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.