The social network thing is still something I'm trying to wrap my brain around. Maybe I'm not alone. While millions of people spend hours a day in these virtual "communities," I wonder if any of us can have the perspective to really grok what's happening ... to us, to our culture, to our media, to our lives. Time marches on, and what today looks like tomorrow is something about which we can only guess.
Of the various social networks out there, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace seem to be the giants. Others try to horn in, but so far are not making much headway. Sometimes for good reason. Facebook has become so ubiquitous that even searching for posts on Facebook yields a zillion false hits from sites or feed items with generic "Share on Facebook" links.
LinkedIn seems to just sit there.
Of course, it's not as bad as MySpace, which is so chock full of hideous personal pages it's really the web 2.0 version of Geocities. I signed up for MySpace ages ago, I think. Now that was boring. To date, I will not click on MySpace links for fear of landing on some page with auto-loading stream of who-knows-what-kind-of-music.
On LinkedIn, though -- which of the three is the one on which I've been the most active -- I find it rather hard to do anything, even connect with others. It's really more of a dynamic contacts map than a living, breathing social network. (A "social graph"?) Tish Grier notes that part of what makes LinkedIn what it is is the fact that it's for "adults":
Adults who are building careers in "traditional" or "legacy" (read: conservative-thinking, which is most) businesses have very good reasons for making sure that their privacy is guarded, that maybe some people can't see their photos, and that the photos present the right image.
No pics of drunken frathouse beer-busts nor of doing "body-shots" off your sorority sisters's belly-buttons thankyouverymuch. Those won't help you land a job in investment banking....
LinkedIn isn't about mating-and-dating or make-new-friends-but-keep-the-old or of our profs finding better ways to connect with us outside of class--it's about business and networking for business. It's about finding jobs.
Well, maybe it's also about building reputations, at least a little?
I wonder though: do our young men at Facebook really know all that much about that kind of thing? Or about the life-relationship-friend kind of thing that, in adulthood, has far more shades of gray than it did in college...
When I first joined Facebook, to be honest I was kind of bored with it. Maybe I'm just not the online schmoozing kind of demographic they're targeting. I don't care so much about the past -- the world is changing fast, baby! I want to know what people are doing now! What they're planning to do tomorrow! (And since I'm not in school, the Facebook paradigm kind of falls flat on that front.)
Tish points to Donna Bogatin's post whose title says so much: Why Does Facebook Make Young Men Swoon? At issue is apparent evangelizing happening to try to help empower Facebook to destroy LinkedIn. Yeah, that crazy.
But even more biting is her post Tuesday on women in these networks.
While updating my LinkedIn profile over the weekend, I was taken aback to see that after posting information on my “experience,” a little executive LinkedIn MAN icon now is part of my profile, NOT a little executive LinkedIn WOMAN!
I checked my own listing.... yep!
It may be a “little” thing, but it is representative of that old boys club notion of the inner executive MALE circle.
Why does LinkedIn “decorate” all of the 14 million plus professional profiles it hosts with executive mascots representing professional men, regardless of the gender of the person the profile represents? It would be simple to use a unisex icon, rather than a definitatively male one.
Or, how about applying a male or female executive icon as gender appropriate to individual profiles. Hey, LinkedIn could really take a stand against the purported executive “glass ceiling” by making its mascot icons universally FEMALE!
Back to Tish: She takes a step back and questions what's going on with Facebook.
...[S]hould we keep all of our online selves on Facebook in the first place? Sure, that may be fine for some of the elites of Silicon Valley, but when I think about it, do they keep all of *themselves* online on Facebook? One of the many things adulthood has taught me is that, sometimes, people *say* they're completely transparent when, in fact, they aren't. This may sound sexist, but I've often found that it's men who are great at compartmentalizing--so great that I think it's lead to the phrase "the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing."
We all have dark sides. We all have secrets. Our lives often are shades of gray. It is in negotiating the complexities of adulthood that we learn the importance of privacy.
Maybe it's because we've had a younger generation grow up with adults prying into their lives as never before that we're now seeing a generation of young people, many of whom are now developing the same types of platforms and apps we use daily, who belive that we simply have to get used to having less and less privacy.
This is very, very scary.
I'm not sure I find it scary per se, but it really is curious how so many people blithely give so much personal information, personal assets like photos, personal expressions like videos, up onto sites that, let's face it, could disappear tomorrow. "Oh no, that would never happen!" I hear people saying. And yet it does happen. Companies go under. Policies change. Technical glitches happen. Sites get hacked. (My attitude is colored by Flickr's recent notification that I can display only 200 images and that they are holding the rest hostage until I pay up for a Pro account. Such are the hazards of "free" services offered by companies you can't touch.)
Perhaps the best social network for adults, though, is the kind you join in person, face to face. In the O'Reilly Women in Tech series, Programmer Audrey Eschright writes:
Getting out of the house to meet my fellow geeks has been one of the most useful choices I've made, and I want to encourage other women (and men) who work in technical fields to do the same.....
...It can be a huge relief to talk to people who do similar work elsewhere—not just to share technical information, but also to talk about the interpersonal and financial aspects of what we do. We talk about how to get open source technologies into the enterprise, setting up as an independent contractor, and recent events in our field; we also talk about beer (Portland is a microbrew-lover's town), movies, and bicycling. I've gained a huge wealth of contacts, not only from showing up at meetings and events, but by offering to help organize them as well. I now know who to ask to find out more about database optimization or writing a DSL. I pass on job leads when I hear of them, and other people have done the same for me. I try to network with people online, too, but almost all of the people I talk to and share information with regularly—on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites—are those whom I've met in person. A quick chat at an event has helped jump-start conversations with people who had been silent online contacts for a while. Even geeks often connect best in person.
That's certainly the case for me. I cannot convey in words the high I felt coming away from the DrupalCon Barcelona 2007. Perhaps this is something that people living adult lives can appreciate more. After all, aside from people at work -- and perhaps family at home -- many, if not most, of us really don't get to meet or socialize with many people. And it's all the more so today, when in ever increasing professions we spend more and more time with our noses pressed up against our LCD screens. Getting out and talking to people in person can be invigorating and empowering, relaxing and enjoyable, or just a welcome break from the routine.
It can be quite daunting, though, for your average shy geek. In another O'Reilly article, Perl "goddess" Kirsten Jones shares how hard it was for her to even attend a convention.
I never participated in anything outside my very small world. One big reason for that was that I lacked confidence in my ability to offer anything of interest to the larger community, which caused me to avoid seeking out ways to participate....
...Faced with the choice between staying in my hotel room and meeting other conference attendees, I reluctantly set forth to talk to these people, wielding a Scrabble game to use as my excuse for treading on their time. Even so, I was extremely reluctant to introduce myself, until a couple of them pulled me into their conversation and made me feel welcome. As the evening progressed, I met more of these Important Perl People and discovered that they were quite nice and interesting, and interested in talking to me. Out of the friendships born that evening came my eventual election as Webmaster of The Perl Foundation and an interview with Socialtext, a small startup.
I was the same way at BlogHer last year, and the Drupal events this year. I still am. I can't help it. Yet I'm still drawn to these affairs. We're social creatures. Online networks can help, but we shouldn't let them replace the real thing. It's why the conferences and conventions and mashups and meetups and barcamps and user groups and hackfests and festivals happen. At them, we celebrate the online universe expanding around us, but the events themselves celebrate our social nature that drives us to connect in the "real" world.
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