Amplifying the Voice of a Brilliant Mind: Stephen Hawking on Facebook

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. – Stephen Hawking

2014 has seen a long list of notable figures embracing social media and effectively elevating the caliber of the platforms, with even Queen Elizabeth II dabbling in Twitter. However, I believe that a study of Stephen Hawking’s recent presence on Facebook most significantly highlights the immense value of social media still yet untapped.

Steven Hawking

Stephen Hawking

For those unfamiliar, Stephen Hawking is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein. In fact, Hawking used Einstein’s general theory of relativity to show that space and time have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. Hawking was the first to set forth a cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. For those who have seen the recent movie Interstellar, the questions that are explored about space, time and their relationship to each other are those that Stephen Hawking has dedicated his life to studying. From 1979 to 2009 Hawking was a Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, holding the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663. He was awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1982, is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Not only is Stephen Hawking one of today’s most brilliant scientists, but he is also one of the most popular—and not just because he makes guests appearances on shows like The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons.

Beyond his work in cosmological theory, he’s gained worldwide recognition for his ability to communicate the complexities of the universe in layman’s terms. A translator or middleman of sorts, Hawking is world-renowned for his ability to relay some of science’s most complex discoveries about space, space exploration and theoretical physics to the broader population.

Intel Gives Hawking A Voice

Unfortunately, Stephen Hawking is also one of the most prominent sufferers of ALS. Diagnosed at age 21, he was expected to live 2 years, but has been battling it for 51 years now. He’s nearly entirely paralyzed and has been unable to speak since 1985, at which time he began using a computer-based communication system developed by Intel (which was just recently revamped). It is through this device that he wrote his entire book “A Brief History of Time” in which he addresses some of the most profound questions that face humanity including where we come from and where we are headed. I am still in complete awe at the tragedy that was diverted with the help of technology, without which we would have lost access to one of the most brilliant minds of our day.

Social Media Provides The Audience

Now, social media offers a way to amplify his voice to a wider audience. Hawking joined Facebook on October 7th of this year, but posted his first status on October 24th:

Stephen Hawking Facebook Post

Some argue that his entrance into Facebook is a marketing tactic strategically timed to coincide with the recent release of the movie about him The Theory of Everything (highly recommend it!).

Sure he’s posted his thoughts about the movie a couple of times, but he’s also used Facebook to complete the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, to share his support for other philanthropic causes and, most notably, to share news about scientific advancements.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 2.23.25 AM

So I think Hawking has bigger plans for his Facebook page than critics are affording him.  Indeed in an interview he gave just yesterday with USA Today Hawking was asked, “What are your thoughts on constant connectivity and its effect on mankind? Does it help you connect with others?” and Stephen’s response was the following:

We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain. Much has been said about the effect of social media, and I don’t have much to add that is original. I had resisted social media until recently as a time-consuming invasion of privacy, but I was persuaded to open a Facebook page to communicate the importance of science to a wider audience. I hope my Facebook page will put an end to several fake Stephen Hawking pages, but it won’t do anything for Twitter. The Internet has had a big effect on research in my field of physics. Up to the early ’90s, people circulated paper pre-prints by mail. These often took several months to arrive, and went only to a small circle, mainly in the West. Now anyone anywhere in the world, can react immediately to new work. Science has become more inclusive.

Based on his statement, Hawking seems to be well-aware of the value and importance of his presence on Facebook. He is arguably the most prominent spokesperson for scientific world, and this ability to communicate the most complex theories coupled with the opportunity inherent in sharing in an online community of over 1 billion users presents great value. I think Hawking’s story is one of the most promising manifestations of the power that lies at intersection of technology and social media to overcome human obstacles. Nevertheless, his story is one in which the human is ultimately the driver of technology and social media.  These mechanisms simply help to give a voice to his inspiring, but muted thoughts.

As we increasingly grow accustomed to using our newsfeeds as newspapers, those writing the algorithms that craft our social media experience must work to break the filter bubbles that currently exist.  However, we are also responsible for creating online communities with the same characteristics as those communities offline—diverse, meaningful, intentional.  And we can start doing by following Stephen Hawking on Facebook.  As Stephen Hawking continues to embark on his life’s mission to discover “the theory of everything,” I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of his groundbreaking theories unfold in a Facebook status.

Sources

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/385177/scitech/socialmedia/stephen-hawking-joins-facebook

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/12/02/stephen-hawking-intel-technology/18027597/

8 comments

  1. This is a great post, and I can’t comment much more appropriately than the person in a screenshot above. “This is how the internet should be used.” The internet is the most groundbreaking innovation that contains all of the information in the world, on your phone, for free, and it seems like it primarily used for sharing cat gifs, and silly memes. The fact that Stephen Hawking’s knowledge and discoveries are now being broadcasted (AGAIN: FOR FREE) on social media, is absolutely insane. It’s no longer exclusive information for those in the innermost scientific circles.

    It reminds me of Nikolas Tesla releasing all of the patents for Tesla motor companies. He believes that hoarding this information does no good, and by sharing it with the world, they can work to make his products better, and more universal. Since then, it has led to more business for Tesla, as companies have been using his parts to innovate new things themselves. Knowledge is power, indeed.

  2. From Intel to Facebook, it’s a providence to have given Hawking the ability to voice out his brilliance. I was never big into physics/quantum-stuff and all that despite being a total geek in mathematics. Admittedly, it was Interstellar that really got me thinking about relativity for the past few weeks, and with Hawking on SM I hope I can see myself being first-hand informed about the possibility of time travel through my newsfeed.

    Hawking’s neuron analogy for social media is simply stellar. Each neuron transports information in a network, forming this giant brain, or a figure for digital participants that composes the collective intelligence. With one of the greatest minds joining the network, this would help inspire people to stay aware of and contribute to the undiscovered realms of humanity’s biggest questions. Hopefully contributing to an online community that is “diverse, meaningful, intentional.” Great post!

  3. Nice post! I will totally with Michael that ‘this is how the internet should be used’, and this is how facebook should be used. Thanks to the technology and social media so that people from all over the world can hear such a great mind. I hope more ‘contributive’ account would show up on facebook, and twitter.

  4. Great post. One interesting thing I’ve noticed about SM in class is that many of the strongest people online are not the strongest participants in class. I wonder if that might extend to Hawking. Someone who is so hindered from socializing in the real world might find it to be a very liberating outlet.

  5. Awesome post, Caroline! This was really well written and I enjoyed how you kept the reader engaged by alternating between entertainment & educational highlights. Your writing style aside, I think one really interesting thing about Hawking is how he just recently warned (along with Elon Musk) that we must be careful about our development and reliance on Artificial Intelligence. It seems ironic, since he both is starting to engage with social media and also uses a machine with AI, but I think he makes a fair point that we must be cautious in our development, so as not to be overrun by our own ambitions.

    Thanks for getting me thinking! Nice post!

  6. Great post, Caroline! I agree with Michael that its awesome that people like Stephen Hawking can share their academic work for free with social media. Getting published is expensive and extremely difficult but posting your work online is free and, if seen by the right people, can be broadcasted easily. This post also reminded me of Angela’s presentation on adapting SM for those who can’t see. I would be interested to know how exactly Stephen Hawking’s Facebook page works, since he can see and hear, but not do much else. Although some people think Hawking joined Facebook for the promotion of the movie, which could be possible, I wonder if the Ice Bucket Challenge also played a role. Seeing that so much money was being raised for the disease he is suffering from all through social media, Hawking may have been motivated to share more about himself on social media. I hope Hawking and other intellects can keep using social media for advancing their ideas and engaging with other people, and that they aren’t sworn off by all the less serious things on social media. I’m seeing the “Theory of Everything” this weekend, so your post really got me excited!

  7. Love this post! Similar to Denn, I also was not big into physics or cosmology as I saw them to be more exclusive to those experts or researchers. Now with such brilliant minds available to everyone on SM, I no longer have excuse to stay away from the scientific world and am very excited to be included! His intension to use SM to share the great minds and connect the world also encourage me to look on the bright side and make a good use of SM. Rather than being resistant or troubled by the filtered bubble that SM may trap us, I believe we individuals can burst the bubble by connecting us to more diversified, meaningful, and positive thinkers through SM. Thanks for your sharing, I am up to follow him on FB and planning to see the movie very soon!

  8. Great post, Caroline! I wasn’t familiar with Hawking’s recent Facebook initiative, but it shines a whole new light on a platform that I don’t generally consider a hub of valuable content. While I consider Twitter a more valuable information source as it has become an essential journalistic platform, and Tumblr a better platform for creative content, it is interesting to see how Facebook can provide a platform for intellectual thought elaboration and expertise sharing. People primarily take to Facebook for social, rather than content-seeking focus. But Facebook does employ the most massive scale of any social network, creating an opportunity for intellectuals, artists and other experts to deliver quality content to a significant chunk of the population, as we’ve seen with HONY’s Brandon Stanton and now a more unexpected Stephen Hawking. I wonder if Hawking’s FB presence will spark a trend that changes public perception and use of Facebook.

%d bloggers like this: