Two years ago, I was among those that scoffed at the idea of virtual birthday wishes on Facebook, classifying them as narcissistic and self-indulgent and not reflective of real relationships. As I look back at my birthday last week and the wishes that poured in via in-person wishes, phone, email, and on Facebook, I think I’m a believer now. In addition to the narcissistic indulgence of seeing your Facebook Wall plastered with wishes from friends from all over the world, the social graphs that Facebook and other social networking sites bring into your living room add value in several other ways. From being a regular user of RSS feeds for news consumption, these days I rely quite heavily on the news feed from my 900+ Facebook contacts to keep me informed and entertained.
While it would be ridiculous for me to claim that I am equally close to all 900+ of them, or to all the 1500+ connections on LinkedIn, these weak ties have enriched my life in ways that would not have been possible a decade ago. Thanks to Facebook I was able to reconnect with several friends from several past lives – high school, grad school, different cities and social groups that I was part of in the past … the list goes on. And it is not that I expect to ever be as close to those folks ever again, but through this forum, the immediacy of an exchange mixed with the nostalgia of years past makes for an interesting experience. I would not be able to comment upon Facebook and its impact on marriages, but I do know how it has been instrumental in my getting back in touch with several people and stay in touch, in a “weak tie” definition of the word.
At the same time, LinkedIn has served an equally important role in my professional life as well. I’m pretty much linked to everyone I knew in a professional setting over the years, and more. Several job opportunities came my way thanks to the weak ties in my network – folks that I met a few times, but did not know that well. While my more immediate network was useful to me while refining my resume or researching different job profiles and companies, the larger network was instrumental in setting up several conversations about startups being formed as well as discussions that helped with MBA work.
In other words, I’m unapologetically in favor of social networks. Privacy remains a concern and I believe that over time society will figure out what the new lines in the sand are with regard to this. All said and done, come birthday time, it feels great to be able to wish others from past lives that I rarely get to meet any longer, as well as hear back from them on my own birthday. So here’s to you, my virtual family – thank you for all your wishes and look forward to more of these virtual conversations translating themselves into the real world in future!