I know you're probably expecting me to write about Google+ again this week. Sorry to disappoint, but today I'm going Big Picture, to make sure anyone who reads this gets a much-needed feel for what some people think social media people do all day.
And yes, this seems to be the perception even though -- or perhaps because -- IPO-mania has hit social media, making snot-nosed kids like Facebook, Zynga and LinkedIn worth billions, if not tens of billions, of dollars.
I stumbled across this sad truth yesterday when an op-ed piece in The New York Times caught my eye. Written by Thomas Friedman -- "The World Is Flat" guy -- it was called "The Start-Up of You." As the title implies, it was about how, in the 21st century economy, workers have to look at themselves as scrappy, creative start-ups, with the ability "to invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day." The springboard for this column wasn't only the dismal 9.2 percent unemployment rate, but also a new book by LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman (and Ben Casnocha), also titled, "The Start-Up of You."
Said Hoffman to Friedman: "The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it's now like for all of us fashioning a career."
Which is great, if you're us. But not so great if you're not us. Many of the 306 readers who commented on the column rested assured in the notion that most people are simply incapable of the entrepreneurship that Hoffman describes, nor should they waste their time in such unworthy enterprises as social media companies. Further, Friedman said, Silicon Valley isn't all that good at creating jobs when compared to the labor-intensive companies of old.
C Wolfe, Bloomington, Indiana (comment recommended by more than 750 readers): "The supposed value of social networking companies, or internet companies that serve as mere conduits for what others create, is precisely what's wrong with the economy. They're valued in absurd disproportion to what they actually contribute to society. It's all perception and no substance."
Josh, Oyster Bay, NY: "To be blunt, I think it tells us that the vast majority of 'normal' people are ill-suited to such a career environment. This new world will tend to benefit highly-telented (sic), highly-motivated, highly-energentic (sic) individuals, but it looks like 'average' people (the vast majority of people) will be left in the economic dust."
David Andrews, Middlebury, VT: "As others point out, this vision of economic life basically leads to a small number of very successful, very rich people who have the brains and chutzpah (and luck and power) to make things happen, or get in early with venture capital investments in support of these folks and their projects. The banquet table spread in this vision may be splendid, but there will be a lot of people missing at the feast."
Zeke 27, New York: "This is just wrong. If you want a speculation driven economy with everyone trying to be the next Bill Gates and jumping around every quarter to maximize profits, we will end up right where we are now. the 1%'ers will be eating $100 kobe beef hamburgers while the rest of us live in compounds for the underutilized."
Nancy, Corinth, KY: "Marx was right, altho (sic) he chose the unfortunately obscure locution 'commodity fetishism.' Now we don't even need actual goods, just a phony sense of belonging, while financial manipulators undermine truly productive work and their political puppets do their best to tax it out of existence."
Now, we, of all groups, should know that online comments are the soapbox of the digital age and must be taken with a grain of salt. It's a real competition at a site like nytimes.com not only to write the best comment but also to have your comment recommended the most.
That said, this set of, well, anti-social comments leaves me with two thoughts:
One, that there's a fundamental misunderstanding of the benefits of social networking: it can be a powerful force for charitable works and a jump-starter for all kinds of businesses, from app builders to companies that have found social media lets them succeed in ways they never could have without it.
Two, there's too narrow a focus, when it comes to looking at the entrepreneurial mindset, on technology as the only place one can display one's entrepreneurial spirit. While Friedman, for obvious reasons, concentrated on Silicon Valley in this column, the truth is there's much to be learned from, not the back-end, but the front-end of the tech boom, metaphorically speaking.
I've had the feeling at many times during the current economic malaise that the social media intelligentsia live in a parallel universe from the rest of the economy. This feeling started well before actual valuations were being put on the companies that lead this space; it had much more to do with the can-do spirit that pervades this industry, as corny as that sounds. It's proof that we are still the great, entrepreneurial country we have always been; it's just that, over the last few decades, entrepreneurial spirit and technological innovation are frequently treated as though they are the same thing. The real trick is in unleashing the entrepreneurship of Silicon Valley into the rest of the economy, be it on building a better breadbox or manufacturing a more fuel-efficient car.
I would argue that the missing link isn't that all the smart people spend their time doing "dumb" things, like building new social networks, but that we haven't tapped into that culture enough to have an impact on the rest of the economy.
Now I come to the clumsy conclusion of this column: I have no idea what any of us is supposed to do with the sentiments expressed here, by me, but mostly by Times' readers. I hope, however, it's at least worth knowing what the other half thinks of us. The answer, as I said up above, is: not a lot.