We’re all looking for something genuine, and the most common complaint about social networks is that it strips genuine personal interaction. I’m a self-proclaimed apologist for media and social networking, but there’s one resource where I draw the line: LinkedIn.

I am more than my resume.

Now, I realize that expanding to be more personal is essentially copying Facebook, Myspace, etc. I applaud LinkedIn for being specific, picking their game and winning it.

This is not genuine interaction.

But to me, LinkedIn is just another forced networking event, the kind of thing that I hate in person: let’s have an “event” that is nothing more than a hotel meeting room designated for soulless ladder-climbers to put on a conservative suit, gladhand, exchange useless small talk and maybe a business card and an insincere promise to “keep in touch.” Oh, refreshments will be served.

In the age where we’re all looking for something genuine on the web, or someone genuine in our professional area, LinkedIn comes off as a refugee camp for those who see “work/life balance” as another buzzword on a corporate benefits package; who play golf on weekends for the business value and not enjoyment; who define themselves on a business card. It’s where Reagan-esque capitalism goes to thrive, and altruism goes to die.

LinkedIn: It’s a modern Rolodex, and nothing more.

I will say that LinkedIn does have its place, though only as a “find and be found” resource. I have a profile, and it’s updated. People can contact me and link to my website, blog, and Twitter feed. I can research companies and their HR staff, just so there’s some small level of comfort in a phone interview or a first time meeting. Saying “look me up on LinkedIn” is now more efficient than passing around a small piece of 60# cardstock with your name, number, and email on it, and this is good. But LinkedIn goes deeper than that, essentially turning a warm handshake into a guest who’s overstayed his welcome.

Tuesday is my least favorite day of the week. You know why? That’s the day I get the weekly digest email of the few discussion groups I belong to on there, and am regularly inundated with aimless posts looking for a job, all caps subject lines, and re-hashed discussions about networking via social media – all of which make me want to take a drink and walk down to the lake and beg the sky for lightning bolts. (Music kudos if you get this reference.) The point of social web is to enable two-way communication that the one-to-many mediums cannot offer. But when this becomes overrun with dry profiles only seeking a back scratch, we’ve lost our way.

Stop being polite, and start being real.

Maybe I’m just being “too punk rock for this.” (Pop culture kudos if you get this reference.) I’ve second-guessed myself a number of times, wondering, “do I just dislike work?” I don’t think that’s it. There are aspects of my career that definitely make me tick and partially define me as a person. But I still can’t help but shake my negative connotation of “professional networking.” We need to be meeting people organically, as opposed to the blind-date setup based on the left-brained analysis of career progress that LinkedIn provides. So you can look me up on LinkedIn; but we’ll make a better connection if we meet at a barbecue over a cold bottle of beer.

This post was inspired by this article:
http://www.talentzoo.com/news.php/Why-LinkedIn-Matters-in-a-Job-Search/?articleID=8043

I recently started a masters program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL in New Media Studies. One of my classes requires me to blog about various issues regarding new media on a weekly basis, as well as contribute other tidbits as I see fit. Since a lot of those are applicable on this blog as well, I considered double-posting a few of them, but for now, I’ll just direct you to the entire blog: Brian Miller’s NMS 501 Blog – http://brianblogsdepaul.wordpress.com.

Please stop by, subscribe, read, and comment.

The whole idea for these posts came from my feelings after reading Winda Benedetti’s MSNBC article “Five reasons why I took a Facebreak.” (Thanks @lllittlefield and @LKassenbrock)  I found myself honestly upset, which was weird.  I’m defending a website and an industry that I (currently) have no personal or financial stake in.  I’m a user, just like everyone else.  But the article brought up many concerns and complaints that I constantly hear from non-users and haters alike.  I could go through sentence by sentence and pick it apart, but I’ll stick to the five main points.

To Facebreak or not to Facebreak?

To Facebreak or not to Facebreak?

1.  The black hole
This basically refers to the amount of time that’s often wasted Facebooking (or Tweeting, etc.) by getting sucked in to everything the site has to offer.
“It’s a testament to just how compelling an experience the folks at Facebook have created, and bravo to them.  But I need that time back. I’ve got an honest-to-goodness non-digital life to attend to.”
But wait.  Again, as I pointed out in my post “Does social media redefine neighborly interaction?” and as Ivor Tossell points out in his piece from Canada’s Globe and Mail, are these online friendships not real?  Unless you’re “friend-whoring” and requesting everyone you see, these are real people with whom you have real relationships with at some level or another.  It’s not the folks at Facebook who make these people compelling…this is your life.

However, getting sucked into a black hole of not real stuff is a possibility.  “There were vampires and zombies that had virtually bitten me, and expected to be virtually bitten in return. I’d been poked and the question begging to be answered: Would I poke back, or would I remove said poke as though said poke had never happened?”
Here’s the thing.  Just like your television having an “Off” position, Facebook apps – most of which are mind-numbingly stupid – have an “Ignore” button as well.  Accepting every stupid request that your n00b (if you don’t know, I’m talking about you) Facebook friend sends you would be like accepting every single invitation to go out with friends, or keeping every toy that comes in the cereal box.  Eventually, you’re going to have a stressful life and a kitchen full of clutter…and only crazy people do that, right?

2.  Oy, the guilt
This is nothing new.  Online networking hasn’t changed the basic human condition and emotion of guilt.  11-year-old Lizzy was going to be upset if you didn’t return her note in third period, just as the 33-year-old Elizabeth might get a little extra sensitive if you don’t comment back on her wall post.  Don’t blame online networking for the emotional faults of your friends.

3.  Where has my history gone?
“With time, those friendships of yore acquire the warm shimmer of nostalgia and your experiences with these people take up a special (if not entirely accurate) place in your memories.  But reconnecting with long-lost friends … can be a jarring experience to say the least. … Sometimes reading their profile is a fun, fascinating journey of rediscovery. … Sometimes, your friends’ political, personal and religious affiliations — so neatly summarized on Facebook’s Info page — don’t seem to describe the person you remember, but instead seem to describe a stranger … a strange, dislikable stranger.”
I do kind of sympathize with this one.  It’s similar to people saying that they’d be hesitant to meet their favorite movie star, athlete, or musician out of fear that they’d be a real jerk, thus shattering the perfect image you’ve had in your mind.  But personal experiences shape our adult lives.  Just because you and Timmy had awesome times playing basketball in middle school doesn’t mean that when you went off to Oberlin College and he got a job with the street department that you can re-connect in the same level on the other side.  That’s life.  It’s just a matter of whether or not you really believe that ignorance is bliss.  Sometimes it is.

4.  Standing on the precipice of humiliation
Also nothing new.  Remember in the 50’s when Leave It To Beaver type housewives would form gossip networks over the telephone, ruining someone’s squeaky clean image with an embarrassing tale?  Yeah, times haven’t changed much.

5.  You can check out…
Ah, the reconciliation at the end.  As Winda Benedetti points out, she missed a lot of stuff.  A lot of real life stuff.  Was cutting herself off from online networking a good idea?
“One friend recently had a baby and he’s been keeping people up to date on his son’s arrival and the ensuing adorableness by using Facebook and Facebook alone, it seems. Meanwhile, old friends of mine came to town for a visit and then left, but I failed to connect with them because they tried to reach me via Facebook while I was taking my Facebreak. I haven’t seen them in a decade. Now, who knows when I’ll have another chance.”

A common cure suggested for frustration with online networking is “just don’t take it too seriously.”  I totally disagree.  Take the time to use social networking properly – installing privacy filters, controlling your own content, etc. – and you’ll find that it’s not this separate life or identity or time waster, but a valuable communication tool that allows you to stay in touch more conveniently than ever before.  Be smart!

In my previous post, “Does social media redefine neighborly interaction?” I put to bed the myth that the downfall of western civilization is being caused by a bunch of Gen Y-ers banging out status updates on Facebook and Twitter.  But I recently found myself in the same situation that anyone with a Twitter account has undoubtedly found themselves in:  Having a non-user ask: “What the hell is Twitter?  Explain it to me.”

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you’ve had a conversation that has gone something like this.

Baby Boomer:  “So what’s this ‘Twitter’ I’ve been hearing so much about?”
You:  “Um…well, it’s a website.  Actually more like an application.  You can post status updates there for anyone you’re friends with to read.”
BB:  “Status update?”
You:  “Yeah, like on Facebook.”
BB:  “I don’t get the fascination with Facebook either.”
You:  “Well, um…okay.  I guess it’s only necessary for certain people.  I work in marketing, so I have to be up on this stuff.”
BB:  “Okay.  But I still don’t get what it is.”
You:  “You just write a little blurb answering the question, ‘What’s up?’”
BB:  “But nobody asked me.  If they wanted to know, wouldn’t they call?”
You:  (incoherent mumbling)

(Now, before anyone gets all huffy, I have previously pointed out that there is not much of a generation gap when it comes to technology and social media.  Early adopters have been and will be early adopters at any age, and the Boomer generation is the fastest growing set of online users.  But in my personal experience and my twenty-something friends’ personal experiences, this is a common occurrence.)

Twitter’s headline of “What are you doing”? is pretty accurate.  I usually use the line above, that it’s simply answering the question “What’s up?” for people to read.  As to why Twitter may be a more beneficial and time-saving way to keep in touch than traditional email, I’ll again refer to Clive Thompson’s New York Times Magazine piece.  In an earlier post, I relayed the term “ambient awareness” to describe a person’s Twitter feed.  Thompson relates Twitter updates to current media forms that everyone will understand.  “…Awareness tools aren’t as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It’s personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they’re not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines.”

So this is where you, the reader, use the comments field.  Because unlike the newspapers of yesteryear, this is an interactive forum.  How do you explain Twitter?  As you can see, I have a tricky time doing it, and the message isn’t always consistent.  But that doesn’t for an instant make me think that at this day in age, at least some form of social media contact is a necessity to function in the modern technological world.

Its a jungle out there.

It's a jungle out there.

I like social media.  Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat.  I think it’s a valuable tool for communication, and can even be a source of entertainment.  It’s definitely increased the flow of information between people.  But I don’t think that social media is radically changing the way that people communicate.

As Ivor Tossell points out in his audio piece in this article from Canada’s Globe and Mail, there seems to be an equally ridiculous prevalence of people on both sides of the social media spectrum:  a) the so-called Social Media Experts who are regular people who just really, really like playing on Facebook and Twitter, and b) the Get-off-my-lawn brigade, whose “underlying philosophy is that social networking websites…are one big frivolity and anti-social distraction.”

The dichotomy between the reality of the situation and the drivel that both of these camps spout off brings to mind this GraphJam.com chart about political coverage on television:

US Political Belief vs Media Attention Given

US Political Belief vs Media Attention Given

And just like the never-ending political debate, rational thought is really somewhere in between.

Here’s where I get defensive about social networking.  Because online networking is done in front of a computer, there are those who equate the decline of western civilization to the abundance and prevalence of online friendships.  The hypocritical people who decry social networking practices as information overload or invasive of privacy are often the same ones who shake their heads and grumble about how it’s a shame that people don’t know their neighbors anymore.  How is communicating with an acquaintance on Facebook that different?  As Tossell notes, the get-off-my-lawn camp “…operate[s] on the presumption that online friendships are fraudulent or somehow debased, as opposed to the kind that are maintained over telephones, or nurtured in stoic silence, or maybe those extra-special friendships that are maintained by sending stacks of Christmas letters once a year.”  For the vast majority of us, our online networks are filled with real people who we know and care about at least on some level.  Of course, there are the few people with 10,371 Myspace friends that raise a red flag to the get-off-my-lawn folks.  But really, they’re no different than the guy from the early 80’s with the massive black book of phone numbers:  nobody is taking either of them seriously.

The most common complaint I hear about why Twitter (or any status update) is trivial goes something like “I don’t care that my college buddy in Omaha is making a sandwich.”  (Yet millions of Americans tune in each week and get emotionally tied to the contestants – most of whom the average viewer does not know personally – on American Idol or any other reality show.) Even the most independent of us – I’m definitely included in this camp – still naturally crave a certain level of human interaction.  The behavioral information you pick up about a person – whether through status updates on Facebook or through picking up her subtle body language out of the corner of your eye – pretty much tells you the same thing.  Social scientists refer to it as “ambient awareness,” as defined in Clive Thompson’s New York Times Magazine piece “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” So maybe deep down, on a subconscious level…you do care about your buddy’s sandwich.

So what’s my point in all this?  It’s that there is a point to all of this.  Social networking isn’t radically changing the way that human beings communicate and behave.  It’s simply opening another avenue to allow real people to do what they’re going to do anyway:  group together in little bunches, make friends, socialize, and share their lives with each other.  We’re just doing it a little faster now.