2012: a year for “social flares”

intro to CES trends: technology enabling social flares

I’ve just returned from the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where all the latest consumer technologies are showcased from around the world. I’ll be writing (and speaking) about technology trends and cause-effect consumer behavior in the coming weeks. However, I want to preface everything with a thought. A concept. An outlook. Possibly a trend on its way to becoming an accepted way of life in America: what I’m calling “Social Flares.

what is a “social flare”?

I’m defining “Social Flares” as social activity, such as movements or social changes, that quickly coalesce, gain momentum, make impact, and then dissipate as fast as they began.  Like flash fires that combust once intense energy is exhausted. In some cases the flares are big and cataclysmic. There’s a saying in some cultures that “if you fall in love fast and hard, you fall out of love fast and hard.” Same principle. For example, look how quickly Occupy Wall Street galvanized and then fell apart (OWS no longer occupies a block or the news).

Similarly, fashion and Internet memes catch on quickly, gain huge momentum, replicate, then come to a screeching halt, and fall out of favor and become irrelevant; of course, some make an impact and are absorbed by culture. For example, OWS has certainly changed the discourse of the upcoming election. We live in a culture of extremes. We are a culture defined by intense passion. As a culture – society – we latch onto things quickly (flare up) and then drop them quickly (flare down). Sometimes “Social Flare Ups” make a lasting impact, like a solar flare.

tech and social media drive “social flares”

Technology is at the heart of Social Flares. Social media is the backbone of this behavior because it allows us to research and share information, promote ideas and action, quickly find people who share our views, and basically exhaust a topic. We’ve gone from a handful of “broadcasters” to countless “peercasters” as anyone and everyone is Citizen Reporter. Think of the Arab Spring, how it came into being and how we barely hear anything about it anymore. The intensity in which we throw ourselves or attention into a topic burns out quickly, and our attention moves onto something else. We use technology (our phones, TVs and computers) as tools of voice, vote and vim.  Without our devices and our networks “social flares” would be more like “social gurgles”… weaker, slower, less focused. We owe the intensity and magnitude of social flares to technology. Thus, this year “CES” was really the conference dedicated to Connecting Everyone Suddenly. ” 

humans are simply sun-sensitive sacks of brine

Do you believe that animals can sense the weather? Does your mood change at different times of the month or year? SADness, which is the abbreviation for “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (i.e., winter blues) reached an all time high in 2011 with 10 million Americans diagnosed (nearly 10% of all people living in New Hampshire are apparently afflicted with SADness). FACT: our bodies are made up of +80% of water, which makes us humans mere sacks of brine. Ecosystems fueled by electrical impulses. Thus, we (like animals) are highly sensitive to the pull of the celestial bodies. Our chemistry responds to light, temperature, gravitational pull and electromagnetic fields. The later – electromagnetic waves (i.e., radiation) – in our world is largely impacted by solar flares. Gamma rays wash over our bodies and travel through our bodies 365/24/7, depending on the sun. In the book Solar Rain, by Mitch Battros, an entire chapter is dedicated to the behavioral impact of solar flare activity, attributed to ADHD, depression, anxiety and social misconduct.

In a newly published 132-page report from NASA titled Severe Space Weather: Social and Economic Impacts, “experts detail what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a super solar flare followed by an extreme geomagnetic storm. They found that almost nothing is immune from space weather—not even the water in your bathroom.”  According to the report, our technology-dependent world is threatened because our power grids are vulnerable to solar flares.

2012-13: dare to flare

Solar flares occur around sunspots; they are parts of the sun which erupt in a huge energy release of electrons, ions, and atoms. The clouds of radiation typically reach the earth 1 or 2 days after the event on the surface of the sun. The sun’s solar flare activity, interestingly, varies day-to-day, but tends to follow in an 11-year cycle (called the “solar cycle”).  We are currently on the up-curve, nearing the peak, of an 11-year cycle with activity peaking in 2013. In fact, scientists are warning that governments should prepare for technological disruption in 2013 due to increased electromagnetic activity.

There was a solar storm in 1859, the biggest recorded, which knocked out the telegraph system all over Europe and America.  Newspapers reported that telegraph pylons threw sparks and some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send/receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies. This brings meaning to the expression, “ghost in the machine.” So, think about the implications of increased solar activity in our device-driven worlds today?

solar flares = social flares?

It is interesting to compare human behavior with solar activity. I posit that “Solar Flares” cause-effect “Social Flares.” Look at the graph above: it is interesting that the two biggest human hits to life on earth in the past decade (9/11 and the US Financial Crisis),took place during extreme periods of sun flares (maximum and minimal activity).

It does seem that “Social Flaring” could be on the rise, just like Solar Flares. Perhaps this is due to fervor created by the upcoming Presidential election? What is the correlation and/or causation between Solar Flares and Social Flares? Wouldn’t that be an interesting predictor of human behavior? Will global social unrest continue to escalate as Solar Flares plateau, or will we see periods harmony after 2013?

social flares are the new social norm

My bet is that “Social Flaring” is here to stay, irrespective of the sun, because our behavior has been permanently changed by technology. Technology exacerbates our innate lizard-brain human behaviors: to gossip, influence others, wield power through knowledge, affect positive change, control the world, etc. As long as we can communicate real-time with the world, we will get caught up in “flares.” I think the new social norm will be “Social Flare Ups,” with lots of “activism” and “vocalism.” It will be hard to decipher which Solar Flares represent the majority because even small factions with big voices (and expert command of social media) will burn through the clutter and be noticed.

social flares for social change

The opportunity is to harness the ease in which “Social Flares” can be conjured as a tool for good. To fight the good fight. To make significant changes to improve humanity.

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