One of my earliest memories as a child was giving up some of my Fisher Price toys for some kids in Lake Geneva whose house had burnt down. I think it was the first time that I’d felt an emotional connection to someone I had never met. At first I was just mad and refused, and then thought maybe there would be some social connection – they might be related, might be neighbors, might be friends, church members.
But when it finally dawned on me that these were people we had never met, who didn’t even live in Lake Geneva, but in a nearby town, more distant even than the other kids in the world whom I would see pictures of in magazines or on television, I felt an emotional pull that still grabs me today, drawing me into the lives of people never met.
When I look at where the world is today — teetering between some pretty positive, no bullshit, global change, and the fascism and nationalism (the reptilian brain rising to strike again) that leads us to armageddons in every age — I think the true power of social networking is the way it helps people connect locally.
Some of the coolest gatherings I’ve been to in Rhode Island have been through Facebook.Maybe what needs to happen globally is a return to regionalism, or perhaps more accurately, tribalism; but a tribe formed of people with shared values, dealing with the complexities that true intimacy brings.
I’ve read a few chapters of Dave Scharff’s dissertation on social networking and organizing. As a long time activist, starting while at Brown, Dave has seen the advent of the internet and its impact on organizing.
One of his interesting hypotheses, around which he has developed some basic metrics, is a reminder that the long tail of the internet still has a huge discrepancy between major media sites, like Daily Kos and Huffington, and the second tier, such as TPMcafe. My experience is that the amount of traffic generated on some of the speciality national interest sites, such as faithfuldemocrats.com and demockeracy.com, is neglible, less on some days than hits on my own stream of consciousness musings followed by a few family and friends.
At the same time, I’ve seen some cool and effective organizing going on within existing social and activist networks through Facebook. I’ve gone to concerts on recommendations here, as well as events through recommendations on rifuture.org, in ways that I never respond to emails.
I don’t know what the cutoff point is, but I suspect we’ll have some measures, possibly through Dave’s work, that point us to when a blog is no longer about information and more about messaging or promotion.
I’m much more likely to read something by someone I’ve met through real social circles than I am to go to a site when a friend is pimping me to jack up number of Diggs or comments on a posting on one of the majors.
Part of it is proximity, but part of it is also values. I don’t really need someone to interpret my news for me. I don’t need pundits, or would-be pundits, especially since most of the time, they’re trying to sell me a view. What I want is relevancy — what is here and now, people who project their self-interests through their writing, or someone funny, with some accommodation for the fact that people communicate in different ways.
I think part of what makes social networking click here is that the state is so small.
It takes the abstract concept of sharing toys with a fellow kid with a visceral horror at what you would feel like if your own house burned down full circle into having fewer and fewer people from you have any distance, the familiar faces making me, at least, feel more excited at the potential.
I think you have to try pretty hard in Rhode Island to isolate from neighbors in need anyway, and the ability of distributed communications and networking to keep channels alive and active makes it easier and easier to see just how many people are gathered around a core set of values.
This is as basic an idea as sharing stuff you have more than enough of with people who don’t, and making sure you have trusted guides all around you, to help you see into and through the looking glass into an ever clearer picture of what we behold.
My optimism at the opportunity in this state only grows as I begin to see more and more of the mycelium that we all share — a core value of decency, with the chance to pilot sustainable lives and communities on a smaller scale. Maybe we can move beyond just geography, towards global community, ultimately back to our own villages and tribes, more aware and respectful of others, more deeply connected with those around us, over issues silly and sublime, and especially issues that are both.