With the advent of social networking, a fact that’s been well-known in sociology, at least since Granovetter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties” was published in 1973, has become more and more commonly understood: Our opportunities in society are dictated by our ability to expand our social networks.
Our friends, family and loved ones are obviously a core source of strength and support. But it’s those “weak ties”, those more distant connections that we have to casual acquaintances and college roommates, that can give us opportunities we wouldn’t get otherwise.
So I try to tell my friends struggling to survive in this economy that one thing they can do that is valuable is do social networking. A good friend of mine has gone so far as to say that those who are unemployed need to leave the house and do something with their day, so they can meet people on the train, the bus, at coffee shops or at the check-out stand.
But there’s a much deeper fact about social networking that I think has been lost in the shuffle.
Social networking changes who we are.
In recent months, I’ve been finding that I’ve had to cut out influences in my life that were toxic. As I’ve been trying to do something positive and make more of a difference on this planet while I still breathe, I just haven’t been able to take the hit to the psyche that comes from being around negative, competitive, grasping people. I say that even as I still love those people and miss some of the good times in the past.
I’ve also been finding that I’ve been meeting new people. People excited about change. People who are gravitating to a new perspective, whether it be out of an initial desire to attack it or out of a sincere attempt to engage and learn. People who have incredibly unique perspectives and life conditions.
I’ve also been reconnecting with individuals from high school, from college, from Internet forums.
Those people are responsible for a massive part of the personal transformation I feel I am undergoing. They inspire blog posts. One person in particular not only helped me through a time of great personal distress but also inspired my soon-to-be-completed debut novel, Adelbert Vo: Soul Surgeon.
When we meet new people, they galvanize us. They bring out the best in us. They remind us who we are.
Just today, I spoke to an old friend who I had been involved in a very unique tabletop roleplaying game with. It was an eclectic mesh of Warhammer, Fallout, Dungeons & Dragons, and Arcanum. He was inspired by the obscure comics, the miniature combat games, and cult video games of the 1990s.
That game inspired me to create my own game with a similar format.
The roleplaying game that I ran with a similar format filled out the world of my primary novel series.
That in turn gave me roleplaying experience to run my most successful campaign, Changing of the Guard.
Every part of my life, from my creative ventures to my political work, has been because of someone I met. A friend in a chemistry class who gave me a Noam Chomsky book, which in turn brought me for years into the anti-authoritarian Left, wherein I met people including Tim Wise and Michael Albert. A girlfriend, followed by many more girlfriends, who clued me into the pains that were lying beneath the surface and reinforced for me that the silent screaming I was seeing was not an illusion.
My mother in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks began to explore Facebook. She’s met an anti-authoritarian and quite religiously radical rabbi, a French anarchist biker, and a host of others. She’s found a community of people with similar interests and beliefs. And she is learning a host of new things to satisfy her impressive curiosity.
The people in our lives are forcefields. They change our focus and interests. They remind us of causes and of problems outside of our direct sphere of influence. They can remind us of passions we had lost.
We’re better people around people.
In the future, I’m going to go more into what we have to do to shield ourselves from negative people and negative influences. It can be a hard thing to learn that our positivity is finite and we can’t always lift our friends out of the mud without falling in ourselves.
But it is still better for us, on average, to engage with others and grow, even if sometimes it is in opposition or disagreement, than to remain in our safety zones.