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Social Networking, Downtime, Speaking, and Fargo

The importance of the telephone and limits of social networking.
Feb | 12 | 2010

Feb | 12 | 2010

As an independent technology consultant, writer and now cartoon character, my schedule affords me more flexibility than most people. On a day like Wednesday, I didn’t have to attempt to navigate the snow-ridden roads of New Jersey. My friends with more traditional jobs were jealous. But, if they made it to work, they got to interact with people in a professional setting and banter around the water cooler. Sometimes I get jealous of them.

Regardless of your employment situation, we all have downtime. Yes, even you. You. The question is, “What are you going to do with it?”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with playing Wii, watching the amazing show Damages, or just going off the grid. But you can do more.

Yes, you.

In this post, I discuss the importance of the speaking and the limits of social networking.

Social Networking Has Not Replaced the Value of Personal Relationships

In my podcast with Andy Kaufman earlier this week, we spoke quite a bit about the importance of personal relationships. When it comes to communicating, many people (including myself) have a tendency to rely on the killer app: email. As Andy and I discussed on the podcast, it’s certainly easy to shoot someone 100 words, especially when you’re in front of your computer anyway.

But are there limits to what you can over email? To quote Frances McDormand in Fargo, “You betcha.”

Pick Up The Phone

A few weeks ago, I came across an oddly familiar word online:


Inspired to resurrect that quaint old term, I went old-school and arranged actual phone conversations with people I didn’t know or hardly new. I had downtime and figured that I’d use it to forge new relationships with folks who appeared to be interesting from their blogs, comments, websites, and tweets. Note that I’m still waiting for a call back from Alyssa Milano. Note to Alyssa – you have until Monday and then I rescind my offer to chat. I mean it. Don’t test me.

I jest, but the following people whose voices I’ve actually heard now include:

  • Dylan Jones and I spoke a few times about data quality, monetizing your website, and social media.
  • Louis Rosas-Guyon and I spoke about different publishing options.
  • Julian Schwarzenbach and I spoke about when organizations decide to upgrade their systems and the consequences of not being ready.
  • Si Chen and I spoke about the evolution of open source software.
  • Rob Paller and I spoke about data warehousing and BI.
  • Danette McGilvray and I spoke about consulting, running your own shop, and social media.
  • Susan Cramm and I spoke about the role of IT and publishing

Now, based on one or two conversations, are these people willing to fall on the sword for me? I doubt it. But that’s not the right question to ask. Do these people stand out more to me than other anonymous folks, and is this a good thing? Yes and Yes. I also like to think that I made a positive impression on them. What’s more, I used my downtime in a productive manner. In a few months, when I’m busy doing book-related stuff or on a consulting assignment, I’ll have more social currency with them than if we hadn’t spoken back in February. They may even open new doors for me.

Simon Says

Social networking is freaking amazing. The ability to find people with similar interests, jobs, backgrounds, and the like is just plain sick.  To quote my World History professor at Carnegie Mellon Peter Stearns, however, “Let’s not overdo it.” I can’t imagine that most of us would take time from our busy schedules to help someone out merely because s/he is one of our 549 Twitter followers. Speaking still matters.


Blog E Social Media E Social Networking, Downtime, Speaking, and Fargo

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  1. Andy Kaufman

    Great post, Phil. I’m amazed at how well we can keep up with what’s going in people’s lives, thanks to social networking. But, as you clearly lay out, it’s only part of the picture. One of my favorite parts of hosting a podcast is being able to actually talk with authors and leaders that I otherwise would have only respected from afar.

    Here’s to picking up the phone today when we otherwise would have sent an e-mail or IM or tweet! And no Facebook updates while on a Valentine’s date this weekend, guys! 🙂

  2. Terri Rylander


    I very much agree with your point about social networking allowing you to meet people you would never have had the chance to meet. I’ve met some interesting, brilliant, and fun people through Twitter, LinkedIn, and my blog. Like you, I work from home and appreciate these relationships even more. I always look forward to the chance to meet them in person – fortunately I’ve met many.

    I agree the value behind social networking is the relationship. Hope to meet you one day too!


  3. Adam Bullock

    Really fantastic stuff, Phil. Thanks for giving me inspiration for this upcoming week!

  4. Jim Harris

    Excellent post Phil!

    Social media makes the world feel like a smaller place because it removes the geographic and linguistic barriers that can limit our real-life “social networking” circles to people who live and work near us, and who can communicate with us in our native language.

    However, social media can still retain a “digital distance” with our technology (computers, mobile devices, and even telephones) separating us in ways that an in person conversation does not.

    I am very grateful to the tremendous number of new professional (and a few new personal) contacts that social media has added to my life in such a short time.

    Connecting with and “collecting” contacts via social media channels is easy. The challenge is moving beyond a simple connection to a true meaningful engagement.

    Although selfish “what’s in it for me” people certainly exist, the true barrier (as you pointed out) to “meaningful” social networking is time – an always scarce resource with our incredibly busy professional and personal lives.

    I applaud your productive use of your downtime, especially by picking up the phone (or the Skype headset) to actually speak with people – and also share many of these conversations via your excellent podcast series.

    However, I also believe in the tremendous potential of the non-speaking aspects of social media.

    With downtime ever dwindling and social tools rapidly evolving, more and more of us will be “meaningfully” networking without using the sound of our voice.

    Best Regards,


  5. Louis Rosas-Guyon

    It was a pleasure speaking with you. I appreciate your guidance and ideas for my next book. It’s always a pleasure speaking to someone that can show me the ropes.

    I hope to speak to you again soon.


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