While writing about gossip I thought about the parallel with Religion.
Gossip is functional. It is essential for the workings of organizations, companies and basically any group. Managers often steer on gossip since any concrete information is not present. Mintzberg said “today’s gossip may be tomorrow’s fact”.
There are many different types of people who gossip and since it is so functional we all take part in it, since not many things are “exact” or “we know 100% about it”. It is used for power, to disrupt things, to destroy people, to socialize but often not consciously done.
If for example there is talk about a manager who has an affair or who is extremely lazy it could lead in then end to the resignation of that person. Without proof being there because one rule with gossip is that the person who is gossiped about should not know it.
We all know it, if you have had the unfortunate pleasure to experience gossip or suspect that you were “out” because of gossip then you will probably recognize the feeling that you would want to put the whole truth on a piece of paper and just show “everyone” the truth. But even then people will not believe you. Unless you have very exact, almost scientific proof or data and propagate this for some time throughout the organization.
Now take any religion in it’s beginning days (being one of the hundreds of likewise cults at any time branching from older religions because of gossip). Read what is written en try to get some proof of what is written and you end up with nothing more than “what you heard from other people who in the end wrote it down” and precisely this is what science is not. Science are these proof or data “things” that should basically show everyone the exact real truth (although it could be too late).
The funny thing is that sometimes gossip has been around for so long that even when a report shows up that the manager performed more than any other manager that a large part of the organization will still hold the feelings about that manager or even worse he could be fired. And in the real society the thousands of people who have been killed for reasons of untrue gossip. You may remind yourself of the second world war.
And the funny thing with science is that even if, after 400 years, proof shows up that many parts of the gossip are untrue by fact, that the “belief” (which is exactly the gossip concept) survives in the heads of many people. They take the original gossip for granted instead of the proof of the report on the manager’s performance. They propagate it to their kids and friends and families and relations because it has such an important place in our society. More important than exact facts, in fact. Just think of your own household and the reasons why you do what you do.
That’s extremely sad but it makes it very clear that gossip is an essential human concept that should be studied much closer. Maybe memeology will give us one day some more tools to handle it, until then our society is build on it.
Gossip highly influences economy. It influences stocks. It influences companies on all levels on all decisions. We can complete make a company CMMI mature but still most decisions will be made based on gossip. What religion is, is in fact a formalization of the worst parts of gossip, but used for the same purposes. It even offers social structure for enabling gossip. Which is pretty brilliant. In a sense it is one of the biggest improvement of mankind. We somehow made a formalized structure for something that is not formalized by nature. We guide people from birth until death surrounded by formalized gossip rituals. Nobody understand why they are doing it, but hey, everybody is doing it so let’s also do it (and belief it). Memes which were only gossip between a small group of people were written down and now are believed by millions of people, following the “guidelines” which have lost their context for a long time, and making it all from a scientific view “bizarre”.
Science or facts will never have such an impact on on society. Just as you can implement a fantastic business intelligence system which gathers all data from a company it will barely influence decisions, it will only support already present-in-brains memes. If a CEO feels intuitively that he should go a certain direction by things he heard in his network and read around on the internet then that will be the new main direction of the company. If a country has gossip going around “crime” although crime is decreasing according to “scientific reports” there will still be a new government choosen who will focus on crime.
It’s time scientists learn to realize that gossip is the way to spread information and use it accordingly.