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January 10, 2008

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Tom Roper

How interesting Scott, for I would describe myself as socially maladroit, yet I find myself happily using every social networking tool I can lay my hands on. This may be because I'm a victim of technological fashion, but I think it is more that there is a way in which the 'social' part of social networking online is completely different, and in some way safer, from the way one does it in person.
I would never dream of seizing a cocktail party acquaintance and forcing them to look at photographs, or boring them by describing how wonderful my musical taste is: but I think nothing of exposing these things on Flickr or with Last.fm, and when, as happens occasionally, strangers find things that delight them, I cope perfectly well.

T Scott

I suspect that your experience is fairly typical -- I can relate to it somewhat in that I am much happier using email than I am using the telephone. I often feel awkward on the phone, but with email I have a bit more time and distance to compose my thoughts.

I would imagine that for many people who might describe themselves as "socially maladroit" the social networking tools provide wonderful ways to reach out to others and get to know people virtually that they wouldn't otherwise feel able to do.

As an aside, perhaps I just haven't spent enough time in your company but I would never describe you as "socially maladroit"!!

Marcus

I always think I should update my LinkedIn profile, and never do. My main use for Facebook is to play Scrabble--although it is fun to keep track of friend's comings and goings.

I still read the paper in print, and have yet to catch on to the glories of text messaging on my cell phone. In writing all this, I'm marveling at my semi-Luddite tendencies!

Professionally, though, we do need to understand and utilize all the "Web 2" tools (as annoying as that buzzword is). It will be interesting to see where this all leads.

MarkD

This thread is very interesting. There is so much here, that I have found myself writing several different comments and then deleting each one. There is so much to say, I am not sure what to say - if you know what I mean.

I think I will retreat to my old refrain. The technology offers so many possibilities and is changing so fast that society's conventions have fallen behind. These tools will not really be fully utilized until we learn how to incorporate them into our lives. It is my belief that process will take a generation or more.

Tom, your comment hit upon two very interesting aspects of the social networking tools; 1) the anonymity of the computer screen and 2) security. The tools allow us to put a bit of distance between ourselves and our friends and loved ones. They free us to express ourselves in a way that we may find uncomfortable face to face. Perhaps this explains why they have proven so popular. This strikes me as a back to the future sort of moment. Maybe these tools are serving the function letters used to serve. Maybe this is a return to social interaction norms in a time before the telephone. The telephone ended our ability to stop and reflect before reacting. The social networking tools once again allow us to gather our thoughts yet stay in touch. How interesting, I hadn't thought of that before.

But then there is the issue of security and feeling safe. On this point, I disagree with Tom. These tools aren't safe at all. In fact, the social networks are a dangerous place. The very anonymity that makes Tom feel safe also offers protection to the criminally minded. There are growing horror stories about stalking and identity theft using the social networks.

T Scott

Mark -- I think you've hit it exactly right that part of this is a matter of social conventions not having caught up to the capabilities of the technology. We quite literally do not know what we're doing, and I agree that it'll take a generation or two for things to shake out. In the meantime, we can see lots of benefits and lots of negatives. The amount of noise that blogs generate is nearly overwhelming. (I'm mulling over a post on how dramatically the internet has failed to live up to the early hype about how it would improve citizen democracy). But I keep dabbling because I continually find things that I think are useful and helpful.

And the safety thing is, indeed, two-edged. It's clear from some recent surveys that kids who are growing up digital have very different notions of the relationships between their private and public selves from those who are somewhat older. And figuring out how to navigate that morass is something else that will take a good bit of time.

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