Sunday, May 20, 2012

Social Networks and the New Romanticism

Now that Facebook has done its initial public offering it is time to discuss the idea of “living socially,” a common phrase here in the Northwest.  (See

If you are employed you probably have heard the comment Our people are our best resource, which is often used as a team building statement.  I suspect that in the old Modernist days such comments focused more on collective meritocracy, such as we are all well credentialed, and have xyz years of education and experience.  Today’s Romanticism emphasizes social life, virtual and visceral, over the abstract and intellectual one.  To Anthropologists, the emphasis on social life is called Hight Context culture, and it is filled with high frequency communications.

Social networks have always existed, and cronyism too, but the different ways in which they are thought about give the distinction.  Modernists thought about society and social living in the abstract; it's just business, not personal, was a favorite Godfather phrase.  Romantics focus on feeling it, experiencing it, and emotionalizing it—everything is personal.

Our new Romanticism uses words that stress the social:  engaged, connected, collaborate. Zuckerberg of Facebook has always talked about his website as being about connections.  Engaged is also interesting; it's an old word that used to mean engage in war, engaged to be married, engage the clutch, but now it pushes social activity.  Collaboration has replaced partnership.  The nuance here is that collaborative relations are between equals while partnerships need not be; collaboration de-emphasizes hierarchy and is more democratic.

While I think most understand the rawness and experientialism that comes with Romantic’s interest in the visceral life, the virtual stuff needs elaboration.  We have to understand that in Modernist terms technology was a utility outside of nature.  Computers, cars, machines were just tools.  Modernists sometimes even personified their cars or linked one’s personality to a car.  I drive a mustang means I am a wild horse.  However, that was as far as it would go.

In addition, Modernists used emphatic expressions; they preferred to convey information with a sense of confidence and accuracy.  Romantics use phatic expressions, also known as small talk and grooming conversations, to stress relationships.  Facebook, Twitter, texting are dominated by phatic conversations.

In our new Romanticism, technology is our natural world and we are one with nature.   The internet is an environment of connectedness--a matrix of hardware, software, complex metaphors, and grand illusions. Our young adults can’t live without their cell phones and other social networking technologies.  To be alive is to be connected, and virtual communication means that we are all wired together.  The virtual world is as real as any other place. 

Below, the phrase social network is clearly a product of our new Romantic era.

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