People who graduated from college between 1989 and 1992 have, for the most part, vanished from the public sphere. I graduated in 1990, so I find this development personally disturbing.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve been asking myself, of all the people I went to school with–from junior high through college–why have none of them achieved fame, fortune, or anything of permanent social value? The answer seems to have as much to do with market economics as with any talent, or lack thereof, intrinsic to my peers.
I can, however, claim one degree of separation from a person of my generation who has made a significant impact on our lives today: I went to summer camp with Reid Hoffman.
Hoffman, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn, clearly has achieved success. LinkedIn is quickly becoming the go-to resource for making business connections, an Internet version of Rotary Club meetings and golf outings with business partners. Today, Hoffman is one of the most influential people not only in Silicon Valley but also in the non-tech business arena, as LinkedIn is accepted by every corner of the world of work.
I remember that, even back then, Hoffman was a sharp guy, easy to get along with and full of ideas. He even had mock business cards printed up, which he distributed to his cabin-mates.
I have not confirmed any of this with Hoffman or his associates. We spent only three weeks together in 1980, so he is unlikely to remember me. But more importantly, I desperately want to be right. Without Hoffman, there is nobody of my generation who has “made it.” He is a symbol, and I want him to remain so.
I could send Hoffman an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, but it wouldn’t mean much. He has over 227,000 followers — clearly, he’s a popular and busy guy. I would be a tiny fraction of his social network; it’s not like he’d ask me out to grab a beer or anything. Still, he symbolically holds the torch for all of us, and he is doing a fine job.