Jack Neely of NCSU OIT group has put on a Free and Open Source Software fair each year for the past four years. This year I was fortunate enough to join them. It was a fun day and I was happy to meet other folks interested in Linux and such things, while catching up with some old TriLUG’gers that I don’t get to see very often. They even let me give a talk!
What a year! 2009 turned out to be the Year of The Social Networks. Your mom joined Facebook. The news media wouldn’t stop talking about Twitter for months. And now everyone is a “Social Media Expert.” Actors and musicians connected with fans, as did sports stars. (I’m sure Tiger enjoyed more than a few ‘random’ TweetUps). People used social media to cover war, the loss of Michael Jackson, and the story of a small Oregon boy risking his life in an airborne balloon craft. The latter turned out to be a hoax, but the impact of these new forces of immediate social communication became very real. You could send out an alert if you were in trouble or you could post up some mind-numbing minutiae if you were feeling bored. You could connect with and ‘follow’ people of interest which you had never had access to before. It was an exciting time and this emerging trend served as a handy distraction from whatever else was going on in the world.
It wasn’t all just welcoming handshakes and joyous LOL’ing, either. A study was released that attempted to show social stratification amongst the social networking set. I believe the conclusion was that lower socioeconomic individuals gravitated towards MySpace, while those slightly up the scale were trending towards Facebook. This led to further musing on the idea of “segregated” online networks and the potential for online inequality. Authors and journalists decried the dissolution of language to a bunch of abbreviations, emoticons, and short burst induced incompleteness. (These same people don’t seem to like text messaging for the same reasons). Computer connected employee productivity has taken a nosedive to such proportions as to almost cause a global financial meltdown. Privacy experts are practically having a conniption over this whole exposing oneself idea. Clearly, all is not rosy in the social networking arena.
So, why then are these newfangled social networks taking root and growing so fast? What is the value add? What do we get out of it? And why are these ephemeral and immediate networks so powerful?
First of all, online social networking is not new. Supernerds have been convening on the Internet since the early 1970’s. There were early bulletin board (BBS) systems, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and (of course) electronic mail (now commonly and coyly referred to as ‘email’). [The first Web-enabled chat I recall was ICQ circa 1998. I found the "group-shout" interaction intriguing, but rather annoying. Clearly, I wasn't ready for short burst communications just yet. But I digress...]
Anyway, these perfect new online social networks are full of pizazz! Full of allure! And full of potential vectors for malware and privacy invasions. But mostly full of pizazz and allure — The pizazz to show off your own unique self and super-fantabulousness to the universe and the allure that you can connect with ‘anyone at any time’ and likely for any reason. Lots of people use it to follow their preferred news sources or to catalog information regarding their industry or career. Yet the killer feature seems to be localization. You can find people near you who do what you do. Or you can follow your local politicians (check to see if they’re on there). You can ask questions like “Where can I find a great Italian restaurant around here?” or “What bands are playing in Raleigh tonight?” One of my favorite services for this type of localized search is Aardvark. You should go there and sign up. (Or let me know if you still need to have an invite.)
My favorite use of social networking technology is to remake connections with friends from the past. It has been quite interesting to see all my high school friends emerging online almost two decades later. Not only that, but many people I didn’t have the opportunity to know better in the past have connected and enhanced our relationship via online social networking. Beyond that, I have often gone to my vast legions of social network peeps and sought job leads, medical advice, shopping consultancy, and all sorts of things.
There is also the notion of communicating for communicating’s sake. I like to crack jokes and mash-up the day’s events into (quasi-)witty status updates. I rarely tell Twitter “What’s happening?” and instead just throw out “What’s on my mind?” I think there is a lot of value in the new social network scene, despite the non-extraneous time they seem to consume. If you can enjoy your time on these networks and not get carried away, then I guess you’ve won the battle.
What say you? Will the Web 2.0 social networks shepherd about the end of language? Will Twitter be responsible for the decimation of our final strands of time/information management? Will pictures of you holding a beer can in high school ruin your entire life? Why do you do (or don’t do) the online social networking thing? And how the hell did anyone solve any problems or research anything before The Google? Shout it below.
Beck Tench got me involved in her whacky Experimonth concept. The idea is to conduct 30-day mini-experiments for each month of the year. This month has been dubbed “The Eyes of March and the goal is to take and post a photo every day. There is an awesome Flickr pool and Beck has her own fancy aggregate site going.
Please take a look and comment and participate to your heart’s delight. We certainly are enjoying it.
Seven of us made it up to Danbury, NC this Sunday for a tubing adventure on the Dan River. It was a definitely lot of fun and extremely relaxing. So nice to sit in some 60 degree water on a warm, sunny day… floating aimlessly downstream, drinking beer, eating fried chicken and cracking jokes. Thanks to everyone who made it out! I can’t wait to see the photos from the two waterproof disposable cameras that made it down the river with us. See ya next time!!
So, whatever ceremony you choose to celebrate, “We hope you have a spectacular season!”
Oh, and Happy New Year, too!
Going to spend Saturday tubing down the Dan River with some awesome folks. I am expecting to see a few pit vipers and maybe a water moccasin or two. Perhaps I will be able to snap a quick photo on my cell phone camera. Probably not, however. I wonder if North Carolina has alligators?
UPDATE: Barring a few run-ins with Black Mamba River Vipers, the day-long visit to “Chicken Beer River” (which is what we came to call the Dan) was the best time I’ve had all summer. Far, far away from any internet connections or cell phones or RDU traffic. It was great — and left us all wondering why we don’t “do this every weekend?!?!” I definitely recommend you get up there if you can!
Hey everybody! Make sure to use those “rights” of yours before the Supreme Court gets around to eliminating them!!
Hey everybody! Just a quick note to say “I’m not dead yet!”
I have been enveloped in house hunting and arranging to move out of my cozy neighborhood in Carrboro to the great wide open of Chatham County. I’ve decided to move back to my country roots. If I can’t get a decent Internet connection out there then I may have to start blogging via TCP/IP over carrier pigeon.
Lots of love to all y’all out there in InternetLand.
I’m hoping to get other new photographs online soon. At this point, I’m taking pictures at a much great rate than I am able to edit and place online. I think I need to hire an assistant for this task. Hmmm….
Back in Auto Mechanics school, we shared a lot of jokes. Mostly about cars, but the range of topics was truly all over the place. Most too foul to repeat here, but one that I will share is about the crappiest auto manufacturer under the sun, Ford Motor Company. I’ve always despised Ford for building such shite and then having the audacity to claim innovation and reliability. Those two claims couldn’t be further from the truth, so I was highly amused to find out that Ford was an acronym for “Found On Road Dead.”
Of course, there were some staunch Ford fans, but these people lived in the Realm of the Fool; denying an entire world of scientific and experiential fact. The brand they chose to latch onto was simply the bottom of the barrel. Probably an ignorant ideal passed along from older male family members, but a fallacy nonetheless. I know some people who view the world like this, but unfortunately for all of us, it ain’t just limited to which type of car you drive.
My friend TJ the DJ had “an interesting idea” recently. Namely, compromise. Going “middle of the road” to solve disagreements instead of circling the wagons and shooting fiery arrows into the other camp. In this post, he chastizes us all for acting like children, unable to get past our egos and comfort zones in order to explore greater truth. Hey TJ — I couldn’t agree more. Then he moves on to a feisty challenge for all participants in the argument, which is that we should all start writing for “the other side” so that we may establish common ground and improve our situation from a wiser, more secure vantage point. I think this is a great suggestion and would like to see it widely adopted.
I’ve been writing for a Conservative audience for years. Only problem is, they seem to be wrapped so tightly in vitriolic rhetoric that they are unable to see how far they have drifted from True Conservativism.(tm)
For all the examination I’ve given, the fundamental problem I keep coming back to is our “Culture of Judgement.” All walks of life want to dwindle away their days casting aspersions (usually inaccurate and overly harsh) on the people around them. It is a crucial and exhausting problem, for it seems to have no end. Also troubling is the fact that this interest in judgement never seems to turn into a stint of Self-judgement. Critical of everyone but not myself, it seems.
And I continue to target organized religion. Either as the thing that needs to be destroyed completely or the thing that needs to be shared, understood and accepted amongst peoples. Religious division and fervor are truly the root causes of our global social problems today. All the followers have “divine knowledge” that their sect is “right” and none want to adapt to our rapidly changing world. It is really disturbing that medieval fictions and the fear they produce have such a powerful grasp on the minds of millions of world citizens. This intellectual stranglehold is keeping the entire human race from self-actualizing.
The fact that the aims of religious groups continue to defy and subvert science should be as alarming as a million PCP-laced terrorists on our doorstep.
Sadly, this perspective only seems to be reached by people who avidly read the news and is not shared by those who watch the news.
[MIT just announced a lecture series on religion that looks promising. I wish I could take off a few weeks and head to Cambridge to participate. Maybe they will Open Source that knowledge like they have with so many other classes.]
So the question remains. “Is being in the middle of the road a guarantee of getting squashed?” Is there any opportunity left for moderates to bridge the gap between the extremists (who don’t seem to be listening to anyone, not even themselves)? Are we cursed to devolve into segmented in-fighting that will only drive us backwards?
Before I even click “Publish” I can feel the hate mail coming on. Out of all the topics I get flamed for, religion is always the one that brings out the ugliest in people. (Isn’t that strange? I thought religion was supposed to bring out the best in people. When did that change?) I used to get quite upset at their venom-tongued feedback, but now I just sit back and smile because obviously I am poking at their sorest spot. Failing logic or reason, they are much more capable of spewing bitterly ironic personal attacks. These examples of acceptable hatemongering are why I don’t much trust religious folk.