Stanley Bing

My social network, myself

I was about to become a node in a vast social web of businesspeople, but a review of my acquaintances cured me of that itch.

Stanley Bing

(Fortune Magazine) -- I woke up this morning and realized that something was missing. I asked my wife, "What's this empty feeling?"

"Where is it?" she said.

"I don't know." I felt around my midsection, where my waistline used to be. "Here? Maybe a little bit above?"

I went to work. "I have this empty feeling," I told my associate Schindler, who works down the hall.

"They have a new seven-grain muffin in the commissary," he replied. I tried one, but that didn't do it. I called my friend Brewster. "Brew," I said, "did you ever have this sense that you were all alone in the universe, not really part of anything, just floating in a confusing miasma of frenetic activity that had no personal meaning for you?"

"Not today," he said.

I sat at my desk and did my e-mail. One popped up that grabbed my interest: "Bob Bassinger has invited you to become his friend!" it said. Bob Bassinger ... did I know a Bob Bassinger? I opened the e-mail. "I'd like to add you to my group, Stan," it said, and invited me to click on a link.

A glow suffused my innards. A chorus piped a happy, celestial chord. I knew what my anomie was about! I had failed to join a social network. These days a person without a social network is an island.

I called my daughter.

"Nora," I said, "I have decided to join a social network. I hear Facebook is the coolest. Should I join that?"

"Dad," said my child, "anybody over 25 who is on Facebook is a dork."

I looked. She was right. I won't mention names, but you know who you are, the few sorry fat faces in a sea of spiky, ironic youth. I recalled the parents, when I was young, who wanted to smoke weed with their kids.

I went back to Bob Bassinger's e-mail and clicked on the link. A page came up inviting me to join a community of professionals that had more members than the population of Sweden. I clicked the button that said JOIN NOW and entered my personal info. I was about to become a node in a vast social web of businesspeople who could network with one another, trade tales, help each other find new opportunities possibly.

I went up to the 52nd floor for a meeting. Lazenby was there, and Ottinger, and Kleinst, and Peterman, whom I almost never get to see because he's always on the road. I like that guy. "Howya doon, Peterman?" I asked him. He seemed glad to see me too. Then the meeting was over, and I went back to my floor. I hope I get to see Peterman again soon. He's a character.

Anyhow, the social-network page was still up on my screen. Now it was offering me a list of people I could add to my network based on my personal information -- past companies, college, organizations, that kind of thing. I recognized a few of the names. Yeah, I thought. Funk. Parmagiano. Brodsky. He was the guy who used to insist on a Sambuca as a nightcap after a night of ridiculous drinking. Should I add him to my network?

In fact, who should I wrangle together to make up my list? None of these guys, certainly. There was a reason we had lost touch with each other. Business friendships, for the most part, are about context. I still see the people who ended up mattering to me. We have lunch. We e-mail each other. Did I want to add any of them?

I found that I didn't. Did I want to add the folks I work with on a regular basis? Industry types I see at conventions, some of whom collar me for jobs? Hell, no.

How about my kids? My cousins? One of my cousins is an investment banker. Should I put him on, even though I haven't seen him without a pig-in-a-blanket in my hand in 35 years?

I looked at my personal information. I realized that it was now rocketing around a community the size of Sweden, available to a vast pool of people trolling the electronic landscape. A trickle of angst crept up my spine and lodged behind my ears.

I erased my personal data and cleared my screen of all possible acquaintances. I couldn't figure out how to quit the thing altogether, so my name floats out there, without attributes, possibly forever.

I walked home alone through the bright autumn sunshine. I poured myself a drink, went over to the computer, and wrote a short e-mail to Lafferty. We used to work together back when the corporation was a smaller, friendlier place. I haven't seen the guy for a while, and I figure we may have some catching up to do.

Stanley Bing's latest book, Crazy Bosses (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com and on his website, stanleybing.com.  To top of page

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