“The discovery of irregular patterns by group noticings”

Phil Shapiro sent me this unusual and fascinating request:

On the local neighborhood email list I’m on here in Greenbelt, Maryland, there’s a growing sense about a problem with postal mail being delivered on time. It’s beginning to look as if a fatigued postal worker may be doing the proverbial “storing mail at his/her home” rather than delivering it.

Local mail is taking a full week to be delivered and some mail is not arriving at all. It’s been fascinating to watch the growing consensus that something may be amiss.

The discovery of irregular patterns via group noticings needs a name. We need a name for this process to better pinpoint the source and extent of viral outbreaks (such as the pandemic flu) and we need a name for this process for countless other ways that individuals look out for the well being of others.

Thanks for asking your readers if they can think of the right neologism for this process.

I just love the phrase “the discovery of irregular patterns via group noticings.” At first blush, it certainly seems worthy of a neologism! Then again, there is nothing new about group noticings. This was always the way of tribal, village, and agricultural life, before the industrial age made our daily activities less visible to one another. So maybe there’s a perfectly good old word just waiting to be dusted off and brought back?

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25 thoughts on ““The discovery of irregular patterns by group noticings”

  1. I don’t know about an old word but is there any reason that the word “collaboration” does not sum it up?

    Is the focus that they are solving / noticing a problem or that the group of people is loosely associated?

  2. “The Green Monkey Syndrome” — after the (mythical?) experiment where a monkey’s hair was dyed green and all of the other monkeys noticed. Unfortunately, they killed the green one.

    Others (some in jest):

    “Outlier detection from non-outlier points on a graph”

    “Aberrance Awareness”

    “PDA” = “Pattern Disruption Awareness”

    “Pattern-ity tests”

  3. “The wisdom of crowds” would have been a good name. Alas, it is taken.
    But I am with Luis – this seems too much like mob mentality.

  4. Pattern-scratching. One person starts to feel the itch, mentions to a friend who also – they discover – has the itch. Itches; they come and go.

  5. “Is the focus that they are solving / noticing a problem or that the group of people is loosely associated?”

    Yes, I think so.

    The dialectic between “crowd wisdom” and “mob rule” here intersects with the (mostly negative) comments I was just reading over here — http://www.appscout.com/2007/06/spockcom_its_creepy_its_coolyo.php — about spock.com.

    It all keeps coming back to identity, trust, and the possibility (or not) of infusing the new kind of network-mediated loose association with the old meanings of those words.

    That said, I think neighborhood watch does nicely, no neologism needed. Not sure community consciousness says anything different. Pattern-scratching is evocative, though, and some variant of that which connotes group activity could take this into territory wider than the neighborhood. Although Phil’s scenario is a neighborhood watch, group noticing is now a decentralized phenomenon and it’s probably the wide-area form that most needs a name.

  6. It seems to me that the example described relates to the old story about tool-using monkeys — that the community’s awareness reaches critical mass or a communal cognitive tipping point. Critical Mass-tery could be a light-hearted phrase to describe the concept, but … is more clever than useful for communication. Perhaps what might be more appropriate would be a phrase that gives the sense of a society or community that develops a consensual awareness. I really like Stephen Downes’ phrase of “community consciousness” — in contrast with “collective unconscious”, this communicates a that the consciousness is neither universal nor collective, but appears on a more intimate scale yet — that of the local community. It also communicates that the awareness has shifted from unconscious to conscious. Bravo!

  7. “I really like Stephen Downes’ phrase of “community consciousness””

    It didn’t grab me right off the bat, but after reading your comment, I agree.

  8. “Neighborhood watch” has a crime-fighting connotation that might make it seem a little too specific. Stephen’s suggestion is a good generalization. I think “community awareness” or “collective awareness” would be good candidates too.

  9. One could also throw in emergence, to pin down the bottom-up nature of the process. You’d get “emergent community awareness”.

    And, this has the bonus of making the expression truly buzzword-compliant :)

  10. “It’s called a Rumour.”

    I’m not sure that’s quite right. One definition of rumour is:

    “a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts”

    There’s no presumption, I don’t think, that all involved have personally witnessed/experienced the basis of the story or statement. But in Phil’s example, it’s not a case of passing along hearsay. People have all made the same observation independently, and are then discovering that others have too.

  11. okay, i’ll give a shot at answering my own question.

    the newly coined word might be percepstat.

    this is an amalgam of perception and statistics.

    that is to say, when groups notice abnormalities and share them they’re engaging in confirming statistics via group perception.


  12. It’s called “gossip,” which anthropologists have long classified as a means of social control, a transducer of the socially anomolous into the collectively recognized. In this case it’s the community affiliation that is different.

  13. To do anything truly worth doing, I must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in with gusto and scramble through as well as I can.

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