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 and on his website,  To top of page

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