The amoeba and the squirrel

[An essay written for the Internet Review, a one-off maybe-to-become-annual publication documenting (and celebrating?) Internet trends]

Every human has two minds: one like an amoeba and one like a squirrel. The amoeba mind is reactive, emotional, intuitive. It decides immediately, without planning or consideration. It is Freud’s “id”, or the System One of behavioral economics: the amoeba is your unconscious. Your squirrel mind plans, trades off immediate pleasures for future gain, is capable of abstract reasoning and cooperation – the superego.

Being an amoeba is often more fun – maybe even more authentic – but the squirrel makes things happen in the long run.

Society also has amoeba and squirrel modes. The amoeba is the local interaction: follow your senses and do what’s in your direct interest, consequences be damned. Squirrel mode requires bigger institutions, and trust: in other people’s knowledge, a shared logical picture of the world, forgoing today’s profit for society’s long-term benefit.

Until now, newspapers, TV and political parties have been democracy’s squirrels, fact-checking and interpreting for the rest of us. In 2016, social media – the ultimate amoeba forum – became pervasive enough to challenge squirrel norms. Society’s truth is no longer mediated by squirrels. Amoebas transmit and amplify emotional messages; the amoeba mind gains an unfiltered political life of its own. Amoebas have no plan, but together they have power.

Facebook is America’s collective unconscious; a swarm of amoeba minds, riven by the conflicts and irrationalities of instinctive urges. Until we teach ourselves to think about consequences again, humanity will have the self-control of a 4-year-old. Twitter, a bridge from amoeba to squirrel, might show a way. But as 2016 ends the squirrel still seems to be in hibernation.


Popular posts from this blog

What is the difference between cognitive economics and behavioural finance?

Is bad news for the Treasury good for the private sector?

Dead rats and dopamine - a new publication