Why I’m Not “Friending” You Back

Crabby wants his Scholars to think more…

LinkedIn is a Facebook for networking, a site that enables members to establish “contacts” and check out jobs, possible connections, alumni and friends in the world of work. It has a very clear purpose–to oil the wheels of commerce by making it easier for people to exploit the contacts that might lead to a consulting gig, a full-time job or a way to change your current position. I’ve used it and like it; it makes sense. It tries to expand the idea of an “old boys network” to everyone with a resume.

But I don’t want to connect to students still in college that way. I think twice even when they ask me to be “friends’ on Facebook; I sometimes find out more than I want to know if I “friend” back, so I often don’t respond. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, I just don’t always feel I’m ready to be let in on their ongoing lives, as generous as the offer may be. I am friends with some students on Facebook because I know them well in real life and we’ve established a bond of sorts.

LinkedIn is different. It’s excellent at what it does and I’m not criticizing its function for working adults. For those just beginning to make their way in the world, though, it encourages a way of self-presentation that’s artificial, pragmatic, and transactional. It makes the case that relationships need to be “useful” and are simply potential “contacts,” which I think distorts their image of what relationships are.  That’s not what I want my students to learn while they’re in college.

High school and college students these days are being taught to create their “personal brands” in order to position themselves for future careers. Adults who have absorbed the idea that all relationships are potential “contacts” (from CEOs’ self-help books and TED talks, mostly) have infected the high school and college worlds with commerce-related tropes that put everything in business terms. People aren’t individuals, they’re “brands,” like Quaker Oats or Dove soap, that have to be consciously created and controlled. They are taught to be facades, always presenting the proper side to others, and always looking for the “hook” that will prompt those others to “buy” what you’re “selling.”

This kind of thinking strips away anything that might fall into the category of genuine human relationships. It’s an insidious and ultimately degrading way to look at yourself, since it assumes that there’s nothing deeper to you that what you present to the world, your “brand image.”

People who teach this kind of thinking make Crabby ill. He knows at least one who wants to teach low-income and first generation-college students how to create their “personal brand.” But that’s the last thing they need. It addresses surfaces, not substance, papering over quirks of individuality in favor of a bland signification that reinforces shallow thinking, not authentic human development. It represents the continued intrusion of commercial thinking into interpersonal relationships, devaluing the latter to advance the former. It’s a terrible thing. If you are just your resume, what are you?

So, kids, I appreciate your wanting to link to me on LinkedIn. But I’d rather you emailed me or gave me a call in person if you want to talk (I almost wrote “connect”–another debasement of interpersonal relationship terms). I’d love to hear from you and I’m happy to lend an ear, give advice, just shoot the breeze for a while. I’m happy to be part of your life as you achieve your dreams. But I’m not interested in your “brand,” I’m interested in you. Don’t make yourself into a box of cereal or a car, or even a politician; just be yourself. Reject the idea that you can be reduced to a “brand name.” You are too complex to be otherwise.

One thought on “Why I’m Not “Friending” You Back

  1. In the world of the internet personal branding is in my opinion okay, and yes every student needs to think themselves as a brand, because if they fail to do this a future employer or customer is going to see a foolish internet posting and will refuse to do business with them. LinkedIn in is for business relationships, it should be treated as such. If people want a more personal relationship that belongs to face-to-face connections in real life, it has no place in the internet, especially LinkedIn.


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