Doubts Even Here

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, July 7, 2009

While I haven't done what appears to be the obligatory 2009 SHRM Conference wrap-up (plenty of options can be found here, here, here, and here), one of the main things that made this conference different for me (compared to the previous eight I've attended) was the availability of Twitter. Many of the sessions and events were made much more compelling by having "real-time" conversations with others in attendance. Reaction was immediate, and it was fantastic to see a community rise up and share their opinions that would have been dissipated in the absence of such technology.

Reading the reflections, it seems that I was not alone in finding this advance as a positive experience for all those involved. But, is there a danger involved in such consensus?

In a recent article, and recently published book, Cass Sunstein argues that when like-minded people spend more time with each other, their views may become more extreme:

Some years ago, a number of citizens of France were assembled into small groups to exchange views about their president and about the intentions of the United States with respect to foreign aid. Before they started to talk, the participants tended to like their president and to distrust the intentions of the United States. After they talked, some strange things happened. Those who began by liking their president ended up liking their president significantly more. And those who expressed mild distrust toward the United States moved in the direction of far greater distrust. The small groups of French citizens became more extreme. As a result of their discussions, they were more enthusiastic about their leader, and far more sceptical of the United States, then similar people in France who had not been brought together to speak with one another.
Why does Sunstein think this "group polarisation" occurs?
The most important reason for group polarisation, which is key to extremism in all of its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarisation often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction. When they listen to each other, they move.
Looking back at the conference, one example stands out. I decided to attend the Dave Ramsey session (by myself) and found the message and tips appropriate, but the presentation absolutely brutal. Most likely, I would have given it a "meh" rating when colleagues and I compared notes on the sessions we attended. However, with the presence of Twitter, I easily found others like-minded, and it only served to exacerbate my disappointment in the session. In the end, I probably rated the session worse, than if Twitter was available.

Giving the increased feeling of community that has arisen, has HR blogging and Twittering made your views more extreme (such as one's view on the efficacy of conferences or SHRM, in general)? What dangers does this pose, if true?

3 comments

i'm feeling more extreme about the french.

by carlspacklercbs on July 7, 2009 at 1:30 PM. #

DeGaulle! DeGaulle! DeGaulle!

by Lisa on July 9, 2009 at 3:56 PM. #

(That was my post...I was logged in another app as Lisa).

by David on July 9, 2009 at 4:28 PM. #

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