I am a veteran of the social internet.  When I first started going online in 1995, text-based MOOs were at the cutting edge of social networking, and the web was essentially static.  I remember when the easiest way to keep track of updates to someone’s online journal (we didn’t call them blogs at first) was to subscribe to their personal electronic mailing list, when the ability to comment directly on someone’s webpage was a startling innovation, when the advent of friendslist-based services such as LiveJournal remade the way people found their tribes online. I joined Google+ last week, and I couldn’t help but notice that some of the same people I typed at in 1995 were among the first friends I chose for my circles now, in this newest of a long line of new ways to interact. Sixteen years of experience with online forms of sharing have left me with one profound conviction: social media works best when we understand what it’s really about.  It’s not about the tools we use; it’s not about the loose ties we can accumulate like coins in a dragon’s hoard or spend for professional gain; it’s not even about the splendid and productive conversations we can have.  What matters most about social media are the deep, rich, and lasting connections we can form with other participants, and the ways in which those connections constitute not mere networks of convenience, but true friendships based on trust.

It  might be hard to imagine how personal loyalties can apply to institutional social networking.  We have become accustomed to perceiving institutional social media channels as straightforward purveyors of information: libraries offering members news and updates, members providing libraries with feedback that gets turned into data for program assessments, and so on.  It almost seems frivolous to embrace such emotional terms. But what else is a successful community, if not a gathering of friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends: people who truly care about one another, even when they don’t get along?   As Andy Woodworth (2011) wrote last week, “Our communities come for the emotional experience, whether it is the profound sadness or joy in books, music, and movies or the sense of accomplishment in learning or the feeling of belonging in reaching out online. They aren’t vessels awaiting a cargo of knowledge; they have come to feel, to experience, and to be.” When people talk to me about libraries, they usually mention one librarian with whom they really connected, or one library where they really felt that the employees working there cared about them.  I think most library workers care a great deal about our communities; to communicate effectively through social media, we need to wear our real hearts on our virtual sleeves.

References

Woodworth, Andy.  (2011, June 26).  Turn the world around [Blog post].  Retrieved from http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/turn-the-world-around/
 
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