Over the weekend I read “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” by Clive Thompson in the online edition of the New York Times Magazine. The article deals with the value we gain or think to gain from social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter as well as explores whether we have become more social beings now that we have many more “friends” online than in the real world. Dunbar’s number is brought up which basically states that an average person can handle up to approx. 150 stable social relationships.

As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online — people who follow hundreds or even thousands of others — it became clear that the picture was a little more complex than this question would suggest. Many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. Constant online contact had made those ties immeasurably richer, but it hadn’t actually increased the number of them; deep relationships are still predicated on face time, and there are only so many hours in the day for that.
But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well. It might be someone they met at a conference, or someone from high school who recently “friended” them on Facebook, or somebody from last year’s holiday party. In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. (Clive Thompson)

Although many of our acquaintances fall into the category of “weak ties”, they are nevertheless part of our network in some capacity because otherwise we would not follow them or friend them. Or if we became a weak tie in somebody else’s network without wanting to, we could block them or ignore their friend request.

As these weak ties are part of our network, I wonder how network theory and connectivism deal with them. As I am not yet very familiar with it, I do not know if George or somebody else has already addressed that issue.

I would assume that these weak connections may receive a different treatment than well-established connections that are rich(er) in meaning depending. Or does that only depend on the kind od structure that underlies the network, i.e. hierarchical networks display weak ties whereas non-hierarchical networks don’t? Does their importance increase the more weak ties of a similar kind are established? Will they become a different kind of tie when they become more important to me, e.g. because my weak ties can help me solve a problem much better and faster than my long-time friends could?

Certainly, I’ve gained a great deal from my weak ties. Not so much that many actual problems were resolved, but more in terms of learning about resources that I may have never or only at a later stage come across, of confirmations that stuff I posted was useful for others, and that we were on the same track.

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One thought on “What is the role of the quality of connections?

  1. Hi Kristina,

    We will be exploring connection strength later on in this course. Short answer: yes, connection strength is important. Much like social networks possess small worlds of dense connections…and weaker ties to other small worlds…some research (even in neuroscience – as listed in the week 1 presentation) suggests that these concepts exist in learning. We’ll look more at the value of a blend of strong and weak connections in week 3 (I believe that’s the week…)


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