i might possibly be a bad anthropologist.
i despise the term "networking."
no, really. i do.
maybe it's just me.
maybe i'm just not getting it.
but, really, this is how i see it: half the people i talk to throughout the day i don't even see face to face. another good portion i don't need to see but i do. some of the people i consider to be my best friends i haven't seen face to face in months or years. oh, i'll know them whenever i do run into them because i've seen pictures... but a lot of times you can't say too much about those because you might suddenly sound like you've gotten creepy in your old(er) age.
"networking" seems to be a bit of a plague, and one that, sadly, isn't limited to sharing files between desktop computers anymore. it's a plague i can't seem to get away from. at work (oh dear, bringing work into things, i really must be losing it) i save - and sometimes accidentally lose - files on the inter-department network; i find email addresses for staff members i've never met before and might never meet in person in the global address book (network!); i copyedit articles about networking each month for one of our publications. and then i go through and do all of the editing, get it through graphics and print, and then label up the copies and mail them off to our network of subscribers - all of which steps take further networking.
that's not enough, though. even our off-hours and minutes are now considered networking. facebook is social networking. so is twitter. if anyone not in a band still uses myspace, i'd guess that still counts as social networking, too. (although, i guess it counts for the bands, too. sorry, musicians.) "friend" is now a verb, and i could be okay with that because i've been actively trying to make "coffee" a verb for the past several years. (i.e. "let's go coffee!" "oh, i was out coffeeing." doesn't seem to be catching on, though.) but "friending" someone doesn't mean your friends and sometimes we "friend" to increase our friend count or we keep friends even though we don't like them just so no one thinks badly of us. and really, how friendly is that kind of behavior anyway?
i vaguely remember when i first started this whole "social networking" thing. i was friends with people from high school or college. i wasn't friends with my parents or coworkers or bosses. the thought of someone judging me or taking something i posted absentmindedly the wrong way never occurred to me. of course, i'm pretty boring, so even now that's not too much of a concern. i'd love to know what our library system's assistant directors think of all my food posts - if they haven't hidden me, that is. (joke, i think. jp and dw, you are more than welcome to post your opinions on anything i post, here or there!)
anthropologists seem to like the term "networking." we -well, they- like the idea of interconnectivity, complex systems, deep underlying meanings. i'm all for that. and i love scouring duke university's press website to see what new anthropological books have been published linking tea to neoliberalism to post modernism to railway timetables. okay, i made that series up. but, like in most sciences and in the way of the world, when we go into something wanting to see it, we're more likely to justify or alter our perceptions of reality to match our hypothesis. if i really want to find a linking anthropological force between tea, neoliberalism, postmodernist theory, and timetables, i'll find one. it doesn't matter if there is a population of people that embody and utilize all of the items on my laundry list or if i go out and find or create a social network to prove my point. in either situation, by prematurely stating what i want to look at, i've already compromised the outcome of whatever "network" i end up examining. the best i can possibly do is pick something so vague, so broad the study narrows down my subject of interest for me and hope my own dumb ego stays out of the way.
all this networking makes me tired. and not just tired in a "it's everywhere around us" sort of way or a "it's in the work you have to do and the work you want to do" way. i get tired thinking about clicking that little "share on facebook" button when i've added a new post to this site. or when i copy and paste links in emails for even lazier or busier friends. networking, and surviving in a completely networking dependant grid, is emotionally exhausting with very little pay off. it's not enough to get excited about unread messages when half of them are spam. (which i guess counts as another, albeit sleazy, form of networking.) all the ever-changing privacy rules and new site formats that crop up every six months or so are confusing. and exhausting. i loved it when there was a string of "how well do you know so-and-so" quizzes for awhile because of how ridiculous they were. knowing or guessing a string of questions does not equate knowing someone or being a better friend. i'd say you're a far better friend if you can remember birthdays or phone numbers without a digital reminder. (oh, and i'm not saying i'm the best at that, either.)
the problem is social networking is easy. the main criteria seems to be at least a hunt and peck level of typing, maybe a vague idea of how to load a photo or two. but the truth is we're never presenting our true selves. we creating and developing personas. i don't think a true anthropological survey could ever be done of a social networking site because it'd be a survey of fictitious characters, not people. and if you can't unbiasedly compare the false persona to the real person, there's no substance to your study. if you want to do your fieldwork on something fictional, you'd be far better off staying home and renting lawrence of arabia or dune.
sorry for the rant. but be glad i didn't start on ereaders.
a couple follow-up thoughts that resulted from a conversation with nn:
networking has become so all-encompassing that it's almost impossible to have real relationships. almost everything we do these days is a form of self marketing. it used to be that eventually losing contact with some people was just the way things were: you stayed in touch with some people and lost track of others. the ones who stuck around were generally the people you wanted to have or like to be around. now, if you lose touch with someone you spent half-a-minute of your life with, and it's almost like you're a bad person or have done something completely reprehensible.