Networking in the Facebook Age

I’m in New York at the ASJA 2013 conference and it’s Members Day. You’d think this would be old hat for me – I’ve been a writer for my entire adult life and am now in a sea of writers doing and feeling and aiming for the same things as me.

I was an ASJA member for years, took a break, then rejoined in recent years. I’ve attended this conference before. But I know so few people because, as an inherently shy person, I tend to stay comfortably in my own surroundings, never venturing out so far as to be known on a national scale.

We writers are observers by nature. We notice the details, we listen to the dialogue, we report what we see and smell and taste. 

We don’t usually make the news. We usually watch it and comment on it and bring it to light. We do not bring ourselves to light. And so I am at a conference of people who may, by nature, be inherently quiet or shy or nervous about mixing and mingling.

I know I am.

So I’m sitting in sessions with my name tag dangling around my neck, obscuring the necklace I so carefully selected to go with this awesome outfit of skinny jeans, peplum shirt and hippy sweater. People walk by, squint at the white square and say, “Oh hi!!” 

I don’t know them. They probably don’t know me.

But upon closer scrutiny, we realize we know each other…from Facebook.

On Facebook, I know everyone and everyone knows me. Or at least we have the illusion of knowing one another. The names ring many bells. I feel like they are neighbors. I know the work they do. They are easy to recognize.

But in person it’s a whole other ball game.

I say this time and time again to clients, friends and family – social media is a tool, not an existence in itself. We create this illusion of knowing by being so chatty online when really, we are so alone behind the computer face.

So I am in New York at a conference for writers, and I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m more comfortable sitting in a row toward the back, taking furious notes, letting the wheels turn in my head when speakers offer choice tidbits and tips.

Some people fling their arms around others in recognition and greeting. I walk the sessions alone. There are people I know here, but I haven’t seen them yet. The comfort is in the anonymity.

It’s a curious thing to network in a world where reputation and social handles precede us but cannot curiously define us. It’ll be interesting to head to the networking hour at 3:45 and see what that looks like. Maybe there’ll actually be a round of hand-shaking and grins. I sure hope so.

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