On facebook the people you interact with are termed “friends.” This sets a tone and an expectation of some degree of symmetry and personal knowledge of the individuals you are interacting with. This subtly discourages you from “friending” strangers. There were a couple of games I used to play which relied on inviting friends to play for advancement. This led absurdly to me going to groups to find people to friend who already played the game so they could be my ally, despite the fact that this meant giving strangers access to quite a lot of personal information. For reasons I don’t understand myself, I still have one such stranger on my friend list.
There’s another class of social network in which the interaction is asymmetrical, where one person talks and another listens. In these cases “friends” is clearly not an accurate description of the relationship. In facebook land they decided to call this “liking,” which is a touch deceptive since they use the word 2 different ways. If my friend posts a picture of himself at a convention next to George Takei and I like the picture all I’m doing is sending him a little ping of warm fuzzy feeling. Clicking a single button has got to be the lowest level of social interaction imaginable, but it works. When I get notifications telling me that 12 people liked it when I quipped:
“My daughter has learned to use the stool to reach things… I might as well hand her the car keys now.”
I felt a little self-satisfied rush of dopamine with each new notification. Back in the pre-likebutton days people were slightly more likely to comment a short “lol” after a good status, but if a comment already had 4 lols did you really want to tack another on? It made you sound like you had nothing to say… and really you didn’t. Inversely If a comment already has several likes it makes people MORE likely to click like again so people all see that we like the same things.
If instead of liking my friends picture of George Takei, I “like” George Takei this button did something different. Now it subscribed me to George Takei’s page. This used to be called “becoming a fan” but by adding the “like button” to everything and then using a button of the same name and icon to do something different you have lowered the psychological barrier people had to letting commercial type stuff creep into their newsfeed along with the social stuff from their other “friends.”
In most the rest of the internet the official parlance seems to be that you “subscribe” to an RSS feed, and that you “follow” a person’s output on a particular website. They are not your friends. Either you follow them, or they follow you. Or possibly both. Twitter feeds default to public, but to many people it’s just another social website where they personally know all 150 of their subscribers. They are friends with their “followers.” When my sweetly paranoid wife sees that strangers are “following” her on Pinterest she feels as though she’s being stalked. On a gut level someone following her is inherently a creepy guy 30 feet back trying not to get noticed. Conversely when I hear that there are 15 people following me on wordpress it often makes me feel like an evil genius. My eyes read “followers” and my mind replaces it with “minions.”
Another trick my mind does when told I have 15 followers is it asks “where do they think I’m going?” Which just about sums up why I’m uncomfortable with leadership positions. I find myself getting uncomfortable with the idea of a bunch of people waiting for me to tell them what to do. They’re grown-ups. Can’t they decide what to do for themselves?
Many of you (or more likely none of you) are thinking: “wait, aren’t you a Control Room Operator at a 670MW powerplant? Don’t you effectively have a crew of 5 guys that you boss around all the time?” Well let me tell you, it feels different. When I’m giving orders on the radio, we are responding to changing conditions in the plant. I’m not telling “D” to walk down C Mill and then go to oil ignitor row because I’m his boss, I’m telling him because B Mill tripped and we’ve got to recover load. When I tell “T” to go to the atomizer penthouse and check a valve position it’s not because I’m in charge, it’s because we lost slurry flow through the atomizer and SO2 is climbing. I’m just the guy who has the most information, the one who hears the alarms. I’m just giving information to the guy responsible… or occasionally the guy with knowledge and skills if the Operator is new to his area or the problem is a real screwball. I feel less like I’m telling him what to do, and more like we’re working together to get something done. Sometimes I’m terse, but they understand the situation. Being curt conveys urgency. Long explanations over the radio can actually reduce clarity of communication.
Maybe that is a valid style of leadership, but it’s not what the Navy (or society in general for that matter) taught me to think of as leadership. Having said that several examples of more cooperative leadership styles start to pop to mind from my Navy experience. EM1 Armstrong was always putting in as much effort as we were. EMC Bagwell always took the time to fully explain the expectations and the reasons for it… Both were also willing to chew you a new asshole if they felt you weren’t doing your end. I’m less of an ass chewer and more of a “I really expect better of you… we look pretty incompetent” kind of guy, but some people ignore the soft sell and really need ass-chewins.