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Pruning your social network connections?

February 19, 2012

Casper, Oscar and me in Luc Peire's "Environment III" (1973), Auckland City Art Gallery Dec. 31, 2011

This post began as a comment on a blog post by Matt Thommes titled “Pruning your social network connections,” which he published in June, 2010. It was brought to my attention by Diethild Starkmeth, who is an active contributor to the diigo group that has been set up to support a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that we are both participating in (CCK12: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge). (Diethild also blogs at mariposa Monarca and and at The Third Place, and is known on Twitter as @dista11). When my comment grew to be longer than his post, I thought it was more appropriate to discuss it here. So,with thanks to Diethild, here ia an open response to Matt’s piece.

Hi Matt

Thanks for your thoughtful post, “Pruning your social network connections”. Although it is now almost 1-1/2 years old, online social sites and practices continue to grow, so your points are even more relevant today.

Pruning network connections seems like a very sensible thing to do. I regularly block Twitter followers who seem to have interests that are very different tan mine. For example, yesterday, I blocked @SpankJenniMack, who describes her herself as follows:

I am a lifelong spanking enthusiast, spanking model, and blogger exploring the art of discipline and kink. Oh, and I’m not a brat. I’m not! I’m not!! I’m not!!!

Right. I don’t want to be followed by someone with her pants down, waving her arms wildly as she tries to pull mine down, too. Well, not in public, anyway. And I’m not interested in following her, either (she’s got 339 people chasing her already, and I don’t have the patience to wait my turn – even if I was just a tiny bit interested, which, as I’ve said, I most certainly am not).

I try to make strategic use of both Twitter and my blog. My blog header says that I’m interested in education, media, and design. That’s already a pretty Catholic collection (no, I’m not particularly interested in religion – I’m a fallen Catholic, if the truth be known, and I’m not blaming @SpankJenniMack, either, or anyone even just a little bit like her, not in the least).

I use Twitter to connect to people who might be interested in the things I blog about. I tag messages that might be of interest to people who are doing the same online courses, and I send direct messages to friends who I think really need to see something I’ve come across. My friends do the same for me. People who I’ve never met help me out this way, too. Its all about reciprocity – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, do onto others as you would have them undo you, that kind of thing. Whoa, is it getting hot in here, or what?

Where was I? Right. I like to be focussed and directional. I want to make the most efficient use of my time, and I want to mix with people like me, who think like me and who share my interests. But here’s my problem: sometimes, by complete accident, I come across someone from a very different background, with very different interests, and I see something they’ve done, or I read something they’ve written, and it just turns my brain inside out. Once I’ve settled down again, I find that I’m not quite the same person. The experience has changed me a little bit. I feel more awake and more alive. And I am grateful for the chance encounter that has shaken me up.

It’s true that we can’t really be friends with hundreds, or thousands, of other people. And we can’t follow more and more conversations simultaneously without feeling like we’re winding our way up the Tower of Babble. We can limit our exposure to strangers, and we can block them out when they gesture to us as we pass by. But we have to be careful that we don’t protect ourself too much. If we close ourself off completely from strangers, we risk finding ourself in a room of mirrors, where the only people we hear and see are those who reinforce our increasingly embedded beliefs and opinions. For our own good (and, sometimes, just for the fun of it), we have to leave at least one window open and one door unlocked.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 2:05 am

    Thanks for the feedback Mark! You do raise some great points.

  2. February 21, 2012 3:53 am

    Thanks, Mark, I totally get this! You’ve articulated so well the challenge of keeping social media contacts manageable as well as spirited enough to evoke debate, discussion, even dissent. I will hold on to “turns my brain inside out” as a great description of what it feels like to have a serendipitous moment of discovery inside a Twitter stream, a mooc or a group on Diigo, LinkedIn or FB.

  3. February 21, 2012 12:46 pm

    Hi Mark,
    An interesting post. You call yourself fallen Catholic. What do you mean? I am a Catholic, and I hope to understand your belief better before further sharing. I know it is about belief, and not popular in social networking – at least, that is the one of the taboos that most would stay away.

    Relating to pruning, yes, that is resonating. I too blocked anything that is anti-religious (to my religious belief as a Catholic). However, there may be a reason for each motive. How to respond to those tweets apart from blocking?


    • Mark McGuire permalink
      February 21, 2012 8:34 pm

      Hi John

      By “fallen Catholic”, I mean that I am no longer a practicing Catholic. I was raised as a Catholic, and I’ve heard that phrase used in reference to individuals who have “fallen” (although I’m not quite sure what we have fallen from – from Grace? from favour? – who knows?). In any case, you raise an interesting point about how we are able to deal with people who annoy us (by sending spam or links to sexually explicit sites, or by otherwise being obnoxious). It would be better if we had a greater range of options in social media sites, rather than simply “follow”, “block” or “Report for spam”. Social behavior in real life is much more subtle and provides us with a multitude of options when encountering difficult or challenging people. Over time, I suppose that online behavior will come to mimic offline behavior more closely – and the other way around!


  4. February 23, 2012 12:44 pm

    Hi Mark,
    Yes, social behavior in real life is much more subtle. Body language, gesture used in real life, however could hardly be sensed in online conversation, and so how would you pick up those signals online? Pruning makes sense to me both online and offline, but it may be difficult to share face-to-face on how one feels in closed space, as they might cause personal conflicts. The feelings of isolation may however result in “over” pruning, as people may misunderstand or misinterpret the pruning when you try to re-connect, for personal or work reasons. What strategies would you consider when that is the case? “For our own good (and, sometimes, just for the fun of it), we have to leave at least one window open and one door unlocked.” sounds good. What else?


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