Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Social networking in a nut(shell)

The idea is to put things in context, right? To figure out what's going on. Try and see the big picture.

So, when last week a bunch of us actor-types were emailing each other after our schedule of classes had run its course, there was this flurry that caught my eye.

During a random thread that morphed into talking about our names--some of us have really long names; some longer than others and one has a string of names that's almost unpronounceable. They're beautiful names, just hard for people with, shall we say, not a lot of experience pronouncing central European names. She just threw it out that maybe we should help her with a stage name.

I picked up on one of her middle names--Dominique--and Raphael pulled something off Youtube saying she could even have her own theme song and it all just tickled me so much I begged to blog about it. The end. (Well, she did say, go ahead and blog about it. I don't like to ambush or surprise people on my blog. I guess it's called blogiquette.)

We, in our own primitive digital way, were preserving and extending the experience of the class we just were all in together, even preserving our personalities and roles. I was feeling the joy and happiness and the fun of being with this group of people, and it was all coming through my monitor and headphones.

It's kind of my job to understand the Internet and the Web and social networking and the whole digital experience. (It's also a good excuse to say that at this point because right now I'm blogging at work.) We've all experienced this kind of frivolous kind of back and forth emailing I just described, the heart of which became social networking complete with totally unreadable MySpace pages and all that poking and super poking on Facebook that I consider to be an enormous waste of time. It is also quickly becoming the engine for commerce on those same sites. MySpace and Facebook are just a trend. Again, repeat after me: When you wrap your head around the concept that any media, including social networking sites, are just a medium for advertising that delivers an audience, you'll do fine.

But while Starbucks and Visa and American Apparel and Sunkist are all vying for our attention (me, me, pick me!) we mortals are just trying to keep in touch with one another. And that's the beauty and the power and also the dark side of the Internet.

We've evolved to depend on our ISP and phone provider more than we ever depended upon Ma Bell. The fact that our--what do you call these companies?-- communication providers?? --the fact that our communications providers today haven't understood their new role in society is a matter for Congress to look into. I think it's a better idea for Congress to investigate why (rather than what Roger Clemens shot in his butt, for example), if my email account goes down that Comcast will take up to a week to fix it because it classifies my account as an entertainment account.

Email and Internet access has become too integral to our lives for it to be classified as entertainment.

Friends, family, and acquaintances can keep up on what's going on in each other's lives. Why is that so important? Because we are social animals, peeps, there's no other reason. We crave each other's company, to the point where we'll take the craziest, most dysfunctional relationship over being alone.

There's some real power here, and for those who don't understand it, it's like giving a chimpanzee a loaded gun. It's like playing with fire.

You're typing, peeps, but it isn't letter-writing, no more than your cell phone is the same as that old black rotary thing that used to sit in the hallway in the 1960s. It's not the same any more than a digital eNewsletter is the same as a piece of direct marketing that used to clog your mailbox on your porch.

You're talking about some serious connectivity. You're talking about some serious, long-haul communications, across time and space. We're starting to inject a little Ensteinian principles in our lives. It's so damn easy to hit that send button, isn't it? So much easier than writing and sealing an envelope and licking a stamp and walking to the corner mailbox. All that time to think about if you really want to send that letter. What you really want to say.

It's so easy to stay in touch with people you really shouldn't be staying in touch with, isn't it? Old boyfriends and girlfriends. Ex-lovers. Preserving and extending all of that dysfunction. People who, in the "olden days" would have been gone forever. They could be living in the same town and you'd never see them. Gee, I wonder how so-and-so that creep is doing, and that would have been the extent of the thought. But now you can act on that thought as easy as google411. Or somebody sends email with a distribution list the size of the NYC telephone directory, because it's so darn easy to just click, click, and click some more. And you see an addy and think, what the heck, where's the harm? You're feeling so disconnected right now...but that's where you're wrong. We are all so connected we might as all be in the same room together. And that, my friends, is really the way you should think about it...

The good, the bad, and the ugly. All at your fingertips. Social networking and commerce and relationships that should have just been put on the shelf.

And if you can't tell, I think it's all good....

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