Following up on a post from a few days ago regarding whether or not students want us in their space, I just came across an interesting article from the Washington Post called An Unmanageable Circle of Friends.
Overall the article is critical of social networks and the seemingly shallow relationships between people that often form. While I agree that many of the relationships are shallow, I also happen to know that the opposite is true and some fairly deep relationships can occur.
It’s also true that social networks don’t build real connections. It’s the people behind the keyboard who are the architects of real connections. I think the technology itself is agnostic when it comes to the level of depth of the relationships it mediates. The users choose how deep or shallow they wish to wade into the social network pond.
The one point that was bang on for me, however, was the point raised by University of Toronto sociologist Barry Wellman. Wellman really hits the nail on the head with regards to Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.
The bigger problem with Facebook et al., says Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociologist and founder of INSNA, is that current sites “assume that everyone in your life is on one happy network.” On MySpace, your work colleagues are given the same info as your Halo buddies. That’s not how life works, and pretending it does dilutes the meaning of our more powerful connections.
Essentially, everyone in our network gets the same level of access to personal information, whereas in “real life” we have much more control over what types of information we want to share with the people around us. I don’t necessarily tell my work colleagues all the details of my personal life, although they all know much more about my kids than my banker does. But my banker knows much more about how much I owe on my mortgage than my colleagues. We build these little walled areas in our life and when areas collide it makes us feel uncomfortable. And this is where I believe the friction will occur with students as educators push more into their online social networks.
One other question raised by the article, and one that I’ll be asking more and more, is how many social connections can we have before they begin to lose meaning and effectiveness? I have never heard of Dunbar’s number before, but I’m certainly going to research it a bit more as I continue to look at the effectiveness of social networks as an educational tool.