My worlds are colliding on social networks. On Flickr and on Twitter. In blogs I follow and on my RSS feeds.
People I followed for their local government insight are becoming friends. People I care about and love talking to. People that are ‘offline’ friends are increasingly talking to and retweeting words from people I came across when I was embroiled in the whole Digital Economy Act tweetstorm. Offline friends are reading my words on the Guardian and saying well done – and more importantly making it to the end of the article despite not working with either maps or in local government.
Work colleagues are following my offline friends and my partner. My partner is happily chatting away to an old university friend who I met online but whose friendship is now mostly offline and face to face. Partners of work colleagues are advising offline friends on where to buy kit and I am happily phoning sort of work colleagues but not really on a Sunday morning to give advice on Tweetdeck because I like them, not because I feel in any way obligated to. I met the Director of a company my partners friend from university works for on Friday and it was simply acknowledge and accepted that the world has contracted and isn’t it a bit odd, but also a bit wonderful.
I speak to many people. Some are in academia, some campaign passionately, some are social reporters, some social entrepreneurs and some just happen to be quite important people. I don’t care about the quite important bit, though I respect it, but I don’t think about it and I don’t change the way I speak to anyone to reflect who they are and how I know them. Everyone is accorded the same courtesy, the same time, the same care if they want it and the same support if they need it.
What I find intensely interesting is that so many ‘bubbles’ of my life are crossing over – and everyone is getting along just fine. There was a time when birthday celebrations were dreaded as different concentric circles collided and repelled. Now, I don’t think there would be a problem with that at all. And perhaps the strength of Twitter is that it reduces people down in 140 characters to their essence, to their interests, to their humanity and suddenly externalised visuals are less relevant and it is only what you feel or think or imagine which is important.
Along side of this, is something even more powerful.
I didn’t introduce any of these people to each other. They connected independently (though I acknowledge that awareness of existence might have been through me) and are scheming, info sharing and discussing happily between themselves. From this comes the awareness that social networks are the fuzzy line between friendship and professional association, and that networking does not look the way that it used to look, that helping people out does not require existing in the same sphere, and that we do not need to force cross sector pollination, only to sit and watch it happen in front of our eyes as people connect, share, recognise wise words and pass them on. Would these people have ever met in physicality, before social networks? Probably not. And yet I suspect if you asked any of them if their world had been enriched, made easier, made lighter, or made more interesting by the associations which they are developing in a virtual world, I think they would all answer yes.
Organic growth of networks is happening. Through hubs and influencers and freedom of thought and sharing of information. Even networking cannot happen in silos any more, nor behind paywalls or login walls. Those walls are deterrents, because they are invariably labelled as being aimed at one single group of people. Social networks break down those labels and reduce us to simply humans who are curious, permitting knowledge sharing across boundaries, no longer locking us into neat little boxes, but allowing us to stack boxes one on top of the other, and information to be retrieved easily and quickly, depending on the situation and not the labelling of the situation.
Slowly but surely, we are thinking differently, and it is showing in the way our social networks are changing and in the way we choose to relate to people from different ‘bubbles’. I wonder, I really do, what will happen to those people who determinedly remain in their ‘bubbles’ and refuse to come out.