The phrase “social networking” is a little misleading. Think about it: if you are networking and talking to people, does that not involve being social? If you are predisposed to being social, would you not perhaps enjoy networking and making new acquaintances? Can one be countersocial and still network properly? Can one network and become countersocial? This all seems very unlikely to me.
Aside: I (like to believe I) coined the phrase “countersocial” in the 8th grade when I learnt that “antisocial” had psychopathic connotations to it…”countersocial” seems far less threatening.
I think the term we are looking for is “social computing“, which can encompass faxes, email, BBSs, shared calendars, Facebook, Twitter etc. and all the technologies behind it. I realize the “network” in social networking refers to a computer network, but since almost every form of long-distance interaction involves the Internet, “social computing” strives to separate it from proper meetings face-to-face. The “network” blinds the user to the technologies involved in the interaction, while “computing” enlightens the user that there is in fact pretty serious computation happening behind the scenes to bring friends together.
Why am I bothering with this scrutiny? I recently read this article and have found equivalent viewpoints elsewhere online.
The problem seems to be that, while everyone “knows” what the term “network” implies, I think people get subconsciously drawn into the classical definition of “networking” as proper social interaction, rather than cold computational logistics (Ethernet cables, routers, servers etc.). The word “network” sounds much warmer (and useful) than the word “compute”, which naturally carries an air of non-humanity about it.
Imagine this scenario, as ridiculous as it may seem:
A: What are you doing?
B: I’m looking at my social networks.
A: What are you doing?
B: I’m looking at my social computing services.
Yes, clearly the second response sounds cumbersome, even though it bears a ring of truth that has eluded Facebook drones (I am an unwilling, albeit limited, participant as well).
A similar problem arises with the overuse of the term “social media“. The word “media” is simply plural for “medium,” that is, a mechanism for propagation (usually reserved for ideas through television, radio, Internet, etc.), yet “social media” is different from “traditional media” as it allows anyone to publish content. So technically, “social media” means a mechanism for propagating interaction over the Internet. It seems to translate into “social computing with advertisements”, basically. If I send an email, I am socially computing, but if I check my Facebook page and am subject to thousands of advertisements, I’m engaging in social media. The fact that the entire world (or hopefully, just my friends) can see what’s on my Facebook wall (with ever-changing security settings) is irrelevant, IMHO. I could just as easily print my email and staple it to the office cork-board and achieve the same effect (Facebook didn’t call it a “wall” for no reason).
I just had an epiphany while writing this…
Let us look at the word “social“, which is getting far too much face time. The Wikipedia article on social media lists all its derivatives, and the word “social” occurs far too many times. It’s being misused like the word “cloud” (link points to earlier post); I mean, “social news“? Really? The whole point of social interaction is to exchange ideas, opinions and current events, no? “Social bookmarking” is a good one too: I think it’s actually just lists of favourite web sites made available to the world. The fact that anyone can comment on a bookmark’s worth does not suddenly make it “social”. If I sit down with a group of friends and make actual bookmarks with craft paper and glue, I probably have a solid case for using this term.
I think this is the core problem. We’re using the word “social” for everything Internet-based, while completely forgetting what it means to be social in real life. “Social” is actually an artificial term now; its meaning has changed completely to reflect a decline in core values and an increase in mere interaction. Bees are social. Reddit is not. Bees establish a society with set roles and rules; Facebook changes privacy settings constantly and lets anyone peer into my life. If I walk into a distant acquaintance without looking, it invokes a slight interaction. If I look at that acquaintance’s Facebook wall, I am not suddenly becoming social. Time for another scenario:
A: Hey, I’m trying to talk to you! What are you doing on your phone?!
B: Shhh. I’m checking my social networks.
A: Oh, the irony…
“Social” just means “rudeness powered by the Internet”, and it has adorable synonyms like “Web 2.0” and “smartphone”.
My continued stroll through the “social media” Wikipedia article (link above) makes me guffaw. When did Flickr become Social Media (and Web 2.0, apparently)? It’s just a photo album that allows random people to tell me how terrible I look in photos…
Bottom line: If you asked me (and in today’s world of “social networks”, I’m well aware that my opinion matters to millions of people…this is sarcasm, a quality often exploited in real social interaction), we need to change “social” to “interactive” in the Internet context, replace “networking” with “computation” and abolish the term “Web 2.0″ altogether (future article/rant in progress). This is about the only way we can begin preserving the sanctity of true social interaction (Venetian balls and conferences) while keeping the Internet somewhat isolated from legitimate humanity.
Oh, and seriously, get rid of clouds.
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