Where to begin? I guess it all started innocently enough just over a decade ago.
The pressures of being a high-tech executive had been piling up for years. It had reached the point where I had just about all I could take of the corporate world and the corporate world had taken just about all it could from me.
The time had finally come to quit chasing perks, promotions, and pay packages, and enjoy what I’d worked so hard for so long to achieve. Time to quit living in hotel rooms and boardrooms and find the living room. Time to give up ”the life” and get a life.
Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
So I traded in the sedan for a sports car, the suits and shoes for shorts and sneakers, and started up a little management consulting firm. Finally, my time was mine. This was my gig, my dream. And you know what? It felt great.
That’s when the invitations to connect on something called LinkedIn (LNKD) began. Since I’d started a new company that needed clients, I figured what the heck. But I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
At first, the requests were just a slow trickle, mostly from folks I knew that were looking for opportunities. But soon enough, my inbox began to swell with requests from all sorts of people: people I didn’t know, people I didn’t like, people I thought were weird, people I wouldn’t recommend or hire in a million years.
Truth is, the whole thing started to freak me out.
You’ve got to remember, this was a long time ago. This was new. And I’d spent more than 20 years building a network and a reputation. To me, that was sacred. And since I wasn’t exactly a quiet “fly under the radar” sort of guy, as people flocked to LinkedIn, the requests really started to pile up.
And it was sort of obvious what most of these folks were doing. They were trolling for jobs, for opportunities. They wanted to network. And I didn’t have the bandwidth or the wherewithal to deal with it. I finally decided it was more trouble than it was worth and deleted my account. And everything went back to normal.
Then one fateful day, I was coerced into the blogosphere by an unscrupulous friend at CNET. I didn’t even know what a blog was, but the guy said I could write funny stuff and dish on all the dysfunctional executives and companies I knew. That sounded like fun and a little like free marketing for my consulting business so, again, I said sure, why not.
Next thing I knew, these strange buttons started appearing beneath my blog’s by-line. They had funny names like Digg, del.icio.us, and Reddit. Curious, I signed up for one or two. Near as I could tell, I was supposed to post stuff that interested me. Funny thing is, I couldn’t think of anything to post.
I guess I’d spent my entire life working and, when I wasn’t doing that, I did stuff with family and friends. Sure, I had hobbies. I liked to cook, drink wine, read books, listen to music, follow my investments, watch movies and sports – you know, the usual. But why would any of that interest anyone else?
Frustrated, I gave up and got back to work.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. This may be hard to believe, but my dream – the goal of the second half of my life – has always been to share my experience and maybe an occasional insight or two with far more businesses and people than I could when I worked for just one company.
So, as my blogs and columns became more popular, it made sense to spend more time focusing on that aspect of my business. After all, they reach and, more importantly, seem to resonate with lots of people. And promoting them on Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB), and yes, even the dreaded LinkedIn (I rejoined), made sense too.
But to this day, that’s more or less all I do on social media or network sites (except for a little – very little – networking) because, for me, nothing’s changed. I still don’t see why my interests should interest anyone else, except for my work, which is what I post.
The truth is, I’d rather work, have fun, and spend what little time I have on Earth enjoying life and making a real impact than on superficial virtual relationships and getting some narcissistic thrill whenever I get a new Twitter follower or Facebook fan.
And while the success of social media and reality TV has definitely proved me wrong – that people do get something out of following other people’s lives – there’s also no doubt that it’s a slippery slope on the way to chronic instant gratification, voyeurism, egotism, and addiction.
When we’ve reached a point where the folks at Coca-Cola think we need dog cones to cure our social media addiction – to force us to look up from our gadgets and actually see the sun, the stars, and each other – and anyone with any sanity left knows they’re right, if you can’t do it on your own, then maybe you should try the collar.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.