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Face reality

The net is abuzz with social networking, but isolation is the price of honesty in the superficial online world.

I have a confession to make: I am a terrible networker. Whenever I ever attend an industry event, by the end of the night I'll know the life story of whichever waiter brings me beer the fastest, but I will have conspicuously failed to mingle among you, dear readers. I will not have made a single line of polite small talk or learned any more about your work and how to write things that might help or amuse you. It's a failing I have felt rather keenly ever since my compulsory stint as a young expatriate Australian in London a decade or so back, when I worked with a woman whom we shall refer to in this column as Daisy.

We need to use the assumed name because I have never actually met or worked with anyone called Daisy, and also because this particular Daisy was only ever referred to by her co-workers as "that bitch Daisy" or "that backstabbing Daisy".

I was once asked by management what I thought of Daisy and I tried to be as damming as possible by saying that she "does not take responsibility for her part of a project," which was code for: "Everyone else in this office is always cleaning up after that lying, backstabbing Daisy, who then takes credit for our work".

However, despite her many faults, Daisy was an astoundingly effective office

schmoozer. She showed up at every company function. She gave birthday cards and when someone was in distress, she always seemed to be there with a shoulder to cry on. Her suggestions in team meetings were positive.

Consequently, while the rest of us in middle management seethed, Daisy soared.

So the advent of online social networking through a site like Facebook should have made tantalising sense to such a hopeless networker in the real world as I am.

Amass friends, win status

However - and maybe this is one of those things that comes from being exactly the wrong age - I just do not get Facebook. I understand that you interact with your friends, but I have no idea why you'd use Facebook instead of, for example, calling them or sending an email.

But younger friends insisted I should try it. The Daisy experience made it seem sensible, too. And apparently I could never hire or manage a member of Generation Y unless I understood this stuff.

My initial impressions were that the site is all about amassing as many friends as possible. The more friends, it seems, the more status you have.

So I was chuffed when, within a day or two of opening my account, my overtures to several real world friends resulted in them becoming Facebook friends. Of course, these were old, old friends whose email addresses I could already recite. Quite why we needed this additional means of communication when we only bothered to exchange pleasantries once or twice a year anyway was beyond me.

I started to reach out into outer circles of friendship and was once again gratified to find that these folks too started to sign up as my friends.

Then things started going really well, because people started asking me to be their friends. Sure, some were sales people hoping to "build a relationship" with me. But I soon had more than 100 friends, including a couple of colleagues sitting at desks 10 metres from mine.

The proximity of my workplace Facebook friends made me wonder if I was really learning anything about networking.

But then along came Daisy, whose Facebook friendship quickly connected me to many ex-colleagues from the other side of the world and made me feel like, finally, I was getting the hang of this networking thing. She even wrote directly to me on Facebook.

"Hi Simon," she enthused. "I've moved since we worked together and have started a tourism business in Spain. We'd really like it if you could endorse us on Facebook and tell all your friends all about us."

I explained that I no longer lived in London and therefore could not really endorse her business, given the low possibility of actually, you know, using it.

"That's no trouble at all, Simon," she replied. "On Facebook that doesn't really matter. If you could give us a hand it would be great. Just click here and you'll be a friend of our business."

To cut a long story short, I did not make the endorsement. Daisy sent a bitter reply and then dumped me as her Facebook friend. The next day, my friendship circle began to dwindle. Soon I was being abandoned in droves.

That bitch, Daisy. She sure taught me how to network, didn't she?

©Fairfax Business Media

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