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Joe,
You nicely summed up what I feel is at the core of the discussion about how social media is changing how people interact. So, to take it further, how exactly do these social media tools impact relationships and ultimately, the creation of social capital. Here’s a few of the most important ways I’ve experienced:
  • Social media is a tool that facilitates the creation and maintenance of relationships, it is not the relationship itself. It’s when people mistake their social media connections as relationships that we start getting into trouble.
  • Social media facilitates connections. By my definition, a connection is someone who you have come into contact with in some meaningful way. Once we are connected to someone, we know how to reach them and we would have at least enough knowledge about the other person to facilitate the beginning of a more substantial relationship. Connections in other words are loose acquaintances.
  • We know from the work of Mark Granovetter and others that acquaintances are our source of social influence and power. Because our acquaintances (or weak ties) represent access to information and resources that we wouldn’t know about through our closest relationships, the more acquaintances we have, the more powerful our social capital. Social media makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with these weak ties, thus making it easier to build our social capital and influence.
  • Social media makes it easier to maintain relationships with larger numbers of connections. While Dunbar’s number suggests that we can only maintain relationships with 150 people at any given time, the tools of social media make that process easier than in the past. While it seems that social media may not make Dunbar’s number any larger, I would argue that it does make it possible to seamlessly change which people we have in our 150 over time. Social media gives us the ability to stay connected to people so that we know where to find them when we need them, even if we haven’t actively maintained a more substantial relationship with them in the meantime. Social media keeps the connection in tact.
So, while social media can’t BE the relationship, I think that it represents incredibly powerful tools for planting, growing and harvesting social capital. By ignoring these tools, you are choosing to be less influential, less powerful and less relevant. I assume we are in agreement on this point.
So, how is social media going to impact our children in terms of how they will connect with and build relationships with others as they come of age?
-Jason

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