Sally, someone I knew from afar as a speaker, author, and branding expert, explained. “You can followinuenal people, see what they are talking about, and join in the conversaon.”Five months later, I was standing in front of a crowd of 70 people, where I had been asked to speak aboutsocial media. In just a few months, I’d been branded as a “social media expert.” I was careful never to callmyself that, but I didn’t have to. All I had to do, it turned out, was get 13,000 followers on Twier andtalk about social media. A lotMalcolm Gladwell taught me the value of “weak es.” In his book The Tip-ping Point, Gladwell cited a study showing that most people got jobs not through friends, and not throughtradional means like headhunters and ads, but through acquaintances—people they knew but saw rarelyor occasionally.According to Gladwell, 56 percent of jobs are acquired through these “weak es,” while only 18 percentare found through ads and headhunters, and just 9 percent are found through good friends.This is an aconable piece of informaon, the kind I like best. Aer reading Gladwell’s book, I spent 56percent of my me working on my weak es.***I had been socially awkward for most of my life. I’d show up in social situaons and not be able to re-member if the person I was talking to was married or divorced, had one kid or three, was a Republican orDemocrat. Acquaintances would ask me quesons and I couldn’t think of what to say in return.Half of me was worried I’d let slip something stupid about my life, and the other half was scared that Iwould totally screw up what I should have known about their lives. Nearly every conversaon lled mewith anxiety. When I could, I’d say as lile as possible and leave the room. I rarely spoke on the phone.Work was a safe haven: the conversaons were safe, scripted, and professional. I worked a lot.In the summer of 2008, right before I made the decision to get on Facebook, I read an arcle in The NewYork Times by Clive Thompson called “Brave New World of Digital Inmacy.” Clive wrote about somethingsocial sciensts call “ambient awareness”:
Each lile update—each individual bit of social informaon—is insignicant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over me, the lile snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophiscated por-trait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a poinllist painng. Thiswas never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail thesandwiches she was eang. The ambient informaon becomes like “a type of ESP,” an invisible dimension oang over everyday life.
Ambient awareness not only made perfect sense to me, it was what I’d been missing my enre life. Myfear of interacon and social situaons meant I didn’t interact with people. I didn’t know how. A form of ESP—some way of knowing enough about people’s lives to be able to have a comfortable conversaon—was exactly what I needed.relaonship was “complicated.” And not only could I recognize people, I could recognize their kids.The running joke about Twier was, “Who wants to know which breakfast cereal you’re eang?” Theanswer? I do. When in doubt, I could have a conversaon about Corn Flakes.