On a recent vacation during which I helped a friend who’s building a house on Prince Edward Island, I picked up a copy of The Guardian and happened upon the death and funeral announcements. At first glance what’s remarkable is the amount of detail about the family of the deceased, the entire cast of characters involved with the funeral, and even the hymns sung. Scanning all this information, it took me a while to realize that something was missing. There’s almost no information about the life and times of the deceased. What is recognized in these pages is not the person but rather the social network to which the person was connected.
We caught a glimpse of the power of that social network when we were raising the first wall of the house. Word got around, people showed up to help, and we felt the force of community in a place that modernized fairly recently and still retains a strong flavor of pre-industrial culture. In that world, social networking isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s a matter of survival.
On the way home, waiting in the Charlottetown airport, I saw a copy of Newsweek with a cover story about Facebook. Arguably our new modes of Internet-based social networking really are lifestyle choices, at least so far. As they mature it will be interesting to see how we use them — both to recapture lost ways of life, and to create new ones.