Monday, December 3, 2007

Friends, Romans and Countrymen

lend me your ears. Oh wait...that was another post but a useful opening line.
It seems that the matter of friends, especially those made in the virtual context, has been on the minds of many. I suppose some of this is spurred by the 10,000 post threads (here) and (here) to start with. But it is a topic that has come up a few times, perhaps spurred by the fact that the social media sites tend to call connections "friends". Even gtalk has joined the bandwagon.

So what is the matter of digital connections. Are there such things as digitally made friends, or are we really more "Romans" and "Countrymen" to borrow the quote. I think of Romans being a bit like the "tribal" concept that was put forward in a New York Times article this week. To some extent we are creating our "tribes" or our social circles. In each "country" we join, be it Twitter or Seesmic or Facebook. I think that the idea is an interesting one not without merit. We all, on some level, seek to belong - whether our belonging is in that of the questioner and the one who rocks the boat, or whether we just want a crowd that we hang with.

I think we can see this tribal nature in the way we chose the tools we use. Twitter I think is a classic example of it. Twitter goes down, lags, does weird stuff - we all talk about going to Jaiku or some other service, but we keep coming back to Twitter because that's where our "friends" are, or as I would posit where our "tribe" or "community" is.

In a sense it is no surprise that we have this need for gathering. In many places the concept of "neighborhood" or local community is gone. We drive away from home to our jobs and our meeting places. We live distributed across miles and miles of our daily life. We travel from one end of the country/world to the other. For many of us there is no time or space where we can have that "place where we live". And if we don't travel then it is our neighbors who do. Humans are social beings. We tell stories, we desire to connect with others, we look for our place to belong. These digital worlds and countries give us a "place" where we can exist. We can find our "Roma" or our "tribe" even as we traverse the world, we have a "foundation of community" to base ourselves on, to take with us through our cellphones and laptops.

But wait, how solid is this foundation? Is this a false hope we pin ourselves on? Is our identity slippery enough that we can make and remake ourselves again? I think that the answer is that lifetime communities, and the attendant challenges of changing our identity are a thing of the past for much of us. We can be as slippery as we'd like or as real as we like virtually or in physical space. I think these social media tools are merely where we find our need for community met for now.

So I think that many of our "friends" are more members of our tribe. That said I think that there are real friends to be made out there even through this digitally mediated medium. Real conversations do happen, and people do form connections. There are some people who I have met only over the net who I do consider friends. And I think that this makes sense too. What sense of belonging would we have if we had no friends within the medium? What kind of an audience would Brutus have had if he had called out to Romans & Countrymen. For a community to become real, for the "tribe" to exist there must be more connection than just causal acquaintance or ones attention will wane with their needs unmet and they will move on to the next digital country.


Chris Brogan said...

Interesting. I think "tribe" might be the right word. It's a strange word, though, charged with all kinds of weird feelings. Native American tribes and "the Tribe," in the Jewish context, as well as that weird website, Tribes.

But I think you're right. It's not that we're all friends (though we're friendly), but that we do have similar hm... edges? Similar rough social norms that align us at least a little?

Great post! Now I'm digging in to think about it more.

DefogMyBlog said...

Not exactly a serious response but I think appropriate

Goldie Katsu said...

I think I actually have a part two to this post. Tribe is a bit "charged" of a word and it is hard to define what that exactly a "tribe" is with its varied meanings. Also I am not sure if we are yet making tribes or are they collectives. Is the social fabric that was lost by our nomadic lives something we are recreating or are we only potentially creating such connections. Lots to think about.