In Blog

(the social layers)

Posted by: on Mar 26, 2013 | No Comments
Recently I argued that college students are learning and writing in a mind-boggling range of genres, including electronic genres, and that these include "an increasing number of social layers on top of their work, leisure, and family genres." True. But let's drill deeper into this notion of social layers.

What social layers? Consider this experience, which I reported to someone earlier today in an email:

When I was working on my PhD (1994-1999), we knew almost nothing about grad students in other programs. We would see them once a year, at CCCC, and we would eye them like the Jets eyed the Sharks. They were competitors. Now, grad students in different programs are all Facebook and Twitter friends. 
The difference is that social networking made it a lot easier for people to network with each other—networking became cheaper, easier, and more quotidian. Collaborative writing software such as Google Docs has similarly lowered the barrier to scholarly collaboration across time and distance. And mobile phones have meant a terminal in your pocket—collaboration can happen anywhere. So we see a shift from closed, institutional structures to open, networked ones. This change is happening in academia, of course (we’re prime candidates for using these technologies), but also in most other aspects of our society.
Social networking provides a social layer that connects today's grad students, both within their own institution and across institutions. Other publicly available online services such as Google Docs, Basecamp, and Facebook allow teams to collaborate, coordinate, and communicate easily—once again, both within an organization and across organizational barriers. In fact, we're seeing an increasing number of studies examining how these additional layers affect work. These change how we work, but also how we intuit each other's moods and availability, how we see each other's contextual activity, and how we manage collaborative complexity. They even change how we structure our organizations, making it feasible to make them smaller, nimbler, flatter, and more distributed. They provide an always-on switchboard for working groups.

That doesn't mean that this social layer is unproblematic. It can be very problematic. But it's pervasive, and it's going to continue to have a big impact on how we do business.