Centre for Information Management

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Can Twitter be called ‘an emotional centre for the global brain’?

Emotion is an important topic in my research, which looks at ways of using social media to find evidence of inspiration occurring within the public. To reduce the scope of what could be a huge topic, I’ve focused upon the museum and gallery sector, and I define ‘inspiration’ as:

“An experience, or set of experiences, containing a balance of rational thought and emotion, resulting in the production of ideas.”

(Note: this is just a working definition based largely on Museum Studies literature. I’d be happy to hear from those working in or around museums who may disagree with it).

This focus on emotion helps my work complement some of the Centre for Information Management’s projects such as EMOTIVE  and REDITES (or at least I hope it does). These projects also have a social media aspect, too: they’re about gleaning evidence of public emotional reactions to events, from Twitter in particular.

One particular idea regarding the underlying purpose of emotion: that emotion evolved to aid survival, comes from Evolutionary Psychology. This suggests that emotional reactions happen faster than rational thoughts, and that negative emotions such as fear focus our attention upon threats, while positive ones attract us to benevolent environments and situations (e.g. ‘beautiful landscapes’). Hence individuals with finely-tuned emotions are more likely to escape lions (it always seems to be lions in Evo Psych), or dwell in more fertile landscapes, and hence pass on their genes more effectively.

A system which focuses attention and enables quick reaction to stimulus, mostly without recourse to rational thought… Sounds a bit like Twitter ?

And so to the ‘global brain’: a theory (which gets a bit ‘out-there’, but bear with me) that postulates that the Internet’s servers, software and ‘intelligent’ algorithms are forming a macro ‘brain’ resembling the micro network of neurons and synapses within organic brains. The idea (which has an Institute attached) is clearly not above criticism, particularly when it strays towards notions of an ‘emergent global consciousness’ involving interactions occurring exclusively between computers. When one considers processes such as High Frequency Trading (HFT), though, we might not be as far removed from this as it first appears – for instance a hacked Twitter account, in combination with HFT, caused a temporary plunge in the Dow Jones Index  in April 2013, though this perhaps resembles an ‘emergent global tantrum’ more than ‘global consciousness’?

Whether or not Twitter really is ‘an emotional centre of the global brain’ (and how would you prove it?), I’ve gained some insight from thinking about how it provides the same sort of function ‘in macro’ as the emotions do ‘in micro’. So one question I’m trying to answer is how effective Twitter is at drawing attention to the blog posts and personal websites of museum followers, as part of a focused web crawl .  It is within these resources, the ones Twitter points me towards, that I hope to find deeper evidence of inspiration: the particular ‘beautiful landscape’ for which I am searching.



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