The idea that someone may freely associate with others to develop an activity has been at the heart of the social, political and economical history.
Take Switzerland, the ability to network and join forces existed for citizens prior to the 1291 pact against the Habsburg monarchy and still lasts today.
Modern Switzerland has formally described the right in the 60th article of its Civil Code first published back in 1907: “Political, religious, scientific, artistic, charitable, recreational or other associations with no economic objective exist from the moment its members express their will to be associated in their statutes.”
How much simpler can that be?
That means the moment you have written statutes and that you have members join you freely, your association has a moral existence. The law provides a simple working framework and you do not have to go through any formal state control or registration.
In Switzerland they are hundreds of thousands of associations where citizens network to practice, develop and defend their political, cultural or sportive activities. The notion of social networking is ancient and deeply rooted. Having said that, in the past 50 years, our consumer society has taken a toll on the life of those voluntary associations where it meant a lot to give to the group before you received anything from him. Free voluntary contribution remains key to the survival of those networks.
So what does “on” line virtual networking bring to the party?
It probably takes two answers to address this question, one for the new social network believers and one for sceptics.
To the believers, I would say networking is nothing new, mind though not to forget that “off” line rules apply “on” line too. The fact that you do not see the person who reads your timeline does not mean you can dance naked on the screen. Meanwhile enjoy growing your circle beyond the borders of your city; stay acquainted with this fun person you met abroad or reconnect with old school friends. All of the above can be done effortlessly and at your own pace.
To the sceptics the answer is off course the opposite. “Off” line networks while creating deep bonds also have their drawbacks. Local “aristocrats” often dominate conservative associations; while their company might still be good for networking, they will not attract new blood easily and they will age quietly before they close.
But for the ones who choose to keep up with a fast changing world and thus satisfy the atavistic curiosity of young minds by projecting themselves on line, they will keep their audiences and maintain a form of associative spirit combining “off” and “on” line activities.
Networking “on” or “off” line is often discussed as if in opposition. I would rather argue that both dimensions are complementary; while the virtual social network needs to be rooted in some “off” line form, the traditional social network must confidently project itself “on” line to benefit from the trust and energy of this new dimension. The worse possible case for someone is to be either “off” or “on” only.
There is a risk for someone who spends his time “on” line to become disconnected from reality, such as the young geek whose virtual game has become an extension of his brain or such as the virtual dater hoping for princess – or prince – charming to emerge out of a listing. Inversely to object to technology for fear of becoming insane and lonely is counter productive and may cut the person out just the same.
Thus and very much like any other human activity, engage wisely in both forms, enjoy it and take a step back occasionally.