I am today working on a chapter called “Learning to be a Node” about how we need to be socialized into our roles as nodes in social information networks. While playing around with different metaphors and analogies I been playing with journalism metaphor: the idea that the competent node (what I mean by this is, generically, someone who “gets notification right,” that is, doesn’t inappropriately “spill the beans” or “talk out of school” or “overshare” or their converses) is someone who knows what goes on page one (and what does not).
To manage our relationships — with spouses, friends, co-workers, etc. — our encounters need to be governed all day by composing and recomposing what’s on page one of our personal newspaper. People expect relevant stuff first (and relevance varies with each person and we are expected to know how it varies). They don’t want to read on page one what they’ve already heard (and we are responsible for having an idea of what they have already heard). And we are expected to have multiple editions — page one of the workplace edition won’t look anything like page one of the family edition.
To get back to the “learning” part: with each new role we take on we have to learn a new set of guidelines for “what goes on page one.” A good bit of the formal socialization in a new job, for example, concerns what goes in reports to whom, while the informal socialization will include things like what never gets written in an email, what happens only behind closed doors and what can only be said in surreptitious meetings on park benches (a favorite device in film). In relationships there tends to be a sort of ongoing socialization as partners remind one another about what they expect to be told and when (also a common dramatic device: see, for example, “Relational Notification Norms on ‘Mad Men’“.
The process of learning to be a node occurs across the life course. Small children need to be trained how NOT to be muck-raking publishers of personal and family secrets (see “Children as Spies“). Teenagers need to be cajoled into not producing “empty editions.” Gossips need to learn the limits of even bad taste. Organizations are forever fiddling with reporting lines. And there’s always more to be done — “stovepiping,” cited as a big problem in the intelligence community in the 9/11 report, is really a pathology of notification in which nodes have learned the “wrong” rules about who ought to be informed about what.
O.K., enough of that metaphor for now.