Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Look at Social Networks

Getting the word out.

From yesterday's Inside Higher Ed:

Not long ago, a woman I know got a phone call from a sibling who reported that one of their sisters had died a few hours earlier. It was painful news, if not unexpected given the sister’s long illness; the call was part of a narrative of grief that had been taking shape for a while. But in telling me about it, she also noted an odd and slightly awkward detail. She’d actually learned the news a bit earlier, on Facebook and via Blackberry, where it had been announced in a “status report” from her sister’s daughter. . . .

An individual’s death is a rip in the social fabric. And communication among those closest to the deceased involves more than transmission of the news. It is process of patching up what remains of that fabric, a reinforcement of bonds. By some implicit rule, we take it as a given that family will get the news before it is available to a world of strangers. Not that things always happen that way, of course, but the exceptions are felt as such.
The full article is here, and it's an interesting consideration of the ways in which our modern communication tools are affecting the rules of social interaction.

Nor is it coincidence that I would open and read that yesterday morning. Despite my recent musings about matching the right information to the right venue, I find that I've failed to do so. A family member was upset at me only yesterday because a major event in my own life that I thought I'd kept her informed on, I apparently hadn't. No death involved, but a milestone of similar magnitude nonetheless. Mea culpa. I learn. I'll do better.

Parents and Facebook

On a related note, I pointed out two months ago that the face of Facebook was aging. A consequence of that has been the issue of how much of a young person's life should be open to the view of his or her parents. Happily, that's never been an issue in our family. From the outset, I've been a part of the social network of my daughters. It was one of the prices of being allowed on the internet from our home.

But for some kids, especially those whose online personas are anything but laudable, the presence of their parents on Facebook has thrown a kink into the normal stretching of the wings that takes place for almost all college students in their first year. I can't imagine conducting myself in such a way that I would have been ashamed for my parents to know what I was up to, nor do I think my daughters have that problem. (Of course, academe being my world, my threshold of shock, my expectations, and my tolerance are all fairly accommodating. The disaster that resulted from my oldest daughter's accepting one of her older relatives as a "friend" wasn't all that funny to anyone but me.) I certainly had plenty of friends in college for whose parents ignorance was bliss. And I know all too well from the use to which I've put Facebook as a college administrator, those online alter egos can be all too telling.

The conflict which often ensues is the topic of the following interesting piece from last night's CBS Evening News. Enjoy.

Update [5/21/09]: I've removed the embedded player because it automatically started the video every time the blog was loaded. If you'd like to view the video, you'll find it here.