Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you – and the changing nature of meeting others

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on October 21, 2011

I recently read a nostalgic op-ed piece in the New York Times about social networking and meeting people, then and now. The basic argument offered, at least for the first half of this perspective was that in the good old days, pre-online social networking, when people met they did not start out knowing anything about each other and their initial meeting began a gradual process of details sharing – a process of mutual discovery.

This did not allow for the fact that even then, we frequently started out knowing something about the people we met and often quite a lot about them. If we were introduced to a new acquaintance by someone we already knew who already knew them too, unless this was from an unexpected, chance encounter it is likely we would have been told a number details already as to occupation, interests and other matters. But even baring that, the voice and accent of a new acquaintance, their choice of vocabulary used and body language, their clothing style and condition and other visible matters of grooming and personal appearance – these and other details that present themselves and largely in the first few seconds and before a verbal conversation begins all tell a great deal.

This does not mean that a process of mutual discovery did not also hold opportunity for taking place, but it does mean that social networking and meeting others through it has never really started as from quite that presumed blank slate.

And I add that our already partly filled out slate may have inconsistencies and further knowledge of this acquaintance might call for reevaluation of initial information and immediate assumptions. That unshaven middle aged man in work cloths who we meet at a big box store might in fact be a business executive on vacation dressed for yard work – and not in their more customary suit and tie. So pre-internet and pre-online social networking first encounters were never as clear-cut and simply as this nostalgic myth suggested.

As for the other half, it was argued that when we online social network we start out knowing a great deal about others, and that this can very often include having to wade through several or even many views of an individual, as variously presented through separate social networking profiles, blogs, tweets, social media messages shared and other resources. And here, meeting means evaluating all of this and somehow filtering out truth and accuracy from the rest.

There is in fact an element of truth to that, just as there is in the representation offered as to meeting others pre-internet. We do start out at least potentially with a lot more information on a new acquaintance now and particularly if they are active online and in social media and we look. And some of what we find may be true, some once true but completely out of date now, and some of it might simply be inaccurate. But then and now and in either case meeting has always involved both evaluating information already at hand and adding new. So the core distinction held forth as the basis for that op-ed piece is not valid. Nevertheless, this article did bring up a valid question:

How has the process of meeting others changed with the advent of online social media, social networking and web 2.0?

• For an increasing number of us we meet an increasingly larger percentage of our acquaintances indirectly rather than face to face, where we do not have the benefit of their body language and the range of our other traditional cues and immediate information sources that we have always used in developing a first impression.
• When we meet people online we may very well find ourselves sorting through a set of information images that those people have set up for interacting with different specific audiences, and under very different, distinct circumstances. If for example, X is an accountant at work they may have a LinkedIn profile and convey one sort of message there – a nine to five business image. But they are also involved in a band and play a guitar and sing with it – and they have a Facebook page for themselves and their band, and for connecting with friends and fans who they are involved with because of this avocation/sideline business. And they may still be visible online on sites that they were actively involved with before they graduated from college. And a range of other still visible but out of date online information images may also be there for the search engine finding.
• I also have to add that in the age of online social media, we often look up people we meet face to face – or who we anticipate so meeting so simply meeting people in person does not eliminate these sources of evaluation and judgment complexity.

The scale of information we have to sort through, and either reconcile and accept or set aside and not has grown tremendously. The nature of information we get to make our initial impressions from has expanded too and it has changed. And that had led to greater opportunity for inconsistency and questions of accuracy as we have to seek out and develop new due diligence tools and criteria. Our comfort level in dealing with gaps and potential contradictions and errors in information gained goes a long way in shaping what social networking strategies we follow and how, and whether we follow guidelines of the type I have organized as my laws and principles for effective social networking (see top of page at Social Networking and Business.)

So the pre-internet image of meeting others and gaining new acquaintances and friends may be more carton and less real, and so may that op-ed piece’s image of meeting others in the age of online social media. But this has become an at times much more complex process, and particularly where meeting involves people with a significant and varied online presence – as we all are coming to develop. So the issues and complexities I write of here are ones we will all have to find working resolutions if not solutions to.

You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business.

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