Social networks for Billy-no-mates?

Neil might think he’s ‘one of the older’ members of the Volcanic team, but I’m it. I left school before computers were anything more commonplace than University research projects or ‘corporate infrastructure’ investments. When in the final year at school I told my careers advisor that I wanted to work with computers he scratched his head for a while and then said “I think the Post Office have got one”.

It was decades before I managed to make a computer a necessary part of my daily work, and even then I was one of only a handful of people who knew how useful it could be. A couple of decades later and it’s hard to imagine a job in which a computer isn’t an integral part: even if your job is digging holes or picking up litter, it’s likely that the details of where you need to dig, or when you need to clear litter are issued and monitored via a collection of electronic systems.

Depending on your age and outlook, you may be in one of 3 phases of human interaction with technology:

  • Up to school age, any new technology you come across is just part of the world you’re learning about. You take it on at a deep level without a second thought.
  • In your youth, any new technology that comes along is an opportunity: to learn, to be at the forefront, something of which to take advantage.
  • Get past a certain point and any new technology becomes another hurdle or a hill to climb, a chore which you need to work hard to absorb.

The boundaries are vague, and depend for each individual upon personal attributes as well as the environment (social, commercial, even climate) and the level of support available from friends and peers. The switch between phases 1 and 2 may be during primary school while the switch between 2 and 3 is as elusive as ‘middle age’. Some people seem to want to stay in the mindset of their 20s and find difficulty, or at least put little effort into, absorbing anything that comes along later. Others keep an open and inquisitive mind well into later life.

I like to think of myself as belonging to that later group – still interested in and learning about whatever is new in the world, not just technologically but also keeping up with popular culture – although calling it ‘zeitgeist‘ feels pretentious, so I’m probably not quite there.

This is not just me reminiscing or lamenting lost youth. There is a significant impact on what I do and how I make my living. I’m working in the virtual world of the web and social media – something which wasn’t even science fiction when I was young, but which today forms such a part of everyday existence that friends and colleagues have no concept of what it may be like to be ‘disconnected from the matrix’.

Part of what is is to be socially connected is to have a circle or friends or contacts with whom to interact or to share. As I was growing up I managed to eat cupcakes without needing to tell my friends as I ate, or that I liked cupcakes, or show them pictures of the cake I just ate, but these days it seems we’re obliged to ‘share’. My friends (real people) haven’t followed the same career path or shared my interests, so few of them have anything other than a token presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest or the rest.

Thankfully, in this medium there is no absolute requirement to continue deep and meaningful relationships with people you call ‘friends’, so I can ensure that my Twitter and Facebook accounts keep a useful level of interesting content by linking up with lots of people and companies with whom I have a passing acquaintance or tenuous business link or vague shared interest. That way the view I get of social media networks like Twitter and Facebook is in line with what other, more socially connected people see, but without the overhead of emotional investment in the relationships I keep. I save that for friends I meet face to face.

I have have kept pace with technological progress, but with some things I’m still quite old fashioned.

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