Networks and spheres of influence have been around a long, long while. Communications and computer advances have just given network actors agency and expediency. I’ve been starting to partition my career into two distinct eras: BT and AT (Before Twitter and After Twitter). I first wrote about the Internet in my newsletter (a real, paper newsletter) in 1994, but I discovered TCP/IP, the Internet protocol suite, in my very first job out of college in 1984. It wouldn’t be until 1990 that Tim Berners Lee would start weaving the World Wide Web at CERN. I also remember experimenting with UNIX in that first job, and had some fun in my department sending our first emails in 1985 (that subsequently inspired a Penthouse Letter, but I digress).
Back to networks. My high school had pretty strong networks in the late 70s. You could even say they were “social” networks. The popular jock/cheerleader crowd didn’t mix much with the freak/druggie crowd, for instance. Occasionally, you’d find a “boundary spanner” (in SNA terms) who would bridge the two clusters. This scenario was best played out in the 80s film, “Pretty in Pink.” In my hometown, we had elitist country club networks, political networks, neighborhood networks, religious networks, sports networks… and on and on. Just as we do today. And as we always have dating back to tribal cavemen days.
The electronic layer that has been infused into and between our lives, simply makes connections faster, easier, in some cases, deeper. If you came of age professionally in the late 70s and 80s, you’ve seen remarkable advances in the technology we use at work. But what Boomers know is that they could get by with a telephone and a paper calendar to coalesce and leverage their personal networks. We learned the importance of negotiating relationships at an early age. Chances are, our first job and the job we have today resulted from someone in our personal extended network. The people we’ve met along the way on the rungs of our career ladders have made impressions on us that imprint on our psyche.
What Boomers know about networks is fundamental human psychology. We learned not to burn bridges and be careful to not alienate anyone in our sphere. We learned to negotiate relationships over years, months, decades. We have contextual understanding of who’s connected to whom and how. We have the gift of pattern-matching. The connections made today on the social web are sometimes extemporaneous, superficial and won’t last the test of time. But the rich, long-tail of deep relationships that are filled with colorful battle scars, drama, and joy are only strengthened in social networks. Boomers decidedly have an advantage over every generation once they master the tools and techniques of working socially.