My Seattle trip has kept me too busy to write, but I’m back in the swing now.
A friend just turned me onto this World of Warcraft forum thread in which a guy explains how his excitement in learning that his boss also played World of Warcraft quickly turned to disappointed when he discovered his boss played for the other team (Alliance versus Horde in the game). The guy was up for a promotion, but once his boss learned they were on opposing teams he became evasive at work and it seemed the promotion was in jeopardy.
This speaks to a facet of the social media conversation that we haven’t fully figured out. If the idea is to be friends with everyone or at least have a conversation with everyone (be social), then how do we apply this to relationships that depend on a certain level of formality (e.g., a boss and subordinate or teacher and student)? Personally I embrace the notion of “friending” people in these environments, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to write some of my own rules, and the stakes are perhaps lower for me — not to mention the fact that I can turn anything into an social experiment. There is certainly nothing wrong with preferring to maintain formality out of habit or necessity. I tend to see more advantage in having an expansive network of peers than danger.
Another friend of mine is a teaching fellow at Harvard. It didn’t take long for him to decide to make his Facebook profile private so that only he could seek out friends, rather than be found through a search. He felt a strong need to draw a line to maintain the authority he had earned through teaching undergraduate students in his classes.
Attitudes tend to vary a bit between mediums. Facebook has always been a bit more serious to me than MySpace. Warcraft is a game. Second Life is a virtual immersive environment that arguably is the most natural place to form digitally augmented friendships that depend on a high level of interactivity and time. That’s the one thing that remains constant. Maintaining a friendship in any environment and by any definition still requires time and attention, and I suppose it always will — especially as it becomes harder to trick anyone into believing that your surrogate (someone else you have representing you — think ghost writer) is actually you.
Are we supposed to be friends with our employees or students? I say why not? And this leads me to support the idea of “friending” just about anyone on Facebook (except that other Andy Swindler out there who I don’t really know). As the world becomes flatter, so do business structures, where people take lead and ownership on different things and shared projects on different days. It must be harder to take for someone who’s spent 30 years working up through the ranks of a business suddenly to give up the earned authority and embrace a flattened structure. But being friends with coworkers at any level is nothing new. Historically it’s probably been relegated to going out for beers after work, and that’s perhaps the difference. Facebook and sites like it begin to tear down some of those walls within the office or school environment, which makes it harder to draw lines when considering professional issues at those institutions.
Read through some of the posts on that forum. They are enlightening.