Book Summary: “The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media” by Luckett and Casey

Title: The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life
Author: Oliver Luckett & Michael Casey
Scope: 3 stars
Readability: 4 stars
My personal rating: 4 stars
See more on my book rating system.

If you enjoy this summary, please support the author by buying the book.

Topic of Book

The authors compare social media, and communication technologies in general, to a biological organism.

If you would like to learn more about technology and social organization in history, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

Key Take-aways

  • Social media share many characteristics with a biological organism.
  • It functions by a random, evolutionary algorithm that generated and changes ideas.
  • This evolutionary process has a major impact on today’s culture.

Important Quotes from Book

“Social media has sent into overdrive the random, evolutionary algorithm that dictates how ideas are generated, iterated, and reconceived, and how our culture takes shape. It is completely reshaping the essence of what it means to be human.”

“For better or worse, social media is making human culture less rigid, more dynamic and unpredictable, and subject to much faster evolution.”

“My theory provides a chart of existence showing how biology, technology, and culture are, quite literally, evolving together. That process has now reached a convergence point, and social media—a technological platform that facilitates organic connections through which human beings share art, words, and ideas—is its manifest expression… Stated more simply, social media functions on every level like a living organism.”

“Life has seven essential characteristics, a set of clear, essential rules that distinguish living things from their inanimate counterparts in the material world.

Here’s a refresher:

1. Cellular structure. Living things are organized around cells. They can be simple, single-cell amoebas or occupy something as complex as the human body, home to trillions of different cells organized into specialized roles.

2. Metabolism. Living things need nourishment, for which their metabolism converts chemicals (nutrients) and energy into cellular matter while producing decomposing organic matter as a byproduct. Put simply, living things need food and purge themselves of waste.

3. Growth and complexity: In producing more cellular matter than organic waste, living things grow over time and become more complex.

4. Homeostasis: Organisms regulate their internal environment, taking actions to keep it in a balanced, stable state.

5. Responses to stimuli: Living things respond to changes in their external environment, instituting alterations to their makeup or behavior to protect themselves.

6. Reproduction: Living things produce offspring.

7. Adaption/Evolution: Living organisms adapt to lasting changes in their environment. And over the long term, by transferring survivor genes to their offspring, they evolve.”

“Darwin’s “dangerous idea” constitutes a “basic algorithm… Although Darwin had never encountered a computer, the nineteenth-century naturalist’s theory can be expressed in the kind of equation structure that runs our math-driven digital world: “if X and if Y, then Z.” More precisely, the algorithm boils down to this: If there is variation across species and if the distribution of finite resources requires a process of selection among competing living organisms, then those individual beings with variations best suited to obtaining those resources will survive and pass on their traits to their offspring.

The equation might seem simple but it sets in motion an unfathomably complex web of causal relationships,”

“It is, as Dennett says, “a scheme for creating Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind.”

“What’s driven humans to organize information in these ever newly inventive ways? The unstoppable algorithm of evolution.

Within human societies, arranged as economies, this tendency manifests in a perpetual competition to attain higher degrees of computational capacity. Individuals, companies, and economies evolve toward ever-more complex computing and networking systems to process information and create more valuable products. The greater the number of nodes and complexity in a network, the greater the total pool of computational power. It isn’t a new phenomenon. You can extend the idea all the way back to the first small tribes and early nomadic communities and through to the immense globally integrated computer-linked networks of today.”

“I came to view the Church as one of the world’s earliest and most successful broadcast networks. Its bell-ringing steeples were like television towers, calling the masses to tune into the Word of God.”

“a powerful combination of what became known as Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws was unleashed. Former Intel CEO Gordon Moore’s idea—by now an article of faith in Silicon Valley—states that computational capacity, measured by the number of transistors that can fit on a microchip, doubles every two years. Ethernet co-inventor Robert Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network is equal to the square of the number of nodes.”

“The audience grew exponentially along with the technology, which greatly enhanced the potential economic impact from publishing information online. A powerful feedback loop of technological improvement and network effects took hold as more and more people logged on to access ever richer content and then in turn fed more content back to the emerging Social Organism.”

“this new architecture took us from the twentieth century’s centrally managed mass media system to a social system founded on virtual communities. It meant that the machinery that carried the message was no longer defined by printing presses and television towers but by the neurons and synapses fired by emotional triggers in billions of digitally interconnected brains. Information distribution was now about biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.”

If you would like to learn more about social organization in history, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

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