Digital Groupthink

Digital Groupthink

Original Thumbnail created by Deman Abukar

If Walmart sold Faustian bargains, groupthink would be the generic brand. Like being promised the world but only getting an atlas or like going to a Destiny's Child reunion where Michelle Williams is the only member on stage. Groupthink is a term coined by William H. Whyte then expanded by Psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 that refers to the phenomenon whereby individuals conform to group pressures. On the Internet it means the sheep blindly follows what the herd does with no research, no questions, and no critical thinking. It sells you a relatively achievable dream that by promoting several ideas that you might not agree with, in the long run, you're laying down the blueprints for a worthwhile cause. Suppressing a few opinions here and there isn't the problem. Deciding you no longer like a brand of running shoes or that pineapple don't belong on pizza is trivial in the grand scheme of things, but when it becomes routine it makes you something other than yourself. The crux of it is giving up a piece of yourself to push agendas that don't really make you better as a person. 

Online communities and collectives of all colors and creeds are susceptible to groupthink. Whether it be Unseasoned twitter, Black Lives Matter (BLM) or 1 of the 300 subcultures on Tumblr. Naturally, as groupthink goes, the popular opinion reigns seamlessly supreme. Therefore the belief that is in favor of the group as whole trumps all individual beliefs. Of course, anything other than a uniform ideology would jeopardize the harmony of the group, which seems to go against the whole point of being a collective. As a result in order to preserve the consensus you have to surrender your individuality. In essence, individuals may have to disconnect from themselves in order to connect with others for what appears to be a bigger cause or greater good. Sometimes this involves trimming and scaling down ideas or beliefs that make up a person's identity. Over time, when we're forced to compromise over and over again we lose important parts that make us the individuals we are. Sacrificing fragments of your individuality for things you don't necessarily consider to be important builds a habit of self-censorship. This leads you to believe that if your ideas are different to the group then you're wrong. The fear of being wrong or being the odd one out creates the tendency to hold back your thoughts, which doesn't build you up, it breaks you down and forces you to be more like everyone else.

Like with anything in life, suppressing something time and time again makes it harder for it to resurface. Your inner voice, your voice of reason, the logical faculty in your brain—whatever you want to call it—is a part of your essence. By constantly disconnecting from yourself you make it harder to be you. It's easy to get caught up in groupthink to the point where you realize you're not really you anymore. The things you used to stand for don't matter as much. Your strong opinions aren't so tough now. The conviction you used to have is a thing of the past. When you reflect on the person you used to be all you have now is a vegetable who forgot how to think autonomously. To top it all off every new idea you conceive is surrounded by doubt and the fear of being wrong.

Groupthink kills originality and creativity. Within larger groups, originality doesn't always hold as much value when the main goal is to support the same idea. When you're not used to being original you get accustomed to going along with other people's ideas. When there's no incentive to be original in a group setting you can forget its importance when applying it to other parts of your life. The same can be said about a person's ability to be creative. When unoriginal ideas are constantly brought to you and there's no perceived need to create, creativity becomes an extracurricular activity with no obvious incentive or benefit.

Although there are benefits of belonging to an online community the by-product that is groupthink does more harm than good. Giving up parts of who you are as collateral is one of the many perils of groupthink. Not only does it cripple your ability to be creative and original but it also disconnects you from your individuality through habitual suppression and self-censorship. Personhood shouldn't be sacrificed in any capacity, regardless of any utilitarian principles. After all, groups collapse and form all the time and the only constant you have is yourself.  

Editor's Letter December

Editor's Letter December

New Mexico

New Mexico