Social Networking - Making It Work For You

social networking, circles,
In this ever-changing world, I believe that interaction with other humans, through whatever medium, is important. This may seem impossible to people who have a limited physical social network (parents, the housebound, the elderly) but using readily available technology, the boundaries are lifted.  Anyone with a computer (and now even a compatible mobile phone) linked to the internet can access community networking groups such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and there are blogs and forums available covering every single subject you can think of, and some that you probably haven't thought of - a quick Google search will easily point you in the right direction.

Because of the ease of networking in this way, does that make it any less valuable?  I believe not.  On the internet you are more equal to another person than in any other form of networking.  You can choose which personal information to share and you can decide how interactive you wish to be.  Some people believe that certain platforms encourage cliques - an exclusive circle of people with a common purpose - but surely that is why we are there in the first place?  Do we gravitate to people with a similar sense of humour or similar interests?

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, recently developed a theory called Dunbar's Number which details that for your social network to work for you, you only need approximately 150 people to interact with.  Whilst this may be true for your usual social relationships where everyone knows each other's name and personal details about them, I don't think it's true for online social networking.  You are in control of your online activity and certain events and opportunities demand that you extend your network.  If you are going to be offended by rejection then maybe it's not the right place for you?

I recently decided to further my desire to write by utilising blogs more.  This meant that I couldn't just rely on my immediate network of friendships I had built on Facebook and Twitter as these people already knew me.  They may enjoy what I had to say for a short period of time but they were bound to become disinterested at some point.  Over time, I have found that for my writing to be be interesting I have had to write about subjects I was passionate about.  I also needed to connect with like-minded people for experience, interest, humour and to see what was current.  This included joining appropriate forums, connecting with people on Twitter (the current medium of choice - it's immediate, it's like a mini-blog, it's full of useful information), being forward enough to promote myself and my blog and building friendships and relationships with other people in this "clique".  I don't get upset or angry if people don't reply to my tweets or don't comment on my blog; in fact, this powers me forward to write something else and heighten my status.  After all, my network is all about me.  I am the central person and my friends are my outreach, interlinking and crossing over at unusual and interesting junctions.  There is only me who can develop my network.  There is only me who can create barriers.

When I first started using the internet and accessing a variety of forums I found the following poem and I think it sums up social networking far better than anything else I've read recently.

Friends Without Faces
by Thomas Teague

We sit and we type, and we stare at our screens,
We all have to wonder, what this possibly means.
With our mouse we roam, through the rooms in a maze,
Looking for something or someone, as we sit in a daze.

We chat with each other, we type all our woes,
Small groups we do form, and gang up on our foes.
We wait for somebody, to type out our name,
We want recognition, but it is always the same.

We give kisses and hugs, and sometimes flirt,
In IMs we chat deeply, and reveal why we hurt.
We do form friendships - but - why we don't know,
But some of these friendships, will flourish and grow.

Why is it on screen, we can be so bold,
Telling our secrets, that have never been told.
Why is it we share, the thoughts in our mind,
With those we can't see, as though we were blind.

The answer is simple, it is as clear as a bell.
We all have our problems, and need someone to tell.
We can't tell "real" people, but tell someone we must,
So we turn to the 'puter, and to those we can trust.

Even though it is crazy, the truth still remains,

They are Friends Without Faces, and odd little names. 

A version of this post originally appeared on Typecast in February 2010