How Social Networking Has Changed Society

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Remember back in the day when we worked from 9-5, nights and weekends were reserved for friends and family, and never the twain shall meet? Now that an estimated 23% of American workers telecommute, many use online social networks as a way to stay connected to co-workers and colleagues. Those who are chained to a company desk often use (or sneak onto) Twitter or Facebook to stay in touch with friends outside of work.

DaniWeb's Ron Miller notes that the lines between work and home life are quickly becoming blurred and social networks had better be prepared to keep up. He makes a number of compelling points in his article, but this is what really stood out for me.

It's possible that these social networking tools are just the beginning of something, that they could lead to ways of finding and interacting with one another we never imagined, but whatever happens, you can't dismiss these tools easily. They are taking us somewhere exciting, but we have to work out how we deal with the fading boundaries these tools have left in their wake and that means rewriting our social rules as we go along.

Social networking services expand the pool of people we have the opportunity to meet to near limitless possibilities. We're no longer restricted to or rely on people in our neighborhood, church, or workplace to provide the interaction we desire.

Of course, getting to know others online is not a new concept, it dates back to the earliest days of Bulletin Board Services (BBS), IRC, and CompuServe. The main differences now are the real-time ways we communicate via instant messaging, Facebook walls, and Twitter replies. It more closely mimics face-to-face conversations than interactions via email, forums, or message boards, but it also means there are a lot more opportunities for social gaffes and missteps.

Users have already clued into that fact, or screwed up themselves, and are beginning to establish new social conventions. Articles outlining the "proper use and etiquette of social networking" pop up around the Internet on a near-daily basis, and self-proclaimed experts regularly police sites like Twitter to call out users they believe are acting inappropriately. Social networking sites thrust people together in mind-boggling combinations of attributes -- conservative/liberal, geeks/non-geeks, parents/child-free, religious/atheist/agnostic.

As a result, hierarchies, pecking order, and enforced social structure are bound to emerge. It's what we humans do. I'm not surprised to see these communities establishing new social rules; I'm only surprised it took so long.

This story, "How Social Networking Has Changed Society" was originally published by Computerworld.

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