commerce hasn’t remained idle. Millions and millions of marketing dollars continue to follow in an effort to compel the influencers to compel the influenceable(s).
It is worth a pause to note that this endemic, worldwide marketing focus is because the digital social system is simply about the “influencers”, right?
Since that period there have been numerous scientists, researchers, theorists, even futurists that have nudged, prodded, even brute-force pushed forward the advancement of ideas focused upon the social phenomena comprising the advancement of shared ideas; Watts, Barabasi, Gladwell, Rheingold, Thaler, Sunstein, Cialdini, DeLanda, Wexler, Sharot, Centola and many, many more.
Moving towards “Cybergen”
Although not in their league, it has been a solid eight years since I wrote a book on broadening the codification of memes (more specifically temes) to understand these social phenomena as a system to be used from within a framework of business development. This understanding, a protocol I originally called Digital Sociology, was constructed to empower the adherent “to rise above the collective delusion of relating the comprehensive amalgamate of social media intelligence to the naïve simplicity of buzz, tweets, and “Like” buttons.”5,6
The established codex is one of detailing taxonomic, ideological, and behavioral specifics of mindshare (teme virality and its lifecycle affected by the core, sometimes oppositional, impacts of Influence and Susceptibility). The potential created by the deployment of Digital Sociology, with its devoted lens towards Industry, enables one to “rationally question the ROI of capital expenditures upon traditional focus groups, public opinion surveys, the prevalent disjointed array of customer service support applications, the circus of ‘talking-heads’ touting Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the lack of expedited feedback loops from sales endeavors, as well as the outdated Marketing Theories underpinning so much of how business defines its own reality.”
More succinctly put into proper context, commercial endeavors remain slow to embrace that online socialization is socialization – rich in unique as well as typical variables and dynamics. And linear to this, Industry is only now coming to understand that the traditional, even current, measures don’t add up when attempting to comprehend the new normal in social experiences.
While wrestling with the complexities involved with identifying this reality as a system — one evolving with the increasingly rapid changes taking place in society, I soon came to understand its raw power in redefining how we understand the array of physical and digital networks that affect our lives every day. In looking forward, it is my belief that this sub-specialization to CSS will aid us in how we’ll comprehend the effects of the near-term advancement and broad global adoption of “Cybergen”, short for cybernetic-enhanced genuine or physical social experiences, that will revolutionize how we experience ourselves as individuals and as social beings.7
1 Advances in Complex Systems Vol. 21, No. 06n07, 1802002 (2018) Opinion Dynamics and Collective Decisions; Lorenz, J. & Neumann, M.
2 Computational Social Science https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_social_science
4 Susan Blackmore – Memes and “Temes” https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_blackmore_on_memes_and_temes/transcript
5 Digital Sociology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_sociology
6 Expanding Sentience: Introducing Digital Sociology for moving beyond Buzz Metrics in a World of Growing Online Socialization; Mass Media Press, 2010; Neal, R. https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B01FGMA93E/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
7 A New Philosophy of Society Gone Digital: Introducing the Building Blocks of Organizing Inference and Implicature in our Online World [Working Title]; Projected Release Date: Summer 2019