Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

Man, it's been quite a while since I've blogged. I think the last entry was a hard one to follow up on. It's funny how confessional people have become in the last 10 years but I still feel uneasy sharing details about my family online. My interior musings are up for grabs but I'm shy about revealing the messiness of relationships. That act involves discussing & describing other people and I can't help but be biased about them. I never wanted this blog to be a place where I gushed about my latest infatuation or ranted about someone who was annoying. That's just life.

Now while I'm supposed to be finishing up my dissertation revisions, I've found myself immersed in events in the New York City tech scene. I'm kind of fuzzy on how it all started. I was looking at some statistics that said that 3 months ago I had 50 people "following" me on Twitter and today I have 577! I don't even know when the tipping point was that I went from being a casual newbie to a person with so many online connections.

It's been like a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering momentum and growing in size. I bought some domains in the spring which lead me to read some technology blogs and a few personal ones and some of the people who wrote these blogs suggested that I follow them on Twitter. I don't remember who these first people were or if I even still follow them! From there, I started following people I saw posting interesting or clever Tweets, saw who THEY thought was interesting and it just grew from there.

After a month or two, I noticed that some of the people I was following were getting together to meet in person. I asked if it was okay if I showed up, got an enthusiastic thumbs up and showed up to a couple of events. I enjoyed myself and got to meet some very interesting people I would never have otherwise crossed paths with. We worked in different professions, came from different generations, lived in different places but, truthfully, that's what made it so engaging to me.

Since then, the situation has gotten unnecessarily complicated as all human relationships get. People talk about "community" and Twitter events are presented as being open to anyone but the sociological fact is that people are born to form tightly-knit small groups, call them cliques, networks, tribes, or the "inner circle". Unless there is some shared characteristic (ethnicity, religion, nationality, a common interest, gender, etc.), it's unusual for a circle of unrelated people to have equally strong relationships with everyone else in a group.

The bonds between the people I've met in the NYC tech/media/startup world seem, in general, to be at once intense & strong and incredibly superficial & fragile which is typical of status-conscious groups. It's a business environment masquerading as a lifestyle. It reminds me a lot of when I worked in the music industry and I (and everyone else) judged everyone based on who they were listening to. Seriously, I remember thinking that I couldn't be in a romantic relationship with someone who had incompatible musical tastes, everything else was negotiable!

In the tech world, especially in social media, people seem to be judged by several criteria including their "personal brand", their current occupational position, and their knowledge of the industry & of the people in it.

I realize that this is passing judgment on a sector of society that has, by & large, welcomed me and to which I do not belong. But it would be a mistake to see it as a negative judgment. What I'm saying is typical for most social areas of our lives, from school to work to local civic involvement.

The difference is that a lot of users I see merge their professional lives with their personal lives and I think this can be psychologically claustrophobic. There should be some people in your life who don't care where you work or who you know, who accept & love you whether you have a high status or no professional status at all.

I know in the music industry that there was a revolving door on many positions at record companies & radio stations and it was only the most charismatic & talented who could survive being fired and remain in the business for long. There were a lot of casualties. Maybe things are truly different for the 2.0 generation, who all act like entrepreneurs in the making, but I think it is dangerous to attach all of your self-worth and self-identity to a job that you may not have for very long.

Now is where I confess to having done exactly the same thing when I was younger...which is absolutely the case. I didn't care much about balance but when the bottom falls out of your world, you're left with little to stand on but yourself and your closest friends and it helps if you've both been there for each other regardless of your personal fortunes & statuses. These friends are gold!

I see great potential in online social networking for making instant connections between people who were once strangers. I just hope that the bonds that are made can be lasting and generous and are not temporary or just a means to an end.