Forgive me for not blogging – I have been busy. In part, I have been performing a little social experiment, seeing how the news has spread about my recent engagement. Six degrees of ripples in a pond, and all that, and it has been particularly interesting because our friends and family range from digital natives to the entirely analogue.
We told one or two people by phone and email before announcing it on the creative writing and social site we’d been rattling around for years. The congratulations came in from people who knew us both. Our FaceBook worlds overlap less, though, and only only the eagle-eyed spotted my change of status there because I had disabled my outgoing feed a while back. Despite that, one friend rang me that night to express his startlement at the news.
“Is this ‘engaged’ in some FaceBook meaning of the term?” he asked.
No not at all.
I delayed telling my colleagues partly because I decided to use it in one of those awful icebreakers about “something no-one here knows about me”. But then I got an instant message from a colleague asking if he’d failed some kind of FaceBook test. Far from it – either he is my colleague most on the ball, or he’s the one stalking me most closely.
And finally I’ve been working my way round the people I only know in real life, like my neighbours and my friends from way-back. These are the ones who regard the Internet as something irrelevant and lacking in fresh air and exercise and only used by people who have too much time on their hands.
And what do I deduce from this experiment?
Well, announcements of marriage are only of local interest, so one way of defining “local” for a person or a group of people is to look at where their marriages are announced. For centuries, “local” was the parish you lived in. These days “local” means the diaspora of friends who keep in touch via FaceBook. Though of course, this is not the first time that local has not meant “geographically near”, as evidenced by the posh nuptials announced in small circulation London-based newspapers, whether they were British Aristos or the officers and gentlemen of the far flung reaches of the Empire.
What else? Well, it’s confirmed that we are both members of a lot of bounded communities, only some of which overlap. Online communities disseminate news effectively within their own boundaries (doh!) and FaceBook crosses the boundary between online and real life. But I also have friends who really do only conduct their lives in the analogue world of phone calls or even letters.
That said, news can still leap from neuron to neuron within a family, entirely unconstrained by timezones and space.