The BLG Blog

Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

Bidding Alone

In Bowling Alone, Sociologist Robert Putnam investigates a trend of declining civic and social engagement in the United States and blames, in part, “the effect of electronic entertainment…in privatizing our leisure time” (Putnam, 2001, 283). While Putnam identifies television as the primary mechanism of electronic isolation, the internet is certainly a potently secluding drug. In fact, right now I sit at my desk and hungrily knock back shots of .coms and .govs (with a rare .net on special occasions) as a substitute for social participation. If my office had a TV, I might even extricate myself from this web sarcophagus and join my coworkers in an animated Judge Judy viewing. With no TV, though, I happily seclude myself behind URLs like

Last week as I tried to spelunk down into the nether regions of my internet cave, I regrettably encountered a pocket of rampant social activity. Now, despite what my internet usage may indicate, I am not a habitual hermit. Unfortunately, though, on this particular spelunk I craved social isolation like I crave an episode of Judge Joe Brown. On the prowl for North Coast Music Festival tickets on eBay, I had somehow stumbled on a submerged auction offering 3-day passes for $20, over $100 below face value. It was like discovering a diamond in a rough store selling celebrities’ tweezers and Jesus-embedded mango peels. With only 20 minutes remaining on the auction, I cancelled my lunch appointment with George Foreman(‘s Grill) and set up camp next to this isolated treasure.

As minutes melted off the eBay timer, I celebrated my fortune and Putnam’s thesis on civic disengagement.  Previous generations would have to assemble as competitors outside a box office window. Sure, they could discuss their shared interest in the music festival and their favorite acts. They might exchange stories of raucous Rusko dance parties or smooth evenings spent with Thievery Corporation. Some might even make plans to meet-up at the festival.

Not me, though. I had the fortune of internet anonymity and a clock ticking toward payday. As 15 minutes became 10 and then 5, I ignored the sizzling grilled cheese rumbling in the jungle of my George Foreman. With 60 seconds remaining, I proudly entered my bid of $21. At 50 seconds I was outbid at $30. Ok, so there was someone else in this cave. Not surprising but no match for my online dexterity.

I fired back successive bids of $40 and then $50 as the cave walls began cracking. With 33 seconds remaining more online pests left their shadowy alcoves with bids of $56 and $64. Clambering up the walls, I tossed down $68 and $73 at these masked rivals. At 8 seconds (and approximately 8 minutes after my bid for a delicious sandwich expired), my fingers frantically tumbled onto the keyboard. The cave was compromised, though, and my digits could not compete with the faceless masses. With a whimper the auction expired with 35 eleventh hour bids inflating the sale price to $121.01. While I later scalped a ticket outside the festival, I spent that afternoon alone munching on burnt gluten free bread and watching Judge Joe Brown.

So Putnam was correct; an electronic forum foiled social engagement. I lost my ticket to more adept, online recluses and evaded social attachment in the process. Even as I struggled against potential friends, I preserved complete social isolation. Of course, anonymity is the foundation of these online recesses and is especially important in online markets. Yet, I wonder if there is a way to illuminate some of these shadowy internet caves and turn competitors into concert mates. And who knows, maybe I would like watching the People’s Court with other people.



About BLG

Whether you want BLG to deliver a complete leadership academy across your organization, focus on a key group, or supplement an ongoing program, the primary goal of any of our programs will be business impact.

Recent Posts


Sign up for our Newsletter