What is the Post Babel Era?
The narrative of the tower of Babel is an etiology or explanation of a phenomenon. Etiologies are narratives that explain the origin of a custom, ritual, geographical feature, name, or other phenomenon. The story is obviously a myth, meant to explain the origin of why the world speaks multiple languages. The story appears in (Genesis 10:6) but is never mentioned as “Tower of Babel,” only as “The city and the Tower.” It is of course one of two human disasters mentioned in Jewish and Christian liturgy: The first and more famous of the two is the story of the Flood, when humanity’s thirst for violence brings about the destruction of the world. The second is the story of the Tower of Babel, when instead it is the drive to power that leads to the disintegration of the human community. The issue or proposed sin of the Tower of Babel was not the project itself, but the fact that in the process of constructing it people lost sight of human values.
By dividing the human population into smaller groups, each with its own language, the idea was that the collective human destructive power could, at least, be mitigated. Unfortunately, human ingenuity eventually invented the internet and social media.
For the first time since the generation of the Tower of Babel, we live in a truly interconnected world (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc. now has more monthly users than the entire combined populations of North America and Europe). As technology draws us closer together and allows us to reach across every political, cultural, and geographic divide, we have effectively shattered the divisions alluded to in the curse of Babel and reclaimed the capacity to come together not just as citizens of a town, state, or nation, but as an entire world. While there are some initial benefits of reaching out to find lost friends and family, as well as, sharing wisdom and compassion, the weaponization of social media may lead to world destruction.
Problems in the Post Babel Era?
In April, Jonathan Haidt, a well-known social psychologist, published an essay in The Atlantic in which he attempted to explain, the problems of the post babel era, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” According to Haidt, connecting everyone to everyone has unleashed unintended consequences. It’s not just the number of people connected that made a difference, it’s the nature of the connectivity. Before the advent of Twitter’s retweeting button or Facebook’s like button, social media had a beneficial role of connecting family and friends.
Unfortunately for humanity, because continued use of the retweet or like button represented strong emotions and therefore continued engagement, software engineers at both Twitter and Facebook changed algorithms to maximize this emotional engagement. Haidt’s core social psychological argument was: “When the ability to damage other people’s reputations was democratized, incentivized, and freed from accountability in the early 2010s, it caused a phase change in social behavior, converting a free and open society into one with disturbing similarities to the fear cultures found under repressive regimes.”
In his paper “Digital Neural-Amplification: Paranoia and Digital Media“, Peter Nelson argues that “the provision of social media to our human herd, whether or not we are consciously aware that we are always on alert for danger, has had the effect of directly over activating the alert system in our brain, thereby over-driving the innate paranoid ‘tilt’ of our perception and story-making.” He also argued that the speed and volume of feedback in these digital systems can generate a positive feedback loop thereby exacerbating paranoid ideation. When applications like Facebook become the main source of mutual social grooming and gossip, the positive feedback loop established in those contexts tends to drive most participants into dependency on social media.
What is the effect on Dispute Resolution?
Dispute resolution techniques like Facilitative and Transformative mediation, had their origins in the 1960s and early 1990s. Decades before social media applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. Can anyone recall the last time you put down your phone for 5 minutes and picked it up in less than a minute? Did you mindlessly scroll through the feed and post comparing your life to others? Did you walk around waiting for the useless phone call of “What are you doing?” In some sense, social media and mobile phones have replaced cigarettes as a habit. This new behavior has had several negative effects:
- One of the most prominent negative effects social media has on people is their mental well-being. Too much usage of social media apps can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety disorder and depression.
- Social media allows us to link with people in many ways, and it is a useful application for many different things, but it is a dangerous platform. Social media makes it difficult to distinguish between reality and the fake world.
- Using social media before sleeping can affect your sleep patterns. Even when you’re asleep and wake up in the middle of the night, you want to check your social media accounts to see any updates. This can interrupt your sleep time, making you feel unrefreshed, unproductive, and drained the next day.
- People with social media narcissism seek affection and attention from others. They validate themselves with the number of likes, followers, shares on their social media platforms.
All these behavior changes (especially in GenZ, the first population to grow up on social media), effect our approach to dispute resolution. Most, if not all, of the current approaches to dispute resolution were conceived before the post babel era. While it is true that online dispute resolution has made some progress toward improving access to justice and mediation, it has not made much of a dent in the confusion caused by social media and the complexity of our current world.
The need for better tools to combat the negative effects of social media
We now live in a world of interruptions, information overload, misinformation, too many false choices, biases and especially mobile phone and social media addiction. Chief among Haidt’s worries is that use of social media has left us particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias, or the propensity to fix upon evidence that shores up our prior beliefs. Our brains have not changed anatomically for 100,000 years or more and unfortunately there are no classes below the university level that teach us how to make logical decisions and filter out all the noise generated in the post babel era by social media.
It is important to realize that social media is made to be addictive. Each like or positive comment presents a little hit of dopamine to our brain, thus creating reward pathways in the brain causing you to desire likes, retweets, etc. Unfortunately, the absence of likes and comments can leave us feeling empty, sad, anxious, or depressed because our brain is not getting that hit of dopamine.
From a neurological perspective, the brain amygdala is responsible for recognition and rapid response to threatening or dangerous stimuli. In parallel, the nucleus accumbens, which is the brain’s reward system, is stimulated and leads to seeking pleasant activities, such as immediate responses.
Finally, the prefrontal cortex allows you to evaluate and control instinctual desires based on experience and specific context. In this way it can manage the activation of the amygdala, modulate the emotional response and, furthermore, evaluate the activation of the nucleus accumbens by weighting the weight of the gain.
Positive attention on social media, affects multiple parts of the brain that compete with the prefrontal cortex. The combination of the emotional response generated from a dispute with the negative neurological effects of social media, create the need for more advanced tools for use in dispute resolution.
NextLevel Mediation has developed a set of tools to address these issues and counter some of the confusion of the post babel era. Tools that help mediators and their clients make logical and unbiased decisions about their disputes by utilizing the analytics of Group Decision Theory and associated methodologies.