Social Networks between Real Safety Nets and “Artificial Intimacy”
November 3rd, 2007

Noam Cohen from NY Times informs us that Twitter can play the role of a global audience at a deeper level for both the daily routine or major events in people’s lives. Nick Starr’s case from last August confirms the degree to which a stranger can become a sympathetic remote friend in times of need. His fake suicidal semi-experiment stirred the active attention of around 500 people, many unknown to him or friends of his friends, trying to reach him and make him change his mind. This proves the high-octane reactivity of an online social network. People previously not connected can be brought together by one individual’s tragedy or sad event happening or about to happen.

The suicidal thoughts shared via tweets are not the only cause to trigger such response. Inside mobile phone instant messaging networks like Twitter or Tumblr, there are also cases of live fights and breakups between couples, broadcasted by a member of the couple. One use would be that the network of friends is instantaneously informed about what happens in the life of their buddy, so he doesn’t have to tell it again and again in one-on-one situations later. Another is that one’s virtual friends are not just watching… they intervene and sometimes save the day. This proactive audience exceeds the simple expectations of the creators behind the technology, which proves once again that a communication technology can act as a catalyst for social alchemy. Just give to people a communication and interconnecting enhancer, and they’ll make of it things you didn’t imagine previously.

Still, it’s not all praise about it. Shelley Powers, a computer programmer and social network blogger on Burningbird, thinks that the whole Nick Starr episode was nothing but “artificial intimacy” and, by wondering if people were “concerned about it, or were they titillated,” she raises the dilemma of real social network help versus global exhibitionism of the broadcaster of tweets, on one hand, and the voyeurism of the audience, on the other. Since Nick Starr, after toying with suicide, considered going to therapy and moved to San Francisco, where most of his Twitter friends live, we could say that he is at least one example of person who benefited from real help and intimacy within a social network of virtual friends, materialized later in real life friends.

Source: New York Times

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