Network Imposition

by colbert | August 4, 2010

Since the inception of the first primitive forms of email, the appearance of the world wide web, and now the rise of social media, there has been an inference that the ability to reach more people, more often, any time at no cost is nothing but a wonderful thing. We’ve moved to a world where being linked-in and linking, friending and being friended, tweeting and re-tweeting, is viewed as somewhere between a cost of doing business and an essential aspect of a fulfilling life. But like many new forms of societal exchange it comes at a price. This new standard is causing people to forget the unwritten rules of friendship and personal association and in doing so create what I call “network imposition.”

I first experienced network imposition last fall on a crisp November day, my birthday. From the moment I arose to the time I retired I received a multitude of wall-based birthday wishes and direct emails from my 300 Facebook friends. The only problem is that most of these people really aren’t my friends. I have never supped with them. In some cases I have never met them. Or if I did meet them it was thirty years ago and I have no idea who they are today. And they don’t know me. But more importantly if they truly were my friends, wouldn’t they call me on my birthday? Or send me a card? Hell, how about a gift? Is the sending of a generic “happy birthday” to someone you don’t really know because it’s easy to do so a genuine and heartfelt act? To me it seems like an imposition. Now in this case it’s pretty much my fault. After all, I’m the one that said yes to Facebook friendship with these people. So the clear way to clear up the problem is to remind myself of my definition of a friend and to consistently apply it when people try to friend me or I friend others. In this post from Google they discuss how even the moniker of “friends” is not a helpful one and the need for all of us to be more mindful of sharing content at a micro-social-network level.

In more recent months I’ve begun to experience another and perhaps more conflicted network imposition: the email solicitation from someone I know through business to support a personal charity fundraising effort. This is a little awkward. As much as I believe in giving, and giving back, the dynamic at play here puts a bit of undue pressure on the recipient of the ask. If we don’t contribute are we devaluing the business relationship? If we do contribute, how much is enough? Should our company be making the contribution because it really is, in an indirect way, all about business? I’m not asking people to stop soliciting me but to remember the unwritten rules of personal engagement and which network I am really in. In fact if I had my druthers we would all step back and realize that there are various types of networks within our networks with different “rules of engagement.”  Friends should be treated as friends. Business relationships are just that. People you don’t really know should not be treated as people you do. And if there’s any doubt about what is right or just, don’t hit enter. Because if you do it will most likely be an imposition.

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