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Wed January 30, 2013
Op Ed: "Linked-In" Brings Unwelcome Blast From The Past
The other day, when I was supposed to be doing something else, I was casually reviewing my own profile on Linked In -- the online network for professionals, a sort of serious version of Facebook -- when Linked asked – oh, so innocently! -- if I’d like to add more people to my list of professional contacts.
Sure, why not? I hit the Yes button.
Minutes later I got an unexpected email. The name was vaguely familiar. Oh yeah, that guy. Somebody I’d quoted in a news story, what, 10 years ago?
“I’d love to be Linked In to you!” he gushed. “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”
Well, I had.
That’s weird. How did Linked In know I used to know that guy?
Seconds later, it happened again. “Hey, long time, no hear!” emailed a fun but seriously crazy guy I’ve been avoiding since we dated briefly in the 90s. “Want to friend me on Facebook, too?”
Uh, no. Otherwise I already would have …
Hmmm. How random!
And then, it dawned on me. This was not random at all.
And I was horrified.
Without my fully informed consent – well, I guess I gave my legal consent, but I sure wasn’t paying attention -- Linked In had reached its rapacious tentacles into my Hotmail contacts list and sent a Linked In invitation to everyone on it. A Hotmail account I’ve had since we all began using email. A Hotmail account I’ve used as a mom, a friend, as coach to the 8th grade mock trial team.
I have over 1,000 contacts in my Hotmail account!
And Linked In had invited every single one of them to join my professional network. Every person with whom I’d ever shared a logistical note, a cheery hello, a consumer complaint, a professional correspondence.
Many were people I could not remember.
Some were people I wanted nothing to do with.
A landlord who’s owed me my security deposit for over a decade. “So happy to be Linked In to you!” she wrote. No mention of the thousand bucks.
It got worse.
I’ve used that Hotmail account to communicate with hundreds of sources for hundreds of news and features stories I’ve written over the past 17 years, on everything from Obama’s classmates’ impressions of him at Harvard to the punk rock scene in Boston.
I’d accidentally reached out to all of them. All those people I’d written very serious stories about, and then kept an appropriate professional distance from. People who had no interest, I’m sure, in Linking In to me.
Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts! (Oh. My. God.)
The Boston office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hey, how ya doin? Wanna Link In?
Yoga instructors! Dentists! Furniture repairmen!
The Dropkick Murphys? The Dropkick Murphys!
Former therapists! Are they even allowed to be LinkedIn? Can you endorse them? Can they endorse you? Yeah, she used to be nuts, but she’s fine now.
Linked In did not discriminate. It threw the widest of all possible nets.
I was aghast. I was gobsmacked. I was ticked off. I want to be in control of whom I’m in contact with, thank you very much. If I want to be in touch with you, believe me, I’d write.
But a funny thing happened as all these acceptances to my non-invitation rolled in.
It started to feel kind of...nice. Like a 30th high school reunion you never planned to attend but where you suddenly find yourself having a surprisingly good time.
Catching up on all kinds of news. Recalling all kinds of long-forgotten relationships and incidents, the hundreds of tiny mirrors and colorful moments that mosaic your life.
All the bad stuff forgotten. All the need for formality and boundaries, gone. In their place, the kind and gentle smoothing over that the passage of years provides.
It became a weird, unintentional—and really uplifting--reconciliation and reconnection.
Turns out Linked In isn’t just a cyber-vulture, sucking the juicy marrow of my contacts list. It’s a cyber-mediator of resolution, a techno-God of forgiveness and renewed connection.
The ex-boyfriends’ kids are grown up and doing well. That’s really nice to know. That woman I had to fire years ago for extreme dysfunction; turns out she’s gotten her life together and is actually grateful I gave her a kick in the pants when she needed it. That’s heartening.
And I now have approximately 80 bazillion contacts on LinkedIn.
As I should. After all, we in the human race are all just one big family anyway, right? Can’t we all just get along?
It appears thatwe can, at least in this sort of interesting and odd new cyber-way.
But -- I’d really like that frigging security deposit back.
And it would be awfully nice to hear from Deval Patrick.