Where’s the Social in Social Networking?

(Trash Boat)– A few weeks ago, in Black Sexualities (yes, that’s a course—and YES, it’s as awesome as you think!), we were discussing the differences between contact and networking.

Contact can basically be summed up as the random interactions you have with strangers: when you hold the door for someone; when you accidently bump carts with someone in the grocery store. These brief moments, both positive and negative, make up contact.

She's waiting to meet you...go ahead, bump into her.

Networking consists of planned interactions with maybe strangers, maybe not. This kind of socialization involves two or more people coming together for a specific purpose. It doesn’t have to always be career-oriented, like those stuffy alumni conferences we periodically get invited to (confession: I’ve never been to one of those “stuffy” alumni conferences…I’m just too awkward). Book clubs, sports teams, fraternities, bands, and families are all different kinds of networks. And when we interact in networks, we socialize with certain goals in mind, whether they be to win games, or just to bond.


I don’t consider contact or networking more important than the other. There is a place for both kinds of socialization in your life. I think networking benefits us in two general ways: first, it allows us to accomplish whatever objectives we have when we enter our respective networks; and second, it creates these mini-communities, these spaces where people can feel like they belong.


But these benefits can’t replace what contact brings us. Contact is what makes society an enjoyable experience. Without it, we would just be parts of a machine, working together but not really together. Those fleeting sparks of friendship with a stranger remind you of why you love the place you’re at, or why you love people just in general! Frankly, I don’t think you can understate the importance of contact.


Our generation doesn’t get the same kind of contact our parents used to get. I know we’ve all heard this before, but I believe it’s true. Now, with social networking—something I would define as networking for the sake of contact—we can ignore the people around us. We don’t need outside help, because we have our digital friends (who are usually people we hand select). My afternoon experience captures the effect of social networking:

I was walking through town, just enjoying the sunshine. At one point, I paused under a flowering tree, looked to my left, and saw a gaggle of children playing…I thought to myself, as I’m sure anyone would’ve, Wow, life is good. This thought rang so clear in my mind, that I had to tell someone; I had to share this moment! So I texted my friend. I shared my moment with someone who was miles and miles away.

Do I think I gained something from having my friend be a part of that experience? Yes. There was no one I would’ve rather shared that message with. And social networking is pretty miraculous in that aspect: it lets us maintain meaningful relationships regardless of distance. Sure, we all have our fake online friends (no, I don’t actually have 972 friends, no matter what Facebook says). But I can think of several relationships that may not have survived without social networking, but are now strong and significant.


And beyond that, social networking has the potential for great social change. KONY is a perfect example of that potential. I know, it was a flawed video. And I acknowledge the debate surrounding its legitimacy. But the idea that a social movement could take off like that…is inspiring. It felt like overnight, everyone had heard about KONY, and everyone had their own opinion. It was incredible! This potential alone makes me support the concept of social networking.


But maybe I lost something by not telling my neighbor, Wow, life is good. I’ll never know. I could’ve changed a stranger’s life, and he/she could’ve changed mine, but that’s a story that never got to happen. I realize this is pretty sentimental, and maybe even naïve. But those life-changing moments happen, right? They do! I have to believe it. Why, then, aren’t people more open to them?


Then here’s my challenge—for you, the reader, and for myself: go out, and make contact! Take the conversations you have on the world wide web, and take them out into the real world. You’ve got to strike the balance between contact and networking. And our generation has the unique challenge of having to fight for that balance.


Thanks for reading!


Doin’ me since 1991,