Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What on earth is a social utility?

My daughters were aghast. A friend emailed me an invitation to join Facebook. "Mum!" my daughters cried in unison. "What do you mean you're on Facebook? Ugh!"

I wasn't quite sure what caused their angst. I mean, Facebook is a 'social utility'. I'm social. I spend an inordinate amount of time every day in front of a screen and keyboard, typing on a computer plugged into the utility bar at my feet. I have what it takes join Facebook.

Along with not understanding what caused my daughters concern to have their mother share their social venue, I also didn't know what 'social utility' meant.

So I did a little hunting.

According to Muthucumaru Maheswaran, an assistant professor at the School of Computer Science at McGill University in Montreal, "a social utility network is defined as a system that provides a suite of primitive functions for users to communicate and collaborate with their friends and discover new friends in a secure and trusted manner. Based on their purpose, the distributed functions can be grouped into data management, task management, and trust management."

He's got to be kidding, right? Trust management? It reminds me of that rhyme we used to sing as kids to determine who got what in the high-stakes game of dividing the pie. "One for you. Two for me."

I suppose in the world of social utilities, trust is the currency the network measures to determine its success.

I'm having difficulty with this one. The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines trust as: Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

As I watch my daughters fly through photos, scanning messages, pinging and leaving notes on Facebook walls I wonder how they are managing their trust? Do they even think about it? Is the ubiquitous Internet so pervasive in their lives that they cannot conceive of its absence from their daily routines? I wonder if they question the information provided, or simply blindly trust the ability of the social utility to keep the portals to communication open with the assumption that if I read it on your wall, it must be true. McLuhan said it, "The medium is the message."

Trust in cyberspace is not determined by the 'object' with whom we're communicating. It's determined by the ability of the social utility we depend upon to keep functioning, quickly, effectively, dependably. Downtime is not acceptable in the world of cyber communication.

No one verifies, confirms, or vouches for the information shared. That's up to the parties involved. And that's where cyber-communication gets dicey.

Recently, while reading de Becker's "Protecting The Gift", I wondered about the questions I don't, or do ask, a new acquaintance. Imagine, writes de Becker, that when interviewing prospective baby-sitters, you ask, "Have you ever abused a child?" If their response is, "Define abuse," or "What have you heard?" you can be pretty sure, they're not the baby-sitter you're looking for.

But, those aren't questions we ask in 'normal' society. The very question causes me to sit up straight. My mind immediately jumps to, 'but I can't ask that. It's rude."

Yet, think about it. We entrust our children to almost strangers and do not ask the one question we fear the most. "Will you abuse my children?" While I realize someone is not about to answer, "Yes," what they communicate when they respond will tell us alot about their intentions. As deBecker says, "Good applicants will certainly understand, and bad applicants may reveal themselves."

I no longer have the need for babysitters, but imagine the angst I could have saved myself if I'd had the courage to ask the tough questions when they mattered the most! Imagine the stress we could relieve if in our lives we asked new acquaintances, "Have you ever abused someone you said you love?" If they answer, define abuse, we have our answer. What we do with it tells us a lot about ourselves. If we begin a discourse defining abuse, we've got trust (and boundary) issues! Not with someone else, but with ourselves. How we behave reveals who we are.

Revealing who we are begins with how much trust we place in the environment and people with whom we are interacting. Facebook claims, it is "a social utility that connects you with the people around you." Sure it does. On the flat screen of my computer monitor. But, it's easy to lie in a world where the only connection we have is based on invisible threads spinning their way around the globe, carrying the bits and bytes of our communication to distant portals we cannot verify as 'real'.

Cyberspace teaches us to trust based on limited information. I wonder how that carries over into 3-D living?

Will my daughters, with their Facebook infused communications, trust differently than I do? Will they be able to discern between what's real, who's not, who's lying and who's being truthful through the words and pictures someone chooses to share about themselves? Will they be more trusting? Or less?

Which brings me right back to my truth. I cannot trust someone else until I trust myself. I must first be trustworthy to be trusting.

In the past, where it came to men, I made some pretty poor choices. I learned to not trust my judgement, so I ignored it and threw myself into places I had no right to be. Today, I trust myself to make choices that support and honour me. I trust myself to make choices that reflect my values, principles and beliefs. And, I trust myself to know when fear is driving my choices away from my courage to do the right thing.

I never trusted myself with myself in the past. What a gift to come to this place where I know, whether or not the other person is trustworthy is not my issue. Am I trustworthy, truthful, honest -- those are my concerns. When I am aligned with my values, I am walking in trust that whatever in the world happens, I will respond with grace, ease and dignity. I will be true to who I am. I will turn up, pay attention, speak my truth with a loving heart and stay unattached to the outcome.

May you have a trustfilled day knowing you make a difference when you trust yourself to do the right thing.


CZBZ said...

I am very touched by the power of your message today, Ms. Gallagher. You've given me so much to think about when it comes to Trust & CyberSpace. I've been dealing with this topic for quite awhile now, so your message about "Trusting yourself to Do the Right Thing" (most especially when it's DIFFICULT) has really touched my heart.

Many of us become disillusioned about the human capacity to trust "our perceptions" of who someone might be. Especially if they've proven themselves to be imperfect. O! How we demand perfection from others but expect our imperfection to be accepted, forgiven, or overlooked.

My experience on the Web has taught me to distrust Perfection (personal faultlessness) as the illusion it is.

The thing is, who is more trustworthy than the person recognizing their inherent goodness, yet is unafraid to admit human error?

I wrote an article based on years of experience forging cyber-friendships, many of which have transitioned to face-to-face relationships. I'd like to quote a brief passage from that article if it's okay with you.

[It is essential that we] "Hone our connection to others. Emotional intelligence and rational thinking work in conjunction with a moral imperative from the heart to care about others and protect their best interests as equal to our own. Letting go of otherizing by extending ourselves beyond isolation and self-contraction, restores our connectivity to others. By trusting people once again, we hone our connection to life, building a desire to share responsibility for and to one another."

Is it possible to trust anyone in cyber-space???

Maybe. But only if we trust ourselves and vow to always, always Do The Right Thing. Which we will know to be 'right action' because it will be hardest thing in the world to do.

Every right action correcting a wrong requires a sacrifice of some kind. Most of us aren't willing to give up anything...especially our favorite illusions.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Powerful words CZ. I had a meeting today with a man re: homelessness. What do we as a society do? What is the moral imperative of our caring?

Get to the core issues -- what are they? So hard to define, yet so aparent to those of us who work in the field. Addictions. Violence. Abuse. Divorce.... Mighty big topics to tackle. and what is the right thing to do?

You're so right. The right thing is the hardest thing to do. To admit I am an addict. To admit I am a perpetrator/victim of violence. To admit I am an abuser. To admit I am a victim of abuse. A victim... To admit I need help.

These are hard things to do, but until we do them, we cannot look at ourselves with loving eyes in the mirrors of our souls. We cannot trust ourselves to be honest when we are being dishonest about what we do, or what is happening to us. And when we cannot be honest with ourselves, we are not doing The Right Thing and thus limit our capacity to build trust.

I so appreciate your insight CZ. I had to give up the illusion that I knew everything there was to know about me -- and in the process accept, there's always something new to learn about the world around me.

Ridding ourselves of our favorite illusions means we need to come to grips with the fact that our illusions are hindering our growth. Tough thing to do!

But once we do it, staying on the path of truth becomes not only the right thing to do, it is the only thing we can do to build a world of caring.

CZBZ said...

"The right thing is the hardest thing to do."

O yes. We tend to justify our abuse of others in the name of self-protection. This truth is incredibly difficult to admit, much less change. Any change we make in the 'right/truthful' direction will be s-l-o-w. Our change will be met with resistance.

For those of us who feel mysteriously compelled to voice our experience in the name of helping others leave abusive relationships behind, we face great self-deception by an ego that does not want to see what the soul insists be seen. And that is how WE participate in the continuation of abuse because we fear our vulnerability and refuse to trust others.

But not trusting means we close our hearts to receiving love. What a shame that one abusive relationship leads to the victim abusing others using her self-righteous indignation as a shield from unconscious awareness!

Cyber space or face-to-face, trusting others relies on the degree of trust we have for ourselves.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Ah! Not trusting others.

Big topic CZ. Big ideas. Big stumbling block on the road of healing.

YOu make an incredibly powerful statement: "But not trusting means we close our hearts to receiving love. What a shame that one abusive relationship leads to the victim abusing others using her self-righteous indignation as a shield from unconscious awareness!"

Jerald Jampolsky in Love is Letting Go of Fear, writes: The more love I give, the more I recieve.

When I hold my shield of self-righteous indignation in front of me, I hold myself back from being open to love.

Just as, when I first got out of that relationship and caught myself saying -- I will never forgive myself for what I did to my daughters.

Hello. Never is a long long time. And if I can't forgive myself, how can I be open and willing to accept my daughters forgiveness? I acknowledged it was important that they forgiveme -- what about forgiving myself.

I had to quickly give my head a shake on that one and knock the sillies out of my thinking.

Forgiveness is the pathway to accepting love. Trusting myself to be forgiving as well as forgiven is essential in being open to love and loving.

Ah CZ, we've come a long way baby!

thank you for your thought-provoking and inspiring words.

You are awesome.


CZBZ said...

I am kinda awesome though it's awkward holding that thought at the same time my Inner Critic is pointing fingers.

You have taught me something today, Louise. Thank you for your honesty about forgiving yourself. Nobody can do this hard work for us though we'd like it to be so.

Knowing where you've been and where you are today is not only's humbling. I reread your message and was wishful that one day I might write a similar thing: "I am walking in trust that whatever in the world happens, I will respond with grace, ease and digity."

I am not there, yet, Louise. But if Guts and Intentions have anything to do with it, I will be one day.

Great conversation, thank you!