While ever-present ‘social networking’ dominates our online lives it could be said that our real, physical interactions are becoming fewer, more niche and more isolated from each other. It is easy to see why; Our thirst for companionship, connection and validation can be quenched at the tap of a screen. The convenience of social networking, the ability to control how we are seen by friends, the ability to drop in and out of groups and conversations without appearing rude, all make the online social experience an incredibly comfortable one.
Physical social exchanges more often than not involve travel, expense, arrangement and planning, unknown situations and locations, getting ready/looking good, potential embarrassment, potential boredom, potential awkwardness, the list goes on… All this amounts to a loss of enthusiasm for the physical network, one that I often recognise in myself and in others.
But there are some major disadvantages of rejecting the physical social network in favour of the online version, not least the loss of ‘realness’ itself. All of those nightmare bus journeys, stuttered conversations, rain-ruined hair-doos and wrong turns are almost impossible to experience in the online world. How much richer our lives are for these experiences? How much more relatable are we to those who have had them also? Then there’s the unexpectedness of the experience itself; new people, places, ideas, music, things that in the ‘echo chamber’ of your own social network you may never get to encounter.
Guy Debord- of the Situationist International Movement- said in his 1967 book ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ that mass media had turned society into a representation of itself. “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” Following on from this idea, ‘social media’ seems to be a direct example of how real life, and all of it’s unexpected richness, can get easily displaced.
It’s worth it
2 Weeks ago I followed @NetworkNicola on Twitter. In the physical world she is known as Dr.Nicola Headlam, Researcher at the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy & Practice, former urban planner and member of Urbanistas, an all female urbanist group. We began to exchange tweets and 1 week later we were sitting in the Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester’s Norther Quarter talking over our inspirations, our ideas and ways we could help each other (admittedly she is far more qualified to help me than I, her!). She had worked extensively on the subject of networks and showed me this network map from a study she had undertaken showing the development of the Manchester music scene.
Since I live very close to the site of The Hacienda, a venue that was founded on Situationist principals (The name ‘Hacienda was taken from an Essay by Situationist Ivan Chtcheglov “The Hacienda must be built”) this was very interesting to me and reminded me of the network problem in Stoke-on-Trent I discussed in a previous blog post. Since we cannot change the infrastructure of a town or city- these social, liquid networks are the lifeblood of creativity- in the case above- the hugely influential and transformative music scene in Manchester during the 80’s and 90’s.
You can see on these maps that many of the influential connectors were already working in the city but moved into the centre as they began to connect other people to each other and in turn whole branches of musicians and other creatives were essentially sucked into the stream and gained a critical mass that was hard to ignore. The big location connector on this map is TJ Davidson’s Rehearsal Studios on Little Peter Street, Manchester. Major connecting people included Joy Division manager Rob Gretton, Factory Records founding member and music journalist Tony Wilson, Record Producer Martin Hannett, DJ Clint Boon and Graphic Designer Peter Saville. Were it not for this building and these 5 men the whole network may not have happened as it did.
It is pretty clear to me now why after a few fleeting tweets Nicola Headlam and I were face to face in the real world; because this is where networking takes flight.
Be the Network
On the 26th July in Stoke-on-Trent there is just such an opportunity for connectors to get together and nurture a network. At a presently secret location in Stoke Town, an event called Crunch & Dust aims to bring artists, musicians, creative thinkers and local people together for a day and night of art, music, dancing and talking. Such an event, in such a location with the people it attracts could in the future form the basis of Stoke-on-Trent’s own explosive network map, but only if you make the effort to go to it.
This of course is a very specific example, but it needn’t be. There are events like this going on all over the country. Of course the internet is an incredible tool for finding these things, but make sure you brave the bus, make peace with the potential problems and put your body in the location and open yourself up to the opportunities out there in the physical world.
N.B- I appreciate the irony of me sharing and spreading this over social media, I’ve included as many links to my ideas and sources as possible if you would like to research and experience these in the flesh. I wholeheartedly recommend it.