I suppose the mere act of owning a Twitter and using it semi-regularly (even if only to make dick jokes) makes me part of the problem. I cannot say I’ve never daintily dipped my toe into the churning, frothing waters of Grown-Up Networking, but I do try to avoid it at all costs. And I firmly believe that we all should, because between the internet and not-intended-to-be-professional house parties, the whole concept of “creating a community” and “getting the word out there” has spiraled completely out of control. We are the communication era, but we need to learn to shut the f-ck up.
Though I was not alive during the Mad Men era when business was conducted over cocktails and in exchange for prostitutes (nor would I have been the right gender to participate, even if I was), I imagine that the concepts of “work” and “socialization” were mercifully separate entities. You might go out for drinks with a client, but you knew what you were there for. And sure, society was horrible, and the only people who succeeded were upper-middle-class white alpha males, but at least the handing of business cards and the making of Important Phone Calls were carried out with the straight-forward professionalism they required. They had their flaws, but at least they couldn’t bombard each other with mass emails about their upcoming events — of that much we are certain.
But now everyone is competing for the same five positions, we all want to have the “good” jobs, and we’re just about ready to rip each other’s scalps off to get there — no matter how many social media sites we have to abuse in order to do it. And let’s not pretend as though all of our slimy reaching out isn’t limited to our computers, either. There is no social gathering now that isn’t immediate fodder for talking about what you do and who you do it with. It’s hard not to go out today and be overwhelmed with the feeling that everyone and their mother has a startup they want to talk to you about, or is trying to launch this career doing something nebulous but incredibly interesting. You meet a guy who wants you to meet his friend who’s got this great project he’s kicking off next month, and you could totally get in on the ground floor, and why don’t you go “like” his Facebook page.
Oh, God, his Facebook page. When are people going to realize that forcibly putting people in your project page and then spamming them with endless updates about what you’re doing and what’s coming up next, even if these people live on another continent, is not the way to build a brand? When I was 19, it was everyone’s terrible band that I had to feign interest in and “promote” with a status update here or there, and now that people seem to have largely moved past that era, it’s various start ups, visual art, and “professional pages” — whatever those are. And beyond just liking the Facebook page, now you are pressured into heading over to the Kickstarter and tossing a couple bucks over for that awesome new project that is totally going to go sky high and make all of us Mark Zuckerberg, except capable of human emotion.
The thing is, it would be wonderful if we were all venture capitalists who spent our days buffing our monocles and handing out bundles of cash to every acquaintance with small-business dreams, but we’re all struggling. We all have projects we’d like to get out there, dreams we’d like to achieve, and jobs that pay us an exorbitant salary to sit in a massage chair and “brainstorm” while we eat vegan burritos. And when we feel like we’re meeting people whose interest in us only extends as far as we’re going to retweet them or introduce them to someone in their field, it gets a little exhausting. The networking has become so insidious as to replace entire friendships, groups of people whose only tenuous connections are their mutual desire to get as many clicks as possible on a project and meet the “right” people. It’s hard not to wonder how many relationships would dissolve if they weren’t trying to “push” something collectively.
At the end of the day, if your work or your idea is good, people will want to support it. They’ll read it, go see it, give you money, or tell their friends about it — you don’t have to force them. And frankly, the more you push for them to participate based on nothing other than the fact that you kind of know each other, the less they’re going to want to, even if they liked your stuff. We live in a time where everyone has a chance to make it big and achieve their dream from the ground-up, if we can just get enough people behind us and make it a reality. But with this freedom to communicate and endorse comes a new set of rules and etiquette that should be followed, no matter how many Twitter followers you have. Because really, if we’re all just screaming at each other about our stuff like an infomercial set on the most grating volume, eventually, we’re just going to turn off the TV.