First, the author (Janet Kornblum) did something kind of interesting: set up a Facebook group to gather opinions. She could have taken it a step further, and opened up the text to the group before publication, though history shows that this can open up a can of worms. I was tickled enough by the idea of a Facebook group for the purpose of an article that I actually drew up a logo. Of course, Facebook groups are not ideal locations for conversations–it’s difficult sometimes to keep up with what is happening. But it is a step toward transparency in the newsgathering process, and a cool experiment.
Now, the article unfortunately feeds into the kinds of moral panic that social networking already encourages. It’s not hard to find people who have been burned by unexpected group barrier crossings; if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s probably happened to someone you know. And it’s important that people recognize the possibility that this can happen and that they take appropriate steps to avoid embarrassing or otherwise harmful situations. But the article focuses on these superficial elements to the exclusion of the larger social changes that might be underway.
Like many such social and technological changes, the blurring of boundaries is a double-edged sword. Yes, it may be harder to keep clear lines between personal and professional groups, or between parents and friends, or whatever. But there is also a new intimacy among ego-centric networks that hasn’t existed to the same extent in the past. Given the way social networking sites are often covered, you have to ask why people would engage in them. The answer is that they allow for a new kind of transparency among social relationships. Yes, they may open up new (and separate) spaces for social experimentation and socializing, but they also open up commons that are accessible to a cross-section of your traditionally divided social circles.
There is no good reason the people that I knew in Seattle should not know the people I know in New York or in Buffalo or in Japan. Until now, they might only meet if I had a visitor crashing on my sofa. Instead, they can peruse my social network and find out more about my “other lives.” After a long period of “metropolizing” technologies, social networking is reintroducing the importance of networked villages, and making transparent the process by which our connections to others shapes who we are.