Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Social Surrogate Theory - (part 1) which I pose the general hypothesis

I was inspired by Michael Wesch's ethnographic introduction to the Library of Congress (thanks for sending it around, Piers). Inspired, that is, to do a little more thinking out loud about social networks and why they matter so much in our society. I'm working on a hypothesis. I haven't quite reached the crux of what I'm searching for, but I feel I'm close.

I pose this idea, knowing that others have probably written multiple dissertations on the subject, not to mention books, blogs, and blah blah blah... If you're one of those people, my interest in the analog social impact of digital social networks is earnest. I'm open to references to read, conflicting points of view, research that already exists, and even an old fashioned "why don't you leave this to the experts" smackdown.

Here's the basic premise:
  • Social networks are a surrogate means of making authentic connections with other people. They are the natural outcome of a world with a dramatic reliance on machines and technology. As society moves into this culture of "togetherness through isolation", social networks are an enabling force that provide a simulation of the rich physical forms of human connection that we have lost our ability to cultivate through direct means.
Although I think this sounds a little like the diary entry of a erudite luddite, I am deeply, sometimes I think unhealthily, engaged in the daily (nay, hourly) use of a handful of these precious media.

My intention is to break down the thematic pillars of what social networking provides in parallel to the human experience. The next handful of entries will look at these, one theme at a time. My working list considers the concepts of: identity, immediacy, intimacy, possibility, advocacy, community, democracy, control, escape, and enjoyment.

As always, feel free to jump in and add direction, notes, your thinking, questions, or better insights.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)