We have a stammtisch table. One night a week at a local restaurant – okay, the only restaurant in our small Maine town – we gather and participate in a group discussion of any topic – politics, movies, sports, etc. This is based on a German custom in which bars and restaurants set aside a table that anyone at any time can use for such a discussion. The idea is that anyone can go to a restaurant or pub and know that they can sit at the stammtisch table, without having to make reservations or go with a specific group. Participating establishments place a stammtisch sign on the table, and everyone knows what that table is for. (There is still a learning curve on stammtisch in our community, as our local restaurant owner often has to ask families who just sat down to move from the stammtisch table, after which he has to explain the concept of stammtisch. Our local restaurant owner can now be considered a stammtisch expert, which he certainly wasn't before our bringing the concept to him.)
Our stammtisch table is developing into a place where busy neighbors can find each other once a week, and our conversations have centered around catching up with each other as much as politics. (Although last week featured a wonderful round of architect bashing, as one of our neighbors is an architect and another is a carpenter, two fields who seem to get along as well as lions and hyenas. My favorite joke of the night – what's the difference between an architect and God? God doesn't walk around thinking he's an architect.)
Is stammtisch Web 2.0? Anyone can participate. It allows for a wide variety of conversation. It's German Web-4.0, but for our community it's a new communications technology. I ask this because I'm trying hard not to be a Luddite. I want to instinctively react negatively to each new technology that comes down the road. Social networks? Twittering? Hey, it's all PONG to me.
But then I think of the social networks I DO participate in. I belong to LinkedIn, although I'm not the most active participant. (I still have less than 10 friends – oops, they're called "colleagues.") I belong to a Mac users group that has been marvelous at sharing information and PC bashing. I belong to and occasionally participate in several industry (sounds better than "cartoon") chatrooms. On Saturdays I go to our local little league field where my son and all the other 6- to 12-year-olds in our community play baseball, and I talk with people for two to three hours. (Maybe little league is English for "stammtisch.") And of course there is the previously mentioned stammtisch.
As you can see, I'm not the most technologically connected person. Am I missing out on something by not contacting my former seventh-grade classmates? Should I be filling out profiles instead of participating in Americanized German customs? On my LinkedIn page, I am told that I am using 80 percent of my profile space. Would I be more successful if I used 83 or 87 percent?
A friend of mine used to respond to her children, when they protested her decisions, "I'm your mom. I have enough friends." I often think of this when I look at social networks. When do you have enough friends or contacts? When do you have enough social networks? A recent Nielsen survey estimated that 60 percent of new Twitter users quit within one month. Is that because the technology didn't cover their needs? They found something better? (How does one quit Twitter – "am sitting in office. realize I have better ways to spend time. I quit."?)
A question that still lingers in my mind is: Is Web 2.0 productive. Or is it just basic water cooler communications on steroids? I find myself sensitive to the "dark side" of these technologies. A couple examples:
* Twitter tweeters recently contributed to the swine flu panic.
* The last paragraph in Richard Pople's column (along with a couple insightful comments) on Web 2.0.
One of the more entertaining situations I have seen discussed, as business tries to integrate social networks into their operations, is the place of hierarchy. What if your boss asks to be your friend? What if they turn down your request? The slings and arrows of social subtleties can be easily misinterpreted through technology – how will this apply in a business setting?
Maybe we can discuss this at stammtisch this week.