A Post on Pragmatic Meaning: Part 2

I ended the first post in this series claiming that Facebook is a space for developing Pragmatic Meaning, while Twitter is not.  As discussed in the last post, we are looking at a long-tail process when we set about making meaning in a political environment.  In the context of a political movement if we compare the structure of Twitter versus Facebook, Facebook tends to promote longer tail information sharing while Twitter provides shorter tail, up-to-the-minute information; developing the Pragmatic Meaning of a political movement, which demands a long tail of information sharing, finds a good home on Facebook.  Twitter becomes the mechanism for organizing action once meaning is made.

When we think of pragmatic meaning the way that Habermas describes it, we’re talking about a crowd in a bounded system, such as a Facebook group.  People can enter the bounds, but at the start the meaning of the system is amorphous.  Here is where Facebook becomes a powerful tool for creating Pragmatic Meaning.  As people feed ideas into a Facebook group, all group members can see it and analyze it against the other comments.

As people see ideas repeated or themselves take to particular ideas, those ideas start to be what the group finds meaning in, and those ideas squeeze out other less valuable concepts; the people who seeded the higher-value ideas might become leaders or trusted speakers for the group.

To think of this another way, Robert Axelrod describes this process using multiple-actor prisoner’s dilemma models to demonstrate that someone (or something, like an idea) will survive in a bounded environment by behaving cooperatively.  He posits that cooperative behavior by an actor within a large group will increase the likelihood of survival; I’ll the step of saying that the best ideas (g) lead to cooperative behavior among all actors, which increases the likelihood of movement survival (s).  Framing this as a hypothetical syllogism we assume:

(good idea [g] = cooperation [c])


(cooperation [c] = survival [s]),

 we will then assume that in an evolutionary environment, such as a Facebook group,

([g] = [c] and [c] = [s]) therefore ([g] = [s])

Evolutionary selection weeds out the less valuable ideas in this environment, not familial connections, political affiliations or economic stature.  Good ideas (g) lead to cooperation (c) and cooperation (c) leads to movement survival (s).  Once this evolutionary environment has reached a point of critical mass (such as the April 6 and January 25 Movements in Egypt), action can be taken and the valuable ideas and recognized information providers can use tools with short information cycles such as Twitter to organize action.  In the process of developing meaning in a political movement Facebook provides a space to determine “what do we think and why”.  Once this is accomplished, Twitter becomes a powerful tool for projecting “what we’re doing and how”.


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