I recently parted paths with a college friend. We had grown in different directions, become different people who valued different things. Time spent apart and out of touch made our personal and philosophical paths diverge ever more and the differences were painfully obvious when we occasionally spoke or met.
After college, we had gone our separate ways. I went to medical school and he became an I.T. guru and web designer and later developed his own e-commerce business. Numbers, and the bigger the better, seemed to take center stage in his thinking. I don’t blame him. E-commerce is a tough business and you have to be fierce to survive.
This parting of ways, and the role the subject of numbers took in our last conversation, made me think of social networking and the numbers game that it, in many ways, is. To some, membership in a networking site constitutes an opportunity to aggressively pursue more and more connections and ever-growing networks. Social network sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the OWC offer these types of infinite connections. Rightfully so, they are powerful business and product development tools.
But I struggle, at times, to use them in that way. It’s not my nature to voraciously and frenetically “friend up” anyone and everyone. I need substance in the relationship and connection. I need to feel that there is some connection between us. After all, a friend is not a random person in the ether, but a human with whom I have spent time and with whom I have found commonalities. The relationship functions to enrich us both. It has meaning.
There are some interesting commonalities between the way we make our ways through social networking sites and brain development. We start out, at birth, with our higher-order brain cells interconnected randomly to vast numbers of other cells. This haphazard and random connectivity does not allow for any ordered functional process we associate with awareness, cognition, language, etc. (connections necessary to for sustaining life are functional and hard-wired in at birth). As we grow, mature, learn and gain awareness, those connections are pruned so that those remaining are meaningful and functional. Those established connections remain functional only if nurtured and maintained.
I entered the realm of social networking sites (especially Twitter) with a good deal reluctance. While I am thrilled at all the requests I receive on the social networks where I have profiles, I cannot help but feel that these connections are like those that take place in utero when the brain is forming before they are functional and meaningful. Each time I accept a connection request, I wonder if and how I will maintain a relationship with that person.
Of course, some would advise me not to worry, saying “You never know…”. The reasoning being that each social connection offers a potential business benefit to me – as someone who operates an internet publication. I do not yet have a sense of the rate of return on all the time I spend “friending up” strangers with the hope that they offer some (incalculable) business potential. Like many other slow adapters, I am reluctant to spend additional hours in front of a computer screen after doing that very thing at work. And if I have only so many hours in a day, I would prefer to devote more of them to writing the content to which my social networking activity is supposed to drive traffic.
Social connections require time and effort to foster and develop. It is often a challenge for me to meet all my obligations and responsibilities, so I fear I may not have enough time in the day to engage all my connections in a personally meaningful way. So I have chosen to request connections only of those people with whom I intend to maintain some relationship. I just don’t want to end up “pruning” any connections I make at this point. But I will not reject or decline any requests.
Sure, by being less aggressive with seeking network connections, I may be closing myself to benefits that come, serendipitously, out of connections with a friend of a friend of a friend. I am not sure what the chances of that happening are. At the core of it, though, I take my time with making new connections because I don’t yet know how I can create and nurture a meaningful personal connection with everyone in my network.
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