Saturday, December 02, 2006

It's a Dog Community

The recent attention to the concept of social networks, especially in the entertainment industry is quite fascinating. I attended a panel discussion last week that focused on this topic as it relates to the future of digital media. Every day, the newspaper reports on yet another social networking site. Are people so hard up for friends that they are turning to the virtual world to find them? Or is face to face interaction so difficult that people prefer to remain pseudo-anonymous? Perhaps it is the attraction of revealing only what you choose to reveal, or not being obligated to reciprocate in a real friendship. I can't imagine that the actual meeting up process on a computer screen more fun than a bar, club, party, hike....?

Lately I have been intrigued by the fact that dog walking creates quite a large social network for people. I have gotten to know the 9am walkers, especially the dog walkers. We have shared home remodellers, hair dressers, vets, child rearing challenges, aging parents, travel stories and cooking tips in our brief morning encounters as our dogs circle each other and we constantly untangle leashes. These are people with whom I have shared the beginning of every day. This morning, Heidi was still in bed with Jen, and I went for a run by myself, down the street which has been my usual route for the past 16 years. A lady stopped her car, rolled down her window, and with a very concerned look, asked, "Nothing has happended to your dog, has it?" I had never met her before, yet to her, I was as familiar to her as the oak tree that sits on the side of the road.
Out of context, without dogs in hand, in stores and social events, we often don't recognize each other! A few years ago, I attended the memorial service of a neighbor. All the attendees were neighborhood dog walkers who had gotten to know her husband well.

Similarly, the majority of my closest friends are those that I have kindled a relationship with, as we raised our children together. These friendships seem to be particularly strong even as our children are grown and out of the house.
Somehow, we created lasting bonds selling 25cent brownies, manning Halloween booths, and shelving library books.
Come to think of it, just about every friend and acquaintance was made through kids or dogs. Perhaps when one has neither, it is difficult to form a friendship, and that is where the online social network plays a role. It will be interesting to see how the world of social relationships changes in this new environment.

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