In today's career-minded individual, social networks are a big part of culture. Social networks are the bridge between human interaction and technical communication. Networks allow us to connect with people we may have never met in person, yet we can know as much about them as if they were our next door neighbors. But there is a missed opportunity -- a missed technology -- that 99 percent of us fail to see in our networks. It's not about sharing data or leads, and it's not about contact lists, or even how many people you're connected to -- it's all about who you are to your network -- being a real person.
Business has a habit of turning everyday people into one of two things; you and everyone else is either a connection, or else you're someone who needs a connection. What this does is to dehumanize us as individuals. I transform from being Gil, to being "that writer/medical device engineer guy that I know in California". It takes away from who the person is, what their personality is like, and how they interact as a human being. We are humans after all, not machines, and surely not just contacts. The last thing I'd want to be is a number or a category in someone else's list of people they know.
And this idea of collecting as many members in your network as possible has got to stop. There is no quality to a large network if you do not have quality people in that network. I can have a million members in my network, but if none of them actually talk to me or even give me the time of day, then it's all worthless. There is an assumed professionalism that comes with being in someone's network -- basic responsibility to treat other human beings the way you would want to be treated, regardless of your title, your industry, or your accolades.
I should be able to contact ANYONE of you in my network, and hold a normal conversation with you -- one that doesn't involve a sales pitch, a job referral or an introduction to someone else. Using people like that may happen in real life, but that doesn't make it right, especially when you can be connected with so many more people virtually than you ever could personally.
Take the time and the common respect to speak with members in your network without questioning why they're contacting you in the first place. Remember, you took the initiative to accept that person's invitation. Take the responsibility to either be open with your network members, or respectfully disconnect from that network.
... Because using people for business should be limited to politicians and pimps, not your career associates...