Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Social Networking is Superficial and is Drastically Changing Our Society and Culture

12 Nov

“social networking is superficial and is drastically changing our society and culture”

Thanks, Amanda, for an interesting topic.

Firstly, no, I don’t think social networking is superficial, but yes, it is drastically changing our society.

Social networking is not inherently superficial. I’ve been social networking since before it was called social networking. I started out on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) called Monochrome that was connected in the UK to a network called JANET (the Joint Academic Network). At the time, most of what went on on JANET used protocols called “Coloured Book”, and specifically a protocol called X.25. Internet access was a rarity in the UK, and unknown outside of academia. JANET added IP on top of the X.25 network in the early 90s, and the internet traffic quickly outpaced the X.25 traffic, so it wasn’t long before JANET moved to being solely internet based. This was all before Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web, so things looked very different then. After we had internet service set up, I was also able to access another BBS called ISCABBS. Both of these BBSes still exist, though Mono is the only one I use now. Other Internet BBSes have come and gone. I imagine a few of the old style BBSes are still around, but I suspect their populations, these days, are very limited.

The websites for these BBSes didn’t exist back then, of course. You accessed them via a program called telnet, which provided an 80×24 terminal screen which displayed options, and you pressed various keys to access those options and navigate through. There were discussion boards, and the ability to send messages directly to other users. People could even send pictures to each other on monochrome. If you had access to a scanner, you could scan a picture, do a special encoding of it that just used plain text characters, upload this onto the boards, and then other people could email that file to themselves, decode it, and then display the resulting picture. By today’s standards, horribly frustrating and awkward but back then? Lots of fun!

Why am I in a reverie about these old systems? Because they really were early social networks. They display many of the features of social networks today. Someone would tell you about it, and you’d register to get an account. You’d then start interacting with other people who used it… from across the country, and even across the world. Some people used just monochrome, some people used just ISCABBS, several people used both, and other internet BBSes.

Many people formed strong friendships, and we wanted to get together to see these friends in person. So we did. Someone would pick a weekend to meet in a particular town, people in that town would offer their floor space or spare rooms as accommodation, and visitors would come and stay. Most of us were students back then, so sleeping on the floor wasn’t a big problem. Meeting people in real life like this was interesting. Some people were very clearly identical to how they appeared online. Others were very different in person. But friendships were born, and many of those friendships are still intact so many years later.

Bringing all this forward to present day, how do things look? The two biggest social networking platforms are Twitter and Facebook. I use these two platforms in two different ways, and I know that people who use them don’t always use them the same way I do.

People on twitter discuss a variety of topics, and with the use of hashtags can relatively easily find other like-minded people. As people you follow interact with the other twitterers, you can join in those public conversations and interact with new people as well. So you get to “meet” new people. While tweets themselves are essentially permanent, the nature of it is essentially ephemeral – a stream of discussion happening that you can hop into, participate in for a while, and then hop out of. But in the way I use it, I’ve seen strong friendships form, new hobbies found. People get together to meet these online friends at Tweetups.

Facebook I use somewhat differently. Personally I use it to connect and communicate with people I know elsewhere, usually people I’ve met in real life, but occasionally people I’ve met elsewhere online. It’s enabled me to reconnect with people from my past that I’ve not seen in a long time. Sometimes it’s helped me remember why I didn’t keep in touch in the first place. There are communities within Facebook where people who have common interests can discuss things. Sometimes discussions will lead to friendships. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those communities arrange to get together to meet. I’m sure, also, that some friendships are formed through the conversations that form from comments on someone’s status update.

It’s also great for revealing how interconnected our relationships are. On more than one occasion I’ve noticed that people I know through completely different parts of my life are friends with each other – like meeting someone at an InterVarsity convention who went to college with Karyn, meeting someone at that same convention who is very close friends with someone I know from a board game convention, discovering that a board game friend of mine and a former colleague are friends.

So, are social networks superficial? No, social networks are a tool that we can use as we wish. Sure, there are some people who choose to use them in a superficial way, and to be honest, I wouldn’t say that I have the same level of relationship with all the people I interact with. I can see, of course, how one might think there’s inherent superficiality, when one compares the list of “friends” I have on facebook with the number of people I have genuine friendships with. That, however is a matter of terminology, which has blurred the meaning of the word friend. Has social networking made people more superficial? I don’t think so, it’s just made those superficial relationships more visible, more public.

I used to do a lot of swing dancing when I lived in London. I danced with a lot of people, many of whom were regulars at the various events. Some I formed friendships with, but most were just people I knew the names of, I might know what they did for a living, and I knew how well they danced. But if you weren’t part of the dance crowd, you’d likely know very little about all those people I knew. If Facebook had been around then, I would, no doubt, have friended most of the people I danced with, not just the ones I had become good friends with, but the ones I didn’t know nearly as well. Would those relationships be any more superficial because of Facebook? No, just more visible to those who knew me from other areas of my life. In fact, it’s possible that as I interacted with them on Facebook, I might get to know them even better than I might just at dances.

Is social networking drastically changing our society? Absolutely! So did the invention of the alphabet, the printing press, radio, television. These things were all, at the time, things that concerned philosophers about the effect they would have on society. By and large we have learned to deal with these new technologies to make it a part of our society without it consuming it. Have we learnt yet how to appropriately deal with social networking? Not yet. I think there’s been some progress, but it’s still all so new that we haven’t yet had time to learn. I am, however, confident we will. In fact, this reminds me of a Diane Rehm Show broadcast on NPR, about a book published this year called Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. I’ve not read the book yet, but the transcript of the show makes some very interesting reading. Perhaps I shall revisit this topic once I’ve found some time to read the book.

How do you feel about social networking?
Are relationships more superficial because of it?
Is it going to cause the downfall of our society?
How do you deal with the challenges that our connected world brings?


ARRG’s new season

08 Nov

In less than a week, the Arch Rival Roller Girls begin their new season. It’s going to be a good one, as the league has grown enough to allow them to expand into a fourth team. Having four teams means that it’s viable for them to have double headers for each event, so that means there’s going to be a lot of derby going on. I’m really looking forward to it.

It was because of twitter that I got into it. I made some friends on twitter, and the nature of twitter is it’s very easy to find new and interesting people. Sarah was from Iowa who had been in town for an InterVarsity conference, which I’d volunteered at, so I got to know her because of that. I subsequently made friends with some of her friends that she interacted with; one of these was Meleah who occasionally mentioned Roller Derby.

Another twitter connection was David who I knew from university – through him I started following Barry, who is another expat from the UK. At the time I started to get to know him, he had just moved to Seattle. Barry interacted with Gemma, back in the UK, and also into Roller Derby.

Then I’d started to find St Louis based twitterers, including, in particular Courtney, “Ginny Beastley” and “Smarty McFly”, all active Roller Derby players.

I had people from very different connections all talking about Roller Derby. Eventually I asked the St Louis folk when the next event was. “Tomorrow,” Courtney replied, “you should come and watch!”

We did. I got tickets and we went to watch. I had to choose which team to support; the teams playing that evening were The M-80s and The Stunt Devils. Courtney, who goes by the pseudonym of Mayor Francis Slayer, for anything Derby related, had been the Roller Derby girl I’d been talking to most, and she played for the Stunt Devils, so my inclination was to support them. When I discovered that the team colours were silver and purple, how could I not support them, given purple is my favourite colour?

I read up on the basics of the rules, so I at least had a vague idea of what was going on. Actually, I tend to assimilate such things fairly well, so I understood most of the core rules, a little more than just a vague idea. We went, and we enjoyed the evening a lot. And for some reason I was hooked. It’s an exciting sport, with a lot of action, and while not normally brutal, has the potential for some serious injuries. There was a long injury time-out that first evening, as Suri O’Killer, one of the M-80s had taken an injury to the knee. All the skaters knelt while waiting for the verdict out of respect for their injured colleague. Suri was carted off to the hospital, as an applause of respect for how she had played so far that evening, and for encouragement, as she left the building. I later found out that she had snapped her ACL clean in two.

Anyway, the game continued on, and the Stunt Devils won! We’d both really enjoyed ourselves, but as I say, I was completely hooked, and so I turned up the next month for the next event. After that event, I hung around a bit at the after party and started meeting some of the derby players, and I kept coming back to all the intraleague games, and the home games of the travel team. Several of the players I now count among my friends. They may have mean derby names, and play a little rough on the track, but they are some of the nicest people I know.

So, back to this upcoming season. The first event is on Saturday, November 13, doors open at 6:30, first bout at 7. You can see the whole schedule on their website. Will you be there to watch as well? Come and find out what’s so exciting about the sport and have a fun evening out.


A Hockey Game Broke Out

05 Nov

Last night I went to my first hockey game. (For those of you in the UK, that means ice hockey. What Brits call hockey, Americans call field hockey; I would go into more detail about the linguistics of that here, but perhaps that can be a post for another day). The St Louis Blues were playing the San Jose Sharks. It was a great game, with a lot of action. And the home team winning by 2 goals to 0 obviously kept those who “bleed blue” happy.

What surprised me, I suppose, was the fighting. I mean, I knew that fights sometime happened in hockey games. There’s the old joke: “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out”. I guess I just hadn’t realised how much of it there was – there were 4 or 5 fights, I think, a couple of which were serious enough that both players were sent off for 5 minutes for fighting. What also surprised me at first was that the officials just stood back and watched them fight, at least until they fell over and were lying on the ice fighting. (I’ll note that the roars from the crowd were partly because in each case, the Blues player was on top of the Sharks player, so seemed to have the upper hand). On reflection I decided that this was probably for a number of reasons. They weren’t affecting the game – the clock had been stopped and they would both be sent off for the 5 minutes no matter how long the fight lasted; it let them expend their energy – I really don’t think I’d want to be trying to get in there to try and break up the fights I saw; and it was, for most of the crowd, good entertainment – the fans wanted to see it, and it seems it an expected part of the hockey experience, so why stop it?

On another note, related to last night’s event,a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was at the game, and posted pictures of her view. From the details in that picture – the location and orientation of the Blues logo and other markings on the ice, we were able to discern roughly where she sat. Then, spotting the shirts of some of the other fans in the row or two in front of her got us much closer, and then we spotted her. At least we are pretty sure it was her. The hairstyle of the person we saw matched hers and the location was right, so I’m confident. Isn’t technology amazing?


How to organise a Tweetup

17 May

Tonight was the third tweetup I’ve organised in as many months. All three of them have been fun, and I’ve had a couple of people ask what they would need to do to organise their own.

  1. Pick a venue and date
  2. Tweet about it

That’s what it boils down to, and that’s the simplest version of what needs to be done. But let’s break that down a bit more.

I’ve used 3 venues. The first was a cafe that I already have a relationship with through events I have there through my other interests. I picked a Friday evening for the first one; I figured that people would likely come out to meet their friends then, and when I asked the venue’s owners if that date was good, they said it was. Because of my existing relationship, and because it was an opportunity to get new people into the cafe who might visit again, they were willing to stay open later than normal at no charge to me. They’d make up the extra staffing costs by the additional take at the register.

Once I got that taken care of, I tweeted about it. I used a hashtag (#stltweetup seemed appropriate; it was a St Louis tweetup). That meant that my followers would see it, and some of them retweeted it. I also discussed it with people I already had a twitter relationship with, inviting them personally. The venue also had a twitter account and they also tweeted about it so that their followers would also see it.

I turned up a little early, to make sure everything was OK, set up a sign so that people knew they were in the right place, and I also decided to put a sign in sheet up so that people could leave their twitter name, which I created a Twitter list with, so that after the event, people could easily find out who else went, and follow those they wanted to. Name labels also helped people identify each other.

From there, it was just a case of making people feel welcome, and socialising, and sometimes introducing people to each other. In general it was pretty organic, nothing forced. People also tweeted some – yes, it’s socially acceptable to tweet at a tweetup. After the event, I made sure to thank the venue owners for the use of their space.

My second event was with a venue that someone recommended, but I didn’t have a relationship with. They had a social media presence, though, so were familiar with the tweetup concept. However, normally, they charge for their event space. I talked to them, and said that I didn’t want to charge the guests, couldn’t really afford to pay for the room myself. I was also able to let them know my first event had been pretty successful, and that some people had already expressed that they’d like to come to another. The venue representative was willing to work under these constraints, and offered me some dates that were currently open, and that they didn’t expect to fill – Monday’s aren’t the most popular for evening social events. But this gave me a free event space for a social gathering of the size I expected, so I was happy. To assist the venue representative in planning, I used Twtvite to give a bit more information about the event and also to get RSVPs. It’s simple to use, as you can log in by letting Twitter authenticate you. Both I and the venue representative were able to see the number of people responding, which gave them confidence, and also meant they provided a bartender in our room, so that we didn’t have to go back and forth to their main bar to get drinks and order food. Again, I tweeted the event details, and others, including the venue representative, retweeted, and it was great to see people responding on the twtvite – this time, quite a few were people I didn’t know, people I’d not previously talked to on twitter. Again, as well as the socialising, I made a point of thanking the venue representative before I left, for the use of the space.

For the third event, a friend mentioned that they’d love to have people over to their house, where they have a big yard, for a barbecue. We picked a date which worked with their schedule, and once again, set up a Twtvite so that people could get more information and also RSVP. This was a slightly more casual affair, and there were fewer people, partly because I think people were a little less inclined to come to a private residence of someone they didn’t know. And that’s perfectly fine and expected. But friends of friends came, and we threw meat on the barbecue, and ate and had a good time.

So, if you want to get some of your twitter friends and acquaintances together to socialise and get to know better, it really is very simple.

  1. Pick a venue and date
  2. Tweet about it