Ah, Social Media. It’s everybody’s favorite, new buzzword.
Really, though, it’s not exactly new. People have been interacting on the internet almost since its conception. (In fact, for all I know, the first transmitted item may well have been a message as simple as “Hi, How are you? LOL,” although that doesn’t have quite the same wistfullness as Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you,” when he invented the telephone. I get all misty when men get emotional, don’t you? But, I digress.)
For as long as I have been using the internet, though, I’ve used it for the social interaction almost as much as the ease of emailing and researching. Back in what we Americans call College and some of the rest of you call University, my Liberal Arts school was right on the cutting edge of computer technology, and started handing out PCs to every incoming Freshman. I still remember my first computer–an Epson with two 5 1/4″ floppy disks, a 2-color monitor, and no hard drive at all. It had to be booted up fresh with an MS-DOS disk every time the computer was turned on.
It wasn’t until my Senior year that my computer could talk to other computers. That year, Drew provided a modem to every dorm room and started sending announcements (and phone bills) via email, to start getting all of us ready for the exciting new World of Computers waiting outside the campus gates. (After which, it was quite a shock that my first job outside of college didn’t even have an email system.) I was the first of my high school friends to have my own computer, and it often felt, well, lonely….
…Until I discovered my first taste of personal interaction on the internet. BITNET. The “Because It’s Time Network” that my university hooked us all into my Senior year. Suddenly, I could sit in my dorm room with my feet up and chat with fellow college students all around the world. Canada. Germany. Indiana. I made friends. I chatted. I told stories … And I made many of my new friends jealous because I was sitting in my cozy dorm room rather than in some cold computer lab somewhere far away from a cup of tea.
The point, though, is that even in 1988 I was socializing via the computer.
It didn’t stop there, either. After college, I signed up for AOL and eventually found my way to a reader’s group called the Book Nook which not only provided great conversation about books, but convinced me to actually MEET people in real life. A group got together at the Strand bookstore in New York and–since I didn’t want to go by myself, and she’s one of my best friends–I dragged my mother along. (Which, incidentally, is what got HER hooked on the internet, because after the great time we had, she wanted to be able to chat with all those nice people, too.)
Then there was knitting. Around 2004 I discovered knitting blogs and, well, my world hasn’t been the same since. I have a group of real-world friends now that I met solely because I read their blogs and they read mine. (Not to mention that my yarn stash is about 4 times bigger than it was and it’s because of those folks that I now spin my own yarn, too. But that’s another story.)
What’s the point of all this? Simply this: As much as people rave about “social media” and all its nifty new applications, my contention is that the internet has always been a social media. We don’t refer to the World Wide Web for nothing–because it’s all about tying us all together in many intricate ways.
There’s a certain amount of caution necessary, since there are criminals and predators out there as well as all the nice, friendly, wonderful people that you WANT to know, but really … all the internet advances that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime … BITNET to Compuserve to AOL to Blogs to Twitter … Dial-up modems to cable to Wi-fi … To me, the miracle here is not the technology (though the leaps and bounds rightly blow my mind), but that they are all new ways of pulling us all together. “Flattening” the world as Thomas L. Friedman would say.
All of which is by way of saying that now I have a NEW group of helpful, knowledgeable, supportive internet friends–you! And Liz is trying to get me to go to SOBCon in May to make it official. Which would be yet another new first for me … TRAVELLING to meet a bunch of new, internet friends? (Or, does driving to a yarn festival count?) And, anyway, Liz did add me to her list of SOBs.
(This isn’t to say that I’m GOING, mind you, but it’s nice to be wanted!)