Category: Technology

The Perils of Networking When Everyone Is Your Friend

NYC Pigeon

I know a lot of fascinating people.

I know writers and editors, chefs and restaurateurs, celebrity personal assistants and a few well-connected people in the television industry, pilots and programmers, museum curators and fashion designers. Many of the fascinating people I know I knew Before Social Media (BSM)*, while many others I “know” I have met thanks to sites like Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc.

I know as many details – if not more – about some of my online “friends” as I do about the ones I knew BSM. This is not necessarily because I’ve been stalking people’s profiles or Googling them. I have learned about them through reading their writing, corresponding with them, asking them about their lives. My online friends are the pen pals this introvert always wish she had: people with intriguing occupations and riveting travel stories available for a conversation within seconds of my bidding.

It doesn’t matter how I know people; the dynamics of acquaintance are so fluid these days. What has me concerned is that the more people that I meet, the more I feel like I am reducing my chances at achieving some professional goals. The more that I network, the less inclined I feel to use that network to land a job or ask for favors.

Yes, I’m going about this all wrong. But let me explain.

I adore meeting new people. While I’ve never considered myself much of a networker in the “real world,” socializing online feels very natural to me. For better or for worse, my head is filled with the minutiae of others’ interests: that guy works on death penalty issues, so let me send him this link; she is an eco-conscious mommy blogger, so she may be interested in this article on a new medical study; he likes planes; she’s traveling in Australia; etc.

I’m not sure how I keep up with it all, but it gives me great pleasure to connect the dots and share information with those I know will appreciate it. What’s more, having had this online interaction makes it easier for me to engage these friends should I meet them offline at a conference or happy hour. Being able to begin a “real life” conversation with a frame of reference, possibly even months or years in the making, puts me at ease. No doubt, I have acquired many real friends thanks to initial online contact.

So, what are the perils of this type of networking?

Over the years, as I have met fascinating people, I have corralled them into a virtual “friend zone” whose borders I am reluctant to cross. Once I know the name of a fascinating friend’s baby or allow a fascinating friend to enter my Facebook world of family photos, it becomes harder for me to ask them for professional advice lest they feel that I was using them all along. For example, once I am friends with an editor of a publication for which I want to write, asking her about the latest staff job posting or how to query her publication seems like a breach of trust on my part.

I know that job opportunities come along more often than not because of who you know not what you know. But how does a job seeker break out of the “friend zone” and feel comfortable asking for help or advice or a reference?

Social media has given all of us unprecedented access to people we never would have met BSM. This access has also helped to break down communication barriers, bringing our would-be idols down to earth and, sometimes, turning fascinating people into true friends. I am grateful for my ever-growing list of contacts. They are friends who perform all manner of jobs, live all over the globe, and inspire me to do more and reach higher. But I am also curious how I can use my network to my advantage without upsetting the friendship cart.

I have been looking for a professional “home” for years. And while I am content to freelance, I know that there are some awesome projects, part-time jobs, and full-time assignments for which I am remarkably qualified. Further, I have on more than one occasion linked an online friend to a job opportunity, a press trip, or a book-writing contract. What can I do to make others think of me when a job opportunity using my skill set comes across their desk? I know that I can not be passive in this pursuit, but taking an active stance does not feel natural when relationship dynamics are at stake.

Have you faced this problem? Now that you are connected to someone in an enviable position, do you feel reluctant to ask them how they got to where they are and how you can get there, too? Surely, I’m not the only one experiencing this networking conundrum.

*I use BSM (Before Social Media) for brevity. Please don’t think I’m trying to coin an annoying new anagram here!

Photo: ZeroOne

My Internet Roots

So I was thinking that perhaps it was the phone’s fault for me being online all the time. Then I remembered I was one of about five people that used to stay in the college computer lab – yeah I’m that old – until 4am almost every night.

I was definitely one of the few people on IRC at the time. Anyone out there ever dwell in #altpunk circa 1993? If you did, message me and I’ll tell you my somewhat embarrassing username – my first username!

I’m kicking myself I didn’t end up a coder or developer or something. I took a one-off course in computer science my sophomore year of college. I taught my professor and the students in my course how to go online and use EMAIL. I tried to teach my boyfriend, who was leaving spring semester for Buenos Aires, how to email me while he was away. There was nary an Internet cafe in the Palermo neighborhood of BA in 1994 Argentina. So that semester, the only thing that took me away from the computer lab was the one week I hopped in a band bus post-concert and ended up in Atlanta five days later. Everybody’s gotta have a spring break!

I miss those early days of the Internet, especially because I knew they had such promise but also because I could envision a future that all the technology I was digging would be easier for others to use. I wish I’d envisioned what we have now (except maybe with fewer animated gifs). I wish I would’ve taken another computer course (and another) and had the guts to switch majors. Or at least minors. A minor in German? WTF?

So yeah, I’m the same age as Marissa Mayer and I kind of want to throw up. But I can’t help but cheer her on because she came of age in the same computer age as I did. We have inhabited roughly the same span of time.

Testing Out the WooThemes Express App

A while back, WooThemes, which makes the Canvas theme I’m using and many more beautiful, highly functional WordPress themes, came out with their Express app. I found the price – $4.99 at the time I downloaded it – to be a bit steep, but I wanted to test it out as it promised to provide Tumblr-like blogging with certain themes.

Here is my first post with the app, done entirely on my iPhone 4. I took a screenshot of the app interface to test the image-type post (like Tumblr, it prompts users to choose a post type – image, video, text, etc.).

So how did it work? You tell me. I’m in the park and won’t be back to my MacBook for a little while. You can tell me on Twitter @melanierenzulli or leave a comment below.

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Spending the Holidays Three Houses Down from America’s Christmas Lights Display Winner – #sonyholiday

Whitis Family Christmas House in Tallahassee, Florida. Winners of the GMA Contest.
Semper Fi Christmas House, Tallahassee, Florida

I’m spending the holidays in Tallahassee, Florida, which happens to be the town from which the Whitis family, the winners of Good Morning America’s “Our Lights Are Better Than Your Lights”, hail. I’m not only in the same town as this Christmas lights attraction, but approximately three doors down from it. When my family and I arrived after a very long drive yesterday, we had to get a police escort to stop traffic so we could get down the street to my sister’s house. Cars were lined up for at least a mile to get a chance to drive by the GMA winners’ home.

So what does it take to earn bragging rights for the best Christmas lights in the nation? Apparently, it takes 17,000 LED lights and a patriotic, red-white-and-blue light show set to the techno remix of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American.” I can’t say it’s a beautiful display – the word “tacky” comes to mind. But it certainly took a lot of effort and the winners have asked visitors and online admirers to contribute to the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that provides “immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.”

I took a few photos* of the Whitis’ lit-up home, but you can’t really appreciate the audaciousness of this light display until you watch the video complete with music. Thankfully, for the neighbors’ sake, the family has purchased some radio spectrum (92.3 FM) for the duration of the Christmas light show so the neighborhood doesn’t have to endure techno music repeating on a four-minute loop for five hours per night. (I understand there’s currently a lawsuit against the family because of the light and music display, which is probably one reason why the radio spectrum was purchased.)

Here’s the full video of the Whitis’ family’s Semper Fi Christmas House, which will be on display through Christmas night. I promise you this is real:

 

 

*All photos (except featured photo) taken with the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-WX9 camera, which was provided courtesy of Sony.

Old and Busted vs. New Hotness and the Elephant in the Room – #sonyholiday

Old Sony Vaio - "Old and Busted"

When a PR representative recently offered me the opportunity to review the new Sony VAIO S Series laptop, I was hesitant. But I realized that it would be a great opportunity to compare my previous Sony VAIO experience with my new one, as well as compare the two laptops to my relatively new MacBook Pro.

That’s right. I am a new convert to Mac after years of using a PC. My last laptop before getting my beautiful, shiny, Steve Jobs-approved MacBook? You guessed it – a Sony VAIO. Full Disclosure: I’m typing this post on a MacBook. I’ll be blogging from the Sony as the review series continues.

We bought a Sony VAIO in 2009 from a Best Buy. It wasn’t an ideal purchase. Our workhorse Dell, which wed had since 2004 and carted to India and Turkey, was old, gigantic (by today’s standards), and died within a week of returning stateside after being abroad for almost four years. We didnt really have a whole lot of time to do research on a new laptop; we just needed to buy one fast so I we could get online and I could continue blogging or whatever it was that I was doing in 2009.

Old Sony Vaio - Worn Out Keyboard
Old Sony Vaio - Worn Out Keyboard

The Sony VAIO was the best looking PC laptop at Best Buy that day and was priced in the middle range – around $699. I was thrilled to have a new laptop again, but the honeymoon period ended fairly quickly. Because we had bought an out-of-the-box model (previously owned for about a week before being returned to the store), we had a limited warranty on the VAIO. Right about the time that the warranty expired, the VAIO’s fan began whirring loudly and my sons got hold of the laptop and ripped half of the keys off. I was typing on the laptop so much, that by the middle of 2010, the paint on the keyboard keys began to wear off. That’s what you see in the photo to the left.

I had had it with PCs by the end of 2010 and coveted a Mac, not only because it was going to work seamlessly with my iPhone but because I had finally eased out of the mindset that computing on a Mac would be difficult. Sure, keyboard shortcuts would change, preferred software wouldn’t be available in some cases, and software I already owned (such as an old version of Photoshop for PCs) wouldn’t be compatible with my Mac. But I was ready for something different, especially since Id heard that I wouldnt have to worry about malware and viruses striking my Mac.

So, here I am, getting ready to really review the Sony VAIO S Series laptop, both in comparison with my old-and-busted Vaio and the elephant-in-the-room MacBook, but also as a laptop on its own terms. Stay tuned for more posts on the Sony VAIO S Series laptop as well as reviews about my experience using the laptop in tandem with the Sony Cyber-shot (DSC-WX9) camera and Microsoft Windows Live Sky Drive. On Twitter, Im labeling my posts with the hashtag #sonyholiday.

Sony VAIO S Series
Sony VAIO S Series - New "Hotness?"