Alone On a Social Network: When Networks Aren’t Social

Social networks on the internet are a reflection of social networks in real life. With this little fact also comes the acknowledgement that the less pleasant aspects of human interaction are found on the internet too.

Based on my experiences as a bit of a social reject, before the advent of social networks the internet was very much a place for the less socially gifted to find the social interaction they desired. Discussions would be very much focused on topics they’d feel comfortable with, shared with liked-minded people. Then, with social networks becoming a regular phenomenon – with MySpace, followed by Facebook more and more ‘regular’ people found their way onto the internet.

It was then that the internet began to remind me more of my High School time, with the usual groups of people, including the nerds like me over there in the corner. Nothing wrong with it, aside from the usual differences between said groups. Many people I know who are perfectly comfortable in more technical-oriented groups of people outright refuse to join or significantly participate in social networks because to them it’s just awkward.

There’s this almost universal image of the nerdy guy in some High School or similar movie who is always clumsy, always afraid to join in with any social activities. It’s not that far removed from the truth, aside from the nerdy glasses and lack of fashion sense. We nerds can be pretty fashionable.

What it comes down to is that the intimacy found on the minor social networks of small forums where everyone knows each other and little unexpected happens is something one would never find on a large network such as those offered by MySpace, Facebook or Google+. The difference, to put it in real-life terms, is akin to a group of friends gathering at one of their homes or the local arcade hall versus getting dropped in the midst of a gigantic party where you know maybe 0.1% of the people there, if even that many.

I notice that a lot of people tend to get burned out on such massive social networks, with many taking a ‘Facebook break’ or similar. This would suggest that such networks place a lot of strain on one’s social capabilities and implies that those less gifted in that area will have a hard time finding a reason to even sign up.

If I look at the reasons why I signed up for the social networks I am or was on, I can conclude that it is mostly for the promise of social interactions. When I then look at the reasons why I have left some, it was mostly due to anti-social aspects also found in life, mostly harassment. On the internet humans tend to be even more harsh and uncaring than in real-life, and this is sadly the truth when observing those large-scale networking sites. The lure of anonymously lashing out at individuals who are weak or with whom you disagree, or to do other things I won’t go into too deeply, but which are normally very much frowned upon in society is just too strong for many. The resulting degenerative behavior can be very harmful to the fabric of a social network.

Everyone is probably familiar with the expression ‘to be alone in a crowd’. This is also one of the major reasons why people leave social networks, as well as why many never join up. The main issue I see with social networks is that they are very much focused on what is ‘normal’: ‘normal’ people with ‘normal’ hobbies and issues.

To pull the limelight towards myself again, I am dealing with a lot of personal issues due to a medical condition I was born with and a country which hasn’t treated me well because of it. It has led to me straying quite far from this ‘normal’ line and my subsequent experiences on Facebook and especially Google+ have made me realize that the general attitude on social networks is like that during a big, busy party: total chaos and very little time for an in-depth look at anything. This quickly leads to disappointment and sometimes resentment among individuals when they feel that they and their issue don’t get the attention they feel it deserves.

My personal hunch is that there has to be something better than the current forums and social networking sites for such things. One is too small with an undersized audience, the other busier than a highway during rush hour. A happy alternative where the ADD-types can spend all day long posting and looking at funny pictures, yet where those with actual issues can find a more secluded place where they can feel welcome too.

Maybe that’s the most social ‘social’ network possible.

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