Thursday, October 02, 2008

Social Networking

OK. I haven’t been blogging for a while. I”m sorry.

I am back at work after a 6 month hiatus. And at first, I had a surprisingly light schedule. It turns out a lot of what makes me busy is all the stuff that backs up because I don’t get to it, or it’s a long-term project, or is waiting for other people to respond, or.... It just is piled up. So, coming back after a 6 month medical leave, I didn’t have any of that. I had a lot of free time for a few weeks. It was amazing.

It must have been a bit like that when I first started each new job, except I was so busy learning where everything is, and who everybody is, and all the rules & procedures and favorite local tools that all the free time was absorbed.

I think I hadn’t had that much free time since before I went to law school. The first revelation was that I kind of liked it. Whew! I had been afraid I was not going to be able to retire. Not to worry. I kind of like unscheduled time, as it turns out. But I did feel a bit guilty once I got back to work and still had free time.

So, I started exploring social networking (see Social Networking in Plain English at YouTube) by signing up for Facebook and Twitter. It’s been fun. Again, I sometimes have felt guilty. I guess I have a big dose of work ethic, and have always had trouble just exploring. Jim Milles has tried to encourage me that this is a legitimate way to learn about new technologies. But I still feel a bit guilty. To tell the truth, it was Marie’s OOTJ post about the Alex Beam column trashing Twitter and the comments following that got me going on Twitter. I wonder how many other folks got on Twitter after those comments? The best explanation I ever saw about the value of Twitter is

Facebook users didn't think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive." I was surprised to learn that there is " name for this sort of incessant online contact. ... "ambient awareness." Of course, Facebook is not alone in offering this kind of contact. This is the sort of thing that Twitter offers its users. "This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update--each individual bit of social information--is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible... The ambient information becomes like 'a type of E.S.P.' invisible dimension floating over everyday life."

One Twitter user was interviewed for the article. She is following 677 people on Twitter and 442 people on Facebook. This woman has two small children and travels a lot on business. How does she manage to follow so many people? Her take on this dilemma is that "[A]wareness tools aren't as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It's personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they're not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines; maybe you'll read them all, maybe you'll skip some."

Of course, the reason she can do this is because many of the people she "knows" on Twitter and Facebook are "weak ties," which the article defines as "loose acquaintances." Here's what I found fascinating--these "'weak ties' greatly expand your ability to solve problems." Your friends--the real kind, not the virtual kind--probably have the same contacts you have and thus won't know anything you don't know. Your remote acquaintances, however, "will be much more useful, because they're farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out." One woman said that she "'can solve any problem on Twitter in six minutes.'"

The other insight I gained from the article was that social networking tools may be fostering "a culture of people who know much more about themselves" because the "act of stopping several times a day to observe what you're feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It's like the Greek dictum to 'know thyself,' or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness.'" As the article concludes, "In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself."
(Marie Newman's OOTJ post Twitter Redux, citing a New York Times Magazine article about social networking, "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy," by Clive Thompson, Sept. 5, 2008.

To tell the truth, most of the time, it’s just like a sort of big room where you overhear everybody chatting to each other and catch a lot of cool new programs, websites, music and ideas. I have discovered some fun things on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve met some very nice younger librarians and feel like I am a sort of bridge between a small segment of poets and writers and the librarian community. That’s kind of cool.

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