What’s the single most useful tool for networking in the Connected Age? This could start a lively debate! Well, while I may lean toward LinkedIn over Pinterest, the real answer has nothing to do with social media. The most useful tool is making a personal connection, either face to face or over the phone.
We are more and more “wired” to one another, but many of us older folks have forgotten how to engage. We may rant and rail against the “texting” generation, who seem tethered to their phones, but if you ask them, they really are connected to each other. They share their thoughts and feelings as they reach out for support. It is different from what anyone older than 35 experienced as a teenager, but they do form real connections with each other. Can we learn something from them?
I’m not talking about a sci-fi future where we are all telepathically connected into a hive mind. But I do think that we are moving beyond tribal social structures to something more like a hive. I am using the “hive” simile because we see people whose impact extends far beyond their physical reach. Many are female, almost like queen bees. Examples? Oprah, Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, the Bachelorette of the current season and even Perez Hilton, who, as a guy, has a lot of influence with topics typically associated with women’s interests.
I follow Penelope Trunk’s blogs, along with 130,000 others. This phenomenon of large followers happens with bands, recording artists and George Takei. Their followers are busy buzzing their tweets throughout the twitterverse. The size of a queen bee’s hive seems to correlate with the scope and scale of media penetration. TV, YouTube, various virtual tools, etc., can take a situation viral in minutes. Similarly, hives have swarms of thousands; when they are swarming, those in their path move out of the way.
Contrast this with a tribe, where there is also a central figure, a chief, to whom the members go for counsel, direction or to complain. Tribes, even extended tribes such as the Luo in Africa, are made up of smaller groups of 50-80 people. Think of the typical department of a large company.
Back to your teenager. Most of them aren’t really engaged with what Kim Kardashian, or even Oprah, are doing. They may find it entertaining. They may “OMG” each other, but they know it is superficial and unimportant. They text each other to stay in constant communication. They have a continuous conversation. It may look like a hive, but it is not. It is something potentially more powerful.
They use these tools to stay connected with each other. They problem solve, help each other with homework, and use their connections to retrieve and process information. They are collaborating in real time. We don’t need a telepathic hive mind when we can use tech tools to communicate and collaborate. We do need to transfer the same mind that hugs a friend we haven’t seen in ages to the way we engage with each other through multiple appliances.
In the olden days, AT&T had a marketing campaign, “Reach Out and Touch Someone.” When you use your keyboard, touchscreen device, smart phone or instant messenger, you have the potential power to touch someone. Think about that the next time you sit down to write an email. How are you touching the receiver? How are you connecting? Are you being mindless, just another busy buzzer in the swarm? Or are you making a real connection that will move things to the next stage?
We live and work in the Connected Age. The choice we face, as parents, leaders and netizens, is whether we will behave as a mindless swarm or use our connections consciously.