Banality of social networks is a feature, not a bug

I came across a great metaphor for relationships awhile ago – bricks and mortar. Bricks are the “big things” – the events of life that you share with friends. Mortar is the little, everyday stuff, that the people you are closest to just know about, often whether they want to or not.

As Scheherazade wrote in her original blog post that caught my eye, bricks get all the attention. When we think about communication, we think about the bricks. But mortar is what makes it all stick together, and without it there’s no solid foundation.

As I mentioned in what is now clearly the last Tech Watch podcast, I’ve been investigating online communities this year. At first, I was all about the bricks, here, too. I was posting in forums, making new friends and even trying to be a better email correspondent. Email, blogs, podcasts, forums – these are the online versions of going for coffee.

Meanwhile, I’d occasionally ignore a request to join facebook or Twitter, wondering what was the point? If you want to know what I’m doing just ask me or read my blog. It’s not hard to find me online, after all. But eventually I succumbed to facebook and now I’m flirting with Twitter. And yes, the updates can be overwhelming, and yes it’s almost always banal. But this is the mortar of relationships.

It’s true that I don’t need to know (or honestly, really care) if you’re pulling the weeds or late for work or getting a haircut today. But knowing that mundane boring stuff adds real context to the actual conversations we have, context that makes existing relationships richer and new relationships stronger.

I’ve come to realize that the banality of social networks is a feature, not a bug. It is the ability to tap into the mundane that is the reason why these kinds of social networks are so popular, and so annoying. We crave the mortar of relationships, even as we find it maddening. It’s addictive and repulsive. And surprisingly useful.

2 thoughts on “Banality of social networks is a feature, not a bug

  1. bricks and mortar – i like that, got here via your egc comment btw…

    i also find the social tools (twitter, facebook, etc…) have less pressure to interact immediately than do im, skype or email – and its ok to miss some stuff too, its sort of like a stream of info from a variety of loosely associated acquaintances and some actual friends that you dip into every once in awhile when time allows – join the conversation or just read and move on…

    i also like the 140 limit – makes you get to the point, unlike what i’ve done on this comment, sorry about that :)

  2. mike, your comment here is a great description of what I meant over at egc when I said asynchronous IM. There’s less pressure in genera , and no pressure to be time-sensitive. It’s inherently more social than email or regular IM because missing messages is built into the system.

    And yes, restrictions are good. As an aside, for a while I used to write all my work email in haiku. Limiting yourself forces you to tease out the really important information. Maybe I should have written a haiku here?

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