In these days when everyone is so pressed for time, it is sometimes tempting to decline favours when asked as you feel other priorities may hold more weight. However when studying social capital theory, Kadushin reminds us that activating the social capital in your networks by not only asking for favours from time to time, but offering your resources can increase collective problem solving as reputations, actions and benefits become visible and available to both parties. Social capital studies have shown that it tends to be cumulative; as the Matthew effect generally states the more you give, the more you get. While I am not encouraging anyone to whore themselves out and be a social climber by offering too much of their social capital, I think it is important to realize that you yourself are an important resource that if networked with the correct people, you can accumulate rich social capital and achieve greater social support or even possibly career success. Just last week I tweeted out to the class if anyone could read my cover letter for a job application and two of my very talented classmates offered their services to me. Not only is it free, it feels good to exchange favours, especially when you know you can offer someone a valuable service. The transfer of social capital can also have benefits on your community if done publicly on social media platforms. For example, if I ask for restaraunt recommendations for my stay in Edmonton to the Twitter feed, I receive recommendations from knowledgeable foodies in the area and the rest of my community also gets to learn what places come recommended these days. Information and skills are only good when you share them, so pass be a pal and pay it forward.
Ever stumbled across a cool idea and thought ‘Wow! I’ve got to tell my friends about this’ but failed to get their attention early on? I found this with quite a few friends with Facebook, who finally signed up as early as last year. Using the theory of diffusion, we know innovations are adopted through stages of early adopters, to the majority of adopters and finally, like my friends mentioned above, the snobs who finally cave. Kadushin (2012) writes that the willingness to adopt certain ideas or tools is due to an individual’s threshold. For example, someone like myself who likes to try out new things jumped onto Facebook in 2007 when less than 10% of my known social network was using the tool. Others, like my snobby friends (haha sorry, you know who you are), have a much higher threshold and held out until closer to 85% of their network was using the tool. The decision on what threshold you have depends on how innovative you like to be with respect to 1) your personal network and 2) your social system. While my lower threshold was motivated by the desire to network outside of my direct personal network and to the wider social system, my friends with higher thresholds resisted as they were motivated to cultivate their personal networks and were highly critical of the impacts of social networking on the wider social system.
I do not mean to criticize the choice to have a higher threshold to innovations when posed to adopt them – it is a personal choice and should remain exactly that, a choice. All the while, I think many of us remember that tipping point when Facebook just exploded before our eyes. It was pretty exciting to be a part of and in my opinion easily worth the ‘guinea pig’ status often associated with being an early adopter.
“The Tipping Point – that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire” (Gladwell).
I want to take a moment to talk about values and the often underscored importance of them in forming networks. While some like Kadushin (2012) try to take an objective analytical perspective when attempting to explain how informal networks form and are often spontaneously formed as a result of formal networks, I don’t think this paints the larger picture. While this is insightful for purposes of retroactive social network analysis, following emerging values can expose new trends that indicate the development of powerful informal networks. With strong cultural values, groups can form powerful coalitions in decentralized forms and may not need many attributes of homophily or propinquity to coalesce (likeness or geographical closeness).
The Burning Man (BM) arts festival, while always very popular with 50,000 attendees last year, has gained huge notoriety in recent years to the extent that a virtual crisis occurred this year with ticket allocation. Historied veterans of art camps were denied access to tickets as an unpredicted and overwhelming increase of newcomers purchased tickets and crowded them out. While organizers may blame this popularity on the Dr. Seuss take Oh the Places You Will Go video of amazing sites and sounds at the festival, I think it points to emerging values of global social collectivity and participatory “action practices that are decentralized but do not rely on either the price system or a managerial structure for coordination” (Benkler, p.63) that more people are wanting to be a part of.
Those who exemplify the values of the festival the most emerge as informal leaders in the massive BM network who volunteer to make the festival what it is. Take for example, the group of 170 volunteers from every corner of the world that combined their money, time and resources to come together last year to build the temple at burning man in 2011 as detailed in Jai Aquarian & Erin Macri’s TED talk.
These people gave up jobs, time with family and lots of money to volunteer to build this temple of worship that is build for the festival and then ceremoniously burnt at the end of the week. It may seem like a lot of sacrifice for nothing but the principles of burning man such as decommodification and communal sharing speak so loud to those who take the annual pilgrimage that many are willing to make great sacrifices to contribute artifacts that help others live out these values. This is not to say that everyone who attends the festival does not make their own sacrifices as well. The climate is harsh and can be unforgiving. The magic of it is that being isolated in a desert where you are stripped of the comforts of home, you are also free of rigid social structures, which helps the principles become exemplified through the spontaneous creation of a no-barriers community.
Where I see a paradox is that what draws many to network passionately about burning man from their remote locations throughout the year is the desire to disconnect from our technologies that physically distance us from each other and focus on engaging in intense face-to-face interaction and human experiences. I get it, I often feel that the more I network, the more I want to turn on, tune in and drop out. I think that if our virtual networking can motivate us to network more face-to-face, collective culture can only grow. What do you think?
Oh popularity…the very word makes many revert back to loathsome memories of high school and the cruelty of those with social power as humorously depicted in the film Mean Girls.
Image courtesy Google Images
As we mature and leave the boxed-in informal network of high school, we realize that popularity is still pervasive in our social networks. Only now it is based more on rewarding positive, rather than cruel sentiments to others and can reach extremely high public visibility. “People enjoy the fruits of rank” says Kadushin (2012, p.84) and will risk not having positive sentiments returned by others in the quest for a higher social rank. With Twitter, in order to gain a high following, this risk must be accepted as dues are paid to honour those not just in primary networks but new networks at higher rankings. It is easy to become wrapped up in personal feelings of doubt and concern when putting your opinions out to a public that may not seem so receptive. However with tenacity and an understanding that one-to-one reciprocal relationships can not be maintained with large social networks, this should arm you with the ability to move beyond high school fears of ‘outting’ oneself as someone who wants to be a member of larger social networks.
In the spirit of trying to maintain humour in my blog posts in the midst of an intense spring institute, here is a funny (mildly offensive video) for some techniques for becoming popular. In short, don’t be a slut, don’t be a pussy and smoke! (not too sure about that last one)
Tonights readings focus on the psychological foundations of networks we have and why we maintain them. As an exercise, I provide two scenarios of types networks I have:
As social beings, humans need support from our closest family and friends. Daily calls home to my boyfriend to discuss our days contain no greedy ambitions but foster feelings of love, safety and reaffirm our personal identities and relationship. However even if we were hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, we would still look to others to establish a large networked social circle. Humans are networked individuals and look to establish relations with others for effectance or status (Kadushin, 2012). When I first looked at this masters program, I looked to make connections with the University of Alberta and my employer to gain membership and support where it did not exist before. These new connections I formed were effectance in play as I moved out of my comfort zone in order to improve and change my current situation. By recognizing that I needed to network outside my dense, cohesive network and fill structural holes that required membership and support, I acted as a broker that was attempting to make connections that did not already exist. When I complete my masters program, I will gain a new rank or status within my entire network. How well I am able to market myself and how broad my reach will be will still lie in my cognitive ability to maintain relations with a wide network of dense and weak ties.
Now for a more fun one…..
I love my boyfriend, I really do. But that polka-dot shirt Andrea complimented me on today? Well he told me I looked like Wilma Flintstone when I first bought it. It was an honest attempt at a compliment but it didn’t go over so well. That is ok though. I understand that he is not the best source for fashion advice and there are many other sources that can satisfy my information seeking. This is why I follow Kim Kardashian on Instagram. As annoying of a celebrity she is, Instagram is a pictures-only social media tool so I can view her fabulous fashion sense everyday, filling the structural hole that clearly existed with my boyfriend’s input. Another reason I seek this information is for status. While I think most shirk at claiming they are doing anything for status, I like Kadushin’s ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ explanation of status as it implies that when I am ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ *cringe* that I am keeping up with my fashion sense.
There are simply certain solutions in life where you can be a benefactor of information from other sources when not provided in your immediate social circle. The variety of information can truly be endless and if you have accomplished your result successfully, you will feel that you have established the status you deserve!
Bruno Latour in a conference address urged the audience to rethink the predominant western principles of identity that are surrounding by defining oneself as a single entity. Descartes famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, while providing existential reasoning for our very state of being, paints an inward view of oneself that falls short when attempting to understand linkages to others in networks. Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) instead urges individuals to think of identity as something that is not classified by being, but rather by having. Through understanding what we own as individuals, be it family, knowledge, wealth etc… we can understand why we are members of our networks. Ownership of such characteristics makes actors undeniably the cause of networking activities and as such, actors and networks are causal and cannot be attributed to an objective ‘social’ as other network theorists such as Kadushin may imply. In chapter 4 of Kadushin’s (2012) “Understanding Social Networks”, he breaks down core and periphery membership patterns to help the reader understand why networks come together or may break apart. By continuing his helicopter metaphor – that networks can be understood better by looking at a traffic jam from a helicopter – he maps out basic principles of how non-overlapping communities of networks are mapped and connected. While Kadushin attempts to explain the makeup of social networks, Latour’s ANT explains WHY networks are formed in the beginning.
Abbate’s (1999) narrative on the social construction of packet-data technology and the necessity for founders to present the technology to government-sponsored programs or in response to political agendas demonstrates that useful technologies may not become ubiquitous or even developed due to social forces. However, the Internet is challenging barriers that power structures have used in the past to prevent technology deployment. Social networks have allowed individuals to find new platforms and place insurmountable pressures on governments, as seen in this year’s Kony 2012 campaign. Kickstarter.com allows individuals to sponsor projects that require funding and encourages the development of technologies such as video games outside of the influence of industry leaders. In 1999, Tim Berners-Lee said the Internet is not done and that he had hopes for large companies of the government to fund research to improve it (Wired). While he more recently said that a more semantic and linked web is upon us in what is next to come with Web 3.0, he still hopes that major players like Google will play a major part in this activity (2009, MacManus). However questions of ownership and accountability of users to organize their contributions that paint the Web 2.0 landscape are still yet to be answered and will continue to be asked. Mutual management between organizational ownership and individual ownership of any technology is a new relationship that users and organizations have with the Internet and one that neither party will want to forfeit nor completely own.