Stephen Fry, British comedian, writer, and self-proclaimed dork, has a weekly column titled “Dork Talk” in the Guardian Observer. This week’s column discusses “Web 2.0,” and how all that social networking isn’t necessarily a good thing.
For some reason, my password for signing in to Mr. Fry’s blog (where he cross-posts his column) to leave a comment always comes up as an error, so I will post my thoughts here, instead. Okay, I was able to fix it, and leave a modified version of this post as a comment.
I take the point that the temptation with social networking is to build oneself a small corner of the web, and then stay there. But I would posit another way of looking at the matter.
The internet is huge. A wilderness, a frontier, as Mr. Fry correctly states. Whether it’s “good” or not, the pioneering spirit that sends us forth in search of brave new worlds is tempered by an urge for civilization of some sort. Why did the pilgrims set forth? Not to commune with nature, but to find someplace new where they could set up the type of society they preferred. Why did the explorers set forth? Sure, to boldly go where no man had gone, etc., but if you think that most of them weren’t looking forward to spending some of the untold riches to be discovered when they got home, you’re even more nuts than I am. And the people funding the trip were more interested in what the explorers would bring back— they weren’t going anywhere, they already had power where they were.
I’d offer the following incomplete theory for the success of social networking– we want to explore the web, but often feel lost as to where to start. Where better than with similarly-minded wayfarers? If someone in your social network has similar interests, you may well like, love, be excited by a part of the web they’ve discovered that you hadn’t before known existed. Web 2.0 is a form of armchair travel– we see where the people we like have gone, and then give it a try. Further, knowing that there are corners of the web we can call “home” emboldens us to go out and do some exploring of our own. If we don’t like what we’ve found, well, thank goodness for the familiar, to comfort us. But if we find something new, then how exciting to be able to share it with our InterFriends!
I could write a whole essay on the irony of Web 2.0 in such a large, rich country as ours. In social environments in which we ought to be able to find plenty of others who share our interests and provide support, we turn to the internet to find people who will help us feel less alone. And we succeed. Perhaps a rumination on why the facelessness of the internet allows us to be bolder, more honest, more real, and more kind (or more who-we-want-to-be) and supportive is in order.