What has always been the challenge of social scientists? The limited, unreliable and more often than not subjective data with which the must work.
Well, according to Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and author of Social Physics, computer networks will remedy these shortcomings. Tapping into the data that flows through mobile devices, search engines, social media, and credit card payment systems, scientists will be able to collect precise, real-time and reliable information on the behavior of millions.
Once we have this data Pentland asserts that science will be able to accurately predict how people will behave in a given situation and accurately assess how information flows through a network of individuals. And once we know how information flows it can be optimized.
In a recent TedX Talk Pentland gives us the mathematical run down on whether social networks and their ability to spread awareness really contribute as much as they say to improving peoples knowledge and decision making. The assessment is perhaps predictably both yes and no.
There is no doubt that social networks have contributed greatly to global awareness of a great many issues. However, as Pentland explains his talk social networks tend to create what are referred to as “echos” where the same information is presented over and over again leading to narrowly informed opinions and ultimately decisions.
In addition, a study performed by Pentland and his team within a local organization uncovered that ultimately virtual interactions contributed very little to the ideas generated and used during group decision making and problem solving when compared to the face to face networking within the organization.
The take home message and Kingbridge insight this week; until social scientists can tap that well of raw data waiting for us in server farms around the world, the most effective and productive interactions- particularly within organizations- still occur face to face. When we are face to face we can read reactions, question and challenge far more effectively than via social platforms. In person interactions still come out on top when looking for quality group decisions.