Monday 25 July 2011

Anti-Social Networking

Much as I hate to admit it, I'm middle-aged. In the 45-54 age bracket on forms (turning 40 was a breeze, but that 45-54 was a killer). I've worked in law-enforcement for all of my career and in IT for a large chunk of it. So back in the very early 1990s - if not the late 1980s - I had an email account. Back then, I don't recall the internet existing outside of academia, but there were a very few ISPs around that offered email accounts if you bought a large and clunky Amstrad dial-up modem card that you stuck in a slot in your pc and plugged your telephone line into. Then there was a choice of basically CIX and one or two others whose names I forget. Not only did I get an email address, with a nice off-line reader (necessary to avoid tying up the phone lines while reading/writing emails), but also a set of community forums where you could chat to other account holders in various groups of threads - much like a non-pictorial version of today's Facebook.

For anyone who is old enough and/or nerdy enough to remember all of this, I was and I mostly used to haunt the threads where we discussed equally nerdy topics such as Star Wars. I recall a mass meet-up at somebody's house in Birmingham, where we watched lots of classic tv (this is before dvds and internet tv, remember - most of us didn't even have a video player), ate lots of food and generally had a good time. There must have been 50 or so people there (it was  a big house in Solihull), including an undercover journalist who promptly divulged the lot in the next day's national papers - claiming infringement of copyrights and public performances. 

But it shows the power of social networking 20 years ago. There were no other quick forms of communication - mobile phones had shoulder-bags to carry the battery and were strictly for the rich and businesses. Private telephones were still ruled by British Telecom and an expensive way to spend time. Stamps and letters still ruled the masses, but it's not the ideal way to communicate, especially with people you've never met in real life.

I moved on from CIX as the internet gradually grew and lost touch with a lot of the great guys (and girls) I met back then. And now we are spoiled for choice with Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and now Google+ coming on line (I don't get Google - cloud computing? I mean what if it's raining?). I may be 47, but I love being able to keep in touch with old friends and make so many new ones all over the world, especially when they are people I choose to communicate and interact with, by virtue of the things we have in common - shared interests, hobbies or values.

Is it anti-social to be sat at a computer rather than talking to real people in real-time? Where are these real people? I live in a small village and have a family. I don't really have any friends who live close enough to drop in on - and these days, it's not really done, is it? These days you never call unannounced "just for a chat and a drink" like we used to. That's sad. But then I have all these people at my fingertips. They might be online and all over the world - but they are real people too and I know many of them would be there for me if I needed them. I've seen how they respond to others in crisis, whether that's financial, earthquake, fire or other disaster.

And friends like that are hard to find anywhere.

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