Psychology, Sociology, and Influence in the Digital Age

The information age is characterized as a time of uploading human life into digital environments. We build social profiles, share essays, build music lists, and join communities. Most importantly, humanity now exists in a hybrid environment, living in both physical and digital settings. How you interact in the digital world is often different from how you would interact in the physical. It’s not the individual that has changed but how the individual interacts with a collective that has.

Put another way – our individual psychology is still fundamentally the same. It’s not our drives and motivations that have changed. Rather, it’s our sociology, the way in which we interact as a society that has changed. This creates the need for a new framework of interaction.

What’s Different?

A large amount of our digital interactions are highly produced and short form content. It’s a soundbite, a tweet or a headline. We gather and share high level thoughts without much nuance or depth.

A digital life doesn’t always use physical cues that can be used to convey nuance. There are no “tells” online, only assumptions and context. Making assumptions like – where a person is from or what their political affiliation is to understand and insert nuance into an interaction.

Because of a lack of nuance online, there is no grey area and it facilitates an extreme polar environment. An us versus them environment. This has consequences because it forces our minds to fill in the gaps of knowledge and interpret nuance.

We fill in the gaps with our own cognitive bias’.

As our lives become digital hybrids we start to act differently in the physical world as well. We bring our mobile phones everywhere. Is it appropriate to use your phone in social settings? Say for example, at the dinner table? At a Super Bowl party? At a wedding?

Does context matter? For example, what if I use my phone at dinner to take a picture of my food and the people I am with to share on social media? Is that more or less acceptable than if I were to pull out my phone during dinner and serf the web?

Societal norms and mores are being altered based on this hybrid digitization of life. It’s both fascinating and challenging to navigate because the changes are relatively swift and fundamentally contrary to our psychological needs. We have evolved over long periods of time to understand communal based interactions and these changes are happening more rapidly than ever.

Society evolves at a much more rapid timescale than the individual does.

Some things that matter to building a digital persona:

Trust is one of the most important elements to a digital life. We trust what we can see and feel and we doubt what is out of reach. Establishing trust is a precursor to building and maintaining influence in digital life.

A barrier to establishing trust online is a lack of transparency. Being transparent in digital settings means using your actual image of self, not an avatar. It means sharing a physical and geographical region or city of physical residence. Location based information helps to level set cultural norms and potentially sets socio-economic status.

Building trust online requires authenticity. This includes sharing both positive and negative elements of a persons character. Showing the “human side” of our personalities, that we have flaws and are willing to embrace them digitally. Do you only share the good side of life online? Or are you willing to show the ups and the downs?

Building trust requires establishing familiarity. Digital environments take us from small physical communities to interacting with communities on a global scale. On an individual level, it’s challenging to trust strangers. We overcome this by working to establish a sense of familiarity in our digital communities. The mere-exposure effect or the familiarity principle states that in the face of many options, choices or in this case a massive community, individuals develop preferences for the things and people that they become most familiar with. The takeaway – a large component of establishing trust in digital settings is being highly visible on a consistent basis. Half the battle is becoming familiar with an audience.

We look to credentials to lend us credibility from other people or institutions. Schools, personal references, and corporations are able to and individual trust through credentialing. Digital life has created and added a new form of credentialing called Proof of Work. It’s now possible to establish a reputation of trust by building a paper trail of work in digital settings. This is possible because when information is shared on the web, it stays there forever. An industrious person can leverage the internet to build a paper trail of authenticity, transparency and familiarity to establish themselves as an authority on a topic.

The hybridization of life has changed how we interact with one another. Moving forward, the continued digitization of life will further change societal norms. It’s worth tracking these changes to understand what it will take to succeed and develop influence in the future.

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