Friday, March 13, 2009

Weekend Assignment #258: It's A Small Web (After All)

Hi folks! The new Weekend Assignment is inspired by the online phenomenon known as friending:

Weekend Assignment #258: In the online world, the word "friend" has become a verb. We "friend" or we "follow" people on social media sites and blogs, often forming casual connections with people we would be unlikely ever to meet face to face. Do you extend your arms wide to the online world, collecting lots of online acquaintances, or limit your web interactions mostly to "real" friends?

Extra Credit: Have you had much online interaction with people from other countries?

Certain "magic dragons" may only be purchased
when two or more new allies are added in Dragon Wars.

It's no secret that I've spent a bit of time on Facebook lately, checking in with various games such as Dragon Wars, Pirates and School of Magic about once an hour to do a quest (which usually involves clicking a button) and spending or banking the virtual cash. These games all require the player to form alliances with other players in order to succeed, up to 500 of them for each game. Since most people don't have 500 actual friends online, they find message boards on Facebook devoted to finding allies for that game, "friend" the people they find there, and send an "invite" to them from inside the game, as fast as the software allows - which isn't very fast at all, but limited to a small number per day. If you play more than one online game - and most of these gamers do - one can quickly rack up a hundred "friends" or more, from all over the world. At this moment I have a message board open in another tab that I found a few minutes ago while writing this paragraph. Among the people asking other players to "add me" are at least two people from Malaysia, a woman in Italy, a Londoner and a guy from Nottingham, a woman from Baltimore and someone from Edmonton, Alberta, and lots of other folks whose points of origin are not given. And that's just on the front page.

My personal friends list is up to 131 and counting. It isn't a patch on John Scalzi's list of online admirers, but it's many more than I had a week ago, or ever expected to have. I was a little nervous about all those strangers crowding out the blurbs and activities of my "real" friends, many of whom are mostly-online acquaintances themselves, but of longer duration. But something interesting is happening. As Henrik and Zeldo and Nam and Shane join Carly and Sarah and Sara and the rest on my main Facebook page, along with barely-remembered classmates from high school, they're gradually becoming more than names and thumbnail pictures to me. I see them posting pictures and videos, soliciting game invites and sending virtual plants to help save the rainforest. I've chatted with Alan (who found me through the Outpost some time ago), consulted with Colin, discussed tactics with Shane, received birthday greetings from Lucy, and chosen virtual gifts for Ken to reciprocate the ones he sent me. I've reconnected with a little girl who used to attend meetings of our Doctor Who club with her parents before the family moved east. She's in college now, and thinking about getting another tattoo. Tina posts in a language I don't recognize, but I'm guessing Scandinavian. Sheryl's son Tommy, another small child from the old days of UWoT, is now taller than Sheryl is. Ryan's wife just gave birth. I know nothing about Mouse Fa except that the rodent in a fedora is very cute. It's fascinating and a little mindblowing.

Mafia Wars is one of at least three Mafia-themed online games.

And I can't help but wonder whether this sort of thing will have the unexpected benefit of teaching generations of tech-savvy kids and adults the same thing I've been preaching for years, that there is no "them." We are all "us." When you're attacking other players in Dragon Wars, it doesn't matter whether you're from Columbia or Iceland or Syria or New Zealand. It only matters how you play the game, and how you treat other people.

Memes such as the Round Robin Photo Challenges also connect people from around the world. We get to see photographic glimpses of life in Singapore as seen through Jama's camera, or historic Waterloo courtesy of Gattina. Closer to home (or maybe not), we meet other writers, other accountants, other Disney fans or whatever. It's a wonderful thing, this Worldwide Web. And if the definition of the word "friend" gets expanded and watered down in the service of making all these tenuous but real online connections between distant strangers, it's well worth it.

How about you? Do you have many international readers on your blog? Do you follow blogs from around the world? Have you friends and acquaintances many thousands of miles away, whom you would never meet or know about were it not for the Web? Tell us about it in a blog entry, and please remember to link back to this entry so people can read what others have to say on the subject. Then leave a link to your entry in the comments below. I'll post a roundup of your responses a week from now. It will look something like this:

For Weekend Assignment #258: Hobby of Mine, guest professor Laura and I asked about hobbies you'd like to try. Here are excerpts from the responses:

Julie said...

I've always wanted to try painting. When Chris was a baby we used to watch the painting shows on PBS together. They made it look so easy.

Laura said...
* motorcycle riding - I haven't ridden on a street yet, only in the parking lot for the class I took and failed, so I'm still counting this as something I want to do. I'm planning on starting classes at a local school soon, so this is my next hobby to start (not that I don't have enough already).

Florinda said in comments...

I will be turning in this assignment late because I didn't get an inspiration for it until Wednesday, so I'll be posting my full response next week. In the meantime, my short answer is playing a musical instrument - either piano or guitar, but maybe both.

Mike said...

So, after some hard thinking I came up with flying. An airplane, not being a superhero, or anything. My step-dad had a four-seater airplane that he used to fly when I was growing up. I always thought it was cool and really wanted to learn. When he was learning about flying I would always help him with his tests. Actually, not all that long ago, I found some of his old study materials in the basement. Inside was a score sheet with both his and my scores. I did pretty well!

That's it for now! I look forward to hearing about your online connections. And yes, as always, I'm still soliciting topics for these Weekend Assignments. Please email me your suggestions. Thanks!



barrettmanor said...

Here ya go:

Florinda said...

Two Assignments in one post - this week's, and a fuller answer to last week's.

Mike said...

Hi Karen. I saw you said you were going to get some rest before posting next week's assignment. If it is not too late mine is up now. If it is, that's okay. Thanks!