Private Individuals, Social Groups, Publishing Publics, Publicity + Society

A friend of mine published an article about “Social Business”. I disagreed with the basic idea, but there was also one distinction he made which I consider worthwhile (see “How to Define a Social Enterprise” for more details).

The point I wish to address here is the juxtaposition of the concepts “individual” vs. “social”. I have been meaning to write about this — and rather than put it off any longer because it is rather complex, I want to put in my first “two cents” and then perhaps come back to this topic again later to consider it again in more detail.

While it is rather commonplace to observe that communities share a common language, a more nuanced observation would be to realize that this is not an “either / or” or “black and white” phenomenon. The languages I share with other people vary according to the people I wish to share my ideas with. At one extreme end is the very individual — what linguists might refer to as an “idiolect”. These are completely private, unshared ideas.

Very close to this extreme is the notion of a “proper noun” — a term which is used to identify one particular individual entity. As we move further and further away from individual, “private” concepts and more and more towards shared “social” concepts, the nature of the way we refer to such things also changes — roughly speaking: from non-language strings to common language “dictionary words” (see also “Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information“).

This website is, I feel, a fairly good example of how this transition is fluid. “Socio” and “Biz” are not terms found in many dictionaries, but they are indeed widely used shorthand abbreviations (or “parts of words”, or stuff like that). Some groups of people will consider them to be a part of their common language (or dialect, or jargon, etc.).

Likewise, websites also vary from very being very individual, so-called “personal” websites to being very communal, socially shared “platforms” — and this shared aspect is usually at least a matter of sharing a common language… and perhaps also going beyond that to also share notions of common ethics, behaviors, values, etc. Perhaps this is also — in the extremely shared case — a matter of common “ownership” (note that “owning” is often used in the sense of “holding a view”, “having an opinion”, etc.).

As noted in the previous post, each individual will ultimately decide whether or not they belong to a group that also “owns” the concept in question (see in particular my discussion of “individual literacy” vs. “social literacy”).

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