"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
January 15, 2010

Pure Blogging Or Why “Social Networking” Is An Ugly Idea

This morning I was reading the Zen Habits blog, looking for some post-Christmas fitness inspiration (kind of sad, given that my gym and pool are only a short elevator ride away!). Commenting on one good fitness and health blog from Florida, one of the authors wrote, “I love his blog, because it is 100% pure. […]

This morning I was reading the Zen Habits blog, looking for some post-Christmas fitness inspiration (kind of sad, given that my gym and pool are only a short elevator ride away!). Commenting on one good fitness and health blog from Florida, one of the authors wrote,

“I love his blog, because it is 100% pure. He simply does it for the enjoyment of sharing and connecting with people. I am not sure what he does, but he looks like he does very well in his chosen career and just does this blog for the love of the subject matter. I am not against blogs that make money (I make a full-time income from FBB)…I just love these little “pure” blogs.”

The phrase, “pure blogs” caught my eye. Of course, back when blogging started, everyone was a “pure blogger.” The idea that blogging could be a career, or a primarily financial enterprise had not been developed. Only later did the pro-bloggers, consultants and marketers came along (together with rankings, A-lists, paid linkage) and the rest, as they say, is history.

2009 was the year when something similar happened to social media, especially Twitter. The rise of the gurus and consultants, with their growth strategies and loosely conceived ideas on “monetisation” have changed that game as well.

Using online media to make money isn’t the problem. I happen to agree with the notion that every small business really should have a blog and a twitter account and that blogging about what you do, your work and vocation, is potentially a good thing. I guess it’s more a question of transparency and honesty.

Perhaps it’s this whole idea that we think of ourselves as a “brand” that has me troubled.

One of the most damming judgements I’ve heard about Hong Kong is that it’s very hard to find “straight” people. The suggestion was that too many people here have ulterior motives; they just want to turn every human interaction into an opportunity to make cash. I’m not sure it’s a Hong Kong specific problem, but in an expensive city, which little diversity in businesses or cultural backgrounds, snobbery and opportunism are bound to over-breed.

I see a connection here to the idea of “pure blogging,” or to broaden the subject, “pure” social media. How upfront are we about our reasons for being in this game?

If we blog about our work, does that make our blog un-pure? Maybe the issue is honest blogging. Or maybe it’s blogging that flows from work, rather than towards it? Maybe it’s about being upfront for our reasons to blog. Going back to my critic of Hong Kong, what irked him was people who appear interested in being friends, but in reality they want to sell a service, exploit your connections, or in some other way “use” you.

Perhaps the danger here is collapsing two different ideas – socialising and networking. In fact, I’ve come to think that social networking may be a lazy descriptor for what happens social media.

When we socialise, we are interacting with people in a general and open sense. In fact, the idea of “being social” implies gathering and relating in entertaining and pleasurable ways. Moreover, our capacity to be “social” is connected to our ability to be “civil,” which is a building-block of a human community.

Networking, by contrast is specific to a purpose. Hence a social gathering, and a networking gathering carry different implications, suggest different topics of conversation and even different modes of relating.

Call me old fashioned if you must, but I still hold that opening a conversation at a social gathering with the question – “what do you do?” is a vulgar faux pas. However, in a networking gathering, it is not only appropriate, it is probably the best opening available.

The deeper issue here, relates to our human development. The art of being social carried with it the notion of being well versed in the affairs of day and the ability to extend hospitality to a breadth of people – it is a challenge to find common ground, to be broadly read and educated and to retain the “common” touch.

But, if all we do is network, then there is no challenge to expand out scope of interest and understanding beyond our work, or more specifically, beyond the needs and present demands of our work. There are many fields, from politics to finance and even church, where the failure of leaders to understand their lack of popularity is directly related to the narrowness of their networks.

Instead of the awkward idea of social networking, could a metaphor closer to the idea of the “parlour” help us? Fashionable at the turn of the last century, the parlour stood for regular meetings organised to discuss ideas (and politics). They were invitation-only, frequently socially prestigious, but more broad than the business-only notion of networking.

Interestingly, their origin traces back to the monastic movement, to spaces in the monastery set aside for conversation, discussion and debate (as well as hospitality). I say interestingly, because my feeling is such a need is what social media meets for many people. It’s about legitimating a space to meet people and talk, share and discuss.

That’s the purity that appeals to me – discussion that exists whether or not money becomes part of the transaction, discussion that flows from hospitality. The professionals I most admire, will talk about what they do regardless of whether they get paid to do so, regardless of whether it brings them more prestige. That they don’t have time to stand around and talk all day (or blog or tweet) does not mean they don’t love what they do.

I’m not a fan of blog-for-a-job strategies (even more pernicious are tweet-for-a-jobbers). This is where people start a blog with the sole purpose of trying to land a job. They create content, develop a following, then dump it once a “real” job comes through. It’s a cynical move that has often left me wondering how much of the content was really just fluff and BS.

Perhaps purity is not the end, as much as love. To do something for the love of it, means, in part to do it regardless of the reward. I’m not suggesting we should work for nothing. But, when we blog (or tweet, or just talk) for nothing, there is a transparency there that is appealing and rewarding. Not having to second-guess people’s motivations, or their honesty is integral to trust and community.

I’m throwing those big heavy ideas around because, in the end, human needs don’t change just because we are online, if anything they accelerate. The old questions, “who can you trust,” “how do I choose friends wisely,” still remain. By accelerating the number of people we can “meet” blogging and social media simply challenge us to ask those questions more often, every day.

Steve K. 14 years ago

Good, challenging thoughts, as usual, Fernando. Thanks for writing this! I’ve got a lot to think about here.

ada 14 years ago

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the difference between “socializing” and “networking.” The two activities do not seem so clear-cut because sometimes people interact as if they are your friends and in some other time your clients/vendors. I don’t think this observation is not unique to HK.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Thanks for your comment ada. I agree.

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