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Social networking more than just social

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 16, 2009 7:30 AM

Social networking, to many, is a means of satisfying their addiction to interaction with others. But, increasingly, people around the world are using social-networking outlets — creations such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace — for purposes other than simply socializing.

For instance, in the April 7 Moldovan parliamentary elections, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova emerged victorious. In reaction, 15,000 protesters erupted from every corner of the capital, Chisinau, and began a siege of the Parliament and presidential buildings. They broke windows and set fires to cry out against the horribly and blatantly fraudulent nature of the elections. Voices rose in support of Romania, the tiny nation’s neighbor and its historical-cultural sibling, and denounced Russian-dominated Moldovan Communist Party. Water canons roared, and tear gas seared. In an instant, the country was thrown into chaos by its citizens and the outrage they found company to voice.

But this was different from most flash-mobs. This is an example of technology facilitating what might very well be political revolution. The digital grapevine that allowed what was going to be a minor demonstration of a few hundred to blossom into a true-to-form uprising. That shiny new, lightning-fast, slightly irritating in its ubiquity microblog, Twitter. No longer will the masses grumble their way through a slow and frustrating election recount — in minutes, they can coalesce and descend, shouting disapproval, demanding justice. The world is changing very fast these days.

Social networking technology is finding all sorts of uses. Facebook and MySpace are no longer new concepts, of course, and Livejournal has been giving the angst-ridden a community of sympathetic, digital shoulders to cry on for years, but these are only the surface uses of electronic interaction. Charity and donations, for instance, has opened on a whole new playing field. Websites exist on which a person can search for thousands of charities and donation opportunities, some of them not even purely financial — foodstuffs and general goodwill-worthy belongings can find their way to people who need them.

In 2006, Wikipedia was revealed as the slippery source it is with a single word from Stephen Colbert. Almost immediately the entry for elephants had to be locked because all of Sir Stephen’s minions launched an attack on factuality itself. “Wikiality” has now entered the lexicon, the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you (a perfect cipher of what the online world really is). Perhaps the more dubious side of modern information-transmitting, but it’s certainly indicative of the speed of these transmissions.

Kiva.com is a “micro-lending” service aimed at eliminating poverty by way of person-to-person small business loans. Forbes.com comments, “Kiva mixes the entrepreneurial daring of Google with the do-gooder ethos of Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2,” and while that sounds a little unattractive, it does demonstrate the direction of modern personal interactions.

While many weep over the loss of face-to-face conversations and the geometric growth of the “size of the world,” it is this kind of information accessibility and immediacy that permits a man in Iowa City to lend some startup to a struggling entrepreneur in Chisinau so he can get a little more firmly on his feet. One day, perhaps, dirty elections will be a thing of the past … well, OK, no they won’t. But a powerful new tool in electronic networking has been revealed, and now people everywhere have some more options in navigating and altering their more physical surroundings.


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