I’ve been struggling to articulate my frustrations with social software and community technologies, and I’ve finally found an article that helped me immensely. (Thank you, Sean Munson, for sending me the paper!)
What’s bothered me is how anti-social so many examples of social software seem to be. They seemed to employ, as Paul Dourish said, a “highly positivist interpretation of social phenomena – a sort of social science, perhaps, uniquely attractive to engineers” (Dourish, 2005). Rather than recognize that often people just want to connect to others, social software seemed to assume that individuals were incredibly goal driven and that any software designed for those goals (e.g. organizing meetings) would be readily embraced. The trouble is people like meeting. We don’t all want the internet to replace our face to face lives, but we’d probably like it if the internet could make our lives easier. Some of the things I wish were easier were 1) finding community league sports teams to join, 2) meeting fellow happy hour enthusiasts, and 3) learning about things happening in Ann Arbor that I know nothing about. I want to be a part of things of which I’m currently not. I’m not alone.
These frustrations crop up when I’m thinking about social network analysis and its applications as well. Much of SNA seems to ignore the social aspects of those networks – that they do not exist in a vacuum, that they have most certainly changed by the time you’ve drawn them, that the connections between two people cannot be reduced to a line without losing some important aspect of that connection.
People are messy. I love that we’re messy. I came back to school to study the messiness. Now I’m off to read more about sociality versus society (see Maffesoli in Jones).
Readings mentioned here:
Jones, S. (2005) Grass roots campaigning as elective sociality (or Maffesoli meets ‘social software’): Lessons from the BBC iCan Project. EPIC 2005. (The article that helped me start articluating.)
Dourish, P. (2005) Anti-Social Software. Position paper from Microsoft Social Computing Symposium 2005.