The why of it

29 May

“So, let me get this straight, you have a Facebook account and an ASW account, both social networks? But why?”

I was incredulously asked that question yesterday. I had to pause and consider the answer. D. answered for me, that Facebook is to connect with people that I already know and ASW is to meet people.

In truth, there’s more to it than that. Faced with seeming criticism and the unvoiced question of “You have time to do all these?”, I failed to mention that I also have a LinkedIn account, Twitter, answer questions and vote answers at Quora, curate fashion at Boutiques, keep this blog at WordPress, another tech blog at Posterous, used to have a Tumblr account (unattended), and numerous other things that I signed up for: Hunch, Plinky, Popplet, and Path to name a few.

As for time, well, as the main market and trends researcher of all things tech and startups in our own startup, I had the luxury of doing all of these on workdays. Although, as my role expanded, I have had to use my personal time to keep all of these running and active. And that’s where the not-watching-TV helps. The critics of time-sucking social networks fail to see that the most active people on social networks tend not to watch TV (unsubstantiated, yes, but only because I couldn’t find the link to that article) which is a bigger time-sucker. Also, they overlook the power of smart phones – I’ve written a lot of my posts in my Iphone while waiting in line, at the doctor’s office or at the Metro – and the mobility and spontaneity that it provides. I can justify the use of my networks as such:

  • Facebook is for keeping connected with friends and family in different countries and cities
  • Twitter is to get real-time updates on news and for annoying brands and services into action
  • Blog platforms are for posts such as this
  • Quora is to find out, for example, what web framework Zynga is using
  • LinkedIn is for professional connections
  • ASW is to meet new people
  • Boutiques is to get recommendations if I happen to like certain things

Going back to my point of it being more than that: I love being an early adopter of technologies. I love being in the forefront of things that are happening now. Before I was in tech, it was fashion. My attitude has not changed, it has only changed medium. I loved having the first-generation Iphone within the first year, I loved wearing gladiator sandals before it was mainstream, I loved ditching Friendster and MySpace for Facebook before it was cool; and uncool to have a MySpace account and now consider moving to Path or Diaspora before Facebook becomes uncool. I loved being on Quora before people started talking about it. I was not happy that I was late in the Groupon game and started with Teambuy in Canada because it was initially unavailable. I love getting alpha invites or beta invites for startups that come and go, but when they stay and hit the jackpot, I feel proud for being a part of it.

But I can’t discount the charges that, by their nature, the interactions can be shallow and promote narcissism. Why else would sell to AOL for tens of millions of dollars within days of public launching – having your personal landing page, with links to all your social network profiles can be a heady thing (no, I don’t have one, I don’t think I’m there yet). And beware of having a low Klout score or you will be exposed for the non-influencer that you are.

“To Like” something on Facebook speaks of our participation and our tentative advance to connect, but only up to a point. As much as I rejoice on a friend having a new family, I avoid the lengthy telling of how it came to be, the joys and sorrows of being a mother, peppered with oh-how-cute-is-my-baby and am-i-the-luckiest-person-in-the-world-or-what. When I post pictures or a status update, I don’t mind when people “Like” my post; in fact I like it, in a non-Facebook way or, I can “Like” back. Let me reiterate though that given the chance of us living in the same city, I would be more than happy to ooh and aah over said baby but somehow, online, I only have energy for my closest friends – and even then, we mostly communicate via emails or chats.

I have about 300+ friends on Facebook with pending friend requests of around 50. I interact with only a handful of them but I must admit that I do enjoy looking at friends’ pictures and gag at the very public displays of affections between some people, and catch up with gossip on what’s going on and who’s going on with, in Miami. I have numerous settings on who can see which on my account, enabled and disabled public search, erased interests and activities when Facebook privacy policies changed.

Yes, they took time and yes, it was annoying. But I truly believe that these are tools that we can use and manage. In today’s world of ever-increasing digital data, these are tools we can use to curate what to read, to watch, where to eat and where to travel. As we become more mobile IRL (in real life), we can maintain connections across distances, collaborate across thousands of miles, meet new people in our networks of FOAF. Having arguably shallow interactions online doesn’t mean that we are desensitized from the real and sometimes painful demands of life or that we fail in our  real-world interactions. And let’s face it, narcissism is not new. Didn’t we use to have friendship/autograph books? It has and always will be there and just like the way my hankering to be an early adapter in fashion transferred into tech, it just found a new medium.

And what a medium it is. I do so love the Internet.

NB. Inspired by the question I mentioned and by an article from the New York Times, “Liking is for Cowards, Go for What Hurts.”


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