Does social networking create antisocial behavior?
Remember when social networking meant you went to local networking meetings to connect with supposed rainmakers who could refer business to you? You would eat some rather tough chicken and be exposed to a den of losers whose homemade business cards left you wondering why you showed up in the first place. I once met a psychic attorney at one of these functions who said he knew when someone was going to be sued in the future. I got a little nervous when he kept insisting that I hold onto his card.
In the old sense, social networking to strike up some winning business prospects entailed spending time with a few losing prospects. Times have changed. I'm not saying there are fewer losing prospects out there... but nowadays we have the ability to kind of "speed-date" our way past them to concentrate on the keepers.
That's because these days, the term networking most often refers to online connecting, through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other electronic interfaces. Everyone is doing it -- some companies to great effect, and some students to great detriment. (Is it really worth flunking out of school because you're up until 5 a.m. responding to the 800 friends you have worldwide?)
Productive or Destructive?
Without a doubt, social networking can strengthen your career and expand your possibilities. It's a cheap, powerful way to connect. It generates relationships and situations you can capitalize on with face-to-face networking. You create connections with influencers and experts that would take years to achieve in person. Social networking builds brand awareness, enhances your company's image, prevents reputation problems, increases customer loyalty, reveals new markets and business opportunities, and keeps your key employees on the cutting edge of innovation.
With the power and potential of social networking, will we soon forget how to deal with humans face to face? Will we lose our ability to interact? I have seen some young hotel clerks who have clearly lost contact with the "hospitality" part of the hospitality business.
Taken to an extreme, the pervasiveness of social media networking among younger generations in particular leads some people to speculate that someday we might all be loner robots living in isolation and glued to our devices. Already, socializing electronically for middle school students means you can hook up, break up and develop teen angst with people you've never met! You've got to wonder what that looks like in the future. Will people be married through Facebook? Do you promise to stay together until ... what? Some big server goes down?
Is it possible for social networking to cause antisocial behavior? I don't mean that spending a lot of time on Facebook will make you a serial killer (although you might connect with people you could easily imagine strangling). It's just that if you spend your Friday nights with online friends, isn't that an indication that you don't actually have any real friends?
Making it work
The truth is that social networking actually creates great trust among people and brings them together, while also helping us to avoid getting together with people we should definitely deal with from a distance. Think about it: With certain coworkers, you know you'd function as a better team if you could just get information from them and not have to deal with their psychotic personalities. (A person can be only so annoying in text.)
The key is knowing how to use social networking to your own benefit or the benefit of your employer (not just for sending photos of yourself drunk to people you don't know that well and twittering that you're heading to the bathroom). Social networking is not just the future; it's a good future if you do it effectively.
As you strive to manage all the information that this complex modern life requires you to deal with each day, consider whether you're spending time with the right people. Think of that loser buddy from high school who just contacted you on Facebook -- the one who still drives the same car from senior year ... What's he doing for you? On the flip side, consider what other people get from reconnecting with you. If you're hanging out with people more successful than you, that might make you the loser buddy. But surely it's better to be a loser pulled up by winners than to be a moderate success who gets dragged down by loser buddies.
Social networking allows you to explore -- even exploit -- those dynamics. You get to learn from those who are successful and not waste your time with people who have nothing to offer. Be advised, though, there are weirdoes out there. Quite a few people I knew in the '80s have resurfaced to say hello and only one of them turned out to be a stalker.
Concern that the latest networking technology will jeopardize face-to-face connections is nothing new. In the late 1800s, people thought the telephone would destroy relationships when it actually ended up building them!
Social networking is yet another development in a steady progression toward better, clearer, faster communication and more fulfilling relationships. While early man once settled for one-on-one meetings and some cave art that seemed a bit vague, through the ages we have embraced written language, the postal service, the telegraph and the telephone to establish, expand and strengthen relationships. In our quest to strike up and cement relationships faster, aren't social networking vehicles like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the logical next step?
Garrison Wynn| October 14, 2010; 11:26 AM ET | Category: Personal essays Save & Share:
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