Has Social Networking become the New Society

In light of my recent post about living the moment rather than being consumed with documenting it, I was interested to come across this post by Joel Adkins. Joel is musing about the idea of “Twitterati”, a class of edubloggers who seem to approach their attendance at conferences as though they were getting an inside scoop on breaking news. He raises some great questions aimed at the very same issues I was thinking about.

Along the same lines, I stumbled across this article that talks about how, when attending a conference, it would be nice if the presenters would make a greater effort to be “in the moment” with the audience in front of them, rather than being so concerned with how to share that moment with others who aren’t.

I think Joel hit the nail fair on the head when he posed the question “Has Social Networking become the New Society?

I think I’m as connected as the next person when it comes to having a finger on the pulse of the online world. Just like many of the people reading this blog, I spend considerable chunks of my day connecting with others using digital tools. Between email, Twitter, Google Reader and a confusing array of social networking sites, I can be continually connected to the conversation if I choose to. I can tap into the constant stream of edu-techno-babble on any of my 4 computers, my iPod touch or my mobile phone. I can send a Tweet, check an email, browse through Google and upload to Flickr from just about anywhere at just about anytime. And although I will continue to do so, and I consider it an important literacy to be fluent in that digital environment, I’m also coming to understand that part of being digitally literate is also knowing when NOT to use it. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should be.

There seems to be an ever-expanding collection of social networking environments that I dip my toe into just to see what they are about… but the more I do so, the more I wonder why. At the moment, I belong to a ridiculous number of dedicated social networking sites like Facebook, PlaxoPulse and LinkedIn, as well as being part of the built-in social networks within services like Flickr, Diigo, del.icio.us and so on. Then of course there is Twitter (when it’s working!) and the several mailing lists and online communities I belong to. Oh, don’t forget the dozen or so Ning groups I’m a member of and the associated social networks that accompany them. Many of these networks contain the same people.  I get “friend” requests from people I’ve never heard of.

And I’m starting to wonder how many social networks is too many? Has, as Joel asked, social networking become my new society? (The funny thing is that the one social network that really hasn’t grown much lately is my real life social network… how sad does that sound?)

At the moment, I’m preparing a keynote presentation for next Thursday at the CEGSA conference in Adelaide. Titled “Learning is a Conversation”, it was going to be about how educators can use these tools of connectivity and how we can be part of a true lifelong-learning environment by using those tools to engage in the ongoing conversation taking place around us. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the balance we need to find in our lives as we take part in those conversations.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that this ongoing conversation is incredibly important to be a part of and I can’t imagine being disconnected from it. The endless stream of emails, tweets and blogposts, although sometimes a little overwhelming, is certainly an important part of what I need to grow as an educator and to keep challenging my thinking. What I am finding however, is that I need to temper it against the need to live in the moment and enjoy the real face to face time. I don’t really need to send Tweets every few minutes or blog four times a day. I want to know about all the new Web 2.0 tools out there, but I’m realising that I don’t need to commit to every single one of them. It’s OK to clear my feed reader every so often if it’s obvious no way I’ll ever get through looking at it all, and it’s OK not to be there for every single live event taking place on the Web right now.

When Al Upton originally invited me to speak at the conference, I planned to do all sorts of geeky techno stuff for my presentation, which was, after all, about engaging with the global conversation. I had thoughts of running live backchannels, sending live streams to the web, using Twitter to bring a global audience into the room and so on, and while those things might be fun to do and may expose some of the technologies to people that don’t know much about them, I’m reconsidering just how much extra value they will bring to the whole thing. Yes, I might UStream it if I can do it unobtrusively, and yes I’ll probably record it just in case I want to podcast parts of it later, and yes I’ll probably demonstrate a few useful connective technologies like Skype and Twitter, but I also want to focus on really being there and talking to the living, breathing human beings in the room.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m getting older, or just growing up.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Has Social Networking become the New Society by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

6 Replies to “Has Social Networking become the New Society”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot myself lately — from the point of view of the presenter that is. I think when doing a presentation your first responsibility should be to focus on the people within the room. Sharing the presentation with the global audience should be the role of any participants who choose they want to do this. At m-learn last year they had some sessions streamed out via Elluminate which was good because they had a moderator doing all the work and when it was question time the moderator asked the questions for the virtual attendees.

    There are ways that you can model your presentation that Learning is a Conversation without having to do it all totally live. For example you could write a post and ask people to share they ideas and thoughts which you then use in your presentation (this is what I have done for my presentation this week).

  2. As long as you brand yourself consistently across each site, people will begin (if not already) to recognize you and your brand for who you are and what you represent and that will ideally lead to increased comments/trackbacks to your blog and/or offers for this or that, calling on your expertise.

    Now, Chris, how is belonging to many groups a bad thing?

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful post Chris. What you describe is so familiar – including belonging to all the SN sites you mention and the part about the ‘real life’ social network not growing. The thing is, much as I enjoy discovering a nifty new site or tool I am much more interested in how we can use technology to connect and share, than in the technology itself. But I absolutely agree that we have to remember that being in the moment comes first before we worry how to preserve, stream, or plurk it.

  4. When Jimmy Wales came out to speak for education.au last year, he was Twittering away up on the podium as people were speaking – including when a respected aboriginal elder was conducting the welcome to land. Jimmy was probably tweeting – wow, this is so great — but as most of the audience weren’t Twitterati, we got some interesting comments about Jimmy being disinterested or even arrogant (which he seems NOT to be when you talk to him).

    Ari is approaching social networks as a tool for promotion. I don’t think that is an authentic way to build relationships and could backfire if people find out the only reason you belong is to build your own reputation — that is a form a spam in my humble opinion.

    I block people on Twitter who have thousands of people they “follow” and I don’t follow everyone who follows me — I pick people who interest me and balance the mundane (just had a sandwich) with the sublime (I’ve just solved a big problem/had a big thought). I politely decline most invitations to try new social networking tools and groups that do the same thing as the ones I use because I want to be THERE for the communities I choose to support. I’m dropping a group I moderate because I don’t give it the time it deserves.

    At the CEGSA conference on Thursday, I was disappointed at first because I couldn’t get the WiFi to work on my N95. I considered hauling out the big laptop my IT guys insisted I’d want (I wanted a little one guys) — but decided not to. The result was that I participated AT the conference instead – chatting with Lauren and you, helping out colleagues, having discussions. Sure, I got in a few tweets and photos — but I think it was more balanced.

    I used Liveblogger at a couple of education.au events to share the experience with those unable to attend — but that was my specific role at the events. That freed my colleagues and the conference organisers up to network on site, focus on presentations and logistics and be in the moment. I think that sort of role should be considered for more conferences — let people know they are welcome to tweet, live blog, etc. but also let them know there is a specific person covering it all off who will share the video/photos/audio/live blogging later so they aren’t tied to their lappies and phones all day.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?