Blog | Sep 10, 2010 | 9 Comments

[witness me]

[why social networks exist]

This is my take on why social networking is so popular: because we all need witnesses to our joyful, tragic, messy, interesting lives.

Here’s an example of what I mean. My youngest daughter spent her senior year of high school in Berlin, Germany, on a study-abroad program. It was a year of an incredible growth and at the end of it, she knew she had been changed forever.

Because it was a tough “immersion experience,” the administrators specifically prohibited family members from visiting. Too many youth had gone home after their parents or grandparents came to see them mid-year.

But at the end of her year, Lucie arranged for her best friend to visit. It was not easy to arrange. In the midst of the bureaucratic hassle, Lucie puzzled over why it had become so important to her to have Maggie come to Berlin.

“Because you need a witness,” I told her. “You need somebody to share these people and places with you. Maggie will help keep the year ‘real’ for you after you’re back in a totally different culture.”

Now at great professional risk, I’m going to share with you a Facebook status update I posted on the same subject.

“My dog died nearly a year ago but I just dropped a piece of cheese on the kitchen floor and started to call him over. Only on Facebook can you share something like that. The point is that we need ‘witnesses’ to our lives, people who understand that even small moments can have big importance.”

Yes, I’m silly and sentimental, and I know a lot of dog lovers on Facebook. But my analysis of the situation still stands. And that’s why social networking is so important.

At least for my friends, it’s not just about keeping in touch with distant relatives, finding old classmates, or uploading photos to share. We show each other real interest and compassion. If I ask for help, or just need to know someone is listening, my “witnesses” always show up.

Please comment but don’t bother telling me I’m silly and sentimental because I already confessed to that.

Photo credit: Found on this site through Google images

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.

9 Comments

nailed it again my love!
Your article compliments a talk the founder of College Humor gave for Mashable.com during the 2010 NY Internet Week..
Documentation over experience was one of his main points he made to define the current internet generation.
He used an image from Obama’s Youth Ball on inauguration night to illustrate the point: It was a powerful image of Barrack & Michelle on stage and every person in the audience holding up their mobile devices to capture the moment.

A very Marshall Mcluhan moment. Media is the message/massage.

Tried to find the talk but seems Mashable only posted parts from the Livestream..

Here’s a taste:
http://mashable.com/2010/06/08/college-humor-sobe/

[Reply]

Claire Wagner Reply:

Thanks, Justin! I checked out the link and it was enlightening. I loved this line:

– if you’re a marketer, create experiences that allow people to show off how cool they are.

This is so true. People want to do stuff and buy stuff that makes them feel good about themselves and then they love to have this validated by others. I do have a few friends who are an exception to this because they really value their privacy. But a lot of us are willing to sacrifice some/most/all of that in order to be seen.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

[Reply]

toonmonk

9/10/2010

Wow. It’s funny how one can think a thought for years only to have someone else lay it out so clearly. It’s so true what you wrote, and I would like to share my similar story.
Four years ago I took a road trip from San Diego, CA to Rochester, NY (a 5330 mile round trip by mapquest). I was to be the best man in a wedding, to the guy who was best man at my wedding only 56 months earlier. A month before this trip I uncovered that my wife was cheating on me and there was no hope for recovery. When discovered, she was making plans to leave me anyway. I used the roadtrip as an excuse to visit friends and family all over the United States; my brother in Boise, an old flame in Buffalo. I went to the wedding and raised the bar for “best men” everywhere.
After leaving upstate New York I had no family plans until Little Rock, so I took in some of the sights. Gettysburg, Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Graceland to name a few. Alone for days on the highway I found myself in a log cabin, high in the Appellations.
That night was spectacular. More fireflies in the woods than stars in the sky, and more stars than I’d ever seen, having grown up in the suburbs. It was July and the air had this perfect dry-yet-cool quality. the colors of sunset seemed to hang on the horizon for hours. I drank moonshine and ate country-fried chicken just like the Hatfields and McCoy’s. It would have been a perfect night. The only thing missing was the witness.
I had no one to validate the existence of such an event. Just me and my memories. I tried to call my friends back in California. They listened to me over the phone with the usual, “uh-huh. cool. that’s nice…” It was that day that I decided, if I’m going anywhere, I’m taking someone with me.
I’m reposting your blog. I don’t know if it will help anyone. It helped me put words to the feeling I had all those years ago, alone on that majestic mountain. I just became a fan of your work, and I look forward to reading more. Thanks for your thoughts and words. Sincerely. -JM

Post: That roadtrip? 7500 miles total, 3 weeks.

[Reply]

Claire Wagner Reply:

Joey, one of the things we are here on earth to do is inspire each other and another is to occasionally mirror each others’ thoughts and feelings so we don’t feel so alone. So glad this post resonated with you. It was a very heartfelt piece for me. Thanks for taking the time to share your story!

[Reply]

Joey

9/14/2010

We do yearn for witnesses. In “the olden days” some people actually talked on the phone, chatted over the backyard fence, sat around the kitchen table, or met in the social hall after church. We’ve gained, and we’ve lost.

One advantage to social networks is that I can drop a note to 320 people, and not spend many hours calling all of them. Only a few respond with a like or a comment, and often that’s all I need.

I also find myself being cautious about posting on a social network. What happens on Facebook does not remain in Vegas…

[Reply]

Claire Wagner Reply:

Thanks, Bob. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Committed, which is about marriage. (Sort of but not really a follow-on to Eat, Pray, Love.) She just had a passage about a friend who wanted to get married because she wanted a daily witness to her life. Interesting take on partnerships. I can understand it!

[Reply]

Bob Miess

9/14/2010

I love your response, “Because you need a witness”. That is so insightful and true. You are a very wise person Claire. I also applaud your daughter for having the guts to go abroad. I want to travel, and I’m now 47, so it’s time to get on with it 🙂

Thanks for sharing!

Mike

[Reply]

Claire Wagner Reply:

Thanks so much, Mike. I do hope you have fun, insightful travels. My mom started exploring the world in her 50s and is still going at 75!

[Reply]

Mike Pedersen

9/19/2010

[…] Wagner writes about the reason for social networking in Witness Me: Why Social Networks Exist on Wagner Writes. (Completely perfect logo for her site, by the […]

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