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Why I changed my mind on social networks?

I prefer in-person communication, but social networks have other benefits. Why I finally gave them a chance?
Vladimír Záhradník
November 16th, 2019 · 8 min read

In recent weeks many of you have noticed increased activity on my social channels. The decision to be more active was not sudden. Why I changed my view on social networks, and why do I think they matter?

My humble beginnings

I have a Twitter account for many years, but it was dormant most of the time. With Facebook, it was similar. I set up an account at the university during the labs from Signals and Systems. This class dealt with an interesting topic, but the teachers presented it in the most non-interesting way possible. As for LinkedIn, I thought for years that it’s suitable only for sharing your CV. And I’m still new to Instagram. A friend of mine told me having an Instagram account is essential. Now I try to figure out why!

Even if I wasn’t much active on the platforms, over time, I went there to read articles and opinions of the others. Ultimately, Facebook replaced my RSS feed. When I skimmed through the feed, I knew all the hot topics. But at that time, I had no urge to comment on the posts. To this day, I prefer talking in person. It’s just more natural to me. Have you ever had a feeling that talking over the phone is weird? Well, I have, albeit I couldn’t tell what bothered me on it. Now I think that I finally figured it out. Electrical waves transmitted over the phone are just an approximation of the real voice. And they won’t transfer many other subtleties which altogether form a real-world scenario and which I sense as real. And texting is even more artificial than that. Nevertheless, all this digital communication is a great invention that shaped our world significantly.

A startup that failed

In 2015 I came with a startup idea. An application that would aggregate all music events, movie shows in cinemas, theater shows, even what’s on your local TV. As a user, you’d just set a few rules, e.g., in which cities you are interested in visiting events and what kind of activities do you like. For instance, your favorite band is Čechomor (one of my favorite folk-rock bands), and you want to know when they’ll have a concert in Bratislava or Košice. Or you love Tom Cruise, and you want to find out when the TVs broadcast a movie with him. I validated the idea, because it was what I was missing on the market for myself. And as a software developer, I started working on it alone during nights, outside of my main job.

Two years passed by, and I had almost nothing. For sure, I learned a lot about data scraping, but my most viable product was miles away. Ultimately, I abandoned the idea. In the meantime, people created similar services to mine, like Songkick and Tootoot. None of the services offers what I need, but they improve every day. I missed my chance. The reason why I failed was not the idea, but the realization. I worked on it alone and for a brief moment with a friend of mine.

Drone
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This idea was not the only one I had during the years; I had many. As a 12-year old, I dreamed of a way to have a remotely-controlled helicopter model with a camera attached to it, so I can see the landscape from above without leaving my room and being safe. Sounds familiar? It’s the drones. These experiences taught me that I need a large team to accomplish great things! But how do I build a professional network? For sure, I had friends and acquaintances, but they were mostly employed and not “startup-minded” people. I realized that I needed to meet people outside of my circles.

Toastmasters

Building a great product is not just about yourself and your experience. It’s about a team you create around you. Two years ago, I searched for ways on how to improve my abilities in networking and public speaking. I was lucky that I found Toastmasters Košice. A club where you can practice speaking in public and improve your leadership skills as a club officer. Clubs like mine exist all over the world under the umbrella of Toastmasters International, an almost 100-years old organization founded by Ralph Smedley. Over that time, they improved their learning materials and introduced Pathways, the guidelines allowing you to grow in several areas. I chose a path called Strategic Relationships for apparent reasons.

Toastmasters taught me not to be afraid of a stage. I’m still nervous, but I can manage, and people sometimes can’t tell. I went through many speeches, and each time I focused on something else, I wanted to improve. As a proper software engineer, I put all my talks on GitHub. I also track my progress there. Public speaking became my hobby, and I found out that I like working with people. I took the role of a club officer handling education, and I’m also a club secretary. Unlike software problems, people are much more unpredictable. J. B. Rainsberger called them “squashy meatballs” in a meetup in Košice. Firstly, I had no idea he was referring to people. Since then, I use the term by myself. What I realized and what I consider groundbreaking is that when you use speech to tell the others what you think, there’s always a distortion. You may feel that you’re giving a clear message, but other people may misinterpret it easily without you even knowing. I work hard to make sure my message is concise and clear. Hopefully, I’ll learn to be better and better at it over time.

The Present

Fast-forward into the present; I now have a vision, I am finally able to share my ideas with others, and I grow my professional network on meetups and conferences. I have realized one thing, talking to people face-to-face is irreplaceable, but there’s just not a way how I could meet hundreds or perhaps thousands of people in person. What if I want to meet people who have opinions like me? What about the people with opposite thinking than mine? I must admit that social networks certainly help to achieve these goals.

If you ignore your personal brand, it will be shaped entirely by others. Your personal brand is already out there, but is it firmly in your control? — Sandra Long

In April, I went to Startup Safari Budapest, a conference where you go to talks and workshops all around the city of Budapest. I had a chance to talk to many different people, working on various products. You can say I know the locations of Budapest coworking places better than in my hometown. All these people used LinkedIn, to my surprise. I found out that LinkedIn is not a recruitment-only network anymore; it matters. Also, I found out that these entrepreneurs often ignore social networks besides LinkedIn.

Design Thinking workshop
Design Thinking workshop at Hub Hub Budapest

When I returned home, I dug deeper. I found out that some of my schoolmates are on Twitter, but not on Facebook or Instagram. Others are on Snapchat or TikTok, but nowhere else. And I even have friends who are not reachable besides an email or IRC. Different social networks attract different people, and they also have different rules. On Twitter, you post small messages frequently, on Facebook, you post longer in-depth posts or posts, which are full of smileys and which end with a long list of hashtags, and LinkedIn has mostly content focused on work and enterprise. No abundant smileys, just the message. Frankly, I like LinkedIn each day more and more. Finally, a place where I can discuss with CEOs and get different perspectives.

Social networks are a tool

My long-term goal is simple. I want to build a community around me. I want to attract people who are life-long learners, who love to discuss things, who always doubt in their truths and dig deeper and people who may be interested in what I have to say. These people may become my acquaintances, perhaps friends. In the future, some of them may become founders with me or will happily buy my products. Anyway, it’s a shot which I want to try. It’s just impossible to build such a community in a purely physical world.

Social networks have a dark side too! For a long time, I sensed this side more than the good one. One of the biggest dangers is social echo-chambers, where people discuss with others with similar views on topics and are hostile against other opinions from other social circles. Also, some groups of people are just louder in sharing their ideas, while others are silent. In the future, it will have far-reaching consequences. What we can do is not to be quiet and to join the discussion with people of opposite views. Nobody is 100-percent correct, and we all can learn from each other. The key is to learn how to formulate your thoughts so the others can’t misinterpret you. Also, if possible, you should base your views on facts and mention them. And most importantly, do not use aggressive language. It won’t help the discussion.

My beliefs

Lately, I thought extensively what matters to me and what are the things the other people will know about me. It’s open-source, for sure. I’m a long-time contributor and a fan of the movement. Why? Because people are given an alternative to a paid product. They should have a choice between a paid product and a free option. The most significant advantage of open source is that anybody can lend a hand. You can improve the software for others. If you’re not a developer, you can report bugs, help in the forums, translate into your language, or spread the word. Today, open-source is not just about software. Wikipedia shares knowledge, Pixabay shares royalty-free images, and many other services follow. Anyone can contribute!

Another thing I consider as a threat is that a handful of companies have an immense impact on the world, and their influence is growing every day. And most importantly, these companies have your data. I’m concerned about privacy, and I want to be less dependent on these companies. The people of the world should know how to limit their dependence on these companies. Do you need Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa? I sure don’t. I use Home Assistant, which stores data locally at home. It’s not that convenient to use, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to take.

Another issue is the Internet itself. Today it is very centralized. All the web service store our data in massive data centers owned by large companies. And we’re more and more dependent on video streaming, which heavily utilizes the network infrastructure. Today, only a big company, like Amazon, could build an alternative to a platform like YouTube; it’s just that expensive.

On the other hand, if we don’t have an alternative, such companies will grow on influence. The solution may be returning to the roots, a decentralized Internet. Small platforms like BitChute already experiment with that, utilizing former torrent protocol to distribute videos among users. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

BitChute
BitChute (one of small YouTube alternatives)

And ultimately, I believe in freedom of speech. Anybody should have a right to speak freely, with the only exception if the statement would endanger other people. Who are we to decide which idea is harmful and which is not? Opinions change. What’s unacceptable now, may be acceptable in the future and vice versa. I don’t want to live in a world where somebody will be an authority to decide what’s allowed and what’s not. Instead, we should discuss freely and try to persuade people with arguments.

Many people think they’re afraid of failure, but they’re actually afraid of success. — Brittany Hennessy

Future

Discussing publicly on social networks is a new thing for me. I’m still getting used to sharing my opinions openly. But I think it’s the right thing to do and I want to encourage others to think about sharing their views, too.

My video room
My video room

In the upcoming weeks, I plan to start a YouTube channel. I will go more deeply into topics briefly mentioned in this post, and I will open other issues as well. And I also plan to blog more regularly. If you like the ideas I wrote here, please consider following me on various social channels, and please join the discussion. I will be more than happy to talk to you.

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