An interesting thing has happened to me since moving to London earlier this year: I’ve been displaced from most of my network. It’s weird for me but it’s been an interesting lesson for me. I first wrote about this problem back in August and I don’t think I’ve totally figured it out, but I’m getting closer.
So here’s the deal. I have a very specific routine in my day and how I use social media. I front load most of my writing, reading and sharing first thing in the day. When I lived on the west coast in the States this was ideal because at 7:00 am PST (or sometimes earlier) the handful of my European friends and colleagues were hitting the tail end of their day, my east coast friends and colleagues were already at work and in full swing. The rest of my west coast peeps are also starting to get online and catching up about the time I hit my stride.
Throughout all of this I pile up the RT’s the @replies the +1?s, the likes and the comments which to me are important indicators. All of this positive (or sometimes negative) feedback tells me is what people are interested in, what trends are gaining or losing steam.
But now that I’m 8 hours ahead of most of my network, my system is way off. When I get to work at 7 I’m 2-3 hours ahead of your average European. (I’ve learned they start their days later than we do. Especially those that have to work with people in the States.) So at best I catch a few of my west coast, insomniacs up before they finally succumb to sleep.
One of the great things about social media is that it allows us to connect with people from all over the World. There are very few regions of the World I don’t have several people that I would consider “friends.*
FWIW my definition of friend is someone you can call upon if you needed help and they’d give it. A good friend is someone who notices something is wrong and reaches out proactively to offer help. A great friend is someone who gives help you didn’t even know you needed.
But the friends I interacted with during the day via social media were mostly in the states and mostly in the western part of the North America. There were outliers in places like Europe and Asia but these people typically had behaviors that lead them to be online during different parts of the day. Maybe they work evenings or they don’t do much social networking at work so most of their social networking is done when they get home. I know for a fact that most of my European and Asian friends actually had work schedules geared towards working with companies in America.
Finding Your Community in Time and Space
All of this has lead me to think about community and location in a very different way. Bear with me here, the idea’s still kind of fresh and I’m still not sold on all these terms but they’ll work for now.
My physical time zone is the GMT you live in. The time zone I work in, refers to my schedule, when in my day I engage in online. The intersection of those create my community location. Other people in my community location would be people with the same physical time zone and the same work time zone or people with different physical time zones and different but complimentary work time zones.
When I changed my physical time zone but didn’t change my work time zone I changed my community location. I’m now engaging with a different community.
I’m slowly building up my new community here in this new ‘location but some of the side effects are interesting. My blog traffic is way down, about 35% lower than it was prior to moving here, even though I was posting more often. Some of that is seasonal, spring and summer end up being really good for this blog and fall and winter (because of the holiday’s I assume) are lighter. But the good news is that my engagement and comments per post are roughly the same.
I think this is largely because the bulk of the people come to my site from Twitter and the real time nature of Twitter has impacted my community location, but the people who comment here are usually the ones who subscribe to the RSS feed so they’re less “time sensitive” to content.
Social Media Has Freed Us From Location But Not Time
So besides being a post all about me and my blog why am I posting this. I think it’s because the nature of our “local community” is changing. Do you know your neighbor? I live in a building with 9 flats in it. I couldn’t tell you the name of anyone living there. Granted, my wife knows a few of them but she’s better than me at that stuff.
If you read any cyberpunk, like Neal Stephenson or William Gibson, you’ll see a similar thing in some of their writing. (I’d recommend Snow Crash by Stephenson or Neuromancer by Gibson and of course there’s Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe.
All of these authors portray a future where communities, institutions and even governments are no longer bound by physical location. Where ideologies unite like-minded people despite their nationality or location. This experience of moving away from my ‘community location’ (I really need to find a better term) has showed me a glimpse of this but it has also reinforced the inescapable permanence of time. Sure we can collaborate with anyone, anywhere at anytime, but at some point we have to sleep.