How To Network (And Stay Sane)
Illustration by Mr Giordano Poloni
Too much information? Here’s how to get the most out of your social networks – both online and in real life.
But, as Ms Julia Hobsbawm explains in her new book Fully Connected, all of human life flows through networks of people and connections, for good and bad. Terrorism, gangsterism, and fake news are facilitated by clandestine networks both real and virtual, but so are positive phenomena like breakthroughs in science, medicine and philosophy. What is Cern if not a network of scientists?
So how we network, whom we choose to connect with, and the means by which we do it are hugely important, and in many cases, quite literally, a matter of life and death. A breakdown in communication between the distant bureaucracy of the World Health Organisation and the on-the-ground-agility of Médecins Sans Frontière helped to spread the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. Fake news is a symptom of networks gone awry, a breakdown in communication that spreads malicious lies.
Right now, Ms Hobsbawm argues, we are living in age of information and network overload: “Network overload and ‘infobesity’ are making us unhealthy. There is a stress epidemic in this country caused by too much information and connectivity,” says Ms Hobsbawm. “More than 10 million workdays in the UK are lost due to stress, and yet our GDP is stagnant.”
“In the same way that most of us now know the difference between a carb and a protein, we need a new literacy in our understanding of social networks, both real and virtual, and of when to connect and when to disconnect.”
So here then are some of Ms Hobsbawm’s top tips for networking healthily.
Get face to face
“Get off Facebook and get face to face. Reconnect with someone you know but take for granted. Organise and see 10 people over the next 10 weeks. At the very least phone someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Rekindle dormant ties. Keep in motion and progress your relationships rather than let them lie inert on the tracks of an electronic network.”
Treat your calendar like your body
“Be as meticulous about what you put in your diary as what you put into your body. Take back control of your diary, don’t outsource it to someone else. There are only 168 hours in a week and you spend at least a third of them sleeping. Your time is finite. Look at the patterns in your diary, look at what they mean to you, and decide some patterns which work better. Choose specific times to clear out your inbox, and set aside a two-three day period in which to just think. This will help to cleanse your palate of the overstuffed commitments which cause stress, blockage and overload.”
Don’t think of networks as transactional or “sales”
“Think ‘people base’ not ‘data base’. It’s about spending time with people we know and trust and with whom we can build relationships, rather than some kind of transactional or fleeting vortex where ‘networking’ becomes a chore rather than a matter of taking care of yourself. The first step is to understand that there needs to be a pattern and process around how we treat our knowledge, networks, and time. We’ve been sold cheap simplicity and speed by technology companies, but we are drowning in a plethora of networks. Instead we need a more feminine way of conducting our lives. Feminine traits such as emotional and intellectual intimacy and nosiness come into their own.”
Focus on diversity of thought
“Surround yourself with people who think differently from you, who know different things. Who are younger or come from a different background. Avoid ‘group think’ and ‘hive mind’. People think being at the centre of the action is essential, but I have found that this can disconnect from where the action really is, which is everywhere.”
“You and I are not personal computers: we need to switch off on a regular basis. Organised religion may have many flaws, but the day of rest or ‘Sabbath’ practiced in some religions is not one of them. I try to have a regular ‘Techno Shabbat’, unplugged from technology. It is simply not possible to stay ‘always on’ and plugged in without feeling out of synch with our own psyches, bodies and minds.”
Fully Connected: Surviving And Thriving In An Age Of Overload (Bloomsbury) by Ms Julia Hobsbawm is published 20 April