Starting off with nerding out...
The first social network I joined was Friendster. I think I posted a spring street personal a long time ago, and once some of us guys at the meek posted the Schwinn City Sinners as a profile on makeoutclub (which is the sort of vice/hipster place) as a gag, but friendster was the first one I actually used.
Just now I got an invite to Where Are You Now which seems to want to cater to English-speaking world-travelers. This struck me as shockingly specific, and I wasn't sure if it was a legit social network or an attempt to get detailed marketing data on a valuable demographic.
But if then I realized it's not that strange (or specific) at all, just look at what else is out there:
Rotten Eggs, A Social Network for Pranksters, which sort of caters to the proto-hacker/goofball/Anarchist cookbook crowd. But some people on it are clearly young, like high-school. It's kind of a voyeuristic thrill to read. Here's an example; here's something a little more lowbrow.
On the opposite side of the high school, and a little more, uhh, advanced in it's social nature, is the "#1 Site For The 18-30 Crowd" Face The Jury, which combined the genius of a general social network with the added bonus of hot or not. Instant skin-deep evaluations. Rankings. Kings. Damsels. The whole nine yards. Feels very Miami. Ugh.
There are probably hundreds of other networks out there this, serving much the same function as old-skool BBSs did, creating communities of maybe a few hundred people. The difference now is that you have the ability for everyone to be online at the same time, and the potential population is huge. These little enclaves exist somewhere underneath bigtime utility players like myspace, friendster and the moneymaking dating services (who are starting to realize that adding social networking boosts their popularity). What someone aught to do is start putting all these tools together with identity services -- ways to let you prove you are who you say you are online -- allow them to start intermingling, becoming authoritative webs of trust and sources of virtual persona. That would be dope.
Imagine if you could carry your identity with you as you wanted on the net. This starts off as something as simple as automatically adding a little avatar and a link back to your own neck of the internet on any comments you left anywhere. But then imagine if people could then see who you were, tell you were a real person with your own community and connections, and you could keep track of replies to your comments. Think of the social discourse that could evolve!
And why not? This is the human thing to do. I haven't had a romantic relationship that didn't include an email component, and in fact I think it played an integral role in most. I use email with my friends and my family. I use IM and IRC to facilitate my work. I post to this blog so people can check up on me and hear what I have to say. This is normal behavior, to use a communications network to, well, communicate. That means to say your piece and stay in touch, but also to find out more about the world around you, to make more connections, to engage in conversation.
When you think 10 or 20 years down the line, John Dewey's optimistic vision of America as a multitude of "communities of inquiry" seems almost possible. I think we're in a watershed era here in terms of how we organize ourselves socially. Things are going to change, but there's no guarantee they're going to change for the better. If we're not careful here, we could also end up with some kind of kind of ugly 1984 situation; propaganda, surveillance, oppression.
Slipping into politix...
While I can point to small (and even some medium-sized) ways in which we're currently drifting in those negative directions, I think the opposite momentum -- the rise of a resiliently and positively American ethic, driven by a shift in the way our society obtains and evaluates information -- is coming up faster and stronger. Bush won another term, yes, but he doesn't have an iron grip on power in this country, nor is he really a horrific villain of epic proportions. He's a very bad president, but I don't believe he is evil. And I think he and his kind are on their way out.
I watched the little press conference today. He's not doing good, the President. He performed pretty well on the personalty scale. I expect he'll pick up a few points in the polls for being nice-sounding and seemingly earnest, but he didn't give many substantive answers to the questions people are asking. That means he either doesn't have any substantive answers, or his actual answers are unpopular. In either case, his general momentum is going to continue.
Compounding that, Bush's uber-GOP coalition (62,000,000 votes can't all be fake) is beginning to splinter. One reporter asked whether he (the Prez) agreed or disagreed with the statement that Democrats were filibustering some truly reactionary judges because they were "against people of faith." Bush was forced to disagree, making some pretty weak noises about how "faith is a personal matter." The statement was made by the #1 Republican in the Senate (and a man with Presidential ambitions of his own, ho ho ho) Bill Frist, just last weekend on a live multi-network Christian telecast called "Justice Sunday."
Meanwhile, the Democrats are behaving like a party out of power should: sticking together. Congress passed a budget 214-211. NO Democrats voted for it; 6 Republicans broke party lines and voted against. The bill cuts Medicare by $10B, but contains $106B in tax cuts, mostly for the already wealthy. Hooyeah.
Under pressure, Bush talks about bipartisanship, but if he wants to be taken seriously he'll have to distance himself from Frist, Delay, the Fundamentalists, and the Party Hatchet Men like Grover Norquest, who famously proclaimed that "Bi-Partisanship is like Date Rape."
These pig-eyed Goldwater geeks and grown-up Reagan Youth are the backbone of the Bush machine. They're king-hell organizers, they've been in and out of power for 30 years, but they've never really been in control before. It's been a rampage ever since they squeaked through the door in an unquestionably fucked-with election, and then got the greatest political gift imaginable with 9/11. They looted the economy, launched an ill-advised and poorly-planned war, and formed the uber-GOP coalition with the good ol' boys, the corporate wing, and a community of post-dispensationalist evangelical Christians which continues to increase its right-wing political clout. All that is coming to an end, because when the chips are down their ideas are bullshit, the electorate is turning against them, and their coalition is spending its precious time in control bickering amongst itself.
I'm a partisan for Utopia, so I'm glad to see the breakup. I think it's going to contine, and I think it's going to set up a better situation for everyone. In the future, it's going to be increasingly difficult to lie to people. Leaders in business, politics and society are going to find it's easier (read: more profitable) to be transparent and good than to be two-faced and clandestine.
Anyway, I'm turning in to get some rest. I get my stitches out tomorrow, and my leg and arm improve by the day.