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Socially Awkward Networks

A woman, who as a girl in gradeschool taunted me enthusiastically, contacted me through a social network site asking if I planned to attend an upcoming reunion. At first I didn’t think much about it. I assumed she was on some committee for the gathering of once inelegant adolescents and she was contacting me as part of her new do-good campaign. I replied in a perfunctory noncommittal way, and tucked her married name into my mental rolodex of people to avoid calls from if they appear on callerID.

A woman, who as a girl in gradeschool taunted me enthusiastically, contacted me through a social network site asking if I planned to attend an upcoming reunion.

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At first I didn’t think much about it. I assumed she was on some committee for the gathering of once inelegant adolescents and she was contacting me as part of her new do-good campaign.

I replied in a perfunctory noncommittal way, and tucked her married name into my mental rolodex of people to avoid calls from if they appear on callerID.

She wrote again, reporting I looked healthy in my miniature photo and that I must be happy, how did I do it? Then she asked if we could connect directly on the site so we could correspond again.

When I mentioned to a colleague her reappearance in my life, he asked if I planned to tell her off. And what, explain I’m not keen to chitchat with someone who went out of her way to torment me for a decade and whose young face flashed before my eyes when Mean Girls debuted?

Clearly she’s unaware I harbor less-than-friendly memories of her, and in hindsight I can see her inhospitability was probably not aimed at me alone. But bam here she is.

This uncomfortable modern scenario raises an important question.

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Should our social networks include only people we like, those we want to socialize with, and as my friend Jimm says, “Those we’d agree to take camping”? I don’t believe they were designed to be personal discomfort-free zones. Do you?

Although nobody chooses to spend precious time with overtly unlikable people, part of the power from loose and tight ties, is the depth and breadth of our networks: who we know who knows others and so on. The people just beyond our close ties’ collective intelligence represents our potential for connective intelligence.

If this former mean-girl (who has been nothing but sweet and cheerful in our recent communiqué) has a relationship with someone who can help me close an important deal or land a dream assignment, it should not matter she invited my friends to a slumber party in fifth grade while stridently leaving me out. However, what about announcing to everyone in the junior high cafeteria I’d sneezed peas out my nose (which I hadn’t, it was mustard)?!

All social situations offer us the opportunity to be uncomfortable in unexpected ways. We shouldn’t expect online social networks to be any different. It just seems easier to avoid the awkwardness when there’s no auto-reminder in seven days you haven’t yet engaged.

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Marcia Conner > www.marciaconner.com

About the author

Marcia Conner works with ordinary people doing ingenious work and mediocre organizations realizing their employees can work in inspiring ways. She features stories of both in her upcoming book on ingenuity.

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