Friday, September 23, 2011

Linked Out

I just closed my "LinkedIn" account. If you haven't heard of it, LinkedIn is a kind of Facebook for business people, ostensibly allowing them to network within their industry, refer clients to each other, assemble teams of experts, etc. I've had the account for four years and never gotten any real benefit out of it, and after receiving an e-mail from them this morning finally said, "You know what, I don't need that in my life." Apologies to the 42 Contacts I made (i.e., "Friends" in Facebook) who just lost mine.

Part of why I dropped LinkedIn is that I really have two careers that don't overlap and I like it that way. I get weirdly uncomfortable when Science Writer World and Comics World collide. I was once talking to a client about photovoltaic interconnection standards when he interrupted to ask, "Hey, did you do that comic book about cancer?" My stammering explanation would've made Porky Pig proud. I like my invisible irrational boundaries clean and high. So one problem with LinkedIn was that it lumped together contacts whom I had no desire to introduce to each other. (I wouldn't be surprised if LinkedIn had some function for sorting them into different groups but, again: more trouble than it was worth.)

Still, for something of so little value to me, it was amazingly hard to cut out of my life! I was fascinated observing myself struggling to push the button. There's some interesting psychology at play.

First, I think people--even natural loners--like to be part of a group. Any group will do. The Greeks considered exile a very harsh punishment. Voluntarily casting yourself out of the tribe is difficult.

Second, it's easier to stay in than get out. Staying in means I delete an e-mail once in a while. Takes a tenth of a second. Getting out means logging in, finding my account information, and navigating through several "Is there any way we can talk you out of quitting?" pleas. Not onerous, but it took a couple of minutes.

Third, I think there's a kind of gambler's fallacy operating: LinkedIn hasn't done anything for me the past 1400 days but maybe tomorrow will be the day it pays off. I'll get a great job offer or hear from someone really cool. One more day, what's the harm? In fact, I probably thought about closing my account two dozen times over the past several months but "one more day" always stopped me.

One of Jerry Seinfeld's oldest, best jokes is about how men use the TV remote control: click click click, blazing through 500 channels because we're not interested in what's on, we need to know what else is on. What am I missing? Maybe something great is happening on LinkedIn right now! Now I'll never know.

I wonder if these social media are more powerful and addictive than we think. I wonder if leaving Facebook would be like cutting off an arm for some people. I wonder if the people who operate and buy and sell advertising on those sites realize that. (Of course they do.) It's strange and funny and frightening how things that didn't exist a few years ago so quickly become absolutely essential.

Still, I figure that anyone with the slightest interest or reason to contact me doesn't need LinkedIn to do it. One of the benefits of having an odd surname is being extremely Googleable (I pity the poor "Steve Smiths" of the world whom nobody can ever find). If any of you 42 former Contacts want me for anything, here I am.


Mike said...

I recently dropped LinkIn for much the same reason. Someone had told me I needed to be there, but over several years, I never figured out any benefit that didn't exist in other places, and it was a pestery kind of place that kept wanting you to acknowledge people for no apparent reason, but mostly to accept the connection. Whatever that was for.

Except that when I joined, my cousin emailed me to find out if I'd been fired or was looking for a new gig or what. I guess LinkedIn is kind of a career-oriented version of -- and equally a sign of desperation and lack of ingenuity.

I'm currently reassessing Facebook in light of its overhaul and continued obfuscation. Like LinkedIn, it seems to have a lot of people who collect "friends" simply to have a large number, and I've decided that I really don't need to see the posts of people who I don't know in real life, who never post comics, who never comment on my postings and who never post in a language I can even identify, much less read.

The scary thing is, I really do have a pretty good number of those kinds of "friends."

Sherwood Harrington said...

I like my invisible irrational boundaries clean and high.

You're in good company: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, et al did, too. Maybe you should start thinking of your Comics World persona as your superhero side.

And, Mike, I'm close to pulling the plug on Facebook, too, but for a simpler reason. A few days ago someone pointed out to me that, since it's free, users are FB's product rather than its clients. While that should have been obvious to me, it wasn't, and now I feel used every time I post something there. The group for far-flung Harringtons that I'm part of will probably keep me there, though.

Brian Fies said...

Facebook still adds value to my life and possibly my career. It's been a very nice way for me to keep in touch with far-flung family and old friends. Besides, I seem to be one of the very few who doesn't mind the recent "upgrade."

Still, Sherwood's insight about Facebook users being product (whose information, contacts and eyeballs are bought and sold) rather than clients occurred to me when I signed up--an intrusion I tried to minimize by providing little more than my name (no birthday, location, etc.). It's a trade-off I'm OK with for now.

Over time, my nagging complaint with Facebook is its tiny, tiny attention span. Posts have a maximum life of three or four hours before they drop off everybody's radar. There's no solution for it, it's built into Facebook's DNA; many of its short-attention-span users probably consider it a feature instead of a bug.

There are times I imagine chucking it all and using my time more productively. If I ever do, this blog will be the last to go.

Mike said...

My son Jed drops by here once in awhile, but rather than count on that, I'll pass along his response to the recurring rumor that Facebook is about to start charging for access:

"Facebook is not about to start charging you a fee, relax. See, it goes like this - companies are in business to make money, they do this by charging a fee to their customers. You are not a customer, you are chattel. The customers appear in the right margin. Facebook will start charging you the day the zoo charges admission to the monkeys."

A smart lad.

Jim O'Kane said...

I've never understood the harrumphing over being "used" by Facebook et al. It's a fair trade: we get free interactivity with friends around the world, and the social network companies get ad space and marketing info. It's mutual exploitation.

There's a similar hand-wringing with the portable grocery scanners popping up in several supermarkets near my home - - a fellow I work with said he would NEVER let anyone track his grocery purchases, little realizing he's leaving a trail whenever he swipes his debit card at the cash register. I'd rather blaze through the grocery aisles with the scanner, skipping the unloading and reloading of the shopping cart at the end, than worry about Stop 'n' Shop Inc knowing that I buy the slightly more-expensive strawberry jam.

Brian Fies said...

First they came for the expensive strawberry jam buyers, and I did not speak out for I did not buy expensive strawberry jam...

Royston Robertson said...

Great blog post, Brian. It's true that these sites are hard to quit. But I tend to view them as another place to put links to my site and blog! I haven't used MySpace for years but my profile is still there, with my links on it. LinkedIn is a bit more of a nag though, as you say, with its constant emails, so I may yet follow your lead and quit.

ronnie said...

Hmm, my comment didn't post. I noted that you might find Google Plus, with its capacity to separate contacts into discrete "circles" or groups, serves your need to have one central social networking point but keep your science-writer and comic-book contacts separate. It's Google Plus's only real advantage over Facebook that I can see.