Hi Folks: Well, it seems a ‘New Year’ is upon us once again. No, wait a minute we wrote about that last week. Truth be told, this week’s ‘He Says, She Says’ post on social networking started out as a barely-formed idea for a blog post I was going to call ‘Confessions of an Information Junkie’. I was going to start it with something like this:
(Overheard at a recent IA (Informaddicts Anonymous) meeting): “Hi there. My name’s Mike, and I’m an addict (Hi, Mike). While it’s true I don’t smoke, toke, snort or shoot and I gave up drinking more than 25 years ago, I’m hooked on information…”
Or something like that. Anyway, Marcia asked me about a topic for this Sunday’s blog post and I was only too happy to offload at least a half share of the subject onto her. As you may or may not be aware, we don’t read what the other person has written until after we’ve both written our blog posts on a particular subject, so she’s probably wondering why I’m sitting here shaking my head as I type.
However, as I started to say at the top, we have begun another year and we’re counting down the next 362 days to the end of this decade and the start of the next one, so this post is in a way about new beginnings. I’ve been around computers a long time – long enough to have programmed in Assembly, Basic and Fortran, long enough to remember 8″ floppy disks, and long enough to remember a time, yes, a time before computers existed. When I studied GIS in the mid-80s we wrote most of our own programming simply because there wasn’t a lot of ‘canned software’ in existence. For all I know I wrote the world’s first three-dimensional exploded pie graph routine (as a present for my professor). I still remember when a pocket calculator that could add, subtract, multiply and divide cost a hundred dollars, and for a thousand dollars you could get one of the fancy Hewlett Packard ones that had the little magnetic strip reader. Yes, I still have a slide rule, and yes, I still know how to use it. So what does any of this have to do with social networking, you ask? Bear with me, I’m getting to that.
It wasn’t that long ago (at least in my memory), that the term ‘networking’ itself was a novel concept. Before that a ‘network’ meant a radio or a TV network, maybe a railroad network or a network of canals or waterways. All of a sudden it seemed that ‘networking’ was the ‘in thing’, and people were busily building their own social and business networks, calling up all of their friends and relations, handing out business cards… We were encouraged to network with each other, and this in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing. We began to rely more on each other, to communicate more, at least along certain lines.
Another definition of ‘network’ is a computer network, although that itself gets broken down into terms like ‘local area network’ (LAN), ‘wide area network’ (WAN), intranet, and finally internet. I’m reasonably certain that when two computers in California were connected by a short cable some forty years ago, nobody imagined where the ‘net would be today. In an interview concerning his recent movie ‘Avatar‘, James Cameron admitted that the original idea had come to him some years ago, but the technology simply didn’t exist (until now) that would allow him to create the film he had imagined. Similarly, it’s only been in the past few years that computer and internet technologies have advanced to the point to make social networking through the internet a viable enterprise. We’re still exchanging business cards with each other, it’s just that now the business cards are digital instead of paper and have multimedia attributes. Maybe we’re just finding new ways to reach the ages-old goal of connecting with one another.
About eight years ago we experienced the bursting of the ‘dot.com’ bubble, sometimes called the ‘dot.bomb‘. Some $5 trillion was lost in a 2 1/2 year period, and at the time some people thought that the internet was really not all it was made out to be. Fortunately for all of us, there were those who had greater vision. According to Tim O’Reilly:
“The concept of “Web 2.0″ began with a conference brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International. Dale Dougherty, web pioneer and O’Reilly VP, noted that far from having “crashed”, the web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites popping up with surprising regularity. What’s more, the companies that had survived the collapse seemed to have some things in common. Could it be that the dot-com collapse marked some kind of turning point for the web, such that a call to action such as “Web 2.0″ might make sense? We agreed that it did, and so the Web 2.0 Conference was born.”
My own introduction to Web 2.0 came largely through my discovery of Dr. Michael Wesch. He’s an assistant professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and he and his students have done some really intriguing work. They have a website at mediatedcultures.net, and Dr. Wesch also has a YouTube channel.
There’s no question that the ways in which we communicate with each other have changed, and changed dramatically. I honestly can’t remember the last time I wrote someone a letter, other than a business letter. I still use the phone occasionally, but for most of the people who know me, if you don’t have e-mail you’ll rarely hear from me. Can e-mail be considered a part of social networking? How about the telephone? Good question. They don’t fit under the Web 2.0 umbrella but they are still ways in which we share information. The biggest difference, I think, is that phone calls and e-mails are for the most part a one-to-one relationship, or sometimes a one-to-many relationship, when people forward a message to everyone on their contact lists. Social networking as it’s generally understood today, however, implies a many-to-many relationship.
Having been involved with computers and the ‘net for some time (does anyone else remember when you were expected to buy a web browser?), I heard about sites like MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook, but they held no appeal for me. It seemed like too many cases of everyone talking and nobody listening. I signed up for a Twitter account, but rarely used it – again, my understanding of Twitter was that it was a place where people could describe (in 140 words or less), what they’d had to eat that day or what colour of socks they were wearing. I just didn’t see the point. I made my entry into social networking in the early days through a few user forums, and later through Flickr. The user forums are focused around specific pursuits or Ways of Being and through them I could connect with others of like mind from around the world. Flickr gave me a place to store and display some of my photographs, and it also gave me an opportunity to see what other people were doing with their work. A lot of what I came across was ‘chaff’, but some of it was very good work. Photography has always been a solitary pursuit for me and this broadened my horizons somewhat.
A couple of months ago our son suggested that Marcia and I set up a blog, and since our first post went ‘live’ on November 23 we’ve posted 46 entries. Because of our blog site we set up a Twitterfeed account and both of us have become more involved with Twitter. I follow 44 people right now; it would probably be less but many of the people I’m following post rarely. I use Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter account, and it also allows me to read tweets related to specific subjects of interest to me. I have a Bit.ly account now, and also one with Delicious. Both Marcia and I have Twibes lists. When I signed up to ‘follow’ Chris Anderson of TED.com on Twitter, he sent me a note with a link to an article on ‘thoughtful Twitter use‘. I highly recommend it. Probably the most important thing I got from that article was to change (for myself) the Twitter question of “What’s happening?” to “What can I tell you that will make your life better?” While we do post notifications of blog updates to Twitter, mostly I use it to provide tips, suggestions and information to others and I glean from it links and tips that are useful to me. This goes beyond the surface chatter and gets into deeper subjects. I like that.
Since sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and others have only been around for a few years, it will be interesting to see where things go in the next few years, how the ways in which we communicate will change. A few months ago I heard about a new web browser called Flock that has been designed for social networking. One add-on allows you to see what websites you and your ‘friends’ are on, to follow each other around the web.
There have been many delights and challenges in using these new lines of communication. Do they isolate us, or do they bring us closer together? It goes beyond just who’s talking and who’s listening, and pushes at the edges of so many things. What’s public and what’s private? Who are we when we’re online – are we our true selves, or are we who we want to be, and is there a difference? What about things like copyrights? How do we protect ourselves and do we need to worry about that? Does social networking give everyone a voice? If it does, how are people using that voice? Do we have anything of value to say? The list goes on.
Before I wrap this up I wanted to add two more notes that go back to the imaginary ‘Informaddicts Anonymous’ session I started this with. First, I still remember when Netscape brought out its first tabbed web browser, and it was like candy to me because I could load several different pages at the same time. I still work that way; often I’ll have six or seven tabs open in Firefox at once, and I flip back and forth between them as this one is loading or this one is going to the next page. However between our blog, other blogs I read, Twitter, the user forums in which I participate and links to other sites, it’s easy for me to lose hours at a time. I’ve found myself downloading videos or audio seminars to watch/ listen to later, only to discover that there never is a ‘later’. Early on I developed a habit of bookmarking sites that were of interest to me; at last check I have over 14,000 websites bookmarked. I’m starting to realize that there is much, much more information available than I can take in. Unfortunately, I can’t ‘tab-browse’ my life. As the saying goes, “There are 168 hours in a week. What you do with them is up to you.” If I go into Twitter and there are a hundred new tweets, maybe I can’t read them all, and maybe that’s okay. If I find twenty new webinars that are worth watching, maybe I can only see three of them, and that’s okay. There’s simply too much information out there. A tangential effect is that I’m becoming more discerning about what I do seek out, and what I do invest my time with. Having a plethora of choices, I ask myself, “Is this worth my time?”
The other thing that social networking has taught me is to let go of the ‘results’. What I mean is that when I first got involved with Flickr, with Twitter, etc. putting myself out there so to speak, the echoing question is, “Is anyone listening?” As I wrote here, I do a lot of writing on things that are important for me, but because a lot of this stuff is personal I didn’t share much of it with anyone else, some of it with a select few. But… when I posted my first images on Flickr for example, I opened myself up to silently asking the question, “What do you think? (whoever ‘you‘ are)” It’s one thing to create for one’s self alone, and to live and die with those choices, to accept or reject one’s own creations. But in sharing those works, whatever they are, one opens the door to both compliment and criticism, and possibly the worst criticism of all… silence. At a conference I attended a couple of months ago, Kris Krug mentioned in his talk that for today’s younger generation protection of ideas isn’t the biggest risk they face. Their biggest threat is obscurity. Face it, everyone is busy these days. I mentioned above that I’ve had to become more discerning in what to invest my minutes and seconds, but I’m not the only one doing so. At the beginning it was difficult not to question myself if my blog post had few ‘hits’, if my recent Flickr uploads had few views, or if I lost a ‘follower’ on Twitter. I’ve had to let that go, otherwise I spend too much time questioning myself and too little time being creative. And so now I try not to take it personally if someone ‘unfollows’ me for example. I’ve done the same thing, and it was usually because I have to make more and better choices with what to do with my time. It has little or nothing to do with the other person and a lot to do with me.
I don’t know the author of the following, but I do appreciate it:
Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400.
It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.
What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!!!!
Each of us has such a bank. It’s name is TIME.
Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.
Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft.
Each day it opens a new account for you.
Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow”.
You must live in the present on today’s deposits.
Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.
Okay, I have to go and check my new tweets now…
P.S. II, the sequel. In my experience, social networking can also bring us together ‘in person’. One example are ‘Meetup‘ groups. Through a photography meetup site, I’ve since connected with a local photography group here in town. Another example is ‘The Beckoning of Lovely’, where this video on Youtube led to a meeting of ‘strangers’ in a city park and this video, and more. The group ‘Improv Everywhere’ has also been using social networking in their own unique way.
Follow this link to read Marcia’s View