The Future of Social Networking

Collaborative Sociability

Image by Jamie Parks — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Last week, Cal Arts hosted a fascinating gathering at the intersection of arts, politics, and technology.

In association with the Interdisciplinary Genocide Study Center in Kigali, Rwanda, the weekend meetings Arts in the One World, led by Erik Ehn and Jean-Pierre Karegeye, brought together a diverse group of arts professionals, educators, and students to explore art and justice, art and social issues, art in the community, and the effects of performance on public policy.

The anchor to these themes were stories from the Rwanda genocide: stories told, experienced, and performed. An example of this kind of searing political and artistic memory was Marie-France Collard’s documentary film with Groupov, Rwanda ’94.

The meeting also created an opportunity to think through the future of social networking. How is an individual experience communicated? How does one reach out to one’s own community? How does one reach out to new communities?

The harder the story the more difficult it is to find a way to tell the story, and then find a path to get the story told. Today’s technology creates a distribution of stories in-process. We are watching a new kind of dramaturgy unfold: rather than wait until the normal parameters of storytelling are fulfilled — a beginning, a middle, an end — stories are told in the present tense. Without the perspective of time, the beginning is not clear. Without the perspective of history, the ending is unknown. There is only the present tense, the immensely powerful experience for the creator and the audience of being in the middle of the story.

There are now over 100 million websites that can be used for social networking, avenues to distribute your story. Major social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, are fundamentally profiles by list: school affiliation, favorite music, job titles, friends.

This model of biography works well when one is young. In high school you are defined by the music you listen to, by the friends with whom you hang out, and by the clothes you wear.

However, as you get older, life becomes much more interesting, and much more complicated. Stories become more meaningful, more powerful. Just as importantly, the older we get the more stories we seek out for learning about our world and the worlds of others.

We know from art that age brings deeper levels of wisdom, insight, and accomplishment. This will be true, too, for the uses of social networking.

The future of social networking is the move away from sites with profile lists to sites with stories.

Imagine the power of social networking sites as a collection of a community’s ongoing stories: stories that reach out to listeners; stories that invite responses; stories that can bring diverse groups together to take action — across communities, across borders, and across cultures.

As our social networking sites continue to develop and define us, we are on the edge of new possibilities for the link between arts, politics, and technology: stories for conversation, stories that create connection, and stories that demand action.

- Bill Reichblum

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