New! Distracted Featured in "Grace Notes" Exhibit at New York Society Library from January 19 to February 22 - New York City

With A Little Help From My Friends

When you’re an author, you have to be an extrovert and an introvert. Long lonely days of research, writing and thinking are interspersed (if you’re lucky) with speaking, interviews, travel and time spent plugging your book. These two challenges demand different kinds of energy.

So wearing my hyper-social marketing hat, I recently pushed a button on Linked-in that invited all 800 or so of my email contacts to connect with me. The ripple effects were fascinating.

Yes, I achieved one goal; in one weekend, my Linked In contacts grew from 69 to more than 400. My first sophomoric reaction was to gloat. I proudly told my teen-aged kids of my swelling circle of contacts. It was so easy! I just sat back and noticed the mass of emails in my inbox saying “Congratulations! You are now linked to…” The connections were made – and quickly forgotten. I stopped even reading the emails to see who I had connected to.

But then came the real social link-ups. The only personal, really social emails that I received came from friends and business contacts who did not do Linked In. They fell into two categories. There were those who asked for an explanation (‘What is this party that you’re inviting me to?’ Or, from a few seniors, ‘How do I do it?’) I found myself apologizing for the bother, and feeling a bit impatient as I walked some folks through the first steps of signing up.

Another group, sometimes poignantly, apologized for not doing social media, or for doing only Facebook, but not Linked In etc. Via the Net, they spoke to me – and I responded. We had an interchange – because they did not link up with me. I can remember these brief, often newsy conversations, while my new roster of 400 or 500 new links made no impression on me.

Of course, all these new weak ties may prove “useful” to me someday. I’ll get to update these contacts on my writerly doings, spread the news of my next book, and hear their stories in exchange. Yet I wonder whether all our frantic efforts to expand our networks are a kind of busyness that impedes the living of life. Are we searching for connection in the wrong places?

A quick glance at the research on social media is interesting.

– The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report on social media, warning of Facebook depression, where kids feel excluded from all the postured fun.

– A cross-cultural study finds that US college students have more weak ties and larger networks than South Korean students – who bond with smaller groups of strong ties.

– Most intriguingly, researchers seem to be pushing back on the idea that weak ties are the route to creativity; instead one study finds that “wide” sharing of content among strong ties inspires creative interactions. Perhaps backing up this finding, a British author points out that people have an average of 120 friend on Facebook, but actually exchange messages with about 7-10 of them!

The quality vs quantity debate comes back again and again – in terms of time spent with children, time spent with contacts on- and offline, levels of income… One thing’s for sure: we have to make choices in this brief life. I pushed a button, expecting an easy expansion of my social milieu. But our social lives on or off the Net should demand thought and care. We especially have to remember: how do others feel at the other end of the line?

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