Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Networking, curating, (possibly) despairing

I: Networking

I had to go to a course on networking a couple of weeks ago, because I am unemployed and this is the sort of thing they make unemployed people do here. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful not to be working for no pay at the pound shop, but this did not do me much good.

All of these courses (I've been to four) involve a lot of looking deep within oneself, getting in touch with one's true desires and honing one's Vision, honestly assessing one's full capacities, pulling out one's core strengths—all things I flatly refuse to do in such circumstances. The government can make me sit in a room and listen to corporate psychobabble for six hours a day, certainly, but if they expect me to delve into my innermost soul for them, they can go stick their heads in a pig. Added to this unpleasantness, in this case, was the soul-draining horror that is deliberate networking.
"It's all about telling your friends, your family, and everyone you ever meet that you're unemployed and looking for a job."
—One of my coursemates
"It's all about tricking people that you care about them so that they'll do you favours."

So much for that.

On the second day, we ventured into the world of Social Media. Here is a helpful graph that was handed out to us.

Reflect on your online appearance.
1. Where are you currently on this diagram?
2. In which direction could you further develop your social networking competence?
The 'axes' are labelled: active-passive, lots-little, favourable-unfavourable.
The key at the side is labelled: information management, identity management, relationship management.
This graph makes no sense.
Click for bigger.

It was a surprisingly peaceful day spent filling out our LinkedIn profiles. I gave a presentation on how to use Twitter, because I was the only one in the class who knew what it was. Then we got our homework: to go out onto the web with these freshly optimised identities, join in on forum and blog discussions in our professional fields, and "position ourselves as experts in this topic."

This didn't sound like much fun to me, so instead I went home and had a three-day nervous breakdown.

It's probably already plain to my readers that I am a ball of neuroses about this stuff. I've also been told in the past that I have imposter syndrome, though I feel that's rather too generous an assessment. I do not want to network. I do not want to discuss science with anyone who knows what they're talking about, because it will be very apparent that I don't. I do not want to be visible on the internet and I do not want anyone to know I exist. Thank you.

Obviously, barging up to groups of knowledgeable strangers, under my own uncommon name, and declaring that I Are A Expert was never going to happen. Dave suggested instead that I start a blog about science news. Just a link and a picture and a note on why it's cool. There could be associated Twitter and Google+ feeds. With a minimum of effort and almost no interpersonal interaction, there I would be in the search results: interested! up to date! and most importantly, employable!

Well, I made the stupid fucking blog and that was when the real horror started.

II: Curating

(By the real horror, I mean three days of sitting around reading vampire novels and wailing about my lot in life. It was almost relaxing.)

There are three problems with this otherwise inspired science blog idea.
  1. If I write about news within my field, but in fact have no useful insights or expert knowledge about it, this will look worse than not saying anything.
  2. If I write about news outside of my field, I am guaranteed to have no useful insights or expert knowledge, so why bother?
After discussion of 1., I decided that posting about general science topics would be much less stressful than trying to be intelligent about my true love, materials science.

After consideration of 2., I decided I really didn't want to write that kind of blog. There are so many, many sites on the internet that take news and press releases so they can repost a picture and a link and a note, which are in turn reposted by the next aggregator and the one after that, and no value is ever added except for the names of everybody in the chain. I don't want to be a contributor to this content churn.

When I brought this up to Dave, he gave an intelligent and persuasive argument that independent curation of the firehose of content on the internet is indeed an added value, and one that will remain important, since there is far too much news of any kind for a reader to take in, and the larger and commercial aggregators are inevitably too easily gamed to be relied upon. Smaller, independent filtering sites are not to be sniffed at.

Unfortunately, this brought me to 3.
  1. I don't want to stick my head in front of a firehose either!

III: (Possibly) despairing

Having talked myself out of doing anything whatsoever, I'm now in a difficult situation. My poor stupid efforts—bearing not just my name but my face, god help me!—persist out there, those three blog posts and seven tweets. What is to be done with them? I don't know if I can keep on biting my pride in half and typing in nonsense, and I doubt even more that I can spare the time it takes me to manage that. How long will they be cached for, if I delete them now?

By the way, here's a tip I wish I'd known sooner: when closing an online account, clear all your data first and set it to private as well. Otherwise it will probably stay up indefinitely and once the account is no longer yours, you can't delete it.

Here's another thought: publishing this post is probably also a terrible idea. My mum reads this blog. So does Google. But it is past my bedtime and it's been a while since we've had some histrionics here, so there it is.


    1. That graph is amazing! Three dimensions of awesome.

      Re: deleting online accounts, "setting to private" and "deleting" are not always as straightforward and effective as one might hope, so it might be a good idea to add another layer of defence: set false information first. That way if the information should resurface after you delete your account, at least it won't be accurate.

    2. Thank you, you're quite right and that's good advice.

    3. There's actually a new level in scummy to rub in Jasmine's advice; some sites separately charge for deletion of the profile after the account is shut.

      Outside of that, the project might like a materials scientist on team and you'd be avoiding the pressure of being the sole contributor.

    4. Wow, that is really unpleasant and makes me wonder what I'm in for when I finally get around to asking the relevant services to delete the profiles I failed to wipe before closing.

      The Links to the Damn Paper blog looks fantastic and I totally missed it on MetaFilter, thank you! I'm not sure I feel up to being on the team but I might try submitting an article or two and seeing how it goes. :)

      By the way, sorry that I owe you an email still and I promise I'm not ignoring you! I'm just a bit scared of my inbox.

    5. Unemployment is stressful. The networking course seems to be aimed at the most basic of requirements and of no great help if there are unrelated impediments such as anxiety. The weird part is that anxiety seems to be contagious. Now I feel anxious as well.

      I think the traditional ways of coping with this situation is humor and satire. You seem to be coping well enough. :)

      Some possibly unrelated thoughts.

      If communicating with strangers makes you uncomfortable, and you practice in order to get better at it, you're setting yourself up for a life of being uncomfortable.

      Sometimes uncomfortability is the basis for growth. Sometimes it's just that: uncomfortable.

      A possibly more helpful thought.

      I keep thinking that the only really important qualification you bring to a job is your previous job experience. Without doing a formal proof by induction it would seem that this indicates your first job to be the most important qualification for all the jobs for the rest of your life.

      I think it's important to take your time to find a good first job you're happy with. If you pick a job that makes you unhappy, you're setting yourself up for a life of working unhappy jobs.

      Some people spend some time doing things other than looking for a job before looking for their first job. It sounds very cool if you can say that you did a world trip. I'd say that travel is not a requirement, however. You can put one year of Zen practice in your CV and just do stuff you like doing.

      Just down slide into depression. I think depression is real and needs to be taken seriously and can be fought by using a healthy life style. Do things, get out, meet people (pick two), something like that.

      Anyway, it's a tricky thing. I'm sorry to hear you're unhappy.

    6. Hey Alex, sorry for the very belated reply to your comment, and thanks for your useful thoughts. (I hope the anxiety has abated by now!) I am trying to fight off depression by alternately getting out, doing things, and wallowing in novels about glamorous and melodramatically depressed vampires. It seems to be working. ;)