All of the data points matter. The ones that fit neatly inside of your daily life are just as important as the ones that lay way outside of it. The information that causes us to go forward unabated is no less valuable than the stuff that makes us cautious. The problem is, sometimes you do not have all of the data.
Specifically, in terms of the people that I know, there are huge gaps in skill set and experience. While I have access to a great many people through my professional social networks, there is much more that ties them together than separates them. Each of them has more than a passing interest in technology. Many, if not most, have some interest in teaching and learning. And, nearly everyone I associate myself with is working on creating, writing, coding, connecting, presenting or some other productive pursuit. These things that join them all together as “my network” also mean that I am missing out on huge amounts of information and people that do not fit these roles. While I can go out of my way to collect voices that go against my own ideas, even those people will be passionate creators of content, have an interest in learning, and probably care about technology. Those voices are not new data points; they just provide a new outlook on the same data.
I ran into an amazing tool for visualizing all of the data points in my network, and it really brought home just how homogeneous my network is. The tool is called Gist and once you give it access to gmail, twitter, linkedin, and facebook, it will analyze all of your contacts and conversations to see the patterns of how your network acts and reacts. It literally shows you just how important each contact is to your working and waking life. You can adjust this importance if you like, but the default data is pretty telling for me.
The most important people in my network according to Gist are all involved in Online Teaching and Learning, more specifically, the online school in my district. While this is not surprising, it means that on any given day, the data points that I get to consider are all working on the same things that I am working on. They are working toward the same goals, bringing only the small differences in their experiences to the table.
So, now that I know exactly just how insular my network is. Here are the following things I would like to add in order to gain a much richer perspective on my own existence:
- A fortune 500 CEO
- Some kids who make up games for fun in the middle of a large metropolitan city
- Professionals who do not speak english (Google has a pretty good translation feature now)
- A cohort of happily retired individuals
- Someone like LeVar Burton (Actor, eloquent speaker, fan of reading)
- People who struggle to understand technology
- Baseball players who toil in the minor leagues for 10 years or more
- People recently divorced (I literally can count on one hand the number of people in my close network that have gotten divorced. While that may be an anomaly, perhaps it has something to do with the number of people in my close network that are children of divorced parents)
- Functionally illiterate people with good paying jobs
And there are lots of other data points that I think would add value to my outlook for technology, learning, and entrepreneurship. While I love that Gist can show me all of the holes in my network, I have not yet been able to figure out how to fill them. That kind of a service would be one that I would be very interested in.
I would like to imagine a world in which I can say that I have all of the data points required in order to speak and act in my own best interest. While I can say that I do that right now, I believe that without hearing the stories and understanding the background of lives outside of my daily existence, I can’t really know what will lead me to greater understanding of education, the economy, politics, or humanity. I feel like those things are worth knowing, too.
Perhaps social networks are structured all wrong for this type of pursuit, though. If I want to find people who are nothing like me; how would I go about doing that? Facebook is set up to connect me with the people that I already know, LinkedIn connects me to people that I work with, and Twitter is a wildcard but it has a specific userbase that mostly fits with my worldview. Maybe it is time for a social network to be created that puts together all of the stakeholders on any given subject, especially the ones that are not traditionally listened to. Perhaps there is room for a network to grow around getting everyone to the table, not just those with an inclination to show up. I want a social network to exist for the simple function of telling the most complete version of a story possible. That is a story I would read.
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