Karass: The Anti-Social Network
Trying to overcome the difficulties of social networks by taking the digital analogy of Kurt Vonneguts idea of Karass as described in his novel Cat's Cradle.
The main idea
Can I think of creating a platform that has the opposite features of a social network. A kind of anti-social network? Something that is unlike LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, social blogging platforms such as Tumblr and even various forums for pet owners, pregnant mums-to-be, model train enthusiasts.
I am getting rather annoyed by all these social network platforms that set out to connect with people we like, based on shared hobbies, interests, (religious) beliefs or (cultural) background. The increasing number of connections on social network platforms start to work like a prison, I am stuck in the web spun by all my connections.
How it all went wrong
When social networks started to become popular many people tried to collect as many connections as possible like collecting trading cards. And even though I’ve never been such a collector after so many years of using Facebook I am now connected to for instance the girlfriend of a brother of a friend of mine in high school. I’m also related as a career connection in LinkedIn to people I’ve only met once in a corridor. That’s all fine and peachy, but do I want to share the adventures of my toddler to all these people? How can I bitch and moan about work when I’m connected to my colleagues and supervisors. How can I bitch and moan about my wife when all her friends are also my Facebook friends?
When I like something, follow someone or share something I am actually showing information about me that will suggest me new connections, other things to like and things I might be interested in buying. While this has its merits, Big Data FTW, I wonder if there isn’t more to online social life than that.
How we didn’t solve the problems
To solve some of these issues many people started to unfriend people that weren’t real friends or stop using social networks altogether. In addition, social network platforms started offering groups or circles to shove together people that you want to share certain things with. In the end though, I find using these features tedious and error prone. I don’t want to apply complex filters every time I post something. The result is that I am carefully crafting my online life by posting only things that are acceptable for all people I am connected with.
My online presence
Right now that means that what I share are only positive or at least very neutral things: harmless pictures of the adventures of my two young children, the great things I have eaten, the awesome holiday I’ve had and maybe when I’m ill I will share a post for sympathy. I might even share a George Takei post if it amuses me more than could be expected.
The result is that I have an annoying timeline and moreover all the other people having annoyingly happy timelines as well full of glasses of wine and cheese smörgåsbord. I’ve even unfriended some of my connections because of their relentlessly positive timelines.
These are the features of a typical social network:
- people choose their own connections
- people generally know their connections offline before they get connected online
- you usually keep your connections forever
- you get to see a lot about your connections
- recommendations are made based on similarity between users
- it’s all about sharing as a way of advertising yourself to the ones that know you
Instead we could do something that has the following properties:
- you are forced to be connected with a group
- these are people of which you are certain that you do not know them
- the group of people is limited and capped at a rather low number
- every so often you should switch to a completely new group of connections
- you should not see any details about your connections
- your connections are chosen to be very dissimilar to you
- everything you share should be anonymous and not intended to impress anyone
Sounds boring perhaps? Well, maybe. The idea is not completely original but more on that later post.
When I was thinking about developing an anti-social network, I suddenly remembered the religion described and invented by the American author Kurt Vonnegut in the novel Cat’s Cradle. This religion is called Bokonism and most of its followers live on the fictional island San Lorenzo.
Already on page one of the novel, the main idea that struck me most at the time is mentioned. It talks of a group of people, a Karass, that together serves God’s purpose without even knowing what it is. As an atheist/humanist I interpret God’s will here as contributing to the wellbeing of humanity and the world as a whole.
In contrast, it also refers to false Karasses called Granfalloons. Granfalloons are the type of groups that people generally consider to be important such as family, members of a church or people with the same geographical or cultural background. Karass, however, ignores all these national and institutional boundaries.
Instead of focusing on delivering the truth, Bokonism is based on lies or Fomas. Bokonism itself is a pack of Fomas. However it does not see anything wrong with this. Lies can be very effective at improving how one feels about life. I suppose even though their followers will not admit to this, all religions are a pack a Fomas.
How Bokonism relates to the Anti-social network
In Cat’s Cradle, Bokonists questions the way people group themselves based on religion, place of birth, families and social status. This default grouping is what social networks assist in. Even more, they actively promote it by rewarding conncecting, sharing and liking and suggesting even more likes, connections and content based on these false groupings. The goal of these platforms is making things easy for users, giving valuable information to third parties and making money themselves. None of these goals include something about improving humanity as a whole.
In that context even environmentalist groups and charity organizations are not about improving humanity as a whole. Their followers flock together, complain about those who do not agree, wallow in self-righteousness among like-minded an often attack their issue as a kind of war. And war, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
So, I see a great need for a network based on the greater good. A network unlike all the others. A network that does not seem to make things easier for the users. Oops, that might be a problem for its success. Time to ponder on how get around that. What I want: an online, artificial Karass.