Saturday, April 19, 2008

Information Sharing as Real Value of 'Networks'

The term 'networking' often gets a bad rap, as it's associated with slick glad-handers, business cards, glib banter, and social climbers who look over others' shoulders while engaged in conversation to see if someone 'more important' is around.

But in a very informal sense, there are 6 billion people out there who are part of some larger social organization, and they're 'networking' every day, though they may not refer to it that way explicitly. And they're doing it for the same reason that humans developed language and formed societies -- in order to share information.

The value of good information anywhere should carry a high premium. Steven Pinker writes in "The Language Instinct" about how valuable it would be for two people in a more elemental society to be able to tell each other things like, "Well, the berries on that side of the hill are poisonous, so stay away, but the ones over here are wholesome and succulent. There's water in the bottom of this valley, too." To convey all of that, we need both language and some basic form of social organization.

Fast forward to Timothy Leary at Woodstock for a more modern version of this -- "...stay away from the green tabs..."

But seriously, folks. A recent, real-life example of this for me is learning about In simple steps:

(1) I spend a lot of time in the car back-and-forth between New London and Lowell.
(2) I know people.
(3) They know this.
(4) They know I like to read and listen to audiobooks.
(5) They say, "You should sign up for an account. It will give you access to tons of audiobooks and save you a lot of money (as opposed to buying all individually on iTunes)."
(6) I check out the site and I sign up for the account. I will continue to get cool books like "Charlie Wilson's War" on a regular basis for a better price than if I had bought them all individually.

No one 'lost' anything from the exchange. No one was used, no one suffered, and no one even exerted any significant energy.

But in the end, I benefited from being part of a network of people because of the valuable information sharing that resulted.

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