Friends, networks, and escape from “e- 2.0”

I’ve been [ thinking | grumbling | puzzling ] lately about the notion of “friend” on social sites like Facebook.   In turn, that leads to musing about “friends” in general.   To the surprise of some, people had friends even in the long-ago days before MySpace (or AOL, or usenet).   And “friend” is ofter a generalization that conceals a discrimination between groups like these:

  • People with whom you have a close, unguarded personal connection
  • Coworkers with whom you’ve build up increased openness
  • Colleagues (people outside of your immediate work) you have good relationships with
  • “Acquaintances with optimism” — people you know in some limited context and are not opposed to knowing better

The commonality seems to be that in each group, the two parties both have a sense of benefiting from the connection.   (One definition of friend, as in the first bullet above, is someone who, when you make a fool of yourself, understands it’s not a permanent condition.)

The difference is in the context of the connection.   With coworkers and colleagues, you have some more-or-less limited realm in which most of your connection takes place: the project, the work group, the profession, the area of interest.   I’ve only spoken to Harold Jarche once, I think, but think of him as a valued colleague because of interests we share, and because I benefit from things he talks about in forums i visit (e.g., his blog, sites that he and I both visit).

I’ve just joined the Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals group, and found myself oddly hesitant to build yet another circle of network friends.   I don’t think I’m all that unfriendly; I think my own tendency is to begin with one-to-one contact (email, comments on a blog, that sort of thing) and only after some undefined period make the status official.

Maybe that’s because I resist a tendency to think of “e-networks” as different in kind from other networks.   (And that’s leaving aside my cranky wish that people would stop putting “e-” in front of — and “2.0” after — everything.   I expect to see Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese 2.0 at the store very soon.)

At the center of my networks is… me.   It’s like being six once again, only with a driver’s license and a mortgage.   More seriously, my networks combine face-to-face connections, distance connections like with my cousin Frank, whom I’ve seen in person twice in 30 years), people I connect to via phone or email as the mood strikes me, and people I deal with mainly in a single venue.

One benefit of multiple channels for networking is that each has the possibility of informing the other.   I can look at my tendency not to offer friendship (in the Facebook sense) and at least think about whether someone else wants to be invited, rather than to invite.   And I can’t worry about electronic non-response any more than I do elsewhere.

One cycle that I’m seeing repeated in various online venues gets labeled “bankruptcy.”   Someone declares email bankruptcy and erases everything in his in-box.   Another person realizes she can’t really track 550 blogs in NetVibes.  A third person decides that if there were only twelve apostles, perhaps tracking 1,200 folks via Twitter is becoming a twitch.

So, you pays your money (or you downloads your open-source) and you takes your choice.   I’m not always as dogmatic as I sound, and I can seem more shy than necessary.

On that last point, though, I treasure Garrison Keillor’s observation.   He said that folks are always telling shy people to get over it.   He’s not convinced shyness is something that needs getting over, and has seen many people who would benefit from having a lot more shyness than they do.

Doorbell photo by Darwin Bell.

2 thoughts on “Friends, networks, and escape from “e- 2.0”

  1. Dave, I definitely understand your reluctance to join yet another network–although as you pointed out, you haven’t been shy about participating. :-)I was the one who pushed on us using Ning to host the course because I wanted to really see how things would play out there. I’m not necessarily seeing it as a completely ongoing venture once the course is over, although it might be nice if people still hung around and helped newbies who might come along to try out the modules. It is a lot to take in and absorb, though. I feel your pain.

  2. Michele, it’s not really pain — this was no criticism of Ning as a choice. It seems like a good fit because of how it can integrate different forms of communication.

    I do find it — not hard, but an effort — to keep track of the different forums, and thus far the options I’ve seen on the Forum page (“sort by latest / newest / most popular”) seem too in-the-moment. Why isn’t there a “list alphabetically” or “list by some logical grouping?” (This is a rhetorical question, not a critique of what the organizers have done.) If each week is going to have half a dozen or more forums, then after six weeks there’ll be 36. That’s a lot of stuff to keep track of, and frankly I find myself missing the old threaded-discussion format.

    I’m not daunted by new networks, at least not usually. I do think I tire easily of newness for newness’ sake, and I still don’t see the point of another standalone group of friends. Within the environment of the Ning site, well, okay, fine — but (for example) now I’m friends with you in at least three venues. (If I hit ten, do I get a toaster? A free drink?)

    This post was really just puzzling out loud about why there’s “friending.” I’m not against it, any more than I am against sushi — another popular item with even less appeal for me.

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