Sunday, January 04, 2009

Facebook Is The Malt Shop Of The 21st Century Or Where Do You Hang Out?...

This post is one from my To-Do list. Thought it was about time I got around to this - some thoughts on how we as a species, at least in the connected world, have changed how we meet people, make friends, and hang out...

When I was growing up we hung out at drive-ins, bowling alleys, hockey rinks, community centres, sports fields, and other real spaces. The people we met and the friends we made were local and we met face to face. I moved around a lot as an army brat and over the years lost track of old friends, making new friends at our new posting. Some you kept in touch with by letters, but I was (and am) a lousy letter writer. Our friends were "real" we knew their names and we knew what they looked like.

Welcome to 2009 and Web 2.0, virtual worlds, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, and social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Orkut (among literally hundreds), not to mention online dating sites like e-Harmony. The whole meeting, making, and keeping friends paradigm has changed. You can now meet people from all over the world, get to know them and create lasting friendships and relationships without ever meeting. Staying "in touch" is easy and is now pushed to your friends by simply updating your status. You can develop a deep or lasting relationship that once it becomes face to face (or "real" as some would say) continues to be stroong.

The question is can you be friends with someone you have never met? My answer to that question is yes. I know several people that I consider friends who I have never met face to face, yet our relationships are normal and friendly. I've met most of these people through Second Life, and some through Facebook. Some I have met face to face in the "real world", some I will probably never meet yet I still consider them friends and no less a friend simply because we have never met face to face. What sites like Facebook and Second Life have done is simply expanded my "First Life" - my social circles and networks are now global, not loacal...

Anna Pickard in the Guardian posted an article called "Virtual people, real friends" (thanks to Randommind for finding this). It's a great read and makes the point that you can have real friends with virtual people. In the article Anna says:

"The friends I've made online – from blogging in particular, be they other bloggers or commenters on this or my own site – are the best friends I now have. And yet, when I say this to people, many times they'll look at me like I'm a social failure; and when surveys like this are reported, it's always with a slight air of being the "It's a crazy, crazy, crazy world!" item last thing on the news. Some portions of my family still refer to my partner of six years as my "Internet Boyfriend".

Call me naive, but far from being the bottomless repository of oddballs and potential serial killers, the internet is full of lively minded, like-minded engaging people – for the first time in history we're lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but pinpoint perfect friends by rounding up people with amazingly similar interests, matching politics, senses of humour, passionate feelings about the most infinitesimally tiny hobby communities. The friends I have now might be spread wide, geographically, but I'm closer to them than anyone I went to school with, by about a million miles.

For me, and people like me who might be a little shy or socially awkward – and there are plenty of us about – moving conversations and friendships from the net to a coffee shop table or the bar stool is a much more organic, normal process than people who spend less time online might expect.

Depending on the root of the friendship, on where the conversation started, the benefit is clear – you cut out the tedium of small talk. What could be better?"

This is the new reality of where people are "hanging out" and meeting - many social places of my youth are gone or are no longer safe to hang out at - we have switched to an online world of common interests, acquaintances, linked friends (the real six degrees of separation), and online communities where we meet and make friends.

This new reality has implications for educators too - our learners are hanging out in these new online spaces, making friends, collaborating, defining relationships and creating networks. We need to understand how this works, understand that friends made in this new paradigm are just as real and just as important as any "real-world" friends and that these virtual friends will impact on learning environments and how we will relate to our learners.

As we move to more and more blended or online deliveries, many of our learners will only be known to us through their online presence. Does that make them any less a learner or are the friendships and relationships they develop with their classmates and us any less relevant or important? Hmmm...

(Photo - "Blast From The Past" by Steve_Tango)

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

As a first year student in a community college IT programme, and one who intends to take the Web concentration next year, I am struck by how many of my fellow students (most of them under 25) do not grasp the relationship between social media and web work. So many of them view "Web Work" as no more than designing websites.

I am not surprised that the corporate world is wrestling with how to manage the new web reality, but it never ceases to amaze me how much my fellow students take social media sites for granted, not realizing the implications for the web in general.

A good example of a corporate "fail whale" (social media speak for "screw up") can be found here: But why are our students so out of touch? I find it ironic that I, at almost 50, grasp what they do not.

Blogging is another example. You and I, Ian, at our age, blog. But in my class presentation on blogging it was evident that almost none of my fellow students understood blogging, or, more importantly, the implications for good web design. I have no answers here, but do find it all rather perplexing.

Keep up the good work, Ian. :)