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November 07, 2006

Web 2.0 and friendship

Slightly strange title but bear with me while I get to the point...

Lorcan Dempsey noted the Web 2.0 piece in the UK Guardian Weekend supplement on Saturday (A bigger bang).

Overall, it makes for a worthwhile read and there's some interesting quotes from some of the key players.  However, it ends slightly oddly (for me) with a discussion about whether social software is devaluing our notions of friendship:

Sit someone at a computer screen and let it sink in that they are fully, definitively alone; then watch what happens. They will reach out for other people; but only part of the way. They will have "friends", which are not the same thing as friends, and a lively online life, which is not the same thing as a social life; they will feel more connected, but they will be just as alone. Everybody sitting at a computer screen is alone. Everybody sitting at a computer screen is at the centre of the world. Everybody sitting at a computer screen, increasingly, wants everything to be all about them. This is our first glimpse of what people who grow up with the net will want from the net. One of the cleverest things about MySpace is the name.

Coincidentally, I read the article shortly after re-watching Rob Reiner's Stand by me on DVD - being stuck at home currently with a bout of labarynthitis, which I wouldn't recommend to anyone by the way (the illness, not the film)!  The film ends with the narrator typing:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?

Not exactly an up-beat ending!

It struck me that our perception about the impact of technology on society, and particularly on young people, is difficult to separate from our own changing circumstances.  Certainly, there is no evidence from my own children that technology is making it difficult for them to make real friendships.  Quite the opposite in fact.  They are very adept and comfortable in using on-line social tools (and all sorts of other technology for that matter) as part of their real-world social lives.


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