Have you ever watched Ken Burns’ The West? There’s a story in there about a fellow named William Swain. William was a teacher and a peach farmer, and as the historians say, he had what would have been considered a very comfortable existence. He wasn’t famous or super wealthy, but his life was comfortable and stable. All of that changed, though, when the gold rush started in California. Suddenly you could get rich just by putting your spoon into a river. For William Swain, his comfortable life now seemed substantially more boring and less comfortable. Young men around the country started to dream about what that extra money could get them, and that was in addition to all of the adventure tied to heading all the way over to California. Suddenly good enough was NOT good enough.
To be 100% honest, the world of social media often brings William Swain to mind. Indeed, I rather much empathize with his state of mind. My life is extremely comfortable. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. My life is comfortable and stable. But the longer I stick around in the online world, the more feeble my life seems to feel. Factually, many people in the online world seem to be wealthy, or at the very least they post that way. If I didn’t read the news and only got my sense of the world from what I saw on Facebook and Twitter, I’d be apt to think there was no great recession. It seems that people are always eating out at fancy restaurants, going on 2-week vacations, going to conferences, buying additional houses…there is not much talk about money pressure in these parts.
But it’s not the updates that make social media feel increasingly like an exclusive club. It’s the almost palpable sentiment that if you don’t live your life like a wealthy person, you’re probably a coward. Take, for example, one of my particular hot buttons – that whole, “Don’t be afraid to fail” thing. People blog and tweet and Facebook about failure as if there are no consequences. Go tell your boss what your terms are. If you get fired, hey, that’s okay. Go leave work and the online world for 2 months. If things fall apart, hey, who cares. You have a great experience to look back on.
To me, and feel free to argue with me here, this is the perspective of a person who doesn’t have to face a lot of real-world consequences. If you are wealthy, losing your job may be okay. You can float on by for awhile. Maybe a long while. If you want to start your own company, the obstacles before you aren’t as monumental. If a family member suffers a major health crisis, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to cover it. You will face some consequences, but they are of a different nature than someone who doesn’t have a lot of expendable income.
It seems like a lot of people in the online world have a Nike “Just do it” attitude. If you want to change jobs, do it. If you want to move somewhere else, do it. If you want to travel a lot, just do it. There’s a tint to these kinds of statements that almost hinges on bullying. “If you don’t do this you’re giving up on life. You’re a coward.”
Or, possibly, you don’t want to go into brain-numbing debt?
Is Social Media Rigged for the Wealthy?
The more I have thought about this, the more I begin to wonder if the “social media game” is really rigged so that only the wealthy can truly succeed. For example, there’s this overriding thought that in order to start really getting your star to rise, you need to “be seen.” The best way to do this is to go to a lot of social media conferences, right? Let’s take SXSW Interactive in Austin, which sort of gets the social media conference season going. The badge just for the show is $950. That does not include (to the best of my knowledge) any transportation within the city of Austin. I don’t think that includes your hotel stay. It doesn’t include travel. That’s for one conference. Just one.
For someone who is leading a comfortable but not money-filled life, this single expenditure would be a challenge. If getting seen is part of what helps you climb the ranks in the social media world, how can a person who is not wealthy start to make an impact? Can you compete with in-person relationships if most people will never meet you in real life? Maybe, but I would posit that the odds are stacked against you.
So, now it’s your turn. Is social media a rich person’s game?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danni_m/536492895/ via Creative Commons