The Economist recently put out a special report on social networking. My first reaction was: what type of social networking? That phrase can refer to how people create their network of friends, or how people socialize in the workplace, or how people use their connections to find jobs. There are many different ways that humans interact and network.

Much to my dismay, the report referred only to online social networking sites.

Today, much of social networking is done via the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and heaps of other online sites are used not only for social interactions but are also being integrated as a tool for the workplace. Facebook alone has over 350 million users, and other sites are growing (chart from The Economist):

The special report offered some interesting insight on why phenomenons like Facebook have continued to grow while MySpace died off, how these sites can turn profits, and how they can evolve into tools for both small and large businesses alike. It analyzes the possible disadvantages of such sites in terms of productivity in the workplace and privacy invasion. But that underestimates the effect of online social networking on the world.

I want to hear how online social networking sites have changed and are changing good ole fashion human interaction. I am well familiar with the benefits associated with reaching people around the world by clicking a button. But, as I was told repeatedly by many of my former Tanzanian co-workers, no one ever gets something for nothing. When we tune in to the world of online social networking, we tune out of something else.

Privacy and productivity issues don’t concern me too much. The emerging cultural effects of a social dependence on online networking, however, will inevitably impact the world long after trends and fads have faded.