Shutdown: The View from Five Feet

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Author: Gabriel Russell

Perspective.

Got stuck in the lone checkout line at Safeway behind a woman buying groceries with her EBT card (food stamps). She had her teenaged son with her and a huge stack of coupons. I’ve been having a frustrating week. I was wearing coat and tie and probably had a grumpy look on my face when I arrived. The woman working the register kept looking at me apologetically as time went on and the line grew.

The shopper had a coupon for almost every item. She went through that stack of coupons four times slowly because she was missing one. I think she had coupons for apples, soup, pasta, rice, beans, and bread. She was missing a 60 cent coupon for her two cartons of almond milk. She had a list and had calculated to the penny what she could buy, had $70 on her EBT card and $20 or so on a check she had written but she was $1.20 short to finalize the purchase.I was tempted to pass the woman two bucks but she was already starting to radiate with awkward embarrassment. Her son stood behind her and stared at the floor. Finally the shopper asked the register worker if there was any way she could look through the weekly flier and find the coupon she needed and the worker started paging through it for her.

My irritation dissipated the longer I stood there. Its been a long time since I agonized over $1.20 for food. I’ve never had to do it with a crowd behind me. I could see the time and care she had put into her shopping trip, calculating the cost, clipping coupons, buying cheap healthy food.

I relaxed. I smiled. The coupon was finally found and the sale made. The register worker kept thanking me for my patience. I suppose these days most folks expect a certain amount of eye-rolling and grimacing when a customer is inconvenienced for a few minutes. We’re very busy people.

By Monday the shutdown will have cost me enough from a plane ticket change fee and a lost weekend of National Guard wages that it will sting. But I won’t miss a meal, or even skimp. I won’t miss a mortgage payment. I won’t fear for my phone or electricity being shut off. I have friends that may. I’m grateful for all that America has given me. I’m glad my wife has a good-paying job.

Not everyone is so lucky. We have young National Guard soldiers here in Washington State that rely on their drill pay for food and lodging and on military tuition assistance to pay for college. They won’t be getting either due to the shutdown. Each of them volunteered to serve in their nation’s military during time of war, uncertain of the cost.

This will likely, hopefully, be resolved before my young soldiers or friends in federal service even have time to apply for food stamps or unemployment. But not, perhaps, before a few missed payments, missed meals, and sleepless nights. It bothers me to see them treated this way.

The Legislative Branch of our government has its work cut out for it. I’d like to see them take up that task with the same zeal, teamwork and selfless sense of service to nation and community I see in the young soldiers and law enforcement officers that work for me. I’d like that a great deal.

All I did. The best I did today, was to stand patiently in line behind someone less fortunate than myself and not act like a complete ass. The woman at the register seemed appreciative. Almost like she expected me to be annoyed. Is this what we’ve come to? Is this what people expect?

Patience. Compassion. Persistence. Teamwork. I expect these attributes of my most junior employees. I expect them of myself. I expect them of my government.


If you have a story of the Shutdown and how it has affected your perspective, or your life in general, please share it in the comments or if it’s longer, send it to me at ebonstorm(at)gmail.com and we can share it together.

America shouldn’t be just for big businesses, its stories should be for and about everyone.

Thank you, Gabriel Russell for sharing your story.

Anti-social Media, part 1

A spectrum of social media tools (click to enlarge)

The above graphic offers you a chance, if you can read the tiny logos in the expanded version, to see just how many tools are currently in existence that revolve around the explosions in social media technology.

I have been reading articles regarding social media for the last week and I have become very disturbed by the variety of points of view on the subject. The articles on Klout and Peer Index and other tools used to measure social influence left me wondering about the attempts of the industry to monitize, gamify or in some fashion quantify the value of social media. I am certain I am in violation of a number or rules regarding social media, the primary one being that the meaning is the message, and that it is important to use social media to advertise your product or brand. I spent an entire hour listening to brand mavens pointing out the importance of branding in the future of advertising.

But there were things said that did not sit well for me. Just a couple to show you want I mean.

I am not a detergent. I am not a cow. I do not need nor require a brand to identify myself. The very nature of branding reduces not enhances the human experience, in my opinion. Why has society tried to force branding off on to the computer-using human populace as if it was something that was to be desired? What is this issue with trying to determine Trust Metrics? As if trust were something you could get off the shelf at the market. And since when did Integrity become something that could be detected over the Internet?

All that follows is my opinion. Mouth-breathers who want to rant and rave over what I say next, I say to thee, get thee to a nunnery or to wherever you need to go to get yourself together. I will likely speak heresy and perhaps it is best that someone say it.

Social media has no meaning beyond what we give it. There is this need to expound on social media as if it were the best thing that has ever happened to anyone anywhere. Get over it. Much of what is being sold today as social media has existed for over twenty years in various and better developed forms.

They are only important now because they have suddenly become mainstream and now relatively normal folks are suddenly able to post things to the internet with a minimum of muss and fuss. All that was old is new again. The chat potential that is currently Twitter used to be know as IRC and for anyone who still uses IRC, they laugh at Twitter as a less intelligent but better dressed cousin. Blogging used to have a slightly different configurations called Forums which allowed you to post information sequentially in discrete chunks blocked off by time. Millions of people and services still use forums today. Email, well that has just stayed email. It has slightly more advanced capabilities but if you were sending email twenty years ago, you could send it today with less than five minutes of explanation.

All of the fuss that is made over social media, regarding its marketing potential, whether trust was important and if so, how important, how does social media penetrate our lives, etc. Yes, I know Twitter has software that allows its feeds to be used in other programs, allowing for visualization of twitter information in wild and wonderful ways. But most of those visualizations are not beneficial to the people using Twitter. They are beneficial to corporations who want to monitize Twitter with advertising models. All of that is nonsense, if the basic premise is still untrue. If you are a dastardly person, who does not honor your contracts, who lacks human decency and cannot string a comprehensive paragraph together, social media will not help you get new clients, it will not help your business, it will not help you keep friends, (though it may allow you to expose yourself and your dastardly ways to more people), it will not make you a better person and it certainly won’t help you be a better writer.

Bad people are found out. It may take a moment, if they are suave or clever (or in some cases, sociopathic) and can put on an act to make others believe they are genuine and trustworthy. But they did not need social media for that. They could have (and have almost always) duped their prey in person. Now social media gives them one more forum to ply their trade.

Social media is not new. It is a new way of doing old things. The first and best of those old things is called communication. Talking to people, being friendly, being a person of repute, having manners, displaying class and grace. These things are the social part. If you lack these, technology will not help you.

Stop ranting over social media currency or the ROI (return on investment) of your social media time and how it will augment your business marketing making you even richer than you are now. You become rich by having something worthwhile to say. You become rich by doing things that are meaningful. You become rich by creating content people are able to put to work in their lives and in doing so perhaps also become rich. Do that right enough times and everyone you are social with will benefit.

Content is King.  The ability to say the right thing, at the right time, to the right people over the right communication standard is what matters. If you don’t mean what you say, say what you mean, do what you say and accomplish it in a timely fashion, you will not succeed in business, you will not succeed in life and you certainly won’t succeed in social media, which is a distillation of all of the things, skills, behaviors, ideas and efforts you put forward in life. Social media will not make you rich if you are a slackard. It will not enrich those who cannot be bothered to actually have anything useful to say. It is the USE of your content that makes it worthy.

Influence, the power of social media matters when you are able to help others find their way to the things they are seeking in life. Things that help them fulfill what is important to them, for them, for their families and their way of living. Otherwise, you are just another person claiming to be a social media expert and not clear on the subject of what social media is really supposed to do. Yes, you can have amazing Klout numbers or Peer Index numbers and still not be doing anything that helps anyone. Social media suffers from a high ratio of noise to signal. Lots of sound, hard to distinguish what is worth listening to. This diminishes its usefulness. That was the point of the very first graphic I gave you. Look closely at it, zoom in on it (click it first for the highest resolution) you will see there are at least one hundred different ways of relaying information using social media. With so much diversity, it is hard to know where it would be best for your message to be placed for a chance at getting heard.

Social media’s real goal is to help us communicate. Meaningfully, with content that can change lives. All that other talk about the benefits of social media is just to get us to buy something we don’t need to complete a task well within our power, without ever turning on a computer in the first place.

Yes, I said it. The social media emperor has no clothes.

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I hate Facebook, but I have a reason you have not heard yet…

ENVISION : Step into the sensory box from SUPERBIEN on Vimeo.

I found this video using StumbleUpon. It shows the development of a media group from their simple animations to this, their current crowning glory. A weird little gem of the Internet. Enjoy it!

I hate Facebook, but not for the reasons you might think. I have been working on the Internet since 1984. I remember modems. I remember dialup connections. I remember bulletin boards. I remember a time when there were no graphics on the Internet and Lynx (an early text only web browser) was the best you could hope for if you wanted to access the World Wide Web. I remember Gopher and Archie, (two means of storing and retrieving files on servers at universities all over the nation before the World Wide Web became powerful and easy to use), FTPUsenet news and binary files.

I remember a time when everything you did to reach the Internet was shrouded in mystery and magic (XON, XOR anyone?). I remember Mosaic and its later descendant, Netscape, fondly. I remember America Online and my first $600 online bill and CompuServe with their strange little account numbers, I remember the Well, where the best writers actually DID write there. I remember the constantly growing Internet that always had something new around every corner. It grew faster and changed daily, but no one really paid it any mind, after all it had existed for nearly thirty years and most barely knew of its existence up to that point. No one knew what was about to happen. Most of our science-fiction up to that time, even the most progressive and amazing stuff written barely considered the implications or the complications that would arise with this new technology.

Something changed in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. The Internet began to balkanize. It began to coalesce. Its formlessness began to be changed by the sheer volume of people who began to find their way there. Millions came every year, faster and faster, each bringing their expectations to the Internet of what it should be rather than accepting it for what it was. A means of communication, that equalized everyone who used it. The chance to speak your mind without being censored, unless what you said was stupid, and then people just stopped listening to you. The same way the printing press brought The Word, literacy and ultimately the sum of human experience to anyone who could read, The Internet brought The World to anyone who had access to a computer and could relay their experience to anyone, anywhere, who wanted to listen. This was more than a book, this was Experience transmitted at the speed of light. The false separations of humanity, time, space, distance, race, creed, color, were all able to be overlooked because, as the joke went, on the Internet, no one knew you were a dog, so we were all made equal by the quality of our electronic musings.

Then the Internet experienced a change, and not a good one.  The big corporations arrived. They set up their shops, and began to tell everyone what to expect from the Internet. They brought their old models of behavior from their previous medium (television, radio, music industries) and tried to bring the mojo that made them incredibly rich to the Internet. And it didn’t work. The Internet required new mojo, it was not enough to be rich, you had to be good, to be smart, to be crafty, to offer people something REALLY new. And more of the same stuff that made you rich wasn’t it. Which lead to the college dorm rooms. There were plenty of smart, motivated, young people just waiting for an opportunity to create something new and that is where some of the newest and most powerful corporations got their start. Yahoo, Google, Twitter and Facebook are four such mega-corporations that rivaled the Old World Media in power and influence in the New Media World.

Golden gadget: Designer Stuart Hughes has created a 22ct iPad with and Apple logo studded with 54 diamonds. A snip at just £130,000.

Since the clash of Old World Media and New World Media, the Internet has been awash in the blood of their combat. Creativity for the sake of creating has been replaced with the heady swirl of technology being created in an effort to make profit. These technological remora  remain close enough to the swarming sharks of industry to make money, but not so close as to be eaten in their Promethean combat, striding across the world, affecting entire nations, for good and ill, sometimes in the same day. Everyone is seeking to make money, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it seems that is all I ever hear about now when I think about the internet. The latest gadget, the latest cloud computing scheme/tool/asset, the newest APP, a better API, a newer operating system, the newest content management system, the latest social media event that will make me millions overnight if I act right now and send money to my friend in Nigeria/Amsterdam/Moscow.

So what does this have to do with my hatred of Facebook, you are asking? Why the trip down memory lane? Because Facebook and its many monolithic clones have done to the Internet something that none of the early evils which inflicted themselves upon the Internet could do. Old Media for all of its power, money and influence, was never able to convince anyone that it WAS the Internet; Old Media was unable to convince you that it was the sum of all knowledge and that ultimately if you wanted to do something on the Internet, you had to go through them. No one believed it and thus it wasn’t true. But Facebook has 400 million people who use it and believe that it IS the Internet and beyond its borders there be Dragons. Stay within the walls of Castle Facebook and you will be fine. Play our games, shop with our ads, communicate with your network of friends you have never met, and you will be fine. We will bring you the media you need. Facebook has everything you could ever need, so there is no longer a need to forage beyond our walls for food or entertainment. And if you must go to get something outside of Facebook, we want you to use your Facebook account data to join that new service, so you can find your way back to your cornerstone of your New Media experience.

Here are a few of the other things Facebook does that I simply cannot abide:

  • I am unhappy with the constantly changing but not necessarily improving face of Facebook. Every few months, it looks and acts completely different, and often for no discernable reason. All I can be sure of is by the time I get it configured the way I like it, it will be changing and the services I like the most, will be gone or mutated beyond recognition.
  • I dislike their draconian privacy practices that allow them to give away your information to whomever will pay them the most. Anytime you engaged in any activity on Facebook, whether it be quiz or game, you are giving away your information. And they don’t have to tell you who is using that data. And it did not start out this way. Take a look at how it has changed over time.
  • I am displeased with the fact that they choose to make their privacy rules and settings as an opt-out rather than an opt-in. As an opt-out, you are relinquishing rights and access to information that you may not be aware is being made public or being used by the public domain as part of a greater marketing model. As an opt-in, you would be treated with respect because you would have the option to CHOOSE to participate rather than being forced to.
  • I am angry that the faceless Facebook executives look to sell those here-for-to unknown rights to the highest bidder as part of an advertising campaign, most of their 400 million users are not aware they are participating in. Adding insult to injury, they hid the information of their shenanigans inside a document as complex and longer than the Constitution of these United States.
  • I abhor the fact that even if you wanted to leave Facebook, they reserve the right to continue to maintain your account hidden from the general population but your connections made through your account continue to exist unless you make an effort to erase your existence, element by element from the Facebook (and their attendent lackies) systems and servers.
  • Such a removal of your virtual self from their servers is a slow and steady process but one you must undertake if you wish to truly disappear from the Facebook Continuum. Even if you take the effort, there is no guarantee that your efforts will net you any real gain because the servers that Facebook uses, has backed up your virtual existence since the first day you ever put any files on the Facebook site.

The real issue I have with Facebook and all of its descendants and imitators is this: Facebook can be a candle in the darkness, it can be an island in the vast sea of data that is out there. I say to Facebook, BE that entry into this vast ocean, but do not try an convince anyone that you are all that there is, and that you have the power to treat people badly because you BELIEVE you control their experience while they are on the Internet. Because better corporations than you have thought that very thing and they are now just roadkill on the Internet Superhighway. Many of them are companies that I have already mentioned, AOL, Compuserve, the Well, MySpace (I know Myspace is still alive, but it is really just a zombie-like existence, desperately seeking brains for sustenance). There are over one trillion web pages on the Internet today, and more spring into existence ever second. Each is a place you can go to and see and learn something new. You could spend the rest of your human existence looking at a page a second and not even scratch the surface of the number of pages out there. (60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours a day, x 365 days a year x 100 years or 3,153,000,000 – that is over three billion pages leaving 97% of the Internet unseen by you even after all that.)

Don’t let Facebook or any mega-corporation dictate to you what the Internet should look like. Go out there and find as many unique experiences as you can. If you have the power, the interest, and the capability, MAKE something unique for the Internet. PROSUME; produce and consume, create something new, reach the sum of your human potential. I recommend StumbleUpon as a great way to see the Internet you have been too busy with Facebook to see. Get the toolbar for your browser, make an account on StumbleUpon, choose the things you are interested in and have at it. I promise you, you will see things that you could never find using Social Media because social media is really only good for one thing; talking about itself. Step away from the closed proprietary universe of Facebook and return to the Internet you never knew existed. You don’t have to leave Facebook, just turn it off so that you can hear the rest of the signal out there. Look at Facebook and other social media like you would the Sun. While you are using it, you cannot see the other stars that may offer you equally fantastic tools, opportunities and ideas that may be obscured by the brightness and nearness of social media tools. Let the sun go down, let those other stars come out for a while. You may be amazed at what you might find. If you have a tool you like to use to find the hidden jewels of the Internet, share them here!

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