Online Social Networking

I read Connected by Christakis and Fowler with keen interest as it gave me a very wide range of perspectives on the world of online social networking a world that is still very new to me. The extent of my online existence prior to joining HKS(and signing up for DPI-659) was probably only email and at some point Twitter; although the latter quickly ended up becoming a tool I use as a quick catch up on news rather than a tool for me to broadcast news.

Connected covers many other aspects of online social networking such as it's hazards and benefits but what I really took away was that social networking is a reflection of human nature when it comes to being connected. Quotes such as ..just realize our ancient propensity to connect and ..reflect universal and fundamental human tendencies.. shows that social networking is merely a platform (made possible by recent technology) for our inherent urges to stay connected and be involved in a community. It stops short however on saying how the growth of social networking can be more structured as it is growing at an alarmingly haphazard rate.

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Contrast this to the filter bubble discussed by Eli Pariser in his TED lecture. It highlights a worrying trend that this openness and overflow of information has led to a monitoring of preferences which is in fact narrowing the outlook and perspectives of people by limiting the information online social network users is provided with and, hence, get to see. For a bricks and mortar person like me, this is akin to walking into a library or bookshop and having the aisles and bookshelves predetermined for you by those who think they know best for you. However, Jonathan Stray in Nieman Lab does offer some fairly compelling ways of how this can be managed.

I did not have a Facebook account until I joined HKS but I now find it indispensable to see what is happening both on the social and work front at HKS. The fact that I live in Kendall and not nearer to Harvard means I could have ended up knowing more of what is happening in MIT than I do at HKS. The network effect (in it's traditional sense) of living in Harvard and meeting and interacting with Harvard folk face to face has certainly been replaced by social networking.

Something that also resonated from the Connected article was the average of 150 online friends that someone will typically have out of which only 6.6 we're close friends. This is particularly true in the case of the Facebook page of HKS Midcareers comprising a group of 232 people of which only a small fraction anyone would consider (after 2 months since the program started) as close friends (I would hazard a guess that it is unlikely at this point if there is anyone who has actually met everyone in the Midcareer group).

To use some of the ideas in another course I'm doing at HKS (Behavioural Science: Judgment and Decision Making) leads me to think that social networking encourages us to rely on System 1 thinking (i.e. our intuitive system which is effortless and emotional) and more short term in nature. Whereas in the real world, we may be more measured in our actions and what we say in a room of 232 people; here we would rely more on System 2 cognitive functioning which is slower and requires more effort.

In the section Reality and Wikiality, Christakis and Fowler highlight the type of information that is being shared seems as though it falls predominantly within System 1 thinking such as vacation photos (which is impulsive) and this also ties in with a recent trend highlighted in a blog by Tim Bradshaw usage of Instagram has surpassed Twitter. However, I'm keen to see if there is a similar study showing blog traffic as blogging would be that of a more thoughtful System 2 thinking.

The point is also made in Connected where in online networks we not only manage our direct relationship [with friends]..we also monitor all of their relationships with one another..

I guess this monitoring will be my next step as I get to grips with Facebook.

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Posted in Renovations Post Date 07/04/2016