Is the Constant Connected Society a Liability to Career Advancement?


The book I chose for this week's plane ride is a biography of Joseph Schumpeter. A little over 100 pages in, it's a fascinating life story so far. Schumpeter's father died at age 31, and his mother left the small town their family had inhabited for generations and moved to a much larger city with nothing but her young son – in search of a better opportunity for him. The author commented that, had he not moved away, he would never have become the intellectual celebrity he was. When everyone around you thinks a certain way, you tend to adopt that way of thinking. Staying in a small farming town would not have inspired a lifetime of examining capitalism.

The comment got me thinking about what would happen if Schumpeter set off from his small town today, and ended up studying in Vienna again. Now, he would find it easy to keep up with his old friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog. But I wonder if what would be a good thing, or if it would stunt some of Schumpeter's growth.

Social networks are powerful forces in our lives. The web makes it easier than ever to connect with new people, but the flip side is that it also keeps us connected to people from earlier times… people who may not understand or support our goals. Is it possible that in some instances, social networks hold us back? In earlier times students could go away to school and carve their own path, but now with old friends judging every move we make, are we likely to be less unique, less aggressive, and perhaps not live up to our creative potential?

In the movie "October Sky," Homer Hickam's family can't understand why he wants to be a rocket scientist. They want him to stay home and work in the coal mines like everyone else. Does that same mindset translate into our connected online lives to some extent? Not that the type of people who twitter would suggest you go work in a coal mine, but you get the picture. They may want you to go to this or that party or dinner or spend all day watching dumb videos on youtube. There may be pressure from social networks to do certain things that distract from your other goals. Maybe social pressure can tempt an intellectual iconoclast to be a little more "normal."

In Schumpeter's day, there was some advantage to totally severing the old ties. In today's world that is much more difficult to do. For most people, it doesn't matter, because they aren't pursuing some unique life path. But for the ones that are trying to push the limits of their abilities, are the old connections a support network, or a set of chains that that prevent a higher level of achievement?

  • Interesting….Let me twitter my friends and see what they think and then I’ll get back to ya.

  • Lord

    People can only hold you back if you let them. It would seem the ability to network with others more of your mindset would more than trump this, but it probably depends on how social one is and how much you value the opinions of others.

  • Paul

    Insightful…there are ties that I would prefer severed…I’ve been contacted via social network by people from the past that I would rather not associate with. It may make it harder for certain people to “turn their lives around” or pursue a completely new direction because they will remain chained to old social connections, which no matter how idealistically I look at it I must admit influence a lot of what we do. Ultimately I agree with Lord’s post that it is individual will that trumps all this, but again, how many people will have the will to escape a network that could act, somewhat literally, as a spider web?

  • Rob:

    Well, this is a question of nature vs. nuture, which seems to closely resemble the “chicken-or-egg” quandry. I also think that it is important for people to not get trapped in the “this is who I am” morass and find a way to cut a path out of the briar patch to new horizons. Who knows what/who one might become, given a chance? I cross-posted on your piece to The Innovators Network is a non-profit dedicated to bringing technology to startups, small businesses, non-profits, venture capitalists and intellectual property experts. Please visit us and help grow our community!

    Best wishes for continued success,

    Anthony Kuhn
    Innovators Network

  • Nolan

    In the movie “October Sky” Homer Hickam is not supported by his family, but is supported (often secretly) by others in the community.

    You are right that people have the ability to influence one’s actions, and yes, they can be guided in both ways that hinder their natural potential (staying home in the coal mine) or in new directions that maximize potential – but require sometimes a little push and inspiration.

    Facebook is fun, and my time on it is often dominated by enjoyable (but not very inspirational) youtube videos. I understand this, and that is why I also choose to spend my time elsewhere. LORD (above) is right. It does start with the individual and it is up to them to find social niches online that are inspirational and productive.

    Here’s a new social site that exercise the latter: