I read a ton of biographies. In almost every biography of a success story, there is a moment early in their life when our protagonist goes against the grain and shows some initiative that separates him or her from the pack.
Two weeks ago, I decided I was tired of emailing my resume out endlessly. No longer content to let my future be determined by the whims of somebody’s inbox, I printed out a dozen copies of my resume, put on some nice duds, and set out to walk into the cushy offices and environs of the people that I want to work for. I don’t especially enjoy walking into the offices of people I don’t know and disrupting their work day, so I had to muster up a little moxie to do this. I did this by drinking a stiff coffee and listening to my spirit animal Eminem’s 8 Mile Road battletrack.
“I got every ingredient, all I need is the courage…”
I repeatedly found myself twenty feet from my destination, taking a deep breath and wiping away the beads of sweat from my brow. I checked my clothes in the semi-reflection of the glass office walls next door, and I walked into my possible bright future, all perfect posture and clean-shaven polite smiles. Not a single office would even look at my resume. I was polite. I wasn’t asking for an interview. I simply wanted to leave a paper copy of my resume and cover letter in an office of people I respected and wanted to work alongside, and people looked at me as if I was a billigerant and pantsless drunken door-to-door salesman with his fly open. (I know that’s technically not possible)
A few people were visibly uncomfortable and behaved as if by putting a resume on a desk I was littering. Time and again, the security personnel or the person at the front desk of said company would tell me that “All our hiring is done online” and direct me to their homepage. I would counter politely that since I was physically in the room now, could I just leave my information? However, our online society of 2014, this handless brainless army we’ve become, these people’s somewhat calm exteriors morphed into palpable discomfort at my suggestion. More than three people literally put their hands up in the air in a display of graphic exasperation to illustrate to me the depths of my demanding boorish behavior. Walking in was seeming to have the opposite effect of what I anticipated, rather than give me an in due to my initiative, it was taking me out of consideration because they thought I was outside my damn mind.
I wondered what the biography subjects I had read about would have done. Well, Einstein probably would have laughed and ridden his unicycle home. But what would the late Youtube commencement speaker Steve Jobs have said to the gentleman who told him to only contact them through their website or LinkedIn? In his biography he repeatedly told prospective employers he was not leaving their premises until they hired him. I appeared to be running the risk of incarceration if I inquired one more time if they could direct me to the person in charge of new hires. The irony was not lost on me that the very companies and industries that were built around ideas of thinking differently, built by people who chased uniqueness and persistently at that, their successors seemed to all be thinking alike now, and not courageously. These days, people celebrate thinking differently as their cover photos and profile pictures but in an ever-increasing number of actual human interactions, something as simple and harmless as asking to leave a paper on a desk can get you treated like a pariah and any deviation from the mundane order of the day appears borderline anarchic.
You may say, the system works fine, dude. You apply online, present yourself as best you can online, that gets you in and then you are there in person. So why did I want to visit these places in person first? It’s because I don’t have any connections, and I feel like I am consistently losing out to those who do (not sure of this but it’s possible), and it’s also because I think my online self is a shell of me. I’m better off paper. Online Me is significantly less charming, impressive and three-dimensional as my real self. The only thing he has going for him is a certain mystique but offline me? I’ve spent every hour of every job of my adult life dealing with people. I used to be terrible at it. I was deathly afraid of speaking to strangers when I was a teenager and only a little better till my early twenties. I could have looped the equator thrice with my long line of “I shoulda said”-s. I eventually improved at talking to people, picked up lessons from others I admired and after years of sales jobs, I became attuned to quickly finding common ground with people and cutting through the false pretenses most put up. Now I’m continuously disappointed in the people I MEET! And I think talking to people is one of my biggest strengths. That’s mainly only because I genuinely love talking to folks. That does not translate online. I can claim that as a “Skill” on my LinkedIn but so can every person on LinkedIn. By being refused the opportunity to speak to people at my dream job headquarters, I began to think that in a way, for the first time, my physical human presence was now being devalued as a result of my online presence constantly becoming ever more influential.
Online Me is only supposed to be a cardboard cut-out, a 2×2 inch screenshot that is a flat and broad clue that could hint at the possibilities of the blood, spirit and joke filled person behind him. But he’s boring. He used to simply be a virtual Driver’s License and now he’s apparently got the keys to a better life for me. I’ve gotta be responsible for this guy, now? I’ve always been averse to technology and while I realized long ago that I would not be a Software Engineer with my lack of appreciation for all things tech, it was hard to foresee that connection between people would come to dwindle so much that our internet representations would come to mean much more than our voices on the phone let alone our presence across a desk.
Isn’t something lost if we are exclusively dating people chosen for us by algorithms on Match? Are amazing new restaurants declaring bankruptcy prematurely because we won’t try them because they have no Yelp reviews? I worry that the era is upon us where our reliance on the Web and our digital selves will cost us the joy and pleasures of connecting offline. There’s no denying that the world has changed and being tech-savvy is very important but let’s try to always hold onto the fact and celebrate it, that Hey, we’re people offline too. We should use technology for conveniences we could not have without it, but if we continue removing human interaction from things that we personally did pre-internet, we run the risk of becoming useless sheeple and that bothers me. I asked someone for directions the other day, and she confided to me that she felt silly asking people for directions nowadays, because it was expected that people should check their phones for maps first and foremost. I told her what I’m telling you, I’m always going to ask people because I love talking to people and it gives me a reason to do so, even if they send me down the wrong streets much too often.