Linked Out

I am completely unhip. This comes as no surprise to the two dear readers I have. I have never been what one might call an early adopter. I am an only child and thus, typically averse to change and disorder. Therefore, when I recently received multiple invitations to LinkedIn, I politely declined, partially out of habit but partially out of some sense of distaste with the whole idea of “This is what networking should be.”

Something about the concept of being linked not only to my closest friends and/or colleagues but also former colleagues from a completely different life struck me as odd. The extent of that oddness didn’t really hit home until I began rereading The Best Software Writing I tonight in an attempt to get my groove back. Like much in life that seems coincidental but turns out to be serendipity, I picked danah boyd’s article entitled Autistic Social Software. As is my custom, I found someone else much smarter and more eloquent that helped me put the oddness to words.

LinkedIn is the epitome of danah’s autistic social software, a technology that simplifies relationships to the point of silliness in an attempt to make it useful to people. The irony in LinkedIn’s vision, “Relationships Matter”, is not that they don’t but that LinkedIn is such a poor representation of relationships at a personal level. Relationships DO matter and that’s why they are hard work, work that must be invested in people in order to make the relationship worthwhile. LinkedIn is an extension of the technological phenomenon where we expect hard things to be easy through the use of technological breakthroughs. The problem is, I would no more likely ask 98% of the people I would be linked to for a job than I would walk on the moon. It’s just not how our social psychology works.

LinkedIn makes “relationships” easy by linking you to your friends and all their relationships as well so that by signing up and associating yourself on LinkedIn, you immediately become “related” to people you may very well have made a conscious decision to become unrelated to in the past. I choose not to network with lots of people for a variety of very good reasons. I want my network to be small, not large because we as humans can’t keep up with very many true relationships at one time and I, as a closet introvert, can keep up with fewer than most people.

Of course, LinkedIn is useful for something, otherwise why would 15 million people be using it? As it turns out, if we return to danah’s paper, I think LinkedIn is being co-opted in the same way Friendster was being used back in 2004. Friendster was originally planned as a dating site but people started using it more just as a way to keep in touch with friends, rarely using the features as a dating service. People used the technology for their own purposes, whether or not those were necessarily inline with the site’s creators. In the same manner, I think people use LinkedIn to almost voyeuristically see the ways they are linked to people in a pretend network online. It’s interesting in the way MySpace is interesting and it’s just as real.

I prefer to keep things as real as possible. I like to actually get emails from people I like telling me what they have been doing versus seeing it on a Facebook page or blog. I prefer to network with people I actually would be willing to work with, not the first boss of 11 I had at the Evil Empire. My network is small, intentionally so, ironically because relationships really do matter. If they didn’t, LinkedIn would be the place to be.

0 comments on “Linked Out

  1. I look at LinkedIn the same way someone may look at the Bacon Number, only more personalized to me. 🙂 It is really the same concept, working in the number of degrees of separation.

  2. I look at LinkedIn the same way someone may look at the Bacon Number, only more personalized to me. 🙂 It is really the same concept, working in the number of degrees of separation.

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