On Networking & Cow Clicking

by MarianneShih

I’ve always been a territorial kind of person. It comes from failing to learn the graceful art of sharing in kindergarten. When encouraged to share, I only ever grudgingly gave up my spot in front of the kitchen set and then spent my downtime scheming for revenge. No, really.

As I’ve matured somewhat since my kindergarten years, I’ve learned a couple things: sharing is caring, plotting against peers is a sin, and playing nice does have its benefits. The importance of networking is hammered into our youths as soon as they are capable of understanding that it actually is okay to use friends to get ahead… just not on schoolwork. But when it comes to careers, it’s absolutely fine and completely normal!

Rushkoff tells us in chapter seven of his book, Program or Be Programmed, “Do Not Sell Your Friends.” The main difference between using your friends as resources in inane online games and using your friends as resources in reality, consequentially speaking, is a tangible result. Networking brings jobs, which lead to life-long careers and ideally, retirement. Games like Cow Clicker, Farmville, and Restaurant City give us psychological freedom from our neurotic natures, at least for the next five hours and fifty-nine minutes – less if we’re able to recruit unsuspecting friends and family. Rushkoff almost demonizes this type of recruiting in his chapter and scoffs at these companies’ marketing tactics, saying “Any effort to redefine or hijack those connections for profit end up compromising the integrity of the network itself, and compromising the real promise of contact.”

However, what Rushkoff fails to acknowledge is that through participating in these admittedly crass marketing tactics, Adam, who may have never shared more than a single conversation with his half-sister’s friend Ted, might exchange a couple words with him out of gratitude for bringing another cow into the pasture. As absurd and shallow as social games may seem, every bit of positive interaction prepares the foundation for a deeper relationship in the future.

Cow Clicker, now available in the Apple App Store (Ian Bogost)

Maybe it’s a good thing that people are falling for these marketing tactics. After all, amidst the fostering of obsessive-compulsive tendencies, psychological distress over inability to obtain imaginary objects, and irresponsible time management, spamming those that are near and dear to us (and distant acquaintances like Ted) with application requests also gives us seemingly endless opportunities to truly interact and reconnect with each other. To some, this is the real promise of contact. While this particular method of breaking the ice can oftentimes be simply irritating, it’s also an excuse to start some dialogue for little more than some help sowing pretend crops, which may one day, eventually be harvested for real-world gains.