Friday, 3 October 2008

Relecting on little boxes by Barry Wellman

A key theme I’m getting from Barry Wellman’s paper is connections communication on a social level. The paper examines the changing face of social connections and interactions between both people and institutions.
The fact that the paper looks at ‘change’ per se – indicates also that it refers to a progressive series of changes that are occurring over a continuous time scale, indeed Wellman, constantly compares and contrasts the ‘what was then’ with the ‘here and now.’ Hence the theme grows into CHANGING SOCIAL COMMUNICATION PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE.
Wellman looks at past connections as being quite insular and standardized. It’s all very local and physical – with people communicating within a few GROUPS. This is highly influenced by where a person physically works and lives, hence we begin to understand the metaphor of the paper’s title “little boxes” and can make a natural link to the past. Here people were almost controlled by their geographic location. Connectivity and communication then relied largely on people’s inclination and ability to physically move around groups. When you consider this point at a deeper level, you could conclude that, in the past, whilst close local communities were more common, with the existence of close nit neighbourhoods and relationships, in actual fact, these were born more from our natural instinct to be social within our given limits rather than a fee choice. In other words – past social groups fundamentally consisted of who we happen to live/work near and so, by chance, happen to share our little box!
In terms of social connections, whilst there are still elements of the past evident, technological communications are perhaps a more familiar picture to many. More familiar because it is, as this paper suggests, the result of a paradigm shift that the developed world is going through. The “little boxes” of the past are replaced with SOCIAL NETWORKS - Technologies such as the internet, round the clock media and improved transport emerged as the portal for this shift. Mobile technology of phones and now internet access have created a vehicle that further throws open the door to the world and allows everyone, in the developed world at least, to wander around a ‘global village’ and “meet” and develop relationships with like minded people and feed from the diversity of everyone’s experience! As a convert to this evolution, it's really exciting!
This is social networking.
No longer is the PLACE important - it’s all about the INDIVIDUAL.
SOCIAL NETWORKING enables connections that have no little box boundaries and constraints.
SOCIAL NETWORKING empowers the individual with choice and freedom – firmly placing them in control.
SOCIAL NETWORKING permits a limitless ‘net’ of connections and promotes inclusion.
Wellman coins a new noun for this “GLOCALIZATION” – in other words making the world a local place. – the benefits are clear.... individuals have, literally, at their fingertips a powerful resource that is rich in diversity and opportunity.
I considered SOCIAL NETWORKING as a learning tool alone and it’s really only the limits of imagination that constrain the possibilities this resource releases. A connection to information, clarity and support available as and when it’s needed seems almost too good to be true....however, in this context the evidence that we are amist the revolution of social networking rather than it being already universal becomes clear. On my degree course, as learners we are grouped 'per chance' – connected only because we happened to enrol at the same time for the same course – very much the “little box” scenario. Through social networking, as a learner I can easily move above and beyond the constraints of this group. Social networking to enhance and customise my learning at an individual level – returning and sharing acquired information to the group. The networking is limitless as more and more learners from the group become social networkers.

The flip side is that it’s predominantly a virtual world – so physical contact and interaction is restricted; one must consider if being a social networker at a GLOCAL level allows a similar belongingness and social identity that GROUP membership boasts? Also, there is a fundamental requirement that the individual essentially needs to be competent at networking. It is vital that networks can be navigated efficiently as networks exist in vast, unchartered territory.
Final thought, Wellman puts into words the dynamics of a technological evolution that’s there for the most evolutionary changes – it’s happening over time.....I metioned before – as a convert - it all seems to good to be true but in reality, my presumption is that by the time our generation of children become adults – SOCIAL NETWORKING will be second nature.

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