Communication Internet Social Media & Social Networking Society & Culture

Social networks for the real world

Society may have come full circle. For some, not a moment too soon. But while old-fashioned values like love thy neighbour might well be on the return, for those that remember those Halcyon days the first time around, there’s this barrier called the Internet to contend with…

As purely incidental as the comment was to the story, Josh Miller over on Rev2 asked a closing question in relation to a story about a recent Facebook acquisition:

“A very interesting read… It leaves me wondering, why can’t people be this social with their neighbors?”

The article itself was quite fact lite, and offered none of tantalizing speculation I clicked to expect.

But it was Josh’s question which prompted an insightful reply by Pierre:

“Well, in fact, Web 2.0 can be an enhancer of local social relations with neighbours. In Paris, web sites like Peuplade and On Va Sortir are helping hundreds of people from that metropolitan area to meet at cafés, concerts, picnics, etc.”

Unfortunately, my French is worse than my Spanish, and that’s pretty bad. So I can’t vouch for either of the websites that Pierre cites, so it’d be great if some French speaker could expound on their capabilities.

In any case, Pierre goes on to add:

“I am sure the same exists in other big cities around the world. So let’s not oppose virtual social networks to real social relations. The former can be a tool for the latter…”

And therein lies the seed of interest for me; are social web technologies giving back a sense of neighborhood to our generation? And if so, does this exclude the generation that my dad falls into who enjoyed such things the old-fashioned way the first time around?

My dad will often tell me about how he knew the names of everyone on his street, how everyone looked out for everyone else. No one locked their doors and how phrases like: “social responsibility” didn’t exist, because people just were socially responsible.

Today is a different world, we live in very different times. People work different hours, have different pressures, different values, different customs and as a result, we live very different lives, which are often exclusionary and not inclusive as they formerly were.

But if what Pierre mentions is to be part of a greater trend, then one thing has left unchanged that will mark a starting point for such things — as humans, as these social creates living in our smaller worlds, we still have a need to socialize, to meet with people who may not necessarily be known, or friends, but have a connection that compliments your own because you both live in the same village, street, town or district.

It’s a shame that society has broken down in so many places, but could websites like Peuplade and On Va Sortir be a way out / forward?

I think they are, but they also exclude, too. In fairness, this isn’t a deliberate thing, it’s more a result of the fact that the exclusion zone is the web itself. So unless you’ve got an internet connection, you might not know anything about such places.

And this extends to those who’re like my dad, the ones who had this sense of community from the moment they were born, but have largely seen such things fade away, and aren’t savvy with the web.

But as internet connectivity expands outwards in reach and downwards in price, coupled with a very real rise of the silver surfers, we really could be seeing the birth of an iSociety

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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