Friday, February 22, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Hammer.

Last class we had our debate on whether or not social networks are good for society. We had three categories: good for society, bad for society and undecided. However, I feel that we needed another category: Neither good nor bad for society.

Social networks are a technology, just like the hammer is. Is the hammer good or bad for society? Hammers can be used to build houses or to smash in windows... not to mention all the cheesy murder mysteries on the tube involving a bloody hammer.

Obviously the hammer is a much simpler technology than a social network is but I am of the opinion that both technologies are of the same fundamental nature; as technologies, they are both tools used to carry out a task. As such, both hammers and social networks can be good or they can be bad.

In class our debate was less about the technology of a social network than it was about what social networks are currently used for and at one point the 'Wild West' analogy was made but we did not really run with it. Where I work we have a social website that is only accessible from inside of the building. We use it to escape from lotus notes email (forums, hurray!), schedule conference rooms, leave work related messages as well as figure out who has certain skills necessary for a specific task. The issue of privacy is completely removed from the equation. This network speeds up work place efficiency by spreading important news effectively and keeps itself from being a time sink since it is used only for work related information. If the privacy issues of Facebook and MySpace equate to an application of technology that is bad for society then surely the application of the technology at my work location is an example of a good application. Our debate in class also followed a similar approach. An example of a good application, like organizing people for a rally would be given then followed/countered with an example of a bad application, like an internet stalker.

If the current status of social networks on the web is equivalent to the rough, lawless times of the Wild West then the enterprise level, closed social network where I work can be likened to the Sheriff rolling into town and law and order taking a foothold. Just like the Wild West was developed and settled, so will social web technologies. But, like any tool or technology, there will always be good and bad applications depending upon how people choose to use them.

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