With words like clay and a teflon personality, the social networker is out there, lurking around Harvard Yard. They’re seen at every major event, they give you a wave and shout your name from across the street, they talk about the weather and classes but never anything deeper. They skim the surface of every topic expertly, leaving a trail of ice-breakers and platitudes in their wake. They know you, but they don’t know you, and that doesn’t really matter. Your name and a smile—swift, undirected—is the gate ticket to anything and everything they need. Anything else is merely decorative, a lozenge to make these actions tasteless, medicinal, and bleached—but even still, when you walk away, something doesn’t feel right. You feel a coat hanger at once peeling your mouth open and wiring your shoulders stiff, the cold metal rippling through your back like bubble wrap. You dismiss the feeling altogether, you tell yourself you’re overreacting. They’re just being nice. Their business card burns a hole in your back pocket.
But can we blame the master networker?
Coming into Harvard, the wow-factor and potential of future greatness never seem to lose their glimmer. The mansplainer in your math class could very well be the next start-up genius or a Nobel Laureate (just not today, because he’s busy today reiterating Green’s Theorem to you in tandem with the TF). The girl across from you in the dining hall could be winning a Fulbright unknowingly as she follows the motions of yet another working dinner. It is, frankly, awe-inspiring that the people who surround you on a daily basis are without a doubt going to change the world in the future. Subconscious consumer behavior propels us into action since, to get the most “bang out of our buck” of our time here, so to speak, we must align ourselves with said fellow students in order to fully reap the benefits of our education.
Yet, these hollow attempts to string together human capital as objects and use them for personal gain amount to nothing but little more than loose interactions too thin to grasp. The truly menacing nature of the networker is not that he or she endeavors to remember every name in the room, but that this endeavor is overall unfruitful and comes across as disingenuous, working against the networker’s original intention. In the end, the efforts of the social networker are not only futile, but are rather obvious and parasitic to the other party involved.
If anything, the idea of networking could have an adverse effect on the way in which you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. Two studies conducted in 2014 showed that participants found a causal relationship between networking events, dirtiness, and the need to be cleaned. Although networking can be marginally beneficial in organization, other studies have shown that a meritocratic system and recognizing organizational achievements are not only useful but are a more effective way to find success in your field. There’s even a sociological theory termed “The Matthew Effect” that connects achievement to cumulative advantages irrespective of networking.
Friendships hold meaning. Real connections are what merit the worthiness of lending an opportunity to someone else, not the memorization of the rote facts of you muddled together in a shallow, haphazard attempt to chain yourself to someone else’s success. A string of aimless conversations and interactions leads nowhere, holds no weight to the development of actual relationships with others around you that lead to mutual gain.
This is not a tirade against small talk, nor an attack attempting to clip the wings of the social butterfly. Friendships have to begin somewhere, and the chitchat and blather aforementioned can be one’s needle and thread to tie people together. If these friendships lead to job opportunities and advancements in a certain field, then that’s great. However, if the intentions are merely to use another person for their capacity to “make it big” in the future without any regard to the person whom is being used, then the actions of the networker are absolutely superficial and leech-like.
Nonetheless, the social networker will continue to exist in their niche here on campus. The smog of competition and ruthless efforts to be on top clogs the arteries just sufficiently so that rationality fails to reach the brain, and students suffocate on this need to use others. Despite the perseverance of the social networker, this mentality does not have to insert doubt into every one of your Harvard friendships. If the LinkedIn request doesn’t come within the first twenty-four hours of meeting them, chances are you’ve dodged the bullet this time.
Jessenia N. Class ’20, is a Crimson Editorial editor in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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