Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Social networks might actually be semi-anti-social

It struck me the other day, watching several phone potatoes doing their "social" thing, that while people are communicating more than ever – on phones and through (ahem) “social” networks and email and text messaging – that they (we!) might actually be more isolated than ever.

You know... Head down over the keyboard, smirking about that zombie bite you just got, or crunched up to our phone screen, hanging on to every word of that really useful twitter from Sally, about how she "likes the hot pepper dip" she's eating while she sits there alone twittering (sounds weird - doesn't it? Sally, sitting alone, "twittering"). Yeah - seems pretty isolating...

What I’m not sure of is whether we are using time which we would be alone anyway to now communicate with others, or are we taking time which we otherwise might have spent with others, physically, to now be alone? Have we just harmlessly, and maybe beneficially, moved the communicating part into bits, bytes and broadband? or have we lost something?

So the “networking” part of “social networking” isn’t arguable, but is it really “social”? I know that It’s more interesting for me when I am in the physical presence of people with whom I want to socialize, but I just don’t have that much time to socialize in the same physical location with others as much as I’d like.

So maybe that’s the key to “social networking” – maybe it makes up for our modern compression of time, to allow us to continue to communicate with others without the normal requirement to plan it and physically travel to a common location. Maybe it’s just like video conferencing at work, which, in theory, saves a trip. The experience is not as satisfying and not as productive, but it’s good enough. So “social networking” is really more like “virtual socializing” ? That puts a negative spin on “Socializing”, rather than a positive spin on “Networking”... but who wants to admit that our lives are just so full of interesting things that we’ve had to downgrade our social experience... Yuck – that sounds really negative – where actually, it’s only negative if technically-based social networking has replaced physical socializing.
It’s actually a positive change if we haven’t reduced real socializing but rather use online social networks and our mobile phones as an add-on to getting together with friends... yeah... I love virtually-social-electronic-communication... really, I do.


Lapsarian said...

I agree with you 100%, so this isn't meant to be a dig on you, but when I got to the end of this post and saw the links to Digg and Facebook, I chuckled a little. I found this off of Digg. It's a tiny world these days, which has its pros and cons. As an American doing graduate work in Ireland, it means I can still talk to my friends and family for free. As a social being who also has friends here, it means I have to fight to get my buddies off Bebo or off of their phones to go out and DO something. What scares me the most, I think, is the jargon that comes with it...the text language that uses the fewest characters to make the most words. The English language may be doomed.

Admin said...

Interesting observation... I like it...

maks said...

".the text language that uses the fewest characters to make the most words. The English language may be doomed."
it's been done already.It's called Newspeak
Orwell invented it in the 50s

Unknown said...

I can only see positive value in social networking. I believe the "negative" perception is simply the decline of value in our lives.

When I flip on the Discovery channel I see people in touch -- not only with their surroundings, but in the history of their people and the culture of their world.

Meanwhile, when I wake up tomorrow I need to produce a certain number of 1's and 0's to earn my keep in the financial economy. I'm so far removed from any meaningful interaction that I need to connect through social networking.

The burden is often on us to use those few hours of the week provided to get out and do something meaningful with our lives. I would argue that the "problem" with social networking is in fact the "problem" of our own society.

Alice Ivy said...

I think it's a double edged sword, technology allows you to keep in touch with scores and scores of people at once, but how intimate are those relationships? Are the huge amounts of friends on your facebook page really your friends? Even though I'm technically communicating with with people constantly, I can go months without so much as one long conversation and i think that individual friendships have been replaced with more of a group dynamic. Ideally the internet allows one to easily (and least awkwardly) contact many people, some of which you might find a real connection to. What you end up with are many many short lived friendships sparked by common interests and not personality traits or shared experiences. Suggesting that you physically meet up with someone has become somewhat of a bold move in the facebook realm, and one who tries to do so would find themselves quite rejected by their 'friends'.

Scoot said...

How would social networks be any more anti-social than writing a letter or talking to someone on the phone? Both of these things we have been doing for over 100 years, with the former for hundreds and hundreds of years. If anything, online social networking makes it possible to connect easier and more quickly in order to plan "physically social" events. I don't use Facebook for much of anything aside from getting notices about parties and get-togethers. When I am across town from my friend and I want to play a round of golf with him this afternoon, I send him a text message, and we get together after work. I fail to really see the "anti-social" behavior here. To be social does not require physical contact. This we have known since we began mobilizing our civilizations.

Unknown said...

It is so much easier and more convenient to send an email message or sent a Facebook message to someone than it is to take the effort to engage in a real-time conversation with someone over the phone or in person. Social laziness.

Russ said...

The problem is social networking is just a pile of crap. Yes we can connect to many others but the value of those relationships are questionable. We have made the transition yet from social networking to social computing. Google for both terms to see the difference.

I have been working on a social computing platform for 3 years now and it is almost ready. Come check it out at bindpoint.net. The inspiration comes from a highly unlikely source and I am confident it is going to take everyone by surprise.

I would have it done sooner but I just need some more money ;)

JR said...

Some great comments and responses here... thanks...
"double-edged sword"... yes.
The Digg'rs were certainly harsh on this post - either offended by mis-understanding my point, or, maybe they could relate...
Maybe I should have titled it "social networks are semi-social" - since my point was NOT that web-based social networks are negative or anti-social, but rather, that they should not replace the direct social opportunities in our lives, as those are more fulfilling (to me).
I highly value the connections I make online... like these... (thanks for the irony, lapsarian ;)

Robin said...

@ Scott: JR wasn't writing about you specifically, or anyone else that uses "social network" sites / sms in the manner that you do. Some people however I dare say have increased their online time / time spent on their virtual life at the expense of their real life... and therefore JR has a valid point.

Lee said...

Hey man, interesting post. Just posted a pretty similar observation on my neck of the woods, wondered if anyone else had had similar thoughts, and found this. We are definitely losing something by being glued to screens of various sorts all day.

leeclemmer dot com

Unknown said...

There is a real irony to the whole world of social networking, and the criticism of social networking practices.

Take me for example. I'm an easy target.

Here is my social sphere, me and my cat, along with a mind that teases and taunts. I write about life, people, and other oddball things. You see, I tried my hand at being a professional coach. I did alright... but that's about all. Where I thrived during that time was creating interesting articles for my so-called target audience. And, I just 'put it out there.'

You see, a very sound theory exists that suggests that you put something out there, the people that really need to read it will see it. You just do what you do.

Then comes all this SEO stuff, and the people that want to utilize all the tricks of the trade to get their sites spidered, their content indexed, and build valuable links. Well, I didn't create the algorithms now did I?

So what's a little ole me to do?

I being doing what I'm hearing must be done. I open a few accounts online, I Digg my articles, I Fave them, Yahoo, Google, etc. and ya... I promote my stuff. Then I learn that I'm a bad boy for doing this and that people will vote me down and bury my links because I'm only submitting my stuff.

Well, hello!!

Social Networking, as you've suggested in what you've written, is a way for us to keep up with other people's happenings.

So what? Now I have to take meagre time out of my day. Another lament implied by what you've written is that we have so little precious time for socializing. But take a look at all the tactics I have to employ, and all the extra work I have to do, just so I don't look like a twat to people for submitting my own stuff. Not only that, I hear that our links get penalized in our social media profiles, and possibly even deleted by the social network site admins and some even ban IPs from future bookmarking.

So what are you really interested in?

From what I'm gleaning from the tactics and strategies is not that anyone is interested in me, but rather, they're interested in having me do their hunting and fishing for them too.

Rather than simply share what I'm doing, creating, publishing, reading, producing and posting this information to my social media profiles across all those social media sites - another time consuming task when doing it ethically - I have to hunt out other content for you to sift through. This makes no sense to me, particularly since we're social networking.

The logic here is full of holes as far as I see it.

I create a social media profile to share my world with you.

My world consists of my blog(s), my day job, my passion, my poetry, and a few other things that happen along occasionally.

Naturally, I will post these bits and pieces to my social media profiles, whether they are social bookmarking sites, or whether they are social interaction sites.

People who find what I produce interesting now have the opportunity to follow and link to me.

The purpose of all this is simple: I can post a blog article in one location and create more paths to it, rather than have to copy and paste that article to a variety of other sites, article sites, blogs, and such to expand my reach. We're saving a bit of bandwidth maybe, maybe not, but we all know that duplicate content waters down the good stuff. And all those blog communities and discussion boards where we'd often be invited to post good stuff, often became black-holes that sucked even more time from our grasp.

As social media took off, we discovered a new way, an easier way to extend our reach and share our stuff. So when did it become a bad idea to share our own creative stuff, whether it be blogs, articles, photographs, or sites?

I'll tell you what I believe.

I believe the real culprits are the SEO types out there who need to muddy the waters for their tactics to remain effective. Keep the masses off balance, flood the gates, change the landscape, create controversy, and get more people doing unusual things based upon what they hear, rather than upon what they would naturally do.

What would I naturally do?

I'd naturally post my stuff. I'd naturally post good quality links, sites, projects... whether it is stuff I stumbled upon, or stuff I'm working on, or people I've met along the way. I think everyone would benefit in the end, instead of being penalized for being who we are.

Dare I share a link?

Rocque said...

Hey what has happened in a year? Is it time for an update? is this more and moe of what Google is doing with all the ability they are coming up with for sharing documents and now even Google sites?