I've been invited recently by a bunch of different people to join a bunch of different so-called networking websites. Once I joined, a different bunch of people I've met over the course of my life turned out to be on those sites, too, and invitations poured in. This was exciting; I liked the idea of getting back in touch with people. The preponderance of sites is sort of annoying, and some are much better than others (Biznik hilariously proclaims itself as "business networking that doesn't suck," but it totally sucks - takes forever to load and, possibly for that reason, generates basically no activity). But how fun, I thought, to post a profile, which is easy enough, and then reconnect with people.
It hasn't worked that way. With a few notable exceptions, the people on these sites (including me after a few months) are incredibly passive. It's as if the goal were to have the highest number of "connections" without regard to quality of communication.
I was surprised by how many people request connections without writing any sort of note at all. I was even more surprised by how many accept invitations without penning anything in response to the note I wrote them. Evidently, this sort of connection feels adequate to folks with nothing in the way of personal communication other than the lame little sentence LinkedIn, Plaxo or what-have-you offers as a default. Call me old-fashioned, but when I'm reconnecting with someone I haven't been in touch with for a decade or more, I'd like to do more than add their name to my list of connections. I'd like to know how they are, what they've been up to - you know, reconnect.
In the course of browsing Gmail's new features this morning, I realized what the problem is. Gmail is now offering more "emoticons" with the suggestion that we "start sending richer expressions to [our] friends." Huh? How do generic little pictures constitute "richer expressions?" That's what words are for.
Genericism is exactly what's wrong with the connection sites, too. They're not for making connections. They're for making "connecticons," which, like emoticons, are meant to stand in for the real thing. Makes me wonder what's next in our virtual lives.