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too many loose tribes, too little cohesion
Thirty of the forty-eight of us who went to university together are in a Whatsapp group to keep in touch. The miracle of technology and social networks have brought us together. We are a distributed bunch spread across India, East Asia, the middle east, Europe, and North America - in the US and here I am in Canada.
We talk about a variety of topics including family and social events, politics, and religion - with completely varying views of this depending on topics we talk about. We are a loosely coupled tribe, sometimes bickering on meaningless issues, but having the opportunity to engage at our own terms as we choose to engage.
Last Saturday, 14 of us got together on a Zoom call for a couple of hours and talked about sweet nothings, reminiscing about the simpler times gone by three decades ago. It was a kind of a “Zoomunion” - I word that I just made up for a reunion using Zoom.
I am in many other such weak tie groups as well. A few meetup groups, one in Hongkong and another in New York. Six Meetup groups that I personally facilitate with a collective of 3,000 members. A LinkedIn member network of nearly 5,000 connections. Several dozen Slack channels that I jump in based on specific needs. And a few private Whatsapp groups. And several other platforms. It tends to be too much sometimes.
In a way, many of these are tribes, but not in a truly tribal context. A real physical tribe a few thousand years ago was truly a boundary for the collective safety of the tribe. You were together for a specific purpose of survival, to defend as a group what you had - land, crops, cattle, your family and worked as a friend or a foe boundary structure. In these global tribes, I could find a few specific individuals that I could lean in for support, but generally not to any specific group as a whole.
Global tribalism is easy to enter or exit. You can be a peripheral player in several tribes of your choice. You can engage just with a hashtag on any cause. You can create noise on any nonsense topic and blow these out of proportion if the group wants to. And many of the topics that people ride along on are shallow in nature and are topics of the day, week, or season. Just like the fact that most news roiling around is #FakeNews the topics of choice to run wild on the social networks are run by shallow bandwagon effects that people hop on to.
And another thought of note would be that there are billions of private conversations in a variety of tools going on today. From small 1:1’s to small groups to very large groups of 100,000 to 250,000 to even 1 million on platforms like Whatsapp, Signal, and Telegram. And the scary part is that for every good or normal conversation going on, there are probably as many conversations that could be to cause harm and do subversive practices on others in order to take advantage.
That leaves me pondering the question - “Where is this Global Tribalism taking us? Where indeed?”