Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weak Ties, Phantom Ties

Mark Granovetter's piece on “The Strength of Weak Ties” occupies something of a special place in my heart, and not only because I had already read the piece before taking this course (although for a course that dealt primarily with economic globalization and thus, really had some trouble tying the reading back in with the course).

It's a very interesting piece, though, and not just because it validates all the shallow, mercenary, “I'm only talking to you because my parents told me networking was important” acquaintances anyone has ever made at university. Or rather, it is interesting precisely because of that, but that hasty wording makes it sound like a bad thing.

It's interesting to consider the idea of weak ties, though, in a purely digital setting. I did so already in my midterm paper on Brown culture on Facebook – but the argument itself was somewhat lacking and deserves a bit of expansion. These weak ties, I believe, have become even more important in the so-called “Information Age” simply because of the fact that they are so visible now.

Yes, in the factory there were a number of people who you knew you probably weren't as close to as you could be; and yes, their acquaintance status meant that their ideas were more likely to be completely different from those being fostered in your own group. These things were true. But Facebook allows for acquaintances from years ago – people you may have seen twice in your life are now part of your group of Facebook friends unless you are one of the sorts of people who ritually purges their Facebook friends lists (perhaps for this exact reason).

In my paper, I coined the phrase “phantom ties” without properly defining it. But here goes: weak ties are important because they introduce you to viewpoints from people who inhabit similar spaces from you but still, because of those they associate with, have radically different ideas. A phantom tie is like a weak tie from the past blipping momentarily into the future; a person who has developed in a completely different space from you, along completely different lines and for completely different reasons forced into your consciousness because of the vagaries of Facebook's news feed; a chance to see something you might have never known existed, for a brief moment, a shadow in time.

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