Several months have passed since I began exploring a few social media tools that “play well together.”

And now, as I look back, I’ve been surprised how much FaceBook, Twitter, and my blog, feel similar to some of the old ways of connecting, but with a twist (ok, maybe “twist” is sometimes more like popping donuts in a semi-trailer, but hang on, not as life threatening).

Yup, my overall case is that these forms of social networking media appear to be a reframing of “traditional” patterns of community engagement, extended into a dramatically new dimension. That is, these online community spaces tend toward being worldwide, transparent, and immediate; and they collectively set the stage for, indeed require, greater personal freedom and responsibility.

Before commenting on a few of the main tools, let me underline this personal freedom/responsibility aspect in the context of the compass bearings I have been referring to as a way for staying oriented in communications as engagement in social change, since each direction is blown out to the horizon.

"Cardinal Directions of Communications for Engagement"

Sense of Place literally becomes the globe; Sense of Journey brings together streams of experience and aspiration involving people you may never meet in person, and in a sense, gathers all our collective history as it unfolds through previously unheard voices; Sense of Role opens out in the moment between “tweets” when you really do have something you feel is worth sharing, even with strangers; Sense of Challenge re-contexts the most immediate crises, like meeting mortgage payments, within the reality of a worldwide transformation.

The thing is, we are now more conscious than ever of the social and cultural filters that have been mediating our experience of the world “out there.” Come on, Boomers, there was a certain familiarity and comfort in hearing Walter Cronkite sum up the daily news as, “And that’s the way it is.” And although there are those we now view as guides, we know we are choosing among them based on an internal sense of resonance that leads us to confirm that “she” makes sense most of the time, that “other guy,” not so much.

Today, we can no longer escape the new “knowings” of multiple perspectives, evolving interpretations based on a continual flow of new information, ethical conflicts involving understandings have their own internal logic. Nor can we escape the responsibility these knowings place on us to stand present to and conscious of the voices we choose to listen to; the values, principles, systems we constantly evaluate and select from as the basis for our action.

For, given the best information and advise we can gather in the time available, we take action, with various degrees of confidence, knowing that each action and its consequences–expected and unexpected–only add to a reservoir of collective experience that may or may not illuminate the next challenge, but everything helps.

The filters are revealed, the curtain is flung open and we recognize the men and women behind the curtain shaping the flow of communication; each of us stands present to the same flood of information, amid the same rapids and cross-currents of insight and opinion, with the same challenge of making sense of it all, of determining “how it is” today.

And yet, this increased freedom and responsibility can be liberating and exhilarating.

I cannot remember when or how I became aware of the concept of the Divine Economy of the Universe in which nothing is lost, but, for better or worse, this is part of the emerging “economy” of the Web, and a useful reminder for navigating the contentious interplay of public and private. For we are all participating in the individual and collective creation of our online presences–personal, professional, social. And, ready or not, these online presences are beginning to more strongly echo throughout the off-line terrain and shape our overall perception of reality; what we used to refer to as the “virtual universe” is becoming just another extension of reality, another means of expressing the experience and dreams of the really real.

So here is where some of the emerging tools of social networking media come into play.

With FaceBook (and similar sites), we have a new community center or social commons. Only now, our neighbors include high school colleagues from decades past; along with extended family members and children we might never have met; current, past and prospective work colleagues; new acquaintances from face-to-face or online events. We can leave messages, play Scrabble, recruit for causes we believe in, share and review books and movies, exchange photos–engage in all kinds of activities to “keep in touch.” Spend as much or as little time as you want, to catch up, chat, and move on. This is a new “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name. Of course this does not replace tipping a few back at a real “watering hole” nor eliminate the joys of brick-and-mortar community centers (still no online equivalent for gyms and swimming pools). But be careful not to sell short the shift in consciousness and connectivity. Places and people we thought we had lost or left behind are present again, in the here and now of our choosing. Our primal community is no longer bound by where we happen to live or what we happen to be doing right now.

Twitter offers welcomed interruptions to our daily routines, like the brief nudges from office colleagues (“Did you hear…?”), wire service headlines, post cards from friends traveling abroad, ad hoc trail markings warning of dead ends or promising points of interest. Only now, you decide when to enter and engage in the flow of interruptions and alerts (including the decision of whose “tweets” you receive on your cell phone). And with the right tools and detachment, you can see how some information–and beware, be wise, some rumors; that wasn’t the Dalai Lama after all–ripples across an emerging social fabric of individuals beyond whatever your follower/followed count happens to be at any given time. This is a space of new and constantly shifting perspectives and surprising connections beyond who or what you happened to know yesterday; at relatively little risk, little effort.

Blogs offer your turn in the fireside chat, a moment to share your musings, discoveries, learnings, perspectives, specific areas of expertise, without constraints of time or space. Be concise or elaborate. Only now, your audience can be as broad or as narrow as you wish, and over time your collected musings create a trail of experience and reflection that may represent a unexpected treasure of unique perspective for whoever stumbles upon it. These are your stories, told in your voice, at a time and frequency of your choosing, for grandchildren, colleagues, current or prospective clients, anyone else that shares or might share your interests. And, if you decide to allow it, folks can share their thoughts in return, at a time and frequency of their choosing.

So if you haven’t already, take the plunge, take the chance of participating in a world in which all things are made new! And perhaps discover something of yourself and others that you didn’t imagine was possible.

CAVEAT! Of course, lots of people will never join FaceBook, never Twitter, never put up blogs. This “world” is an extension, not a replacement. Choose wisely, recognize which “filters” release you to engage, and which stand in the way.