FB – Fluid Boundaries, Fixed Behaviours, Friends Behavingbadly

fbfwCharles Frith (one of my fave twitter buddies btw) writes about two types of people Cold War survivors who see the world as black and white, good and evil and behave guardedly online with spy-like pseudonyms and ‘Post-Coldies” who are more comfortable with a zillion shades of grey and who let it all hang out.

It’s a difference that Helen also touched on in her thoughtful post on social media

Charles also points out that post-coldies don’t mind their friends meeting up, whereas the others will do anything to keep “different” areas of their life separate, even to the extent of lying to their “friends”. No wonder there’s such drama at weddings & funerals.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I feel very much at the post-coldie end of the spectrum but I’m not sure that the Cold War hostilities are the source of this separation, more that these are another manifestation of the same thing – the ancient tussle between what it means to be an individual and what it means to be part of a group, whether that group is at the level of 1:1 relationships, household, village, city, nation or continent (not to mention, planet, which is a whole other metaphysical adventure in itself).

I think another way of putting it is to say that some people are most comfortable getting their rules or boundary conditions from the group and others who are most comfortable setting their boundary conditions themselves. To each of these, the other’s behaviour can seem threatening and dangerous. I would argue that the former lead to more rigid behaviours while the latter lead to more flexible opportunities, but I’m aware that I may have a blind spot around this… and of course we’re talking about preferences, not necessarily hard-wired characteristics.

Ha ha, an example has just sprung to mind. This post is going to be a bit rambly. There are people who will tell you that a post needs a beginning middle and an end, a meaningful title, a relevant illustration and well-constructed tags. Tough shit – this is my blog and I make the rules.

In this context, I’m also thinking a lot about my facebook friending. Whenever there’s a conversation about social networking, sooner or later, Dunbar’s number is quoted – usually people describe it as “the limit to the number of real relationships one person can have” or something equally vague. It’s 150 and it’s more complicated than that description, but I’m thinking, OK, I have more than 150 friends on facebook, what does that mean in the context of Dunbar’s number? Specifically there seemed to be a paradox that although I was over the “limit” there are still a whole bunch of my friends and people with whom I have fairly intimate business and personal relationships who aren’t even on Facebook, let alone “friended” by me.

What I’m thinking at the moment is that I have, until now, (and in common with the cold war survivors) tried to manage groups of up to 150 people in my head – that’s why it feels so difficult! Of course 150 isn’t a limit on the number of people you can know, it’s really a limit on the number of people you can have meaningful relationships with without resorting to further rules and socially agreed boundaries.

So compartmentalising isn’t in itself “a Cold-War thing” or even “a bad thing” it’s a way of keeping our groups of relationships manageable. What online social networking does is to highlight that compartmentalising goes on, that people compartmentalise in different ways and allows for an external representation of a much larger number of my relationships than before which allows you to understand or infer (perhaps correctly, perhaps not) what my rules and boundaries are.

Of course this is probably all covered in Anthropology 101 but I much prefer learning from experience.

6 thoughts on “FB – Fluid Boundaries, Fixed Behaviours, Friends Behavingbadly”

  1. Lloyd, I reckon the black-white/grey shades and private/public are actually two different axes – for eg I’d put myself in the shades of grey box, but also very keen on privacy.

    The reason for the privacy thing is not so much due to an unwillingness to “let it all hang out” as a (fairly easily provable) view that there are a % of people who are very keen to exploit Socnets for their own ends, and I am not satisfied that online Socnets have the nuanced gradations that allow one to screen them from one’s own identity, never mind that of friends.

    The “Cold War” allusion is – I assume – an attempt at a generational marking, but I expect its more an idealism of youth v experience of age thingy – we are all far more trusting when young.

  2. Hey Lloydski. Likewise on the tweets. Love authentic people like your good self who feel comfortable just rapping/riffing on the general flow. Thank you.

    Hi Alan. Privacy and transparency are on the same axis. Just more towards transparency recently. No big deal except for those who wish harm.

    Older people are often disposed towards this cynical framing.

    They have more to lose.

    Some might say this is greed. But I’ll be old too one day 😉

    To be clear if you check out my post, I do explicitly say that the cold war vis a vis post cold-war examination is more environmental than generational.

    I guess I’m saying there’s no need to for Socnets in this case. One can easily just click on the link.

    Or even better just ask via email.

    Unless the question is as dangerous as the answer in terms of heresy.

    Does that make sense?

  3. Hey Lloyd,

    Good post – I have one brewing in my head for a few minutes time about why privacy/identity is an issue and you hit on some of the points I will make.


  4. Tough shit – this is my blog and I make the rules.

    Amen squire. Frankness of this ilk is unspoken on the other side of the pond.

    Incidentally Stateside it”s all about traffic.

    This side I’m interested in comrades, not celebrity.

  5. @ Charles…..I’d agree privacy and transparency are one axis, but my view is that the black/white vs shades of grey worldview is another axis, as its not the same thing (I have found some people who are very black/white on transparency/privacy for eg :-).

    As to heresies…hmmm, I feel a little heretical by worrying about ignoring privacy on sconets…I think its a time will tell thingy unfortunately.

    btw, I assume you know that every cynic is an idealist who has been mugged 😉

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