Responsibility Explosions

Here’s something I thought of recently with a post that went viral on facebook.  I commented that I wished the post had citations, and someone told me to just google it.

There’s a lot that could be said about responses like that, but the one I want to focus on in this post is what I’m going to call “responsibility explosion”.

The viral post had thousands of shares.

Think of all the thousands of people viewing that post.  Even if it only takes a few minutes to google for the facts, that’s thousands of minutes used up.

On the other hand, if the one single person who wrote the post included citations (and, if just googling it is so easy, why not?), then all that work would only need to be done once.

That’s something the rest of us can’t do (thanks to the design of facebook).  Even if I googled it for myself, I wouldn’t be able to supply those results to the other thousands of people who saw and shared the post.  Only the original poster could have done that.

So, when thinking about whose responsibility something is, remember this.  Could the small number of people who know the facts handle the responsibility efficiently?  Is your message going to be effective if you shoulder people who know less than you with the responsibility of researching and verifying your words?

This is one reason why we have stuff like a school system.  Even for adults (in university, college, etc.) who can do learning and research on their own, education systems use a few knowledgeable teachers to help many others learn in a structured way.

Division of labor!  It’s great.

(See also, Division of Information Labor)