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Social Networking in the Square March 24, 2010

Posted by jennibarrett in 1.
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I recently attended a NLSA lecture at UCLan by Nick Corbett, Director of Urban Design & Enterprise at Urban Living.  He was, of course, publicising his book – The Revival of The Square.    www.urbanliving.org.uk 

His talk was interesting.  Some fabulous examples of how design led regeneration can really work in reviving the economic and social machinations of the city, not only the aesthetic and environmental elements.

However, his analysis of the square is rooted in his experience in the 1990s, when the social environment was still determined by physical presence.  Is the 21st century social environment the same?  Well, yes to a degree, but for many our social environment is dominated by a presence in the virtual square – on facebook, tweeting and of course, blogging.  In fact, the phrase ‘social networking’ now implies a virtual world of tweets and news feeds – not a world of hand shakes and business cards.  How has this impacted the role of the physical square? 

Perhaps the advent of virtual social networking has damaged the city square as urban dwellers become atomised at their workstations, seeking interaction through their computer monitor.  The square becomes a place for the underclass, the have-nots who are socially excluded from the virtual world by their lack of internet access. 

Or perhaps there is a new revival in the physical and traditional urban meeting place.  Our urban environment is perceived to be a violent and threatening place by many.  However, the benefit of the virtual world means that users can ‘test out’ and affirm their new contacts virtually before meeting them in person.  By networking in the virtual world, we make the initial contact that we would have felt inhibited to do in the dangerous, physical world.  More virtual contacts lead to an increased likelihood that we will transfer these interactions to the physical world, reviving the square as a place for physical manifestations of the online community.

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