There is more to social networks than we can readily observe with our own eyes - social networks can build self-esteem and become a powerful force for good in the world.
The invisible power of social networks is stunningly illustrated in a talk by Nicholas Christakis, titled "The Hidden Influence of Social Networks". In his visual presentation of 15 years of research into social networks, he demonstrates that social networks are constantly on the move, changing shape as new connections are made and old connections die. Social networks have an internal flow, a memory and a resilience and sustainability through the sharing of what is good and valuable. We can picture social networks as a group of atoms in dynamic interaction forming and re-forming into new arenas of potential.
When we think about it, social networks are a part of our every-day life. We are participants in multiple social networks by virtue of our spousal and familial relationships, our friendships, our work relationships, our sporting pursuits and other arenas of our lives. Christakis goes so far as to say that social networking is part of our genetic make-up.
The Emergence and Influence of Clusters in Social Networks
Christakis' research highlights the emergence of clusters that form around sets of behaviours or ideas/beliefs. A key factor in the development of these clusters is "emotional contagion" - we are "contaminated" by the emotions of people we are connected to. This can be starkly illustrated by the impact of a person dying from cancer on the their family, their family's friends and other connected people. A similar effect of "emotional contagion" is witnessed and experienced when a chid becomes addicted to drugs - the emotional waves spread way beyond the immediate parents.
The clustering effect is amplified in online social networks because of the power of technology to rapidly create new connections and leverage the activities of indivduals. Christakis makes the point that social networks are basically related to goodness and that we should use their power to build social connections and positive social endeavors:
If we realized how valuable social connections are, we would spend a lot more time nourishing them and sustaining them...I think what the world needs now is more connections.
The evidence is there that online social networks can build positive social values. We only have to look at how Squidoo promotes and supports philanthropy, how photo sharing sites like Flickr and RedGage promote and support an appreciation of nature and beauty and how video sharing sites like YouTube provide global access to new knowledge, social initiatives and innovation. Wizzley. too, provides the opportunity for people to form new connections; to share knowledge, experience and insight; and to promote positive social endeavors.
Building Self-Esteem Through Connection with Positive Clusters in Social Networks
Christakis' research showed that happy clusters can form in the center of a social network while sad clusters can be assigned to the periphery. As we engage with people in social networks, whether online or offline, we have the opportunity to genuinely share something of ourselves - our knowledge, our skills, our passions and our interests. This sharing forms the basis of connections with like-minded people and can be a source of personal affirmation (which highlights the absolute importance of commenting in social networks).
As we share, our sense of who we are (and what we have to contribute) grows, as does our belief in our own capacities. By joining with positive clusters and helping them to expand and grow, we are building our own self-esteem and that of other people we are connected with...and so new clusters form around specific behaviors and ideas.
I can recall after contributing to Squidoo for a number of years. I joined RedGage and brought with me many people with whom I was connected...and new clusters started to form in RedGage often around the shared experience with Squidoo. And so Wizzley will grow in the same fashion as we each share this new social network with people we are already connected with in multiple other social networks.
Thus our social connections and networks are ever evolving but so too are we as individuals as we find new ways to share and influence and build new and wider connections. Social networks, both online and offline, can enrich our lives, extend our capability, leverage our efforts and enhance our capacity to make a difference in the world. In the final analysis, social networks can help us build our self-esteem and realise our potential to contribute to a better world.