The Psychology of the Internet
A Report on the Book by Patricia Wallace
Summary of the Book
Today, the internet is a growing community. Millions of people from all over the world go “online” everyday to check email, research, shop, or even just interact with someone halfway around the world. As this community grows, so does the number of interactions between people. The Psychology of the Internet examines the psychology of new behavior produced by this novel method of human communication. It also delves into the business sector of the internet and how certain companies are using this medium to increase productivity within their companies and corporations.
Analysis of the Book
The book provides several examples of how the internet can affect the quality of an organization’s production. When used in the appropriate manner, the internet can facilitate interaction between a group 24 hours a day and is only limited by the availability of a telephone line. The idea that a person must be in work and at his desk for production is becoming more obsolete as companies realize the potential of the internet.
One impressive way the internet can help companies is the workgroups that can be formed internationally. A workgroup is a group of employees striving to achieve the same objective. In the traditional sense, these groups are formed in a room with notepads for each person to help them brainstorm and meetings at regular intervals until the project is complete. The internet revolution is changing all of that. The workgroups are no longer governed by the geographical positioning of its members. I found this particularly interesting because the idea of having a supervisor in Manila, a Research and Development team in Cebu, and a sales group in the United States is becoming more of a feasible possibility than ever before.
The internet can also help employees overcome inhibitions that they may not be able to in person. This is due, in part, to the amount of social cues that are lost over a computer. In a chat room, for example, the two employees might know nothing about each other, other than the information they provide about themselves. Therefore, any type of social stereotypes (i.e. sexism, racism, bigotry) is less prevalent than if perceived in the real world. If the employees have never met, social irritations may not be as readily triggered than if in person. For example, if I am irritated by a person who stutters when he speaks, the chances that he will do so over the internet are relatively low. This allows me to concentrate solely on the task at hand and not be distracted by insignificant things.
The book speaks of how the internet groups, in the absence of social cues and orders, had to find a group identity online. In other words, the lack of social cues also has its drawbacks. Even if the members of the workgroups concede personal information about themselves, such as their race or ethnicity, the other members might have no physical basis for the connection. So if I wanted to bond with a co-worker who was a Filipino in California, I would more likely do it in person than online. This is due to the lack of human contact and the perception that I am merely interacting with my computer and not a real person.
With this in mind, workgroups must find new bases for forming group coherence. The book speaks of the studying of several different multinational workgroups. All were given the same objectives to be completed in a given amount of time. However, only a few of the groups completed the task while only one group did it in the allotted amount of time. The study showed that the groups that failed lacked consistent interaction. After the initial meeting, the members of the group did not log on regularly to converse with the group. Emails were exchanged intermittently among these groups as well. The book states that the main reason these groups failed was that the interaction, already reduced by the lack of human interaction on the computer, was limited to almost nothing.
On the other hand, the group that fared the best was noted as having the most email interaction and regular group meetings. The members of the group also took it upon themselves to go beyond what was asked of them simply because they felt a great responsibility to the group as a whole. What caused this desire and cohesion within the group? According to the book, the group kept their personal lives out of the online chatting. Therefore, the members knew very little about the members of the group. The group even agreed to keep their gender out of the online group. This forced its members to assume that each of the other members formed the most productive group in which that person could perform. For example, if I felt that I could work best with three women and two other men, that became my group. If my coworker preferred working with all women, that became his group. The breakdown of things immediately evident in the real world (such as gender) allowed the members a novel way of looking at the group.
I found this breakdown of social norms within a company to increase production intriguing. The thought of perceiving my group as highly competent in their own methods of production would drive me to do my best. If this is coupled with the idea that I could communicate with them at any time of the day from anywhere in the world, I would feel that I had little excuse to not produce something of great quality. After all, if my work could follow me around, I couldn’t say, “I was stuck in traffic, so I couldn’t get that report in,” or “I didn’t have the time to do it.” My time to work is actually increased by not having to commute to work for two hours everyday. Furthermore, if I was not a morning person, I could work all night and sleep all morning. My workplace now conforms to me and not myself to it!
Furthermore, the online groups provided for better brainstorming groups than “in real life” groups (IRL groups). The book theorized that during online discussions, members are allowed to type uninterrupted by other people’s ideas. IRL groups, on the other hand, were comprised of one speaker and several listeners. The ideas of the listeners had to wait until it was their turn. Online members could type in their ideas, respond to other ideas proposed, and remain uninterrupted in the expression of their opinions. The uninhibited flow of ideas provided for more creative solutions to problems and a faster completion of the objectives as well.
In the flow of ideas, I have often had to hold my tongue while others spoke. Likewise, I am sure others have remained silent while I have spoken. This is terribly inefficient if one thinks about it. The IRL group brainstorming, although it is supposed to be more efficient with the increase input by its members, forces people to not speak their ideas. The ideas can be forgotten and lost in the process. Moreover, it decreases the productivity of the listeners. It can even create hostility within the group. The forcing of inhibition of ideas causes me to become less receptive to others’ ideas and even hostile towards them because they are an obstacle to my expression. No such problem exists in an online group where ideas flow as freely as a person can type. I find this method to be much more ideal for the creation of ideas as well as creative solutions.
A final interesting aspect of the internet in the workplace is the opinions of the minority, as shown in the following passage:
On the surface, we might suppose that a person who holds a dissenting opinion from the rest of the [online] workgroup would fee freer to express that opinion in the online setting… [However,] it appears that dissenters do feel more liberated to express their views online than off but their online remarks have less influence on the rest of the group. (82)
I found this to be interesting because it is something that I would not have predicted. The entire section in the book demonstrates how the online workgroup can aid in the expression of ideas by its members. It would only be logical to believe that the minority would have a louder voice in an online group as well. I suppose, though, that since everyone’s voice gets louder, the minority’s voice should not have a significant change from its IRL group counterpart.
Applications in the Philippine Context
As a developing nation, the Philippines has little access to the internet compared to other developed nations. Considering that only about 1 in 50 people have telephones, it is no surprise that the internet business application is not as prevalent here as it is in the United States. However, for the privileged few, online workgroups have the potential to increase the productivity of its workers in several ways.
One such benefit is the application of online groups using the group mentality of the Filipinos. As a culture, the Filipinos are very group-oriented. This follows into the workplace. The groups formed in person could easily be translated to the internet workgroups with people around the world. As adept group workers, although the medium may be new, the concept behind it has been ingrained in Filipinos since they were born. In this way, we have the upper hand in the translation of one attribute to a new medium compared to other isolated cultures.
Another benefit of the online workgroup for the Filipinos is the situation of overseas contract workers. As a culture, we readily export our labor to other nations. However, the exported labor is distant from helping our nation (aside from sending foreign currency back). The online workgroup medium allows workers on the other side of the world communicate their ideas back to the Philippines affordably and quickly. Oil drilling companies in Micronesia can communicate the effective methods of drilling back to the companies here. Nurses can relate the newest methods of healing to hospitals in the provinces. Filipinos in the Philippines can even export their ideas to help companies outside the nation. The possibilities of working in groups over great distances are infinite.
The online workgroup can even help our own university. If the students of the Ateneo could work with students from Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Tokyo, the possibilities would be endless. The sharing of cultural ideas along with ideas unique to each school’s train of thought would allow provide prestige for each university. Ideas could flow and be applied to the situations of each university. For example, if in Yale they need to study plants indigenous to tropical regions, who better to conduct the study than an Environmental Science student of the Ateneo? And if we all wanted to work on a study of the sun’s behavior at different places around the globe, the internet online group would be the perfect medium to produce a quality piece of research. Once again, the possibilities are infinite!
Lastly, the online workgroups could help the Philippines play a larger role in the world community. Right now, the Philippines plays a very limited role in what happens in the world. Allowing our diplomats and government agencies to work online with other countries’ diplomats and agencies would provide the Philippines a louder voice than right now. The opinions of the Filipinos could be heard throughout the world and allow for a larger influx of ideas into the Philippines. International policies and legislation could be passed with Filipinos having contributed to them. When the book spoke about online group members, it made no limitation as to who the members could be. With this in mind, the members of the online group could easily be entire nations!
The role of the internet workgroup is very applicable in the workplace today. It can increase productivity by providing certain attributes absent in an IRL setting. Furthermore, I believe that it can not only help multinational companies, but entire nations. The Philippines, although it is still developing economically, can play a major role in the world community just because the internet provides a more level ground from which everyone can begin. As long as a person has a computer and a telephone line, the world can become one large community to him. This book provides the starting point from which the internet workgroup can become more effective. The possibilities are only bounded by the limits of the human mind and ingenuity.
Wallace, Patricia. The Psychology of the Internet