Reeking of Desperation

The internet is like a giant cocktail party.

No one wants to hang out with those who are hanging out alone, while people that are laughing, good-looking, and popular get all the attention. And the rich get richer, of course, so through this very behaviour, we reinforce who is popular and who is not.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that freelancers and startups refer to themselves as “we;” it should be expected that people namedrop to make themselves look good, and that they inflate their twitter and RSS subscribers to seem more successful than we are. It should also be expected that these tactics will diminish in effectiveness over time, since we all know that people doing them.

This behaviour is a kind of arms race– behaving this way keeps you in the middle class, keeping up with the Joneses, even though it’s sort of cheating. And despite it all, those that opt out of these acts still do seem network-poor, much to their own detriment.

Despite this, I think doing less and being absent may be a good solution to the constant maelstrom that is the real-time web. I already have a real-time life, and I’m wondering where to draw the line, how much virtual to insert into my reality. Maybe I shouldn’t be texting while hanging out with friends, but can I log in on foursquare? Is that not being present, not being respectful? I can’t even tell anymore.

Yet the more we interact in these spaces the more we respect the qualities they do, and act like the top tribe members act. For most, this necessarily involves faking it til you make it because social proofing is necessary for attention-getting, and therefore survival, in this place.

Think you’re immune to this? You’re not. Do you ever walk into an empty restaurant unless you already know it, or it was recommended to you? It happens less than you think. We do what we think is popular– what seems acceptable– to us and others. It’s natural– humans are a network and depend on each other for survival.

So if you’re on the bottom, trying hard for attention, how do you make it look effortless, and like you don’t need it? Or do you just say screw it, behave as you will, and hope for the best? Personally, I had it easy, so I’m not sure I know the answer to this question– do you?





11 responses to “Reeking of Desperation”

  1. Andy Avatar

    Julien, this is an interesting problem, but I am not sure there is a solution. As you say, its natural behaviour.

    There will be those who continue to spam, pester, and annoy everyone and anyone trying to get noticed and there will be those who try to add value to just the right people and ‘have it easy’.

    I think it is impossible to educate everyone to appreciate the benefits of the latter approach.

  2. Chris Avatar

    It’s odd how often I have to stop and wonder how you got into my head. Keep it up though.

    Some of my most enjoyable business trips are the ones that I go on alone and am forced to find new and interesting places to eat/visit. One of my favourite moments from a NY trip is not the trip to the Guggenheim or the walk through Central Park, but rather the pizza I shared with a guy who was convinced that he was God incarnate. Not the cool thing to do – eating with a bun discussing religion – but ultimately more memorable.

    Getting to know yourself helps networking because you’re selling them a product you are more intimately aware of. It makes the interaction more real/genuine/two way … as long as you can find other people that really know themselves or at the very least, want to.

    In the end though it comes down to your definition of ‘making it’ If success is making it any cost including yourself then yeah – fake it till the cows come home. But if it is staying true to yourself and being successful on your own merit then stick with the ‘screw it’ attitude and be yourself. There’s bound to be at least another 1,000,000 people out there with the same attitude who will be seeking a network of like minds. Find them and make something real.

  3. Sarah Avatar

    I say screw it and behave how you want (as long as your behavour isn’t hurting anyone else). It sounds like the other option is to convince a bunch of people that you’re successful by their shallow standards. That isn’t succeeding; it’s blending in. Are you really going to gain any satisfaction that?

    My theory is that everyone is too busy trying to impress everyone else, so no one is actually paying attention to anyone else. If people stop paying attention to the self-absorbed herds and start trying to impress and challenge ourselves, maybe we’d actually achieve something worthy of notice.

    If our efforts go unnoticed, it’s their loss, not ours.

    Oh, and I do prefer people who hang out alone to those who are popular. The loners tend to be much more interesting and funny.

  4. Larry Avatar

    That is a tough one. Tougher still, for older people because we have experiences – or lack, thereof – we can compare things to.

    When I was in college there was no such thing as FaceBook or Twitter, and for that I will be eternally grateful for a variety of reasons. Regarding these two sites, it seems like you have to “be on it” or “be left out”, but to what extent should you participate? When does receiving and providing real value cross over into flat-out narcissism and time-wasting? And when does the value of what can be viewed on a tiny screen outweigh all of the wonderful things you can see by simply lifting your head and looking around?

    I don’t know. But it’s a trade-off I struggle with every day. And it’s a hard choice to make; unlike the “Should I watch more reality TV?” decision.

  5. Dave Doolin Avatar

    It is tough. But it’s doable, in a big way.

    Here’s why.

    We crave novelty. New foods. New music. New books. Sure, we head back to some old favorites once in a while, but still, I could manage to not ever hear Led Zeppelin ever again, and I’d be ok with that.

    Side note: I had a long conversation with my father about the music business this afternoon. Two things seem clear: 1. the people running the music business don’t actually listen to music, and 2. they have contempt for their customers.

    So there is opportunity.

    Now, how to crack it…

    Have fun making people feel good.

    That’s it. That’s the entire high level strategy. You won’t need to “break in” to cliques. A clique will form around you.

  6. Tamsen Avatar

    My philosophy? Be an Authentic Chameleon. Chameleons are always chameleons no matter how much they choose to blend into the background–or not.

    It’s a good lesson for life, too: Be who you are, but pay enough attention to the patterns around you to figure out when–and how–to hang back, and when to stand out. (But the smartest chameleons learn to blend in first….)

  7. John McLachlan Avatar

    For me, the answer has always been simple: BE AN ARTIST.

    This could mean being an artist in the traditional sense but I really mean, no matter what you are doing, be an artist.

    In my definition, a true artist does what he/she does without concern for what others think (I guess that’s kind of like Julien says, “screw it”. If they are successful in the money or fame sense, they are fine with that. If they are not, fine with that, too.

    This is about life, not just work. Unless you are at the point where you don’t know how to have food to eat or shelter over your head, then BE AN ARTIST.

    Being an artist is my goal, my religion, even if I don’t always attain it.

  8. Sally G. Avatar

    I’ve thought about this myself. In 2009, I participated in two online communities, started a blog site, began participating on twitter ~ and in each case, it soon became evident who the ‘top dogs’ were. And yes, I was very conscious of an almost ‘need’ to be noticed by these people ~ sometimes because I came to admire, respect and/or appreciate what they shared in their respective realms … and sometimes just so I’d feel like I’d finally arrived and was not longer ‘the new person’. I’ve found it helpful to look through the other end of the telescope and focus what I can offer to others to make their time with me more worthwhile. If I can enlighten them, give them an unexpected laugh or share helpful information in some way – then I feel I’ve contributed significance. I have met some really amazing people so far, and though my Follower count is relatively low ~ the connections I’m making and the ‘light’ I am shining is enough for me right now.

  9. Whitney Avatar

    I agree with Tamsen. The more you are yourself and an original, the more “organic” attention you create. The organic attention may attract others around it, but the core of people interested in you are people interested in you for WHO you are, not What you represent. That way, your core is not about what’s cool or a fad this week, but the authentic community and audience that will do stuff and support you and are more likely to be action oriented when that’s necessary. They’ll also be there when something bad happens as well as something good.

    Fair weather friends and attention is transient and does not build great long term foundations.

    That said, this is the long term plan, not the “Be Rich and Famous This Week” plan. If you want short term results, go for a short term play, but I’ll bet those folks will end up reinventing everything again from scratch at some point.

    And for what it’s worth, the price associated with fame doesn’t always seem worth it, at least to me.

  10. Dave Huffman Avatar

    I’m with Tamsen and Whitney.

    Be yourself and you naturally attract like-minded individuals.

  11. Tamsen Avatar

    Whitney’s comment reminds me of this great clip of Dave Chappelle on Inside the Actors Studio (start at 6:21, though the whole thing is worthwhile):

    At 7:29: “Name your price at the beginning. If it [achieving fame] ever gets more expensive than the price you name, get out of there.”

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