This is a truth I don’t mind acknowledging as an adult – I was not the most popular kid in the school playground. I was never a cheerleader; I wasn’t ever invited to the coolest parties; I didn’t have a boyfriend who would sneak notes to me in class; and I was terrible at all sports that required hand/eye coordination. When you are terrible at physical education in the United States – to the point where you are the last kid picked for someone’s softball team – you are effectively an outcast.
I had mostly forgotten about the angst-ridden experience that was high school – but then along came social media, and I started to have a few uncomfortable flashbacks. I initially resisted the 21st-century collective fun that is social media because I didn’t understand what good could come of tweeting what you had for breakfast. I stubbornly stuck to my old-fashioned principles until I left my job, and I realized that I might finally need to get involved with the art of being sociable online for the sake of my career.
Having worked for a major broadcaster, in a vaguely creative field, I started trawling job descriptions looking for my next career move, and I noticed that employers invariably wanted someone with a twitter profile (and lots of followers), someone who blogged regularly, someone who understood Facebook as a marketing tool. The list goes on.
I needed to up my game, and fast. I joined LinkedIn, started a blog and then got the twitter profile. I’ve so far resisted Facebook. The more I look for a job, though, the more I start to think that social media is like revisiting the torture of high school. You want to be popular, you want to be seen as hip and fun, but it all feels a bit artificial and forced. It’s like showing up to the school dance without a date – you are meant to be having the time of your life but the experience turns out to be stressful.
Social media, as far as I see it, seems to be built on the psychological premise that everyone craves as many friends as possible and those who don’t have them might as well be losers. I fear employers might fall for this faulty line of thinking, as demonstrated by LinkedIn. I go to the website daily, check my profile and look at updates – I think I’m getting addicted, which is probably what the website’s architects wanted.
One of the first things I notice is how many connections a person has. If you are in the 500+ range you are the high school jock – everyone wants to date you, maybe everyone wants to offer you a job. Anyone with 200+ is doing pretty well too – they are like the cool kids who run for the student body and don’t humiliate themselves in the process. I am hovering well below 100 contacts, which I kind of feel puts me in danger territory in terms of perception: I am playing tuba in the school band and hanging out with the geeks (who go on to design LinkedIn, to their credit). I obsess about adding more people. Do I contact people I haven’t seen in years and who I’ve barely spoken to ever, all for the sake of appearance?
Then there’s twitter, built on followers. I had seven followers when I last looked. There are probably domestic cats with more followers than me. You can’t help but feel like you need to get out more, or you need to start tweeting complete lies to make you sound more interesting.
The latest edition of Newsweek carries this statistic: 67% of women with a social networking profile have deleted friends; 58% of men have. So, if you’re already feeling a bit unpopular in the digital world, things could get worse: people might start deleting you from their accounts or blocking you from seeing their Facebook page.
I’ll tell you what might make me sound terribly unpopular: I find social media a bit of a chore. Call me a geek or a refusenik. If you want to make friends with me, you’ll find me sitting at the school cafeteria (and I’ll probably be sitting alone).