Recently, I wrote about my great love for Facebook and how it makes my world better. Several days later, I gave a presentation to a group of parents on how they can help their children with autism express themselves on the endlessly adaptable social web, even if they don’t talk (a freaking rad example here).
So yes, I do have a tendency to wax utopian about the Internet. After all, it keeps me from having to go into shoe stores. But, like other great things, the social web can be grievously misused.
I’m not talking about Farmville or your mom commenting on your drunk photos or anything like that. Everybody knows how irritating those things are already.
This is about a more subtle, but ultimately more destructive, phenomenon, a slippery slope of self-involvement that many of us could trip down if we’re not careful.
It’s when the instinct to express becomes buried by a compulsion to promote. When the urge to connect is subsumed by the drive collect. And that’s right about when strangers start thinking that you suck.
The thing is, people aren’t stupid. They can tell when people are being fake on the Internet, even if they couldn’t use a correct apostrophe to save their lives.
I shall provide a helpful anecdote. Some months ago, when I was actively searching for projects, I replied to dozens and dozens of queries on Craigslist. A few really did translate to gainful employment and of course I never heard back from most of them.
Until several weeks ago. That’s when I got an email from somebody purporting to be a Dr. Veronica, host of “Wellness for the Real World,” whatever that is (it’s a radio show). The email was a reply to one of those countless Craigslist emails I had sent many months ago, touting my abilities as a blogger/writer/editor/therapist.
Dr. Veronica (or her unpaid intern) was writing with some great news!
I am looking for people who are interested in submitting blogs and articles to my website. Blogs should be an approximately 400 word opinion piece and an article should be a well-researched factual piece of about 750 words. Pictures, links and video to your sources is encouraged.
I am interested in any topics related to health and wellness, diseases, healthcare politics and also health issue as they relate to celebrities. In addition, pieces about relationships-romantic and familial are accepted. Topics should be timely and be lively as to capture the attention of the reader.
If you are interested, please email the article with a short bio and picture. If we decide to use your article, we will contact you. We DO NOT compensate for the pieces however we do syndicate the article to many places.
Since I’m pretty confident that neither Dr. Veronica nor the person who cleans her home work for free, I found this irritating. (In what universe would I research and write a 750-word article for no compensation? Okay, maybe I would do it for this. Or this.) And given that her site is structured around selling shit, presumably so that she can earn money, I found it a little infuriating. But I really didn’t let it get to me because it was such a good opportunity to stick to my New Year’s resolution of not working for free anymore.
So I sent her a polite email, explaining that, given my schedule, I am only able to volunteer my time to certain not-for-profit organizations.
And I thought no more of it.
Not until a couple of days ago, when I got an email from LinkedIn, a site I have maybe looked at once in the past year, saying that Veronica Anderson wanted to be a part of my “network.”
My first thought was, “Who the hell is that?”
My second thought was, “Oh, it’s her. She obviously let LinkedIn scour her email contacts willy-nilly.”
Because really? She wants to stay in touch? After I sent her a snarky email? Right.
Needless to say, I didn’t accept her request. Partly because I’ve never found LinkedIn to be the least bit compelling, but mostly because she’s obviously a collector.
What is a collector? It’s somebody who wants. And wants. Statistics, followers, hits, ratings, listeners, sales. With no reciprocation. Dr. Veronica wants me (and a lot of other people) to donate their services. She wants as many “contacts” as possible. Why?
Not because she’s interested in me. I doubt she views the vast majority of her “contacts” as actual humans; they are numbers, potential clicks to her website, possible listeners of her radio show.
A lot of people, not just former-ophthalmologists-cum-lifestyle-gurus, follow this strategy. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; they follow and then un-follow hundreds of people per day on Twitter in hopes that they will be followed in return. There is no intent to communicate or motivation to be authentic. Gross.
I am singling out Dr. Veronica because she’s a public figure, not because she sucks more than a lot of other people. Not much anyway.
Not everyone who does this is well-known and not all known people do this.
For example, see Roger Ebert and Stephen Fry, two extremely famous people who use the social web to engage and connect. They have proven that you can have it both ways. Plus, neither of them have ever asked me to work for them for free. (WHICH I TOTALLY WOULD.)