Magazine article Information Outlook

Living in a Small-Town Network: Social Networking Takes Us Back to Our Communities of Old, Where We Built Relationships and Forged Bonds That Served as Foundations for Our Professional and Personal Lives

Magazine article Information Outlook

Living in a Small-Town Network: Social Networking Takes Us Back to Our Communities of Old, Where We Built Relationships and Forged Bonds That Served as Foundations for Our Professional and Personal Lives

Article excerpt

Do you remember the first time you saw a Facebook entry? Sent a tweet? Shared photos on Flikr? Watched a movie on Flixster? Found a schoolmate on Classmates.com?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

If you do, you joined the networked world as an adult. Millions of us are in this shared space, learning to use these and other social networking tools as upgrades to, or replacements for, earlier and more primitive means of social communication. If you are part of the even larger group who cannot remember communicating without these tools, you are a digital native, someone who sees these applications as virtual extensions of your eyes, ears and mouth.

I stand firmly in the former camp but communicate daily with those in the latter. I am a baby boomer who is sometimes bewildered by the existence of these tools and unsure why anyone needs them. My 24-year-old son is firmly in the millennial camp and cannot imagine communicating without them. Makes for interesting dinner conversation, to say the least.

Speaking as a boomer who is a parent of a millennial, here are some observations I would make to help bridge the generation gap:

Networks as social communities. I think of Facebook and its multiple spawn as venues for returning to our small-town roots in a way that offers the closeness and comfort of a community where, like the bar in the TV show Cheers, "everybody knows your name." I can know instantly whether someone is celebrating a new puppy, working on a special project, lying in the sun, leaving to go on vacation, or baking bread. That person is separated from me only by the screen we use to display our thoughts.

The big difference is that, with networks, we are living in a community of our own choosing or creation instead of a community formed by geographic coincidence. We can share our passions and interests while erasing geographic and cultural boundaries.

Social networking tools build a level of closeness and allow a degree of sharing that are not attainable in most physical communities. We need to cherish the opportunity to participate in these networks and not abuse their trust. Boomers sometimes fear the public nature of these communities and prefer to be observers rather than join in the fun and share. Likewise, some people overwhelm their communities with all of the details of their day. They don't seem to understand that not everything they do or think is fascinating to the rest of us.

Networks as news sources. With social networks, we can share breaking news faster than we can with more traditional mechanisms. This makes for exciting and sometimes embarrassing circumstances. Take the recent case of Peter Teague, a Georgetown University Law Center professor, who announced to a class of first-year students that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would soon be stepping down for health-related reasons. …

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