Know Thyself or Show Thyself?

Ken Myers has an interesting article concerning online social networks, People, People who Poke People…. In this article he comments on an article by Christine Rosen at The New Atlantis.

I have always appreciated the work of Ken Myers and Mars Hill Audio. For years they have produced NPR style interviews, on tape at first, and now on mp3. Their goal is to “endeavor to encourage sensibilities and habits of thoughtful cultural engagement through creative audio resources.” They have a service called Audition, which is free podcasts of some of their interviews. But, back to the theme.

Rosen makes some insightful comments of online social networks.

Today’s online social networks are congeries of mostly weak ties—no one who lists thousands of “friends” on MySpace thinks of those people in the same way as he does his flesh-and-blood acquaintances, for example. It is surely no coincidence, then, that the activities social networking sites promote are precisely the ones weak ties foster, like rumor-mongering, gossip, finding people, and tracking the ever-shifting movements of popular culture and fad. If this is our small world, it is one that gives its greatest attention to small things.

The world of online social networking is practically homogeneous in one other sense, however diverse it might at first appear: its users are committed to self-exposure. The creation and conspicuous consumption of intimate details and images of one’s own and others’ lives is the main activity in the online social networking world. There is no room for reticence; there is only revelation.

The impulse to collect as many “friends” as possible on a MySpace page is not an expression of the human need for companionship, but of a different need no less profound and pressing: the need for status.

My wife made the comment the other day that people today are obsessed with fame. MySpace, YouTube, social networking sites, and even provocative blogs seem to play into this desire for fame, as do some of the inane reality TV shows. Rosen has a great closing comment:

Perhaps the question we should be asking isn’t how closely are we connected, but rather what kinds of communities and friendships are we creating?

What are the opportunity costs? Rosen suggests the overuse of technology fosters the exact opposite of what it intends and so leads to the lack of real, personal development because of the amount of time and energy spent embellishing who and what you are electronically.

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