Monday, April 12, 2010

Teaching Social Networking: Finger Dipping

In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks adn How they Shape Our Lives, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler offer a powerful reason why we owe it to our children to teach them about social networking:

Our connectedness carries with it radical implications for the way we understand the human condition. Social networks have value precisely because they can help us to achieve what we could not achieve on our own. In the next few chapters, we will show how networks influence the spread of joy, the search for sexual partners, the maintenance of health, the functioning of markets and the struggle for democracy. Yet, social-network effects are not always positive. Depression, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, financial panic, violence, and even suicide also spread. Social networks, it turns out, tend to magnify whatever they are seeded with.

Partly for this reason, social networks are creative. And what these networks create does not belong to any one individual - it is shared by all those in the network. In this way, a social network is like a commonly owned forest: we all stand to benefit from it, but we also must work together to ensure it remains healthy and productive. This means that social networks are fundamentally and distinctively human, and ubiquitous, they should not be taken for granted.

Social network is not some recent discovery that came with the creation of Facebook or Twitter. Social networking is less about technology and more about people. Technologies like Facebook or Twitter are merely the mediums in which our connectedness can be amplified. If Twitter shut down tomorrow, our connectivity would likely not.

It is important to not become distracted by the medium - the technology - and to focus on the network itself- that is the people who are connected. Christakis and Fowler point out an essential truth and that is our networks grow what we seed into them. If we seed racism, hatred and pornography, we will grow racism, hatred and pornography. But if we seed tolerance, understanding and wisdom, we will grow tolerance, understanding and wisdom.

Like a finger being dipped into a pond of water, the ripples that spread through our networks will reflect what we place into them. We must take great care in selecting which fingers we choose to dip.

This is what we must teach our children.


  1. Joe,

    Thanks for the concise post. I often have a difficult time explaining to teachers the value of creating a social network on twitter. It is important to recognize and keep in mind exactly what you mentioned about these new tools only making the process easier, but not replacing the human nature of the interaction.

  2. I asked the question on my blog recently whether technology or social skills are more important to learn, and social skills was chosen 90% of the time.

    Establishing rules for interaction when using social networking or discussion board in the classroom is important. Once the parameters are set, I've seen some very good online social interaction.


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