Is Scott Simon violating some societal taboo?

I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t begrudge him his choice. Everyone deals with death in his or her own way. I hope he doesn’t regret this. It begs the question, is it best to wait to write about grief, or is the moment the truest time?

If You Have Five Seconds to Spare

Perhaps you’ve heard of NPR’s Scott Simon this week—he’s getting a lot of attention for tweeting his thoughts and observations as he sits at his mother’s deathbed.

As with any public figure’s actions, Simon is getting both praise and criticism. I read through the negative comments posted to the Los Angeles Times article—here’s a sample:

  • “That is just creepy”
  • “Ratings must have been down”
  • “This guy needs to seek mental help”
  • “Can’t even someone’s dying days be afforded some dignity?”
  • “Ghoulish. Disrespectful. Selfish.”
  • “Rather he used his Mother to garner favor and a story as well as pity.”

But what Simon is doing is not new—only the vehicle for expressing his thoughts is new. Books and essays, thousands of times over, have been written about a loved one’s death, and I hear little similar criticism leveled against that type of writing. So apparently the thing that is making people…

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ABC: When YOU Are the Product

You probably have considered the points covered in the following link before, but depending on what you do for a living you may not have considered it in as open and clear-cut a manner as you will after reading For Sale On the Web: You! : All Tech Considered : NPR.

Alec Baldwin's memorable speech in Glengarry Glen Ross

The writer, Dave Pell, is a San Francisco based, self-described “Web-addicted insider, investor and entrepreneur.”  He has been blogging for more than a decade.  The NPR post actually first appeared on his blog, Tweetage Wasteland.  DANGER, Will Robinson:  Unless you are so far geeked-up that it does not hurt your feelings even a little bit to be called geeked-up, be careful going over to Pell’s website.  He is on a level of techno-mania I have not heretofore encountered.  But that may be a good thing…..it’s up to you.

I digress.  (I’m sorry, I blame Pell’s website.)

Perhaps the best line in the NPR piece linked above – which is considerably good — is a comment at the end by a reader named Bruce Smithhammer:  “If you aren’t paying, you are the product.”

Let’s review:  If you aren’t paying, you are the product.

Social media is for all intents and purposes free; that is to say, it is without financial cost.  Many people I know regularly throw out the question to their connected universe, “Will you stay on Facebook if they start charging?”  The results I’ve observed are usually evenly split.

In July 2010 I wrote on this issue on Esse Diem (full post here):  “I worry that any language commoditizing human beings is destined for moral bankruptcy and ultimate failure.”

There is much to love about social media, blogging, and our brave new world; but never forget it is not free.  How do you find yourself responding to the dynamics of using the easy and free techo tools Pell describes?  No joke, a serious reflection on these issues may be the most important ethical and spiritual thing you’ve done for yourself in a long time.  The long-term effect of these incremental dynamics is staggering.

As Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society (see the previous post), “This is battle, a war gentlemen, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.”

Just promise me you’ll think about it.

Image credit:  WebLink Blog

Hashtag: Lincoln

Yesterday there was a thought-provoking post on The Miller Times.  I read it, tweeted it, marked it as a favorite post, and moved on; at least I thought I moved on.  I woke up at 2:40 a.m. and these lines were still roaming around my brain looking for a place to rest:

I can’t help but think massive political protests/rallies/marches/shindigs/soirees have become arbitrary. We’ve got social media now, and sadly, a hashtag on Twitter goes a lot farther than 1,000,000 people standing united at the Lincoln Memorial. I admire the dedication, but the whole process is kind of antiquated.

This idea lingers because in just three short sentences it did more to jar my thinking about the impact of the social media revolution than anything I’ve heard anyone else say, including Bill Gates, the Google boys, and the rest of their ilk.  It helps me process why, even though I’m on board and the train has left the station, I’m still not sure where the trip is taking us.

The massive cultural shift that came with our super-connections and constant availability must be something as seismic as the dawn of safe, affordable, socially accepted forms of contraception taking root in the United States in the 1960’s.  It is nearly impossible for me to imagine an America where couples didn’t sleep together whenever they felt like it out of  the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and yet I know it’s the world where my grandparents grew up.  The tentacles of social change are elaborate and far-reaching from this single event, and of course not everyone thinks it’s all good.  I think it’s fundamentally great, but would agree that there are new dynamics in people’s lives that are not as simple as “great.”

This is much like I feel about the changes to everything we do now, with such a huge portion of life lived online.  The communication and education opportunities are incredible.  The avenues for better understanding remote corners of the world are expanded.  Many aspects of life are safer and more secure.  Used well, social media tools allow for phenomenal new levels of productivity.  And yet….there’s that pesky Lincoln Memorial thing.   It woke me up before the crack of dawn, and I’m guessing this morning won’t be the last time.

I’m glad I don’t have to get on a bus and go to Washington, DC, to be heard.  To be perfectly frank, I don’t have the time, money, or energy to participate in a march of any kind right now.  But as the last Esse Diem post about Good Will Hunting explores, I know what it’s like to stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.  I’ve stood there more than once, and it is an experience unlike any other.  I expected to feel small, and yet I felt enormous. 

Many people joke that Abraham Lincoln was fortunate to live in an age without television.  He was quite an unusual and some say unattractive combination of proportions and physical features.  History suggests he was soft-spoken, humble, and concise.  The words of the Gettysburg address are some of the most well-known, beloved, and nationally signficant words every spoken in the United States’ history.  From that address (emphasis is mine):

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Our world of online political and social action is real, and it is here.  We are not going back.  But if you doubt that Americans standing — being physically present — at the Lincoln Memorial still means something, I would say go.  Go alone.  It’s not necessary to get caught up in a demonstration or event.  Go when you can, and stand there with the image and yes, the actual presence, of the man who saved the union. 

It may not change the world in that moment, and it can’t be meaningfully hashtagged or blogged.  It can only be lived, that feeling of being so big inside yourself at the feet of President Lincoln.  Promise you won’t miss it — in real life.

Photo credit: Library of Congress on Flickr.com

I’m Taking Sexy Back

A friend of mine confessed yesterday that she “got in some hot water” for calling LinkedIn “the Rotary club of social media.”  I immediately laughed at the image because it was so spot on, but I didn’t quite see why she got in trouble for saying it.  It is kind of like an online Rotary Club.  That’s what it advertises itself to be, so what’s the issue? 

The issue was the follow-up comment.  “It’s just not sexy.”  Apparently the room was full of undercover Rotarians who were a bit miffed.  Which all leads me to finally do what I’ve been wanting to do for years now and say, “Lookit y’all.  I’m taking sexy back.” 

Postcard from Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine trilogy

The first time I heard sexy used in a questionable manner was about fifteen years ago.  I was helping prepare a communications plan for a conference.  My boss said, “Let’s not use brochures, let’s use postcards.  They’re sexy.”  The only sexy postcards I’m aware of are from Griffin and Sabine.  I am for sure they are not from a nonprofit organization offering a training event on HIV prevention. 

Without going into the weeds, I am down with sexy.  Real sexy.  Mirriam-Webster lists the number one definition of sexy as akin to erotic.  The number two definition takes a major dive with being listed as akin to simply appealing

This very morning I looked outside to see my husband, dressed in his professional to-the-office clothes, carrying three very large tools from our shed to his truck.  Pick ax, shovel, hoe.  He is unusually strong, and he carried these three things simultaneously and away from his body so as not to get any dirt on his suit.  He turned to blow me a kiss.  Holy mother of…..come on five o’clock is all I can say. 

I have no interest in telling anyone else what is sexy, but maybe we can all get together and give the word its meaning back.  When you mean appealing, say appealing.  When you say sexy, mean it. 

And when you use LinkedIn or go to Rotary, don’t look for thrills.  Just look for professional networking.  I think we can all be OK with that, don’t you?

Twittiquette

As I am still puzzling over a recent “event” I experienced on Twitter, I thought I’d blog it out and see what anyone else thinks.  The event was an emotional backlash to one of the posts on Esse Diem from a new follower on my Twitter account.  As he followed me first, I naively assumed he had positive intent. 

Twitter: The etiquette is unwritten, but it is real.

Positive intent for me does not equate with agreeing with everything I express; in fact, some of the most helpful comments I get from readers of this blog have been critiques and questions about my thought process and conclusions.  This Twitter thing was something different. 

Rather than ask questions on the blog, this fellow retweeted my post with nearly hysterical questions, accusations, and sarcasm.  There were lots of exclamation points and question marks.  He managed to focus on one illustration of a larger argument and avoid the real point of the post.  In essence, rather than engage me directly he chose to advertise me to his followers as a nitwit.  When I asked him about it later he told me he was not upset — which is odd, because he certainly came across as very stirred up and angry.  I would not like to encounter him when he is actually troubled. 

I’ve since spent a little time trying to figure out why he uses Twitter, and I detect a pattern of doing to others what he did to me.  He likes to follow people he doesn’t agree with and then use that connection to try to discredit the ideas rather than to build rapport and understanding.  In fairness to him, this is a common use of Twitter among many people; it’s also disappointing, but it is a risk people take when they publicly “own” their work, especially online. 

This is not a media empire (yet).  It is one thing to RT (retweet) faceless corporations with whom you never have a prayer of actually communicating and hashtagging their tweets with smart aleck phrases.  And this is the United States of America — anyone is free to RT my tweets and label them any way they choose.  That is the game, and if you don’t know it when you engage you will learn it sooner or later.  It does seem, though, that when individuals engage there ought to still be an understood environment of respect everyone can reasonably anticipate.  It seems even more reasonable to expect this from others who live in your tiny state of 1.8 million people. 

If you are looking for accounts that demonstrate the very best professional execution of Twitter, I can recommend @bobcofffield (health care law blogger + local interest advocacy), @createwv (statewide grassroots organization), @CartneyWV (social media strategy + politics + fashion), @DanSchawbel (big time millenial personal branding), @lineberg (personal + marketing + fitness), @DUKEPress (academia + publishing + humor) and @mistygirlph (social media + reciprocity) for starters.  Each of these people have figured out what they want to do with Twitter, and they do it well.  They all use Twitter differently, but they are each professional, organized, and effective. 

There are many great accounts, and it is worthwhile to follow people who know what they are doing and just watch and learn.  Much of what you can learn is style-driven as much or more than content-driven — how do you feel when you read their tweets?  What words in tweets make you bother to read or RT versus just scan by?  A great tweet just today from @mistygirlph included “15 Reasons to Love Twitter,” with number 14 being “Receive kindness and love 24-7.”  A-HEM……….. 

As a professional, I like Twitter because it is an opportunity to discover new people who can teach me things and to find new resources that can enrich my life.  I also like the general environment of civility and etiquette.  It’s odd, but it’s pervasive in my favorite accounts.  Lots of please and thank you, lots of credit given to others and return favors delivered.  It’s a community of strange P’s and Q’s.  But in a world that has lost nearly all of those kinds of things, it’s a pocket of politeness and professionalism that I enjoy.  

Of course, I was never following John Mayer .  It pays to choose wisely.

C’mon. Don’t Be a Hater.

Do you ever find yourself on the verge of a back and forth public comment exchange, and then decide to just drop it?  Well I did that yesterday. Except now I can’t drop it.

Stilletos are good.

I am amazed by the animosity people who claim to love West Virginia can muster for anyone who sees the world differently than they do.  There is a vibrant young woman who had her first op-ed in The Charleston Gazette Monday, and her topic was social media in politics.  Now here comes a fresh voice — a bit of an attitude, I’ll warrant, but that’s part of the freshness — and what kind of response does she get?  A very snarky put-down and dismissal as having nothing to offer.

Now, you can like it or not like it, but you have to be in some deep denial if you don’t understand that the first African-American to be elected leader of the free world did it with the brilliant use of social media.  That fact alone should wake you way, way up.

Flops are good, too.

Monday’s commentary, like it or not, has a great deal to offer.  It’s not about what you like, or what you wish were true.  It’s about what is, and from where the writer sits her job is to connect politicians with what is.

It’s also what was.  The writer was not comparing Carte Goodwin to JFK as a change agent.  She was saying that they both bask in the glow of a similar perception of savoir faire.  Yes, it’s shallow and goofy to think elected officials are “hot.”  As a friend of mine put it, “Whoa.  That’s a low bar, the U.S. Congress.”  I still crack up that JFK was considered yummy.  Maybe, maybe, next to a sweating Nixon.  But really?  Folks need to get out more.  The bar goes much lower when you limbo at the state level.  But I digress………….(and a little of my breakfast just came up).

The point is that public perception is a valid and important element of elected office, and social media is driving a great deal of public perception.  We can argue all day and all night about whether or not that ought to be true, but while we argue there are people who know how to take advantage of solid strategy who are getting elected, and re-elected, via their socially networked connections to a large proportion of their constituencies.

My hat’s off to this young lady.  True wisdom is not the hallmark of the young, but it’s not rare to have strong opinions and the courage to try to change the world, and to be crazy enough to think you can do it.  West Virginia is chock full of a bunch of old people.  How about we get clue and listen to the very few young people we have left who are still willing to participate in making a difference?