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Social Networking: Friend or Foe?

2009/10/29

Long ago, social networking consisted of who you would let climb up the ladder of the slide behind you and who you were willing to let go ahead of you. It was who you shared your mud pies with, and which kid you didn’t throw the “special” snowballs at during a neighborhood war. And as we got older, it was who you sat with at lunch, and who would walk home with you after basketball practice. But all of that has changed now.

With websites like Facebook, Twitter and more blog sites and message boards than you could ever dream of counting, the world in which we live today has grown infinitely large, but also incredibly small.

::cue “It’s A Small World”::

As a child, I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that I could be carrying on a simultaneous conversation, coordinating for a single event, with people from three continents and five countries. And for what? For where and when a special delivery of Jello Shots would arrive for the group mixer being held at a hotel in Atlanta during a major convention. This is where technology has brought us; coordinating drunken parties for costumed geeks around the world.

The largeness of it all is shown to me when I see these people, from so many places, of varying ages, socio-economic and political backgrounds able to communicate freely and openly, exchanging ideas and cultures without boundaries. I have created friendships on every continent of this globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from North America to Australia and everywhere in between. I have friends in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, in Japan and South Korea, in New South Wales and the Outback, in Germany and Italy, Ontario and British Colombia, Venezuela and Brasil, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, and in nearly every single state of the Union. And I am only one person. The size and scope of it all is breathtaking.

The smallness comes in other forms. It comes when an artist in Virginia does work for a charity project started by a friend in Philadelphia, who asks you to edit some website copy and help with his project’s literature, ends up being the same person you played basketball with in high school in a suburb of Denver twenty plus years earlier. Or you hear a story from a new friend about something you did many years before you ever even heard of each other, as it was told to them by someone you used to know. Or finding out that one of the boys in your class for several years was actually your cousin, after his daughter and yours start communicating about the family through an online message board. Or how a single piece of information can be passed around to tens of thousands of people in mere minutes, insuring that hotels in a single city will be booked solid for an event in under six hours.

So, what are the downsides of social networking? Well, for lack of a better explanation, it’s the people. Some people just are not that interesting to listen to as they go on and on about the proper way to butter their toast, or how many times they’ve washed their hair. But more than that, you learn about some of the inanities occupying their thoughts at any given moment. Did I really need to know this guy likes to wait until the hairs are sticking out of his nose to pluck them one at a time? Am I at all interested in how many times her precious little darling has gone to the bathroom today (let alone a description of what each diaper contained)? Sometimes, too much information really is too much. Also, how many times do I have to see that crazy cat video pop up on my screen because someone else wants to share it with everyone they know?

I guess, as with everything else, we have to take the good and measure it against the bad. If I have to listen to an over zealous new mother prattle on about her darling child in order to see one man rally his friends and acquaintances to help a homeless family find meals, then it’s all worth it in the end.

Besides, I can always hide/ignore all that baby talk if I have to.

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One comment

  1. I was connecting though the mail before Al Gore saw fit to invent the Intarwebs, via an Amateur Press Association devoted to comics. This grew into a pop-culture-in-general APA over the years, and it’s much the same, albeit on a smaller and less immediate scale: people can prattle on about *whatever* their interests might be. So while I got to know many diverse (culturally, nationally, etc.) people, we were unified by our love of comics. It also meant that there were the jerks who insisted on running their drawings of lesbian porn, the hatemongers, and the generally stupid. But while one man wrote essay after essay about the mutant Rogue (and many other X-Men, often to extremely interesting degrees), I was also free to go on and on about Star Wars and The Sandman and The X-Files. This was also where I ran fanfic before it was called “fanfic.” 🙂

    The Internet has been slowly killing my beloved APA by being bigger, faster (and often more intense), and I’m culpable, too. We voted this month for the next Central Mailer, the person who collects the zines together and remails them back out in a bound edition, and the choices were “write-in” and “just let the damn thing die already.” If it dies I can still keep up with all those friends via social media and e-mail, but I’ll miss the safety of a small group I’ve known for years, where things are not on a public board, where the communication is not ones and zeros magically transformed, but are paper and ink in my hands.

    Dammit, Zoo, you made me think. 😉



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