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“High-Bandwidth Buddies” and Social Media

Clive Thompson has written a really interesting article that challenges one of our core assumptions about social media.

We’re told all of the time that the most successful people are those who make lots of new acquaintances and have a diverse social network. But even I, as a high-intensity extrovert, struggle sometimes with just going onto LinkedIn or Twitter and discussing with people, especially just for naked self-promotion. I’ve always preferred talking about the important ideas and issues.

Apparently, most people are pretty similar. What Thompson points out is that our close friends aren’t necessarily super similar to us. In fact, amongst my own group of friends, one finds a host of ideological, religious, political and cultural perspectives and preferences.

As a sociologist, I find it interesting that maybe the idea of the strength of weak ties has been exaggerated. In my own personal experience, my opportunities haven’t generally come from a cousin’s roommate or someone distantly in my social network, but people closer by.

Certainly, social media can be valuable if all it does is expose us more to the people we care about, and show us surprising aspects of our relations with them.

I wonder about the pressure on introverts from the modern social media age, and the idea that we have to be always outgoing and interacting with others if we want to succeed. It’s bad enough if it’s true, but what if that’s a myth and people are erroneously seeking out interactions with strangers that are fraught with social and personal risk?

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2 thoughts on ““High-Bandwidth Buddies” and Social Media

  1. I think one of the core assumptions that should be examined at first here is what one would consider “successful”.
    Does a movie sell more tickets, a game developer more video games, an author more books, (etc.) if they’re on social media? Maybe so, maybe there’s a lot of talk about the product that might get people interested.

    But that has happened before too. A personal, and fittingly recent, example is “50 Shades of Grey” – a couple of years ago, when the book came out, I heard colleagues talking about it, read an article about it in a magazine (as you can see, I got to know about it the old-fashioned way) so I finally bought the book and tried it. Put it down after a little more than halfway through because it was just a bad novel. Story, characters, writing, etc. It was a bad book in every aspect.
    Let’s assume I used social media and got the know about the book there. This encounter caused me to buy the book and thus made the author more successful as in it made her sell more books.
    Now comes the question about “success”. I didn’t buy the follow-up novels anymore because I didn’t like the first one. Didn’t go see the movie either. When talking about the book myself now I give a negative review and thus maybe prevent more copies from being sold, maybe stop people from buying a ticket. Also me buying the book didn’t make it any better or worse. So if the author’s point wasn’t solely to sell a lot of copies maybe it didn’t contribute to her own personal definition of being successful.
    Successful on a financial level, successful as in reaching more people, successful as in influencing people, giving them a good time, make their lives better? Successful as in writing a good novel? Successful as in becoming known as a good author? What is it that the author herself would consider “successful”?

    Secondly this assessment of social media seems to focus on these kinds of jobs. There’s a lot of professions that I don’t see being impacted be the job-holder’s presence on social media. Quite the contrary actually. Maybe if I see my physician trading fart jokes on social media I might seriously doubt his professionalism and choose to find another?
    My banker, my accountant, gardener, plumber, … a lot of people have to convince me (and all their customers) by mere professional merit while I don’t care at all about their presence in social media.
    So being successful because of social media is, in my opinion, an illusion meant to promote social media and people exposing themselves there more and more.

    Now, I may be a cynic in many aspects but I truly think social media is mostly a lie people tell themselves. They claim to want to broaden their horizon, get to know people and their stories and experiences, to learn from those, to make an impact, find a fanbase, getting feedback, … all of that.
    But in the end I mostly see people doing exactly what you mentioned. Promote themselves, make themselves feel important. People, as I see it, have a need to feel seen, to feel valued, to have meaning. So they share everything on social media because they tell themselves that their opinions matter, that their activities are of interest, that their thoughts have meaning.
    They do, don’t get me wrong. But are they truly so important that we have to let the world know everything because the world will stop turning if we don’t? I don’t think so but people want to think of themselves in that fashion.

    Now, finally, when it comes to the introverts. After having settled what is meant by being successful as I mentioned above … assuming social media is a necessary or even important stepping stone to success (in certain fields) we’ll have to accept that introverts have had it harder in those areas before as well. A publishing company wants to send their authors on reading tours – not an easy though for an introvert. A game developer or TV show producer might want to sent their developers or actors or writers to conventions and stuff – not an easy thing for introverts. They are at a disadvantage in some fields, with or without social media.
    But introverts, as I am as well as you know, aren’t fragile little people afraid of the world. We can do all those things and for the right reasons we are perfectly capable of doing them well and maybe even enjoying them to some extend.
    On the other hand even extroverts might choose to forgo and skip the social media circus altogether because they want to do it another way. They can still be successful.

    Maybe it’s harder to be nowadays, maybe it’s actually not but we’re only told it is. Point is we can make our way without it, I have no doubt about it. Being “forced” to take part because it’s necessary is in my opinion just an illusion that we (maybe willingly) believe at times. Or want to believe so we can take part without admitting how silly it is.
    Is taking part in social media actually a prerequisite for success or even a guarantee?
    I don’t think so.

    • arekexcelsior says:

      I of course have written a Quora response recently noting exactly the same thing, that “success” can only become a bad thing if what one is trying to succeed at is itself bad or empty.

      But I do think even you are taking a narrow view of things. Let’s say that 50 Shades of Gray is the kind of thing that the author felt was valuable people should be exposed to. (I’d hope not because it’s just BDSM porn, but whatever). Then just you trying it is valuable.

      For me, the importance of social media at this moment is that it lets people engage with the message I’m trying to get out. While I do have some profit motive at some point, right now that’s very, VERY secondary to getting out the message.

      Similarly, anyone who’s trying to do something valuable, from reporting to charity work, has to be engaging in some kind of social interaction. Networking is crucial because it controls our opportunities, both ones we’re aware of and want and ones we’re not aware of and would benefit massively from.

      A physician won’t trade fart jokes on his public page, but he can build a network of trust. He could, for example, post about medical issues in his own community and reply to medical questions on his FB, blog and Twitter. Groundswell by Bernhoff and Li goes into the myriad ways social media interactions can transform organizations if those organizations are willing to be creative and embrace that transformation. (Bernhoff and Li are quite clear that not every organization changes the same way because some people have a consumer or client base that isn’t terribly interactive: Coca-Cola is never going to have the same kind of passionate forums and social networking opportunities as Lego).

      I would agree with you that introverts definitely can struggle in any society. In particular, a capitalist society where people aren’t put into positions by custom or inheritance is going to have social networking always be crucial. Still, it’s only been recent (post-1970s) that most industrial societies had the degree of job shifting and job insecurity that they do now, where people are constantly having to scrabble. That’s actually a subject of an upcoming post: There’s a great analysis by Stephanie Coontz of “Why We Really Miss the 50s”. For Americans, most of the reason why they miss the 50s is a combination of simplicity of choices and a strong economy. It was the golden age of state capitalism, and there wasn’t major social unrest.

      I agree with you that the data that I just posted indicates that it is illusory, but people who are job hunters or trying to build a business these days do in the vast majority of instances need to use social media skillfully. My friend Moorea Seal, despite being unabashedly introverted, has definitely engaged with social media full-stop.

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