Social Networking: beyond the web

Forgive me, I'm a little behind, but I just read this post (thank you Twitter!) about how deep rooted the social networking urge is. If you haven't seen it... check it out.

I've been mulling the underlying drivers of the success, or should we say invasion, of social networking and an interesting thought crossed my mind while talking about neighborhoods the other day. I don't know about you, but since I have been little, the concept of the "neighborhood" has changed drastically. Remember the directive from Mom to "be home for dinner?" And that was the extent of checking in you had to do? We'd be gone for HOURS playing with the neighborhood kids, hanging out at other's houses, exploring the world. From what I gather in talking to parents nowadays, that doesn't happen very often anymore. It can't happen. It's a different world and parents are too smart (or scared) to let their kids roam the streets until the street lights come on. Am I generalizing? Probably. And there may still be a slew of kids playing in the street right now, but I would bet not as many as before.

But that "playing" had more to do with building our "social network" than anything else. And the neighborhood mindset extended to more than just the kids who lived there. Families gathered during summer evenings and talked about what was going on, and who was moving in or out. There was more of a feeling of a "group" and being a part of it. That's changed. I've seen the transformation. People stay to themselves more now. It's safer, less risky.

But that doesn't change the innate need to be social. We can't fight it. And now that we are less apt to reach out in person, we turn to other opportunities, like online, to fulfill that need. Perhaps that is why social networking has taken off. Maybe that's why people flock to online reviews and interest groups. Why people love Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. It provides the connections that people are craving, in a less risky arena. But that may not be what keeps them there. Climbing the social ladder is so much easier in this new world. Here they have control over who they interact with, what they contribute and who listens. Powerful. So maybe this shift goes beyond the wanting to be heard. Maybe it's really filling a void we weren't aware we had. And if that's true... online social networking is far bigger, in every sense of the word, than any of us could have imagined.