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When Worlds Collide: Mixing Friends and Business

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In the famous Seinfeld episode The Pool Guy, George Costanza panics when confronted with the prospect of one group of friends meeting his girlfriend, Susan.  He has successfully kept his relationships in independent silos, you see, and he has no idea how (or whether) they will mix together.   Hilarity, of course, ensues — his “worlds collide!” as he so aptly puts it — but in your own life, hilarity may not exactly be the result when different aspects of your life are suddenly placed in uncomfortable proximity with each other.

With the rise of social media, each one of us has a choice: either engage in strict social media hygiene (using one social media platform for friends, another for business) or be prepared for work colleagues to know everything about your penchant for extreme knitting and Powerman 5000.

This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing — and whether it is a positive or a negative in your own life may depend on a whole host of factors, including the type of job you have, the age of your friends and colleagues, and the type of extracurricular activities you engage in.  It is striking how — when speaking with young professionals in their early 20s — they cannot even imagine a world where work and social existence are separate.  They’ve never been adults in a world where you didn’t know what your friends and colleagues were up to.  The sheer quantity of texting, messaging, status updates and tweets in their lives is daunting, and they see no reason to place artificial limits on it.  Conversely, older professionals (even those who are tech savvy and quite comfortable with social media) are appalled at the notion that these worlds may ever overlap.

This generational difference in the ways of social media is likely to grow even more extreme in the years to come, as ever more social media intensive kids grow into adults with communication habits wildly divergent from what we’ve seen before.   Obviously, this represents an opportunity, but it also represents a danger — both for the companies involved, and the individuals who may be breaching trusts and duties without a second thought.

Thus, we should all consider how we engage with social media today — and not merely in the abstract, but in practice.  Who do we “friend,” and what type of person really reads our status updates.  Why are we saying what we’re saying, and do we really need to say it?  These can be uncomfortable questions, but they must be asked if we are to remain calm when worlds collide.