I paid a sporadic visit to Twitter recently and I came across a tweet that referenced somebody called @jack.
@jack is Twitter’s CEO and on 1st March he tweeted this:
By 7th March there were nearly 3000 replies. Go here and read some of them then come back to this.
Did your mouth open? Just a little?
There may be enough data in that one thread to form an initial opinion about the state of online health but we’ll come back to that later.
A couple of weeks ago I took my wife to hospital after she became worryingly unwell. Within two minutes of arriving at A&E she had lost consciousness and was rushed away by the resuscitation team. Standing there in the middle of a busy emergency room I found myself stranded in a state of utter impotence, helplessness and uselessness – overwhelmed with fear, doubt and uncertainty. I started running through various outcomes ranging from best to not so good, to worst, to worse than worse and then something happened.
Rachael, the triage nurse who was first to attend to my wife K, asked me if I’d like a cup of tea.
I looked at her and in that instant my mood changed. I was looking at somebody who wasn’t experiencing what I was experiencing. She was calm, collected, fully functional, aligned with her purpose and efficient. Her experience of our mutual circumstance was completely different to mine. How can that be?
Let’s go back to @jack’s tweet and the responses to it. Did you read some of the responses? Eye opening isn’t it?
Twitter is an amazing place. It has amazing potential for both good and, as we’ve seen, the not so good. But it’s also populated by a huge proportion of people who don’t understand how their experience of Twitter or life is created. And even the people who do know how their experience is created regularly slip into what’s known as the Outside In misunderstanding.
The misunderstanding that tells us our feelings come from our circumstances.
We all do it. We’re human. The difference between knowing we’re slipping into the misunderstanding and not knowing is the degree and duration of the stuckness and discomfort we go through once we’ve lost our way. Simply knowing what’s happened can save hours, days, weeks, months, years of frustration and unease.
The emergency room I described earlier had dozens of people in it. There were medical staff, patients, relatives and friends of patients, porters, cleaners, police and paramedics. None of them experienced what I experienced.
They were busy having their own experiences within their own circumstances.
In our circumstance K was having her experience, Rachael was having a different experience, the clinical lead attending to K was having a different experience to K’s and Rachael’s. And I was having mine. All completely different and unique to the individual having it.
And yet none of those experiences and the emotions they contained were caused by ‘the circumstance’.
And none of the emotion in those 3,000 Twitter reactions were caused by @jack’s tweet.
Is @jack’s plan (www.cortico.ai) going to work?
I have no idea. Perhaps. Be nice to think so.
Let’s play a game. Try a little experiment on yourself.
Close your eyes and see, in your mind’s eye, the face of someone who creates within you a strong feeling of unease. It can be a real person from your past or present, or a fictional character from a movie. Really look at the detail of their face – the colour of their eyes, the shape of their nose and their mouth.
In your imagination watch them give you a look that repels you, makes you feel really uncomfortable.
Notice where in your body you feel these unpleasant sensations. Point to their location.
Now do the experiment again, this time bringing into your imagination the face of someone very dear to you, someone you love. Look at their eyes, the shape of their face, their nose and their mouth. Sense the bond you feel you have with them.
Now get them to smile at you, that smile they reserve just for you and begin to notice how that feels for you. Where exactly inside you do you feel those feelings? Point to their location.
- Where did those feelings, when you closed your eyes and imagined those faces, come from?
- Where did my feelings in the hospital come from? Where did K’s come from? Rachael’s?
- Where does Twitter rage come from?
If we were to multiply the number of people on Twitter who think their emotional response to a tweet is caused by that tweet by the number of tweets they read, react to and respond to we’d end up looking at massive misunderstanding that’s unhealthy and unhelpful.
Ponder for a moment the significance and scale of the opportunity this misunderstanding gifts to trolls and bad actors looking to sow discord and mistrust.
When people begin to understand where feelings, responses and emotions come from (and where they definitely don’t come from) then maybe the data that @jack and his friends at www.cortico.ai will point in directions that will transform social media and social behaviour.
It might be illuminating for @jack and his colleagues to include a control group of people who understand how their experience is created so they can compare results with the general population. They may find a solution isn’t quite as complex and remote as it might seem today.
How we ‘feel’ about Twitter isn’t down to Twitter. What I felt about K in the hospital wasn’t down to K being in the hospital. What you felt when you did the imagination experiment wasn’t down to the experiment. What you feel reading this isn’t coming from what I’ve written.
We created our responses from within. We did it. So total responsibility for our emotions lies with us. Think of the implications of that last sentence. How empowering is that?
Curiously, the answer to the three questions above is so simple. So ridiculously simple.
And it if it got out there on a large scale it would change the world.
PS – K is home. Safe and well.