I argue that we increasingly standardize our interactions. At the same time, we delegate bigger parts of the process to automation. The text is mostly observations in different settings.
All of our cells share the same DNA, even though they may serve different needs. A cell in our heart looks and functions differently than a cell in our liver or skin. What we call I, Fatim, Nick, or Hina is mostly the collection and the macroscopic deliberation of all these cells working together. To form an individual, cell communication both in short and long distance is of critical importance. Sometimes, we do focus on the individual parts at different scales. Perhaps a specific cell is used as a proxy to find the common DNA or other characteristics of the body. Perhaps an organ needs special attention due to a medical condition. Nevertheless, at least at a conscious level, we spend most of our time discussing the behaviors exhibited on a macro level.
The scale of our focus is shifted by the particular needs. Perhaps due to a medical reason, or scientific curiosity, we employ our understanding of the inner workings of our body to draw some high level conclusions. For example, we know that if we meet someone on a suspension bridge, we may find them more attractive because we tend to misattribute the reasons for our physiological stress.
In everyday life, we are usually busy analysing our behaviors at an individual level. What did Duong mean, would Marie want to do that presentation, should I ask my host for a second serving, since I really liked the meal they prepared? For some of these questions, there are not always definite answers, but sometimes we refer to what we call “culture” or social norms to advise us on what is considered as acceptable behavior. There are many possible definitions of culture, but what is of interest to us, is that the existence and acceptance of this reference indicates strongly that there is a typically constrained set of behaviors whose existence we constantly use to calibrate our actions.
Indeed, there are many behaviors that we learn in some form and shape our everyday interactions that we rarely question or ask for their origin. We greet someone when we meet them, or before we leave. There are other behaviors that are harder to observe but we can easily verify them. People across different cultures and languages may refer to the same color (wavelength) as the most “typical” red or blue. More cities are closer to water, like lakes, rivers, or sea than not. Policy makers, investors, or just curious people may be more inclined to use these behaviors as predictors for longer trends or to affect future behaviors.
Sometimes, group behaviors are conventions constructed to facilitate a specific purpose. As an example, during war times, we may observe a reinforcement of the patriotic interests of certain populations. In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, we need a certain standardization level to navigate the various complexities. There are nowadays places where you go and say you want some kind of pasta. You are then allowed to sit there, enjoy your meal and as you are ready to leave, bring close to a machine a small card, have a machine make a beep sound, display some frequently seen drawings that we call letters, and go your merry way with a full stomach. At the same time, your counterparty will be satisfied that they had a nice customer like you visit their restaurant. A restaurant that may have a quite unique character, a cuisine rarely found elsewhere and an amazing view.
The level of standardization and the rules implied by it differ across settings. In heavily interconnected places (cities), where many relationships are ephemeral, roles and expectations are more well defined and more frequently promoted to formal, with written guidelines associated. For example, in a village, the day care may be handled more frequently by grand-parents or neighbors compared to a bigger city. In a city, there are more daycares that have the obligation to operate according to some standard rules. The way of enforcement also differs: In formal relationships, there are written outcomes based on previously specified rules. In more informal settings, things like reputation and personal relationships play a bigger role. Apart from the obvious situations that we describe, we can also observe some second order effects from the various levels of standardization. Cities tend to be more liberal minded, while the countryside more conservative. A distinction that seems to span across countries and cultures.
The previous observations apply in various organizational forms. Big companies usually have more well defined roles than smaller ones. Members of small teams, irrespectively if they are in a small sports team or in a company, are expected to display more protective behaviors towards their members compared to members of bigger teams who are expected to stick closer to the rule book. The way that someone interacts in a video call with a small audience is different from a stream to a large audience, even in cases where they want to put the same message across.
The time scale of which we operate and from which we draw our observations is unfortunately limited. On the other hand, a considerable part of humanity that has ever lived is currently alive and heavily interconnected. This gives a sense of observations in a world that moves at an accelerated pace. Values that we currently use to orient ourselves become obsolete in an ever changing environment. In certain contexts, we behave as single minded maximizers towards what we perceive as utility returns. In other contexts, we behave seemingly irrationally, guided by internal processes that pherpas we haven’t demystified yet. As we push forward, and with assistance from machines, we grow the framework of our standardization. In certain cases, the mechanical logistics may grow too complicated, or just too inconvenient, to handle them in our heads. As a result, we delegate at various degrees its details to automated systems that we understand, or not, to various degrees.
As we explore a bigger part of our common future through experience, it seems our lives become increasingly interconnected with each other and with the machines. At least in a naive level, I don’t consider myself equipped to fully understand the implications of this relationship, which seems born out of a need to experience and enjoy bigger parts of our world, beyond the limited capabilities of the unassisted individual. I wonder what someone who operates on a different time scale would observe.