Beki Grinter

A Power of Social Networks

In research, social media, women on January 7, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Today I participated in a facebook experiment. In the morning I was messaged by a couple of my women friends that I should post the colour of my bra as my status line. Like many others, I did. It was a show of support by women, among women, for the continuing fight against breast cancer.

Throughout the day I saw more and more women doing this, women from my professional networks, my social networks and so forth. (As I recently blogged, there’s an interesting tension between using facebook for professional versus personal networking that is blurred by facebook in its one monolithic network—inspired by Andrea Forte’s astute observations on this topic). I should say that despite the potential awkwardness I really enjoyed the subtlety of the message, I knew something that was a secret, but it was easy to know it wasn’t an “in yer face” sort of read. Nicely done the initiator…

Later in the day I saw two other trends, men posting their own statuses. Status one: why all the colourful statuses — some spotting that it was a women only trend, others potentially noticing but not explicitly highlighting it. Other men posted their own colour, and I’m surprised by the number of men who feel their moobs need such support, but anyway that’s probably a separate post and this is a quasi professional blog.

Recently a colleague of mine wrote an op-ed piece where he argued that there was more to computing than the use of social networks just to acquire friends (although I would argue that at a certain time in a person’s development this experience is very human, very natural and probably important to a social development). Today’s experiment with facebook, at least to me, highlights a power of social networks and even that acquisition of friends in that broad network. Today, we self-organized, quietly and discretely, and shared information that otherwise would remain largely a secret (at least among my professional and personal networks there are no people who where their bras as outer garments and today in both the US and the UK where most of my friends are it was cold, or staggeringly cold, creating yet another disincentive to suddenly embrace the bra as outerwear).

What do I think the consequences were? Among us, we smiled at the revelations, and at least for me I thought about breast cancer and what it means to be able to wear a bra, a quiet and reflective moment. But we were also noticed, and each time we were noticed and each conversation we had, was a very lightweight way to keep the talk about breast cancer and its cruelty and the need to continue to develop cures was surfaced.

And, more than breast cancer it was a reminder of the power to mobilize. Women have had to mobilize for all sorts of reasons for a long time. Technology now plays a crucial role. So, while we were not fighting for the right to vote today, we were using social networks to speak collectively and speak out. Today breast cancer, tomorrow who knows. What I do know is that facebook and other technologies like them, and the networks that they make possible, have a power and importance that can not be underestimated. Thank you for involving me in such a wonderful experiment (and I look forward to the men’s underwear color to raise awareness of prostate cancer).

And for those of you who would like to donate to finding the cure for breast cancer, Susan P. Komen.

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