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Posts Tagged ‘@karenblakeman

Social Intimacy and Twitter

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A marked shift away from an intimate society was described by Elaine Storkey in her book “In Search for Intimacy”. The longstanding patterns of urban society, providing close-knit communities, physically gave way to a spread of detached suburbia. In patterns of living, both those climbing the ladder of success and those forced to flee from depressed areas seeking work, uprooted and relocated. No longer do people live their lives in the midst of parents, brothers and sisters, cousins and extended family within walking distance.  She argues that the intimacy of regular contacts between ordinary people is being eroded from our lives. A couple of examples:

Neighbourhood shops, where were known, have given way to large supermarkets where we accept service standards of anonymity and indifference as a way of life.

How many people’s daily commute often consists in intimacy avoidance, may consist of sitting in silence amid a crowd, ironically surrounded by advertisement portraying closeness and intimacy to sell their wares.

Elaine Storkey tracks the influence of individualism in the 80’s and 90’s, noted in Thatcher’s phrase “there is no such thing as society (only individuals and their families)”, to a negative impact on personal relationships.

I should confess to being one of life’s radicals. On my daily commute I walk into town and I try to greet a number of familiar strangers which I see each day. Only rarely has this lead to anything more substantial , such as once when I bumped into a ‘familiar stranger’ not in the morning but on the tube travelling back back from London in the evening, we talked at length about our lives and how we came to pass daily. Even without developing beyond a brief ‘good morning’, I’m convinced that this simple act of meeting and greeting familiar strangers is life enriching.

In this recent blog,A return to the “old skool” – Social Media challenges in the Public Sector, Carl Haggerty commented that social media is starting to help “people to reconnect in convenient and timely ways” and that this may be the underpinnings needed for genuine transformation of the public sector. In a similar way, I’d like to raise the question how far can Twitter go in re-introducing intimacy.

By way of positive examples, I’ve noticed in recent weeks there’s been a great many messages between twitter users discussing matters of health, especially passing on best wishes to those succumbing to swine flu. Indeed whilst suffering a recent chest infection I’ve been cheered by a fair number of well wishes from those I’ve never physically met, but with whom I’d only exchanged messages over Twitter. Isn’t it also interesting how one feels slightly bereft when a friend on twitter is wrongly suspended – not just that sense of injustice but also a lack of intimacy when someone you’ve connected with is removed from you. I’m thinking here of both @karenblakeman and @alncl (with the ensuing #freealncl campaign).

Twitter too favours the strong

Storkey highlights a fundamental dilemma, that the individualistic society naturally favours the stronger individuals – they have the resources and the drive to pursue their goals whilst weaker individuals are marginalised. Unfortunately, the networked nature of Twitter naturally follows this pattern, those with great reach in their networks can exploit their networks more effectively. We should seek to make twitter more accessible to all and be careful to welcome newcomers.

Twitter favours the elite

The demographic on twitter is notably not representative of society. Judging by the network of friends I’ve developed there’s a definite bias towards the educated professional with values of respect, liberty and justice. However, this won’t build directly build a more cohesive society in our locality unless we can build stronger local networks. Perhaps we should deliberately seek to connect with other Twitter users in our local area rather than just those we connect with through our usual professional and personal networking.