Shel Israel and Jeremiah Owyang have been going at it trying to define the term community. At roughly the same time they were doing their on-line community thing, I was doing my actual community ritual, having coffee with "the girls" on Sunday morning at Breaking New Grounds. For over two years a group of us have met at 8 am on almost every Sunday morning to walk/run thru the streets of Durham and the campus of UNH. We typically wind up at Breaking New Grounds around 9-ish so that other less atheltic types can join us for the fun and the conversations. The one rule is that anyone who doesn't make it is the #1 topic of conversation. We speculate about her love life, her job prospects, her happiness, her marriage -- whatever the concerns of the day. After that we get down to talking about politics or work or whatever strikes our fancy.
Yesterday we talked about blogs. Why people write them, why people read them, how you find them, and how people find the time to read them. I advanced my theory that people are finding the time because they are spending less time doing other things -- watching the news on TV, or reading a physical paper. (On a side note, I had to unwrap a Christmas present the other day just so I could start a fire. It's been so long since I subscribed to a newspaper, I didn't have a single newspaper or anything resembling one in the house.)
But it's not just blogs. It's Facebook, where I'm connecting to people all over the world that share my common interest in measurement - -and reconnecting with people I haven't seen since high school. It's Twitter where one funny story about frozen peas has now raised thousands of dollars and connected survivors everywhere -- and taught everyone just how influential a 140 character mini-post can be.
I raised the question to Tom Sander on the impact of social networking on social capital and we agreed that it would be an interesting area to study.
My take is that electronic connectedness of all types enhances social capital. Is my email thank you note any less heart felt than the ones I used to write in long hand. Hell no. In fact, I can express myself much better now with a key board than I can with a pen. Is the connection that I make on Facebook any more or less valuable than one I make at a Christmas party. Of course not, the only difference, as Shel Israel points out, is that if I don't like the online community I'm in, it's a heck of a lot easier to pick up and move than it is to move out of your physical community. I can ignore a friend request on Facebook alot more easily than I can ignore the call for help from a friend who is stranded, carless, in a snowstorm.
And maybe that's the lesson in all of this. Friendship isn't just about convenience and common interests. It's about doing the stuff that matters because its the right thing to do.
Happy New Year to all my friends wherever you may be.