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Social circles, social spikes
My internal image of a "social circle" is a group of people who all know each other at least a little bit. Any given pair may not deliberately socialize, but they're around the same people enough that they recognize each other. Each person has a sense of where all the other people fit into the social landscape.

Opposed to this, there's the social spike model -- one person knows various people, but those people don't know each other. A diagram of the relationships would look like an asterisk.

I have been pondering the advantages and disadvantages of the two models. In middle school and high school, I pretty much had a circle. Various subgroups might be hanging out at any given time, but for the most part "my friends" were a discrete group within the larger school population, and the people I would identify as my friends would be the same people that those friends would identify as their friends. Then, during and after college, I had more of a spike thing going on, where I knew a few people here and there, but they mostly didn't know each other. Now I have an oddly mixed situation, with various separate groups attached to me, but a fair amount of cross-contact within those groups (and with parts of those groups that I don't know).

The advantage of a circle situation is that it makes party planning and information transfer much simpler. If someone wants to arrange a surprise birthday party, say, they know who to invite and how to get in touch with them, since they know the same people the birthday person knows. No-one has to put a lot of effort into planning compatible personality combinations for dinner parties or anything, since those combinations are already known to everyone involved. If someone has news they'd like everyone to get but don't have the energy or time to contact everyone individually about, like a death in the family, then they can easily deputize people to spread the news, and those deputies will know who to contact.

The disadvantage of a circle is that false information, rumors or slander, can travel just as easily as good information, and any individual falling-outs can have nasty ripple effects as people try to avoid each other, but don't have anywhere else to go for social contact.

Spikes avoid those disadvantages, and give you neutral people to vent to or get advice about interpersonal conflicts from, but don't have much to recommend them otherwise. It's hard to get an objective view about a conflict from someone who only has your version to go on, even if you're trying to describe things fairly.

I'm thinking spikes may be way more common these days than they used to be, as people move around and keep in touch with a few people here and a few people there, rather than growing up in a group.

It's been an interesting thing to ponder. I would like to keep pondering it, but I ran out of thoughts. Do you have any?

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gatherings between four and 12 in size were prohibited

I think that's one of the Geek Social Fallacies -- ah, yep, number 5, "Friends Do Everything Together". I haven't been bitten by this one much, because when I've been in a circle-y situation it's been (a) with small enough groups that including everyone in planned outings isn't inconvenient and (b) in situations where there aren't a lot of planned group outings, but rather general hanging out in the same space, with whoever happens to show up (this, actually, is the thing I miss about TAMS; these days if I want to be sociable I have to put some effort into it instead of just wandering downstairs).

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Oh, absolutely -- it's called a fallacy for a reason. :)

I personally am not all that good at picking out just the people who will be interested in a particular sort of event, but I don't at all mind if people don't come to some particular thing because they're not interested in that sort of concert or that type of movie or are allergic to grass or whatever.

I do tend to ask lots and lots of people to things, from various groups who don't know each other, rather than carefully figuring out who's likely to get along and have things in common to talk about, but that's largely because I get such a low response rate. If I want, say, 5 people to do something, I need to ask 10 or 12, which makes it hard to pick out just the right ones. (I am thinking here of little__one's live-action roleplaying games, which do need a fairly specific number of people of the appropriate interests/personality types; I would have a hard time setting one of those up.)

I like to think of my social grouping as more of a sun shape. A circle with spikes coming out of it. Or to get even fancier, a set of concentric stars (think 3-node venn diagram) with spikes coming out of them, or overlapping suns.

My pattern appears to be that I'm the spiker, but then the spikes tend to integrate over time into a sort of overlapping morass of social circles.

So, for example: my social circle from college includes my former roommate keshwyn, erispope, jenett, some other folks, their partners, and so on; this is a coherent social blob.

erispope got me playing an online game where I met my partner oneironaut. That social blob has since shifted to include keshwyn and brooksmoses, who I know from different social spike-blobs; it also includes blacktarrant.

I play Warcraft in a guild started by a friend of mine for the past fourteen-fifteen years, sstaten. That guild includes jenett, blacktarrant, erispope, and so on.

I met my partner artan_eter through overlapping circle drift. In college (see college note) I was part of the Brandeis LARP crowd, which includes kviri; he drifted into the Brandeis LARP crowd after I dropped out and fell off the face of the planet. Through closer association with kviri, he wound up getting into the edges and then, over time, the center, of my default social group (centered around the nucleus of college friends) by the normal percolations. (Completely setting aside that he and keshwyn shared a partner back in college, who kept saying they'd probably get along well ...)

It goes like that. teinedreugan has social spikes that eventually meld into my blobs, but I'm more likely to develop them because I'm far more social online. artan_eter has social blobs that I only know peripherally -- his college-friends nucleus, for example, some of whom I've met in passing.

And so on.

What a very appropriate user icon!

There hasn't been much spike integration in my own history, but that may be because most of my spikes are spikes because they live in entirely different cities (and don't interact in group online spaces like WoW or chatrooms).

It will be interesting to see what happens with some of the (currently) non-overlapping blobs here; so far I don't think any pair of people who've met at one of my parties have had any other contact, but it could happen.

Actually, that brings up kind of a separate thought, which is how social nuclei people fit in. In my social circles here, there are basically tenacious_snail and mikz and I[1] who host things-that-I-am-invited-to, and a few other people who do it occasionally (there's a [REDACTED] coming up soon, and we just went to a taiko concert with miyasato and a group of his friends). There are, further off in somewhat-tangentially-connected groups, other regular party-havers and dinner-organizers and so forth, but those don't feel like actual parts of my social circles (there are two categories: LJ-invite only events, which I don't feel properly invited to and therefore don't want to crash; and open-to-the-whole-world group meetings, which I keep vaguely meaning to attend but haven't yet). So given that very few of the people attending my parties are having parties of their own, there aren't very many opportunities for them to get together with other people at my parties they didn't previously know.

I think that made sense. I may need to draw a diagram. :)

[1] And it seems really odd to me for me to be a social organizer. I'm not used to it; I wish other people would do it more. Particularly because our living room kind of sucks for parties.

The icon's keyword is "connections".

I think my major local social nucleus is keshwyn and her partner mindways (mostly mindways, really).

The funny thing, though, is that I'm the person-who-knows-someone-who. Which is, I think, a consequence of a lot of the way I conduct my social stuff online, where I know a whole hell of a lot of people tangentially.

Hi - you don't know me, but we have a friend in common, necturus. :) I ended up at your journal somehow, and you look like a really cool person.

I hope you don't mind my thoughts on the subject. I have been a member of both kinds. The social circle is really really great...that is...when it works. All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the whole thing. Someone moves in that doesn't like you, for instance, or your ex and another person start dating and it gets sticky. It also seems sometimes a bit cliquish and people often stop growing and just become kind of codependent. It does give you a sense of "belonging" but it seems often at a high price.

I guess that's why I'm a fan of the asterisk. You spend more time driving and it's a little more lonely sometimes, but it seems to be more real and lasting, as each friendship is special on its own without having to deal with group dynamics.

As you can see I have thought much about these things as well. :)

I ended up at your journal somehow, and you look like a really cool person.

Thank you!

And I think you've got a good point there -- when a social circle is running well, it's really nice, but when it goes bad, it can take your entire social life with it, if you're focused on the circle. Kind of an all-the-eggs-in-one-basket thing.

And you post interesting stuff, too!

I guess my ideal situation is two circles, for pretty much the reasons you describe.
In practice, though, I tend not to think so much in terms of spike-or-circle as in terms of connections...
The rule is, do not create connections involving people who are known drama hazards.
I learned the rule four years ago and have been very careful about it since.

The thing about Mountain View is that everyone I know is connected to Google.
And, perhaps curiously, everyone I have met through Google is completely drama-free.
Or perhaps I'm just oblivious. ^_^;

And you post interesting stuff, too!

I try. :)

The rule is, do not create connections involving people who are known drama hazards.

Good rule. I am allergic to drama myself. I'm comfortable with friend A venting to me about the way their friends B and C (who I don't know) are being drama-y at each other, but any closer than that and I get all twitchy. And then the psychic rash, and the temptation to post sneezes on LJ....

On the other hand, by the time I've figured out that someone's a drama hazard, I'm usually already connected somehow, which can be kind of awkward. (Hm. That may actually be another thing a circle is good for -- getting reports on people before you actually meet them. But see also the false information hazard, and what can happen when two people just don't like each other.)

I learned the rule four years ago and have been very careful about it since.

Oh, that sounds like a story.

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