Google+ and The Dog Park: The Mores of Social Networks

Like any good millennial, I can’t stay in one place for longer than a year (typically not by choice). I’ll be moving at the end of August, new apartment already found and lease signed. Of course I’m aware I’m moving, but the less enjoyable aspects of the move have yet to sink in—packing, fitting couches through doorways, and finding a new chinese take out restaurant. But that process began this morning at the dog park.

I’ve been going to the same dog park for almost a year now, and I like it. It’s comfortable. To an outsider a dog park probably doesn’t seem like anything more than a place people go to let their dogs do their business, but it’s a whole lot more complex than that. Every dog park is different. A miniature culture with it’s own social mores and norms that people abide by. Everyone goes for their own reasons. For example, you have the socializers that bring their dogs at the exact same time every day so they can talk with the same people (usually about the same things). They come toting coffee in the morning and sometimes wine in the evening. On the other hand there are people like me, who use the time to prepare for or decompress from their days. It’s a meditative time. At my dog park people generally know this about me. I’m friendly, happy to share a bag, lend a hand or answer a question, but I’m not there to have long conversations. And people are fine with that, as long as I keep up with the unspoken rules.

The rules at this dog park are something like this:

  1. You aren’t expected to know any person’s name, but there is much more pressure to know their dog’s name; people are fine being Quincy’s owner or Spot’s owner.
  2. If someone’s dog poops and you don’t see them moving towards it, you tell them. At first this one was weird, but you get used to it, everyone is just trying to keep the park clean.
  3. Physical corrections of dogs are OK, verbal corrections less so. If someone’s dog is humping, just push them off, but don’t yell at them.
  4. Don’t share treats. Ever. I personally don’t care about this one, but people take it very seriously. People take it so seriously that recently a woman who had spilled treats everywhere felt the need to tell me that the treats were “All natural, organic, low sodium treats. Is that okay? I’m so sorry.” The fact that her dog eats better than me aside, I didn’t care, but she genuinely did.

There are other, more subtle social mores, but the point is that some of these took me a year to figure out and now I’m going to have to go through that all over again.

The reason I think all of this is relevant is because I felt almost the same way when I started using Google+. I had already learned all the rules of Facebook. What was polite and what wasn’t. When it was necessary to give credit and when it wasn’t. Who I wanted to become friends with, and who I didn’t. None of these things were set in stone or written down anywhere, but they were unspoken and understood by most everyone.

From the beginning, G+ felt different than Facebook. It was less about what it was that you were sharing, and more about with whom. But with this new dynamic came a new set of rules, still forming as we speak, and this was clear to people when they first get on. People who are all over the internet from tumblr to twitter ask a similar question when they sign on for the first time, “How’s this thing work?” They ask this question reluctantly because of course they can figure it out technically, but, that’s not what they want to know. What they are asking is “What are the rules? How are people using this? How can I not look like a noob?”

What adds another layer of interest is that people didn’t abandon Facebook when Twitter came out, and they didn’t abandon either of the two when Google+ came out. Instead they are showing what sociologists call an Intercultural Competence, they are able to comfortably and effectively communicate within all of these different platforms while abiding by the rules of those systems. Maybe a more accurate term might be an Inter-network Competence, where people can comfortably transition between social networks flawlessly.

I suppose then, the fact that I can display some level of Inter-network Competence in the digital world shows promise for my move. Promise that I’ll be able to figure out the new rules and mores of the dog park I’ll be transitioning into. If only it were as simple as counting my likes or retweets and adjusting my behavior accordingly. I suppose I’ll just have to suffer through the old fashioned way— dirty look means bad, smiles equal +1. Easy enough. Now if someone could just tell me what “Sparks” is all about, I’d be golden.

Written By Joey Camire Image Via