I grew up in a unique position. My father was powerful - at least within our family's community - he was the minister of a 350-year-old church in Cambridge, MA. I sat at the "right arm of power" in that little realm. People liked me. I never trusted it because I knew it was due in part to where I sat in the community in relation to my father. To be fair, people were (for the most part) not explicit about this connection and didn't try to use it in a manipulative way but my position put me front and center.
I learned a few things from this:
- A person's position in a system is often more important than their own personality/skills/value in determining the amount of attention, influence, and popularity they get.
- Attention feeds on itself.
- People who get a lot of attention shouldn't take themselves too seriously - if you believe that you deserve the attention because of something you did yourself, you are often deceiving yourself.
- I really dislike obsequiousness - I'm not looking to form a posse - because it doesn't typically add any real value. It tends to be hollow because people are drafting on the attention you are getting.
The downside of this lesson is that I often discount people that genuinely want to connect with me but I think that is a fair trade for maintaining a realistic sense my own value. I've realized over the years that other people never learned this lesson and they feed off of the attention they garner because of their position vs. their value - essentially looking in a fun house mirror and believing that what they see is real. That reflection, of course, does contain elements of reality but it is deceptive.
Now that online social networks have enabled people to collect friends and followers far beyond what they would be able to do in the real world, it seems difficult for people to separate out the fun house mirror from the real mirror. For me, the real mirror is found in the in-person (i.e. offline) connections I make and the value I produce for which others are willing to pay or exchange for other value. It is perhaps why I distrust Facebook 'likes' and many freemium models - in those environments it is very hard to understand who really cares about what you are doing and people who are tailgating.
If you work in this space, it is worth evaluating both for yourself and for the organizations with whom you work how you determine what is real and what is drafting.