Back when I started my career by working in retail I underwent training in what to do if the store was held up. Along with all the usual things there was one bit of training that always seemed a bit off to me. In essence we were told that once the robbery was all over and done with we were told to make sure everyone stayed separated until the police arrived. The reason behind this was that typically in such situations one person would tend to dominate the social interactions that would happen afterwards. If you’re trying to get decent eye witness testimony (which is typically pretty useless) it doesn’t help if you have someone leading the pack, so to speak. I would learn later that this was a demonstration of the groupthink phenomenon.
With the popularity of online forums and collaborative news sites we can now see this kind of behaviour quite regularly. One of my past times is reading the comments on Slashdot stories and after a while you’ll start to notice a pattern of the kinds of posts that rise to the top (thanks to their moderation system). Whilst it is hardly surprising that a community that was founded on certain things (Linux, technology, general geekery) would tend towards these topics there’s a set of (not-so)unspoken rules that people tend to follow when posting on there. More recently I started browsing the Something Awful forums, which seem to take an even more authoritarian stance towards sticking to the groupthink norm.
Whilst I can completely understand the phenomenon itself I sometimes find myself hopping outside the groupthink (even if I agree with it) in order to see what the other side has to say. I guess its the little sceptic in me that keeps telling me that even if everyone believes something it can still be wrong. It’s part of the reason I usually pepper my blog entries with so many links, I want people to make up their own mind rather then just accepting what I type.
In this age of instantly accessible information there’s really no reason to take any one source of information as the source of truth. Sure some are better then others (I favour Wikipedia heavily for initial research) but when you can gather information from every corner of the globe in minutes there’s really no excuse for getting led blindly astray by groupthink. Well, I guess there’s always laziness…. 🙂