We live as cells of a giant body: the society. We have rules to manage this body, rules we learn very young. The whole giant structure is sustained by an invisible yet so powerful web of rules about when, how and why we interact with each other. Relationships.
I think the first rules of real life relationships are learned around the age of 3. After that age we know how to act and react in order to integrate in the society at the very basic level. Of course, after that comes school, job and other social interaction games that we learn along the way. But the core is learned at a very young age and so we act almost unconsciously when it comes to real life relationships.
But the last 10 years of history created another layer of relationships, on top of the traditional way of interacting, a layer powered by the online revolution. Right now most of our relationships have a strong online component. Either we met somebody online, either we keep interacting with somebody exclusively online, fact is a larger part of our relationships pool is now over the web. World Wide Web.
My approach with what we call social networking was a little slower. Although I had my share of enthusiasm and hype toward every major social networking service, I haven’t had the time, nor the curiosity to go deeper. I only started to immerse myself deeply in this new web only several months ago. And what I found there really surprised me. In this post I’ll share with you the differences I found between social networking (as in digital social networking) and real life relationships.
One of the first differences I noticed was the higher degree of consistency needed inÂ social networking. One must be very strict about his identity and message in order to gain some attention. If you present yourself with an image of a blogger, you should closely stick to this identity. If you chose to be a environmental activist, by all means, stick to it.
If your presence is not consistently reinforced your identity will weaken. The only thing by which you are known is what you say and do about yourself. That will also ignite what others are saying about you, but the first spark is always you. If you change course just a little bit, your identity will be skewed.
In the real life you don’t have to do that. As long as you correctly channel your change, people will know about you. For instance, if you change your job and announce all your friends, they’ll know you’re doing something different now, but it is still you. You don’t lose identity if you change your message. The real life rules are strong enough to keep your identity solid.
Social networking is still a fragile medium, the rules are to a minimum level. This is why this medium is still so vulnerable to various infectious factors, like identity theft. In a space with loose rules you have to be the strong factor, hence consistently push your identity until you create what you want.
Social networking is the land of free relationships. You can go out and reach to whoever you want and get valid responses. But only if you make the contact first and in an interesting way. You don’t have to be polite, but sometimes it helps.
By being so flexible, the social networking medium is a very good amplifier of your message, as long as you start making it early. If you wait for somebody else acceptance, you won’t get far. In fact you won’t go anywhere. If you want to say something, go out and say it out loud, you’ll be heard.
Imagine how this would be in real life. Going to someone else on the street and asking him for a Linux tip. Or starting a conversation out of the blue about political changes with three persons you never met before. You will break some serious rules, and I’m not talking about being polite.
In real life pro-activity is not the best way to approach people. Going by the rule is the safest bet. The giant body already made strict rules about that. Of course you can break them and start shouting at the people in the middle of the street but despite the short attention spike you’ll surely get, I don’t think you’ll get somewhere valid.
In social networking you need more persistence than in real life otherwise your presence will fade. I’m not talking about consistency, which comes basically to sending a coherent message, but to the amount of messaging you have to do.
In real life you need a minimal set of activities and your presence will be carried away by the established rules of the society. You’re a writer, a teacher, a sales person. Your identity carrier is your business card. And sometimes what other people are saying about you.
In real life relationships you don’t have to broadcast yourself every time you enter a new space, you just hand your card over or say your name and profession. The other part will identify you enough for a simple conversation.
In social networking if you’re not persistently broadcast yourself you won’t reach enough of a critical mass followers to build an easy to remember identity. Being so young, this medium cannot simply carry your message without further effort from your part. So if you do want to be somebody in the social networking realm, prepare to work on it even more than in real life relationships.
The traditional notion of privacy is redefined in social networking. Your so called static presence in the digital world is available all the time. All your profiles on various social networking are read right now by somebody else. It’s like a giant crowd staring at you through the windows in your own house. They see you even if you don’t see them.
In real life you cannot simply start a new relationship while you’re sleeping, for instance, it’s impossible. At least if you’re not somnambulist in which case you won’t remember anything in the morning anyway. Your availability to new relationships is limited to the amount of time you’re physically spending socializing.
In social life your availability is unlimited. There are at least two degrees of availability: one is your statical presence (your own profile) and the other is your interactive presence (conversations, interaction with other peoples or stimulus). If the statical presence is something you can’t control and it’s basically unlimited, the interactive presence is something that you control and you can tune out for maximum results.
The social networking medium gives you tools to keep your interactive presence growing (or to fake it, if you want). Automating your posting, automating your responses, automating your conversations are things extremely easy to do and sometimes they are compulsory if you have a huge social network. You can actually grow your availability beyond your physical limits.
Living in a medium with strong rules, like real life relationships, makes it easy to broadcast yourself, but it drastically limits your audience. The rules in the real life relationships, rules we learn at a very young age, are also obstacles made from the giant body that contain us, in order to keep the body healthy. If you start shouting at people in the street you’ll be somehow ejected, the giant body doesn’t like you to go around freaking out people. Your message is limited in audience, so you have to broadcast it by following slow and limiting rules.
Participating in a medium with loose rules, like digital social networking, makes it easy to reach a fantastic audience, but it drastically limit your identity expression means. The social networking body is young and it doesn’t have a lot of established rules. You can go out and basically create your own rules. But that makes it extremely difficult to create and maintain a consistent identity. That’s the biggest challenge in social networking. But once you established a solid identity your message can be broadcast to a virtually unlimited audience.
Real life networking is based on rules and levels. Social networking is based on personal goals, actions and reactions with a minimalistic set of rules.
So, what say you? What are your experiences with social networking versus real life relationships? I’d love to hear in the comments.