Tuesday, February 09, 2010

For every person a niche and every niche a person

It wasn't that long ago that there wasn't this thing we call the internet. Phones were just losing their cords and a couple people I knew were carrying around new mobile phones the size of Smart cars when I first caught a glimpse of this thing that would explode into our lives.

I was using a computer in the Poli Sci department at Oregon State University and opened up a connection to a bunch of other computers at colleges around the country. It felt like a scene out War Games. From this one computer, I could access what seemed like a wealth of knowledge. The only problem was that you had to know the language to talk to get to any of it. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to get these other computers to talk back to me. I could see there was interesting stuff out there, but it was no more accessible than exhibits on the other side of the world in the Louvre or the British Museum.

Mostly, what I found was a lot of indexes to information that was held at these other universities and a way to request copies be sent, by mail, to mine. Fascinating, but ultimately unsatisfying and only vaguely helpful unless you had a need for a specific book or study. My early hacking attempts were nipped in the bud by boredom.

The decade past and we got a Macintosh at home and I slowly stopped making fun of those guys with the mobile phones. The desktop revolution was in full swing and those phones got smaller and more popular. The Internet was opening up and bulletin boards were popping up all over it.

Fast forward - past the compact disc, the original MTV veejays who played actual music videos and airbags in every new car - to the brave new world of the internet, the internets, the tubes. Every kid has a cel phone and everyone - it seems - has some sort of web presence. If email was groundbreaking, then social networking has been earth shattering.

But what is this social networking?

There's an easy answer but not a not simple answer. It's this. In part, it's blogging, and yet blogging doesn't have to be part of it. It's about meeting new people and getting and staying in touch with old friends. It's part welcome wagon and part high school reunion. It can be as shallow as a "Hey Wazzup?" and as all consuming as an obsession.

Blogging is a big piece of the social pie. Who here hasn't found new and interesting people by following links on other peoples blogs? Sure, there's plenty of time that circles the drain, but there are also some new friends with shared interests that make it all worth while. I know my life has been enriched by the people I've met through blogging.

It's not just blogs in all their Blogger/WordPress/PersonalWebsite glory either. Spectacular and liberating as blogging has been - and still is - for many people, there are niches upon niches upon niches for everyone out in the social networking world. There's the once banner carrying MySpace and the now dominant Facebook. There's Second Life and Twitter and hundreds of other ways to connect in big ways and small.

Right now, I'm typing away on Blogger with a tab open to a story about Google coming out with Buzz that I found because Alyssa Milano read it and Tweeted it onTwitter. That's right, Alyssa Milano - the actress - tweeted it and myself and 1.4 million of her closest friends learned something new today.

For many, Twitter is nothing more than people telling you what they had for lunch today. It is. It's that and so much more. It's also making connections and being part of big, giant cocktail party. Some people are dull as sanded brick and many more are sterling conversationalists - albeit in exchanges 140 characters or less.

Sure, there's the lunch thing - I had a free Grand Slam breakfast with my brother, by the way. But, also got to take part in a lively free for all coming up with four word things said after having sex, eavesdropped on author/screenwriter/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman bantering with movie maker Kevin Smith, helped a fabulous musician in Alaska find info on adding an MP3 player to her website, caught up with an old blog buddy in San Francisco, poked fun at my friend Josh and heard instantly that President Obama was appearing in person at the White House press briefing after meeting with Congressional Republicans. Not a bad day's work.

Don't even get me started on all the old friends that Facebook has brought back into my life. Yeah, I've wasted plenty of time playing Farmville, but I've also found many people I never would have found otherwise. And now I get to have friends from old workplaces, high school and even old crushes from elementary school back in my life.

All this is really just a long-winded way of saying that social networking is an amazing wonder and we all get to take part in it. We get to make of it what we will. We can take a bit here or there or we can dive in the deep end and take it all. There's a little something for everyone and a lot to go around. Take a nibble or heap your plate and go back for seconds and third, it doesn't matter.

It's an amazing world we live in. I feel lucky to be alive in our times and I feel honored to share the ride with all of you - friends old and new - out there. Thanks for sharing your lives with me and taking an interest in my mine. Hopefully, we're all a bit enriched by the experience.

Now, if you wouldn't mind, pass that pie...


dbackdad said...

Well said. I agree on all points. I was originally resistant to most of the new technology, even cell phones. But as time has passed (and especially because of the field in which I work ... computers), I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, as it were. I'm embracing them and seeing where it will lead.

BTW, now following you on twitter.

Laura said...

I am resisting twitter and Google Wave. I just don't get the point.

But I agree fully. I know several people (including you) who I never would have "met" had it not been for the tubes and blogging. I love reading what everyone has to say and I feel like a better person for it.

The best thing about it is the availability of ideas. The more ideas that we (collectively) have access to, the more options we have to imagine the world differently.

word: nubject. Just found that funny.

tshsmom said...

Technology brought us together. That's good....right?