A quest for tribes
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
The blogosphere (or at least the small corner which I take an interest in) has been humming in the past few days with opinion and counter-opinion on what social networking brings to our lives, what the meaning is of online community, and where we fit within this community.
Two interesting and inspiring presentations were brought to mind by this debate, both from TED, the annual celebration of innovative thinking. The first, below, by social anthropologist Stefana Broadbent, illustrates how the internet has done the opposite of what was expected of it. Rather than build walls between people, the advent of modern communication methods has served to remove them. Communication has never been easier, and by using social networking we are able to maintain contact with the people in our lives when previously we could not. Even outside the realm of family and personal “flesh” friends, we are able to prolong the connections we make. In fact, there is no excuse not to.
Something I find particularly exciting is that, although many new relationships are forged online, it doesn’t have to end there. A group of bloggers are running with an innovative ball called The Secret Post Club, whereby once a month they are paired up at random and send each other a gift, maybe a simple card, or a book or whatever. To my mind, the “what” doesn’t matter. The point (apart from it being a wonderful gesture of spiritual if not material generosity) is, it bestows a sense of tangibility which in turn transforms the whole dynamic of the relationship, and enriches the networking experience. It makes it feel real. Once again, the medium is removing barriers and showing us that a network doesn’t need to end at the water’s edge.
I marvel at such ideas. “Why didn’t I think of that?”, is a regular refrain. This brings me nicely (and you thought this blog was just chucked together, dear reader) onto the second TED presentation by writer, Seth Godin. His though-provoking, inspiring and often amusing talk is on the subject of tribes and the concept of affecting change in the world, however big or small, through creating new tribes. It’s 17 minutes long but please stick with it.
Godin’s message is a simple one: do not wait to be led. If you aspire to be part of a community, go out there and form it. It does not come with a gilt-edged invite, so why wait to be invited? The world is huge, its inhabitants diverse, the potential virtually infinite. Change needs a tribe, tribes need people like you and me, and social networking, via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and messaging services is a too powerful a tool not to use.
You may be wondering, “how does this affect me? I don’t want to set the world on fire.” Well, it doesn’t have to be the world. Tribes work on many levels. It could be your profession or workplace, your school, your circle of real or online friends, your street, your village or town, a cause you feel close to.
But most of all, the message speaks to all of us who exist as electrons across the world wide web. Your place in whatever sphere you inhabit is what you make it. My own personal god knows, it’s daunting. It is hard to know what we’re letting ourselves in for when we pluck up the courage to strip off and skinny dip in the seemingly infinite lake of cyberspace. All we know at the outset is that, from where we’re stand, the water looks lovely and there are others already bathing, enjoying the experience and getting all prune-like. Nothing but ourselves stops us from diving in. And it is up to us whether we sink or swim.