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The Reluctant Social Networker

July 31, 2008
By

I’ve been online for quite a long time now…16 years or so in one way or another. So I go back way before the current iteration of online social networking existed. Yes, I’m probably dating myself by saying this but there it is: I’m a bit of an old salt as far as the online world goes at this point.

I’ve been managing forums, chat, etc. for what seems like forever; online communities became a part of my life ages ago. The real action and growth in online communities today is in social networking though, not forums. The recent explosion in social networking sites has made discussion forums seem like quaint relics of a bygone age.

Sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn have attracted millions of people and become extremely hot commodities. Companies like Microsoft have even lined up to buy into a piece of the social networking action with hefty investments.

But is it all it’s cracked up to be? And is it for everybody?

Generation X: Talkin’ Bout My Generation
I have to confess that the social networking thing left me cold initially. Call me “the reluctant social networker” or whatever. I just felt like it was much ado about nothing when I first saw it happen.

And I can’t help but wonder if this is a generational thing or not. I’m a GenXer so my perspective is certainly different than a baby boomer or a millenial. I grew up mostly without the Internet and my social skills weren’t centered around typing information into computers or other devices. We actually went outside and…you know…did things to meet other people.

These days many people meet via social networking sites and get to know each other before they ever meet in person. This has some advantages to be sure but can also result in some disappointment as online personalities can be quite different than offline ones. How somebody acts/reacts online is not necessarily going to be how they behave offline.

And we GenXers were taught a certain amount of discretion when it came to private details about our lives. Comparatively speaking, I’m probably more comfortable than your typical fossil baby boomer and probably significantly less comfortable than a haughty millenial in sharing details about my life online.

I think there really is a big difference in how each generation perceives and behaves when it comes to social networking. As always I’m sure there are exceptions to every rule and I’m sure there are probably baby boomers out there who have taken to online social networking like ducks to water and maybe even a few millenials who haven’t.

To each his own, in all things.

These days people—particularly the narcissistic millenials and also those younger than them—seem to let it all hang out…heedless of any possible negative consequences to their reputations and/or careers. Everything goes including pictures and video of people at their absolute worst—early in the morning, drunk at parties, high on drugs, in sexual situations, or even flat out having sex. There just doesn’t seem to be any limits at this point.

But is that a good idea? I don’t think so. What will happen when one of these people applies for a job and the prospective boss googles their name and finds some nasty photos of them doing stuff they should be ashamed of? A person’s network means quite a lot in terms of how their career evolves and if employers see you engaged in unprofessional behavior via social networking sites, it could have a chilling effect on your career.

It took me a while to get comfortable sharing information about my life publicly. That probably sounds funny since I’ve done it to one degree or another in forums over the last 15 years or so. But not quite in the invasive way that happens today with social networking sites and applications. These days you can quite easily put every freaking bit of your life online for other people to see if you want—though I don’t recommend it.

When I was first playing with Twitter I went back and forth about how much I wanted to say on it and what the effect might be. How will others perceive what you do and where is the line between maintaining some semblance of privacy and sharing your life with other people?

And what about the people you work with? How much of your daily life do you really want to share with them versus keeping a polite and professional discrete distance? Is there such a thing as too much information?

It’s a tough call and one that each of us has to make when we use these services.

Like anything there’s good and bad aspects to social networking sites. My favorite site would have to be LinkedIn as it provides an easy way of professional networking. LinkedIn actually serves a useful purpose. We all need to make a living and LinkedIn has the potential to make that easier if somebody is in the market for a job or in the market to hire someone else for a job.

If I ever wanted to change jobs or needed a new one, I think LinkedIn might be helpful in finding a new gig. I recently updated my profile on it to include more details about past gigs as well as links to some older writing clips and even an archive of my site via the Internet Wayback Machine. I might even take on a little freelance work via LinkedIn at some point to bring in a few extra dollars.

I feel pretty comfortable with LinkedIn as I see it as a potentially valuable tool to stay in touch with colleagues both past and present. It’s a way of cementing those career bonds and potentially profiting from them as well as assisting others when they need help hiring somebody or when they are looking for work.

Now as far as the worst site goes, I’d have to give it to MySpace. It felt like a ghetto to me the first time I saw it and it seems just as bad today. You couldn’t pay me enough to spend any time on that site as it seems filled with inane trash from top to bottom. Unlike LinkedIn, there’s no productive benefit to MySpace. It strikes me as being emblematic of the worst qualities of social networking especially the tendency toward unmitigated narcissism and flat out filth at times.

I’ve found myself gradually warming to Twitter, though I thought the whole idea was quite stupid initially. But as I read posts from friends, colleagues, and flat out strangers, I’ve come to realize that other people’s lives are at least as mundane and even boring as mine. Reading tweets from others gives me an interesting glimpse into other people’s lives much more so than a blog entry or email would have.

Even though I’ve adjusted and found my sea legs, there are still things I don’t like about social networking. Facebook, for example has a number of truly stupid and annoying applications.

I removed one person from my friend list because he kept “buying and selling friends” and every time I logged in he had “bought” another person. Um…do I give a darn? No, I don’t. I got so sick of it I booted him and I don’t regret it for an instance.

Another thing I find annoying is certain personality qualities and politics. I tend toward more conservative/libertarian politics and one friend on Twitter was a total moonbat leftist. We had some clashes over the myth of global warming and he eventually blocked me because he couldn’t stand the fact that I wouldn’t mindlessly join his frightening climate cult.

That incident gave me a good understanding of why that old expression about not discussing “money, politics or religion” exists. It just angers people and/or sets us against each other. And that can be truly annoying when it happens in a social networking sense.

On the other hand, Facebook, for example works very well as a political networking tool. So in that sense politics becomes a positive thing and Facebook is useful. You can join with like-minded people to support the candidates and causes you believe in.

But on Twitter, forget it. It’s probably best to avoid politics if at all possible. Though I confess that I let my own ideology creep into my tweets sometimes. Hey, we’re all human right?

Another thing I found I disliked was drama queens who make every facet of their lives seem like a crisis. Thankfully these people are mostly few and far betwee0n but, man, there’s no quicker way to get off my buddy lists than whining about how bad you’ve got it or how busy you are.

Ugh, get over yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to be supportive when somebody really needs it and is having a real crisis. But drama queens feed off of such attention so it’s best to boot them off your friend list as soon as possible to spare yourself the headache of wading through their drama.

The Reluctant Social Networker Adjusts
So I’ve adjusted to the new social networking scene and even gotten to like some of it. I’m on Twitter,Facebook and LinkedIn and I’m sure there are others I’ll be joining as well at one point or another as time goes by.

I’ve even gotten to like some of what social networking has to offer and, while I still roll my eyes at some of the silly shenanigans and time-wasting nonsense that go on, I can also see the positive aspects of it.

Heck, you can even find old friends and classmates that you lost touch with years before! You can get jobs or hire people you need for your business. And you can find out interesting tidbits about people you currently know that you would never have guessed or as my colleague Mike Nguyen put it “social networking lets you practice legal voyeurism.”

What’s not to love about all of that right?

So the reluctant social networker isn’t quite as reluctant as he used to be.

What’s your take on social media? Tell me in the comment section below.


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