I had a conversation with a colleague over Twitter last week that didn’t sit particularly well with me. Her prediction: that soon we’ll have no shared culture at all. Soon we’ll be nothing but pod people.
How depressing! How bleak!
Am I already a pod person?
The idea that the rise of social media actually means an end to shared culture is a bit counter-intuitive to me. Blogs, social networks and other multimedia tools (dare I say communities?) have made me feel closer to people around the country and around the world than I could have imagined before these tools were such an important part of my daily life. Blogs in particular have even helped me branch out in in the “real” world. I’ve made personal and professional contacts on the internet that may never have happened without it.
But the idea that seeking out like-minded folks on the internet could have a deleterious effect on local culture and communities has given me pause.
While it’s true that many of the blogs I follow shed light on folks who might be at the opposite end of the political spectrum, I’m not seeking these people out directly. And the same is more or less true of Twitter–I hear about, say, people who devalue libraries, or don’t believe in school librarians, or believe technology is nothing but a blight for teens and learning… but I don’t follow those people.
The question, then, is this: by seeking out like minds, whether it’s through Twitter or a regional listserv, are we overlooking community partnerships at home? As with most either/or situations I would hope this isn’t a true either/or–but are we really expanding the boundaries of the conversation, or using a megaphone to talk to a bigger herd of sheep?
I’m thrilled, for instance, that my state school library association has a cadre of active Twitter users updating the world at large about our annual conference (#msla2009, or #msla09 for the rebels who want to save characters), but are those tweets just bouncing around in an echo chamber of other librarians?