social & community

The Non-Zero-Sum Game of Social Networking

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m an enthusiast of online social networking (well, ok… offline social networking too, but I find online particularly interesting). It’s something that I’ve invested probably hundreds of hours of time in, just participating – creating profiles, making friends, maintaining contacts, sharing information.

But, why do this?

I’ve always found online social networking to be both emotionally and intellectually rewarding, but I’ve never quite understand my compulsion to stay connected in this way, and *why* it felt so valuable. Traditionally, the behaviours associated with building and maintaining a social network online would be considered frivolous and unproductive. Something you do when you probably should be doing *real* work.

In the last few weeks I’ve come to understand that it is a whole lot more than that.

Last week at Reboot, Stowe Boyd was sharing his ideas about ‘Flow – a new consciousness for a web of traffic’. Stowe was talking about your time being a shared resource. He said ‘It’s important for your network that the network as a whole makes progress’. This is why we should be available and responsive to our network. As such, time that we invest in building our networks and sharing resources within our network is not unproductive time. We are as strong and as knowledgeable and as connected as our networks are. Our networks actually allow us to be more effective, and more productive than we would be if we were more traditionally productive in an isolated way.

‘Productivity is second to connectivity’ as Stowe said.

I’ve just started reading The Play Ethic by Pat Kane where I’ve found Pat using Game Theory to illustrate the same idea. He cites Robert Wright and his book Non-Zero. Wright says that there are two kind of games: zero-sum games (win/lose, like tennis) and non-zero-sum, which are more like an economic exchange or a vibrant community. ‘Non-zero-sum games increase the rewards for all those who commit to participate in the exchange over a long period’.

When I think about social networking in these terms it makes a lot more sense to me, and takes on a whole new level of validity. I participate in social networking online because I reap rewards from it, as do others within my networks. The thing I like about online social networks is that being involved with them is so pleasurable that it’s taken me this long to become consciously aware of this effect.

Compare that to traditional ‘networking’ (I’m picturing a room full of people I don’t know with whom I’m supposed to swap chit chat and business cards in the hope that they’ll call the company I work for and give us work) … I’ll take online any day.

And, from now on, I’ll feel less guilty about time spent Twittering, Flickring blogging, and accepting FaceBook friends. It’s just a new way of being productive.

Related reading at Anne 2.1

4 thoughts on “The Non-Zero-Sum Game of Social Networking

  1. “Right on” from a fellow refugee from traditional networking, aka “notworking”. Since ‘returning’ from maternity leave and starting up my consultancy in a new city, I’ve gotten WAY more mileage from my social networks than from any other thing.

  2. I couldn’t agree more Leisa. I too felt relief when Stowe legitimized something I had been feeling vaguely guilty about!

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