A Book, A Movie, An Article, A Blogpost and Social Networks.


After heavy recos from Tuna Fish, I watched half of The Social Network. I was reasonably impressed. It was a decent start to glamourizing coding and algorithms. It feels like a good start… maybe twenty years hence, there will be montages that show the completion of someone’s computer science thesis.

Until then, every bit here in Arjun’s rant about Zadie Smith’s review of the movie holds true. I can’t see why coders are still seen as a niche bunch of nerdy-geeky asocial idiots. The number of people in IT and ITES the world over has reached a number sufficient enough to have a reasonable level of diversity… ranging from aiyo paavam Thayir-Saadam guys and girls, to loose, forward, pub-going women, to snooty corporate types to first-gen immigrants to Old Money to…. you get the picture.

I guess it’s just that the people who tell stories in the mainstream media – filmmakers, writers, photographers, journalists – aren’t yet savvy enough that they identify with the large number of IT folks. For them, computers are still a mystery. Most of these folks belong to the generation of my older sister, for whom computers and internet are something that happened after their teenage, when they were well into their postgraduation or first jobs. This is important, because teenage is when you have enough time and enthusiasm to do random things for timepass. This timepass exploration of new things is what gets you comfortable with those things, develop habits and lifestyles around them. Later on, it gets harder to pick up new stuff near-intuitively. So if you didn’t get comfy with the Net by your late teens, it would take that much more effort for you to do so later in life. And where do these artsy types need to use a computer or the Internet…. they don’t appreciate the magic of web search, the awesomeness of the blogosphere or the freedom of the twitterverse. Atleast not enough to think of the level of design and coding that would have gone into them.

For them, we will always be the ‘others’. Our work will always be inscrutable even if it’s just a few lines of PHP. The word ‘hacking’ will always be accompanied by wary stares.

Talking of hacking, I’ve just finished two-thirds of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. I think websnoops should build a temple to Lisbeth Salander, the mother of us all. I mentioned to Swaroop a while back that it’d be interesting to have a detective in a novel rely on the Net for investigations, and his response was Millennium. Great, but not really what I wanted. Lisbeth uses more than just simple available-for-everyone tools.

What I would like better was if her methods were looked into in more detail. And not just that deus ex machina called ‘Hostile Takeover’ where she’s able to access any harddisk she wants. There’s no challenge there, is there? What I would really like is people using Google, Bing, Yahoo, Pipl, Facebook, Buzz and Twitter to varying extents, using the output of one to augment the input of others. Like you find out from Facebook that Alec Smart went to the high school in College Station, Texas and infer that his parents would have been profs at TAMU coz he doesn’t seem to be ‘from’ Texas given that you found his name on a Left-Liberal website, and then look for ‘Professor Smart TAMU’ to get the dirt on his childhood and family.

Coming to Facebook. Remember how I rued about the artificial walls on Facebook? Watching The Social Network enables me to understand the rationale behind that. Facebook is designed to be like your undergrad experience. It’s all about strong cliques held together by weak links. It’s hard for cliques to change dynamically in such an environment. Unless a major social upheaval happens offline, you can’t expect many, or even any changes to the average network structure online.

In other words, Facebook depends more heavily on the real world to keep its social networks going.

That’s quite unlike Twitter. Following and Unfollowing are easier than Friending and Unfriending. The privacy settings are all-or-nothing, which means either anyone gets to hear what you’re saying or just a handpicked few. For various reasons, most people prefer everyone hears their shout-out, not just the handpicked few. And the structure of sharing and retweeting makes sure that good tweets and good links bubble up the hierarchy, getting their originators more followers, and hence more social capital. And sharing and retweeting also makes it easier to discover new people. There’s little involved in following someone…. there’s no tense sending-friend-request-waiting period. That makes the network more dynamic, and also makes it easier to get to know friends of friends. If you think that fella your classmate keeps retweeting is fun, you follow him. And then you reply to his tweets. And he finds you interesting enough, he follows you back. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Things stay 1.0 simple on Twitter, unlike the complications on Facebook that are set up to mirror the real world.

Also, given the minute-by-minute, or more realistically, hour-by-hour updates on Twitter, people tend to be more honest. Rather, it’s harder to lie consistently for so long, so it’s harder to be dishonest on Twitter unless you’re really determined…. in which case you’ll use better media to lie than damn Twitter.  If you whine about that meeting you’re in, you’re establishing that you go to work, that you are in a position to attend meetings, and that it is daytime in the timezone you’re in….

Uh, so what?

So… you use the networks in different ways. You find new interesting people on Twitter, establish a sufficient base, and then look them up on Facebook. You’ll try to discover someone’s Twitter account than their Facebook if you are looking to do a cursory check on the person you’ll be hiring… if you want to see if they tend to whine about past employers, or if they have racist tendencies or any other such that might affect your organization’s reputation. And you’ll also want to see the volume of their tweeting during working hours.

And then people will clean their Twitter profiles up, with generous help from Twitter offering differing levels of privacy settings and privacy lists, and then the world will explode.

Or, there’ll be sufficient tripe about everyone out in the open, and we’ll all accept that at our core, we’re all a bunch of twisted, demented bunch of jerks and all of us have tendencies to gripe about our employers and it doesn’t mean we hate our jobs, or all of us have weird tastes in music, and it doesn’t finally reflect on what sort of people we are. And maybe employers will come to accept that their employees tweeting while working isn’t necessarily counterproductive as long as news and youtube links are blocked.

Either way, it’s going to be atleast ten more years before people write decent articles about social media and social networks. I’m not really complaining. There’s atleast some remaining space of exclusivity for those of us who understand these things, and some niche we can all use when we want to get away from those who don’t much understand these things.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
This entry was posted in analysis, movies, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s