I have a personal networking thesis. I believe the social bonds with the greatest potential value are those that are less than three degrees of separation away. This isn’t to say that strangers or seemingly random connections can’t be valuable. This is to say that those who are further away have greater value to offer for the effort invested.
Robert Putnam discusses the concept of Social Capital in “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” (2000). He explains to two types of social capital: strong and weak social ties. Strong social ties are the relationships that develop through direct interactions with other people. Through mutual investment of effort by two or more people, strong social ties develop. For example, two people working together will develop a strong social bond. In comparison, a weak social tie are bonds developed through shared affiliation with a larger party or group. For example, being apart of the same class, living in the same housing community, or being a member of the same club.
Putnam observed that society was losing opportunities to foster weak social ties. He believed these communities were critical for the emergence of strong social ties. Putnam observed weak social ties allowed for economic opportunity, political organization, and personal happiness. He observed that the previously common “Bowling Clubs” were at their lowest registered membership. This statistic also applied to religious study groups and faith circles. Putnam observed a change in communities, where-in people had less time to developed weak social ties.
In a later book, “Better Together: Restoring the American Community” (2003), Putnam applies his observation to the realm of religious organizations and emerging internet communities. His observation of social breakdown did not apply to the internet communities. In fact, in 2003, internet communities were the opposite. Putnam interviewed and researched active individuals in the then growing classifieds website Craigslist. Putnam recognized an interested phenomena arising in the community forums and for-sale pages. People who had little to no affiliation to one another were answering questions and offering personal help. In 2003, this shift in social interaction was not obvious. In 2014, we see how our social ecosystem dramatically changed. Facebook, Reddit, and other technology based social venues have replaced the weak social platforms.
In the past, weak social ties would expose people who were not likeminded. The result of affiliating with a group was that you were coming in contact with ideas that you did not necessarily believe in. In our present–day social networks, we surround ourselves with individuals who agree with us. When we come in contact with beliefs we don’t agree with, we silence the opposing voices. This comes in the “unfollowing”, “blocking”, or disassociating with the entire digital services.
Considering this: social ties of our generation are either strong or non-existent. This means we have our close circle or no circle. We are either busy or lonely. Technology makes it easy to craft platforms for social interaction. Scaffold up a Twitter or Pinterest clone in an afternoon with the Hartl or One-month-rails tutorial. The ‘how’ behind creating platforms is trivial.
As our last class discussed, now we ask the ‘why’ and for ‘what’. “Community is the result of someone planting a flag and waiting to see what happens.” That takes guts to do. So whose going to do it?
This blog post was inspired by a16z Podcast: Datacenter of the Future.