The Individual and the Social

by eskokilpi

There are two distinctly different approaches to understanding the individual and the social on the social web. Mainstream thinking sees the social as a platform or a community, on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is separate from the individuals. A totally different approach to social media sees individuals as social. Both the individual and the social are then about interaction, where the individual is interaction “inside” and the social is interaction “outside”. The interaction inside is silent and private, while the interaction outside is vocal and more public. The main difference from the first approach is that the inside and outside cannot be separated or understood separately. Here I repeat my friend, Professor Ralph Stacey, and his work which builds on that of Norbert Elias and George Herbert Mead: here both the individual and the social are sides of the same process of communication.

The individual is the singular of interdependence while the social is the plural.

If we subscribe to the second approach, the main importance of social media is in the formation of who we are. An individual recognizes herself, as a self, in the recognition of those she follows and who follow her on Twitter, who like her updates on Facebook etc. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other as Professor Doug Griffin, my close friend and teacher has put it. From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing. We form our groups and our followerships and they form us at the same time, all the time.

Identity is a pattern in time.

People in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive patterns of conversation that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences. We should look at communication as the most predictive group activity there is in forecasting viability and agility. The opportunity provided by social media lies in the widening and deepening of communication leading to new voices taking part and to new conversations that cross siloed organizational units and stale process charts. A key management challenge today is to understand that the only way to guarantee agility and resilience is to actively and widely participate in the conversations that matter.

Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative action.


Thank you Doug Griffin and Ralph Stacey.