Thursday, October 7, 2010

Social Networks and Dialogue between Cultures

This week I've participated in the Young Media Summit (YMS2010) that was organized by Deutsche Welle’s DW-Akademie in cooperation with the Deutschland-Zentrum Kairo.One of the topics that have been discussed on one of the work-groups there was, "Social Networks and their effect on the Dialogue between Cultures". And the major question then was whether social networks really help in emphasising the dialogue between cultures or not.

During the discussed we agreed that there are at least three factors that we have to take into our consideration first, "Language", "Persons and Personality" and "Real life social network".

  • Language: Although applications such as Facebook and Twitter can help you be in contact with people from all over the world at any time, yet they aren't capable 0f - at least till now - overcoming the language barrier. You can befriend with people from Germany or Japan, yet you cannot understand what their write in their status updates as long as you do not know their language. Google Translate can offer some help here, since you can use it to translate your French friend's newest blog post into English, however it is still not that accurate, and the translation process is not really coupled into the social network itself, hence it is a lengthy process and not natural. Not all the communication is verbal, "Poke", "Like", and "Photographs" are non verbal ways of communications, hence they are independent on languages.
  • Persons and Personality: Social networks can help people understand their differences, yet this might be a good or a bad thing, depending on the receivers personality. The same Facebook that helps an Egyptian blogger make new friends in Algeria, is the one that increased the tension between the people in the two countries during the World Cup qualifications matches.
  • Real life social network: There is no reason for someone in Egypt to befriend with a German person unless there is a real-life motive for them to be friends. Most of the time people only connect to those they know in real-life on Facebook. Twitter might be slightly different here, as you normally follow people regardless of them being in your real-life social network or not, however there still has to be reason to follow them, such as having similar interests, hobbies, or living in the same country/city.
Also some other points were raised during the discussion:
  • Online social networks nowadays do have an effect on real-life social networks too. If you block one of your real-life friends on twitter, or forgot to send a birthday greeting to one of your friends on Facebook, your real-life relation with them might be effected
  • Since the lines between on-line and real-life social networks are getting really blurry, are online networks going to replace real-life friends any time soon? I don't agree with this myself, yet who knows.
  • The internet penetration ratio is variable from one place to the other, however we have to agree that not all the people are connected. Hence on of the factors for online social networks to tighten the distances between cultures is that those connected people should be able to digest and transfer their experience to their real-life social networks of non-connected people.
People who were involved in this dicussion: Asmaa Al-Ghoul, Yassen Al-Hussen, Teresa B├╝cker, Eman Hashim, Amira Taher, Hardy Prothmann, and myself