Getting a “Social” life

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” I had read about half of it when I was given a free autographed copy at a conference a few years ago, but was quickly distracted by a David Sedaris book (or five….). Anyway, last week I read the whole book. I found it really interesting, and would recommend it (there are a few slower parts in the middle, but overall, it’s fascinating!). It talks about how success is based on a lot of other factors besides hard work, and how even the month, year, and location you’re born in can determine how likely it is that you’ll be successful at something. I was instantly intrigued because early on in the book, Gladwell talks about how people born right at the cusp of the beginning of the school year (=me) can either be majorly advantaged or disadvantaged, depending on what age they start kindergarten. Their success in school during their early years could actually have little to do with how hard they work. It’s all based on where the child is at developmentally; the logic is that those who are older, thus further along developmentally, will be more likely to be successful in school.

The book gave another example about hockey players in Canada, and how most of the best players were born January-March, which coincides with the cutoff dates for joining youth hockey leagues. To be successful, according to Gladwell, you have to have been born in the right place at the right time, but also put in more than 10,000 hours of work.  For instance, The Beatles played for 8 hours a day at a club in Hamburg for several years before they became famous/wildly successful.

The book goes on to give examples of other people being born at the right time- Bill Gates happened to be born at the right year (1955),  which made him a teenager in the early 70s. He happened to live a few blocks away from a college that gave him access to a supercomputer as a teenager, which resulted in him putting in more than 10,000 hours of time into computer programming, before most of the world had access to it….before he even went to college. Several other leaders in the computer industry were born in 1955, and had similar stories.

I’ve been thinking about how the lessons from the book might apply to my life. Since I was born the third week of August, my parents had a choice of starting me in kindergarten either essentially a year younger OR a year older than the rest of the kids in my grade. They chose to do the extra year in preschool, and as a result, I was more advanced in reading than my peers were in first grade. Within a few years, most people had caught up (and a lot had even surpassed me), but I was reading “chapter” books really early. I’m still clearly ta reader, so they may have been onto something.

But there’s something else that keeps popping up in my life (and probably yours, and everyone else’s.)

Facebook.

Sure, pretty much everyone’s on it now. But there was a time, way back in 2004, when you had to be a current college student or faculty member – at select schools – to have access to Facebook. Parents were shocked that we put our ACTUAL phone numbers on it, posted our class schedules, and used our real names. This was back when AOL was still wildly popular, and people had silly screen names that illustrated their personalities but didn’t give out too much information.

Yes, Facebook’s evolved since then. But since I was a sophomore in college when Facebook started, I’ve been using it for almost 7 years. SEVEN YEARS. Even at the time, I noticed that my older extended-family cousins (who were in their late 20s and 30s) and younger cousins/little sister (teenagers) were really into Myspace, but people who were exactly my age, give or take a year or two, were all about Facebook. Most of my co-workers (whose jobs involve designing widgets/apps to be used on Facebook, or perhaps social media strategies involving Facebook…) were at least a few years out of college when Facebook started, so they didn’t even have access to it until 2006. I don’t have any stats about it, but I know it took a few years for “real grownups” to officially adopt Facebook.

And yet… we’ve made it a HUGE part of our careers and what our company does really well. This week in NYC (and 8 other cities across the world) is Social Media Week. Yes, that’s a thing. My company designed the cool Facebook tabs for the official Facebook page for the event. People are getting really into the whole thing.

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about “Facebook as a professional tool.” And I’ve worked in marketing for almost four years, which happened to span the time when Facebook shifted from social fun to professional tool. When I was in school, preparing to graduate, I never thought that it would be part of my job. Professors were telling us to be extremely cautious about social media, and maybe to even avoid it all together, or at least only post professional things. It’s supposed to be about socializing with your friends and classmates; not selling or branding.

Those of us who were in college when Facebook started are probably getting close to the 10,000 hours mark. (Okay, let’s be honest- that probably happened before the general public had access to it…).  And while some of us (…me) may not have the technical knowledge/ marketing strategy background that “real grownups” had been developing while we were still poking people on Facebook and trying to come up with Facebook statuses that began with “Kristin is…,” I think that we know and understand something that others may not: The nuances of Facebook etiquette. (I think that’s going to have to be another post…)

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I feel like the social media industry is trying to turn Facebook into something it wasn’t intended to be, and now there’s no turning back. Go watch the Social Network – I know, it’s not an entirely accurate depiction, but I feel like the sentiment was there.

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