SXSW: Society Needs to Become Less 'Social'

AUSTIN, Texas ( TheStreet) -- As I noted -- ironically -- on Twitter Sunday, I don't like to network. I pretty much hate everything associated with that word. But, just because I dislike networking doesn't mean I do not like interacting socially with others. Quite the contrary.

Here at South By Southwest there's tons of networking and plenty of social interaction. In the flesh. Human contact. Person-to-person. One-on-one and in groups.

I draw a distinction between the two styles of meeting and forming some sort of relationship with other people. Of course, this is my view, which is likely quite different from how somebody in business school or a Chief People Officer might view it.

Networking. Looking at a person's conference-supplied nametag to determine if he or she is worth talking to. Doing all of the textbook things when you meet somebody -- firm handshake, take a step in, look into the other person's eyes, hold the handshake, give the 30-second elevator talk.

In other words, be a complete phony. Don't act the way you would act if you were simply being yourself. And if that actually is you, the traveling salesperson of yourself, you need help.

Social interaction. You can't define it because everybody interacts with others differently when they're being real. They're not pulling a list of things you must do when you meet somebody out of a textbook.

It's no wonder that so many people "network" with others rather than interact socially. Many of us spend more time interfacing with others while online either through email or social media. It should come as no surprise that the more we communicate via these means, the more socially inept we become. As such, when you have to go one-on-one with somebody you never met before, it's more comfortable to get all robotic by networking.

Over the weekend at SXSW, something bizarre happened. Because of something I tweeted, somebody at the same event I was Tweeting from knew I was there . . . in the same room as them. That happened to me several times. I see a Tweet from somebody. I'm like, "Cool. They're here as well." So I go and find them and introduce myself and partake in some social interaction.

This process did happen in reverse, which was nice, but numerous times, I noticed that somebody in the same room as me followed me on Twitter and/or sent me a connection request on LinkedIn ( LNKD), but did not make any attempt that I know of to interact socially. In several cases, I know this as fact because I literally saw the other person in the room. And I'm not too hard to find. Short guy. Long hair. Rough shave. Just like my picture online.

In this situation, I really wanted to go up to the person who decided to "connect" with me virtually and say hello, but I wasn't sure of the etiquette. Is the social media request to "connect" with somebody you're in the same room with a blow off? Is it a way of saying this is about as close as I want to get to you?

I hate to read it that way, but wouldn't it make sense to introduce yourself and socially interact in person and then conduct the requisite social media formalities?

Seems to me that you build online social networks as a way of expanding your world. You can't possibly meet everybody in person so LinkedIn, Facebook ( FB), Twitter and other platforms facilitate the process virtually. But isn't the goal -- or at least the low-level desire -- to meet these people you connect with in person at some point, if practically possible? And shouldn't we prefer live, free-flowing social interaction to both networking and "friending" somebody you could easily spit at from across the room?

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Austin, Texas.
Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.