De-stigmatizing the Internet

The way people interact is changing. Some feel that a decrease in face-to-face communication is causing society to break down. Others are more optimistic: the days of hoping to encounter someone with similar needs and interests are gone. Social media has made the world smaller than ever.

And yet, old stigmas seem to die hard. Common knowledge – at least, knowledge that has been passed on to me – is that mentioning the internet (outside of marketing) is resume suicide. While being part of the local amateur softball team demonstrates that you are good with people, leading your World of Warcraft guild (organizations often larger than a local office) means you have no social life, and are therefore terrible with people. We share anecdotes of job applicants who list only gaming accomplishments as a reason they are an asset, but even the long-hired are hesitant to discuss their experiences online in any official capacity.

There are signs that this is changing. At a recent regional meeting, many managers (including the meeting leader) discussed their intent to play an online game together after the meeting. I’ve heard different versions of this discussion elsewhere: supervisors are forging a stronger connection with those who report to them by playing online video games or participating in social media discussions. In some circles, video games may be taking the niche traditionally associated with golf.

This indicates an evolution of views, but there is even more to the internet than improving your social network. Prior to entering management in an official sense, I held staff positions on three websites, each holding the responsibility of providing content and for moderating guest discussions. In each of these positions, I learned skills that I would put to use in future positions.

In these positions, I learned the necessity (and potential for personal and group benefit) of confronting a superior that is acting completely out of line. I learned how to accept dealing with people that are friendly to you in person but will sabotage you behind closed doors, so that I did not do anything career-endangering when facing such people in business. I learned that just because someone is highly motivated to do what you ask them to do doesn’t mean that they will take the initiative when given free reign, and that someone who does not have personal stakes in your venture can only be trusted to keep working hard as long as you have a plan in place for when they’re no longer motivated to do so. I learned when to put my foot down, and when to pick my battles.

These are but a handful of the skills I learned, with little personal or financial risk, by being involved in online communities. These are skills that helped my career and helped me to be a more effective employee, manager, and leader, and yet I was always made to feel ashamed of this, as though the origin of these life lessons somehow made them harmful instead of beneficial.

A generation is coming into the workforce that was not yet born when Instant Messaging became an important part of a teen’s social development, or who barely remember the days when text messages had to be budgeted and long discussions were saved for the landline. As the world relies more and more on skills learned online and on people who have done more of their human interaction there than ever before, we need to keep our minds open to how this helps us. The young woman in front of you may have an empty resume because she leads a guild of 200 people and frequently has to dole out punishments and rewards while remaining friendly. The young man who has never attended a marketing seminar may know the best way to gain five thousand followers on Instagram. So let them show you, because if you make them hide their skills, they will use them to benefit someone else.

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