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The End of Letters

Letter of Note - Mott

I’ve long enjoyed the website/Twitter feed Letters of Note, which resurrects correspondence between famous people or personal notes recalling significant historical events.

In cleaning up my office today, I stumbled upon my own letter of note from a since-departed university professor who taught a class on “The End of History.” Professor Albert Mott was an ascot-wearing eccentric who didn’t blink an eye when I told him I was going to write my class project on 1970s British punk music. (Laughably, I think I titled my piece “No Time to Be 21” after this song by The Adverts.) I’m still not sure where I was going with that, but he made sure to loan me his copy of “Sid and Nancy” for additional research.

I can’t remember the last time that I received a personal letter like this (i.e., one that wasn’t an email). Of course, I can’t remember the last letter I sent either. At any rate, I’m pleased to get this glimpse back at myself and a few of my post-collegiate thoughts.

The end of history. The end of letters.

The end.

Hubble Nebula 5189

Departing Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Hubble Nebula 5189
Hubble Telescope’s photo of the planetary nebula NGC 5189.

“What would you ask an astronaut?”

My friend Pam, who was preparing to interview everyone’s current favorite space explorer Commander Chris Hadfield, posed that question on Facebook the other day. “What would you ask an astronaut?”

I chimed in because who wouldn’t want to ask an astronaut a question? Fewer than 600 people have ever been in space in the history of the world — that’s roughly the average number of people within a social network. Being an astronaut is the rarest of occupations; going to space is the rarest of trips.

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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

Remembering September 11, 2001

It’s a question we all ask of one another, the same question our parents’ generation asked each other when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and the same question our grandparents’ generation asked following Pearl Harbor:

“Where were you?”

Everyone who was alive and aware of the horrific events of September 11, 2001, know exactly where they were when they heard the news. Most of us remember the minutiae, as well: the faces of the television anchors breaking the news, what we were wearing, how we got home that day or night (even if we were nowhere near the attack sites). Many of us also know friends or friends of friends who perished and/or lost someone that day.

I was in Florence, Italy, on September 11, 2001. Where were you?

Photo by Flickr user althouse

Update and Great Photo

birdflu_kempscorner.JPG

I apologize for the long silence. In fact, not much has been happening around here. Well, not much except bird flu, temple attacks, and presidential visits. At this point, nearly two years later, India and Bombay have almost become everyday for me. And, sad as it may seem, there comes a time when you become used to (desensitized to?) chaotic driving, street urchins, milk deliverymen on bicycles, unnavigable, paan juice stained sidewalks, piles of burning trash, incense, crowds, poverty, nouveau riche techies, and holy cows. It’s almost time to move on.

That said, I occasionally see things here that I wouldn’t see anywhere else. Take a look at the photo above, taken by a friend of a friend. That’s an actual billboard (called a “hoarding” here) with statistics that aren’t too far-fetched. I don’t know why the designers of the sign used a coffee cup, but there you go.

By the way, as I seem to have run out of words about India, I may start posting some fun photos on occasion. If I put up several at a time, they may even amount to a feature-length article. Figuratively, that is…

I Heart Outsourcing!

Senator John Kerry came to India recently to discuss, among other things, his opinions on outsourcing. During the U.S. elections of 2004, Indians (or at least the Indian media) never quite warmed to Kerry, so I suppose this was a chance for him to go on a goodwill tour and to see outsourcing at its, well, source.

Of course, outsourcing is a very sore subject in the U.S. and its impact has unfortunatley turned some Americans against South Asians. Its short-term effect has meant that many Americans have lost their jobs to workers in India that can do their jobs, if not more efficiently, then more economically. I even have an Indian-American friend whose relative lost her job to an Indian in India!

After being in India for a while, however, I can’t help but be a little touchy when discussing outsourcing with my compatriots at home. The people that I have met here that work at BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing companies) are some of the most diligent, hardworking people. And they aren’t just involved in the telemarketing fields. BPOs such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, e-Serve, and Datamatics have stretched their tentacles to cover industries like IT, banking, finance, government, and entertainment. In fact, outsourcing is involved in almost every industry I can think of (which is even more than the average American can think of), so it isn’t going away anytime soon.
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Hey Undecided Voter!

Come on…don’t embarrass me over here. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but just thought I’d throw out this little nugget in case you missed it:

“The Bushies’ campaign pitch follows their usual backward logic: Because we have failed to make you safe, you should re-elect us to make you safer. Because we haven’t caught Osama in three years, you need us to catch Osama in the next four years. Because we didn’t bother to secure explosives in Iraq, you can count on us to make sure those explosives aren’t used against you.” [NYT.com]

The people in India are on pins and needles about the election, so I can just imagine how anxious you must feel over there. The world is freaking out. I am freaking out. I’ve been grinding my teeth so hard at night over this that I’ve got something close to lockjaw right now.

Anyhow, it’s not up to me anymore. I’ve already sent in my absentee vote. As for the rest of you, for the love of god, please get out there and vote for Kerry.