Whither Social Media?

Oh, for the good old days, when a very popular person might count their number of good friends on their fingers and toes.

Today, if someone does not have a 1,000 friends and followers, they must be exuding either the worst body odors that the Internet can carry or they are virtual hermits.

It is neither popular, nor a good idea, to rain on the parade of social media because there must be a horse in there somewhere.

But, may be it is a good idea to stand back, scratch our heads and ask if perhaps too much of a good thing might just turn out to be a bad thing.

I am not suggesting that we should, or even could, turn back the clock on social media, but rather what we might do is figure out how people can manage their, and all of societies’ digital lives, better.

Recently, I was killing a bit of time waiting for a ride and had a conversation with a young baby sitter about what bothered her most in her daily life–besides the price of gas, for instance. She immediately said, “Social media- it soaks up far too much of my time because it promises so much and delivers so little.” That said, do the good aspects of social media come close to outweighing the bad, and where are we heading?

Clearly, to me, she was an unusually perceptive young woman who put her finger squarely on one of today’s most important and growing problems.

Have you ever wondered what the state of the world was when the giant dinosaurs ruled and dominated the Earth? They were big partly so they could cover a lot territory, providing them with vast quantities of natures’ harvests which they needed to simply survive. But for the vast changes to their habitats caused by a giant asteroid’s collision with Earth, they might still be in charge and we would not have to worry about social media.

Instead, we may now have something like that galactic collision occurring in full sight, which may be overwhelming the human race with an overload of information as deadly in due course as the atomic atmospheric dust that wiped out the dinosaurs.

That overload is confusing, distracting and destroying the very sinews of the social fabric of society, which are essential to its proper functioning. It is undermining mutual respect among many people all over the world.

Ironically, one might have thought that the diffusion of so much information would have tended to bring more people together in harmony. To date, a lot of the evidence suggests that we are headed in the opposite direction.

Hopefully, it is not too late to address these concerns and set up some counter trends to ward off falling too far in that deep hole.

What is needed? Until now, most ‘news’ to people has been pretty well filtered by ‘responsible’ editors and journalists. Now, the most unbelievable dumb and wrong-headed stuff gets going in social media and spreads across the Internet and before anyone knows it, it becomes ‘a real thing’ which triggers a significant portion of the world into pursuit of phantoms, basically to everyone’s disadvantage.

Perhaps we need a new section of the New York Times, called Social Media Accountability, whose slogan and objective could be, “Social media ‘news’ NOT fit to print must be exposed-to daylight.”

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All’s Well That Ends Well

Sometimes encounters provide insights into human behaviors that can almost be inspiring. Along the way, there is almost always some grief, aggravation and irritation.

Here goes:

I was driving in Georgetown recently to do an errand. I saw an open “legal” parking space and pulled ahead to begin backing in when suddenly a car rushed in behind me, touched my rear and began blowing its horn.

I figured in this competitive world that the other car must have also spotted the place and was angry that I beat them to it. I assumed that they would give up and move on, which is what most folks do.

But no. They simply bellowed the horn interminably. Traffic piled up. Then four women got out and descended on me shouting that it was their space. The driver was a young woman; there were one younger and two older women with her. They were insisting that I had stolen their place.

It turned out that they had spotted the space going up the street on the other side and turned into a side street to turn around, by which time I had passed them (without any realization that they had designs on the space) and was entering the space. They failed to see how the position of the cars demonstrated that they were wrong.

A middle aged man appeared out of nowhere who had observed the whole event from start to finish. He told them they were wrong and should quit and unblock the traffic.

You can guess what followed. They called 911. Time passed. Unpleasant words were continuously being blast at me and the witness.

Finally, after about an hour, a police car arrived. He quickly sized up the situation correctly, but also realized it did not involve the law. He took and exchanged the requisite particulars about insurance, because they were asserting that I had backed into THEIR car.

Then he instructed both of us to move the cars to clear the traffic, which revealed no damage to either car. (Thank you, Mr. Ford, for making me a great car.)

I then pulled into the parking spot that now had been empty for an hour. Here is where the story surprised me.

I was looking for change for the meter when the mother approached me with four quarters, which I accepted. She apologized completely. She said her daughter had a bad temper, and while she had not been able to control her, she felt it necessary to support her.

I thanked her and urged her to get her daughter counseling before she gets into more serious situations. I added that the most offensive thing said by the young woman was when she asked the witness if he was an American citizen. He was from Venezuela, spoke with a bit of an accent, and had long been a citizen — but of what relevance this was, neither he nor I understood.

Yes, a waste of time all around, but an illustration of how too many Americans, for reasons very few appreciate, are living in an atmosphere of hair-trigger emotions.

Then I realized: Aren’t we Americans still very lucky?

I think that we are less likely to hold a grudge than most people, as this story might suggest. I can’t think of many places in the world where the actors in such a dispute could end it so quickly, with a resolution that included a gesture of friendship and an apology.

Perhaps things are not so bad after all.

STRESS IS A DANGEROUS DISEASE

We worry about heart attacks, strokes, cancer and a myriad of other regular diseases that lead to early incapacity and death and most of us take active and expensive steps to hope, help, delay and deal with such problems.

Still one of the things that creeps into very many lives is simple stress, which in most cases, is accepted as a given in a fast paced modern life that must simply be tolerated and dealt with as best as possible.

What are the main issues that give rise to serious stress in 10’s of millions of lives in America today:

Transportation–trains, buses, cars, airplanes, subways–we are all moving all the time- breakdowns, delays, overcrowding, safety, dirty, unhealthy.

Housing—costs, insurance, repairs, tough landlords, commutes, etc.

Education–we want the best we can afford and reach for our children and grandchildren–it is very competitive, expensive including babysitting and day care.

Jobs–if one has one, is it secure and for how long; if not, how long does one have to wait to find a new one.

Health–keeping healthy, avoiding accidents, paying for medicines even on Medicare, lack of coverage from employer provided insurance; risks of bankruptcy, etc.

Retirement–will it be too early, too late, cost, lack of confidence in one’s own mortality and future desire to remain comfortable in the golden years.

There are a few more but this list surely covers more than enough to keep millions of people stressed for a lot of their lives, without adding the natural stress to comes with whatever their jobs/career add to their daily lives.

What is common to all those stressors and what possibly could people do to get ahold of those sources and at least somewhat reduce stress levels in general.

The key element in each of the above categories is that every individual worries about lack of control he/she have over the impact on their lives.

Without going item by item through each category lets settle at the moment with these observations.

–Virtually all categories involve all three sectors that comprise modern society–government, business and nonprofit. The problem with that, from an individual point of view, is that is hard enough to navigate through life on your own but if you have to add to that the need to navigate through THREE different sectors that have a different piece of the category you may be struggling with, you are facing a completely daunting challenge, which forces you to either calmly accept the status quo you have been handed or simply stress uselessly about it. If you are very lucky, you are one of those folks who float along with few cares. Sadly there are too few like that today.

–In some families there is a split of responsibilities; the wife worries about the list above, but she leaves the big important issues to her husband such as whether we should go to war, what the tax system should look like, etc.

–The result in most cases for men and women is that they carry stress with them most of the time. Doctors have known for a long time that continued stress levels at elevated levels often produces early onset of many medical issues particularly those involving the nervous system.

OK–so what conceivably might be done to address this not such obvious issue?

IF, if the three basic sectors could ever find a way of working better together, that could be a good start at reducing the friction points between those sectors which lead to the conditions which grind on citizen involvement.

Have a peek at http://www.intersector.com and hopefully you will get some new additional insights into the question raised in this piece.

What Makes Technology Evolve?

A whole new language has emerged in recent years to describe and explain how technologies can spread.

For example, if a new thing is seen as “disruptive” of an existing way of doing things, it is fawned over as the next biggest, best thing, and investors often turn themselves into pretzels to get a piece of the action at any price. Yet that by itself is not a guarantee of success.

While disruption is one important new way to evolve technology, there are even surer ways.

Another, perhaps more basic and important way, is what I have called for 50 years the Xerox effect.

Up until plain paper copying became ubiquitous and cheap in the 1960s — other than for long industrial scale runs of copies like old fashioned printing–something that few young people have even heard of or experienced was ‘carbon paper’ which was limited to about 7 copies. It was very messy, slow, and a pain in the neck, but was effectively the only game in town.

Then Xerox invented the 911 plain paper machine which was a tour de force of evolution, but that by itself was not enough to insure its success. Xerox struggled for several years to edge into the market. Then it finally got really smart.

They decided not to sell the machine but to sell copies instead. They put counters on the machines and charged 1 cent per copy. Lots of people thought that was really cheap because they calculated the numbers of copies they were making at the time and it was not a giant number.

One law firm I knew, for example, installed one machine for large document reproduction and installed a second one to replace carbon paper for everyday correspondence. The steno staff objected when they were ordered to STOP using carbon paper. A compromise was reached for a one month trial. At the end of the month not a single steno person wanted to go back to carbon. Result: the numbers of copies went up enormously. Where 7 copies had been the limit, now there was no limit–so everybody made a lot of excess copies ‘just in case’. That was a lot of pennies for Xerox.

Xerox hit the jackpot. They not only had a better copier, they had a whole new way of mass communications. And no one had yet dreamt of an Internet.

What had happened? Until Xerox, people had to cope with 7 copies. Xerox CREATED a whole new demand that virtually no one had foreseen, because if you could NOT have it, you did not KNOW you need it. Hence the ‘Xerox effect’ is when a new technology makes something new possible that people discover they need and want, from that point forward it will grow organically. Word of mouth really works better and cheaper than ads.

As we think back on the last 75 years, how many Xerox effect cases can you think of? A great many of the new Apple Apps do a bit of that. Perhaps the iPhone itself spawned a whole new market.

Microsoft and its Windows, Outlook and spread sheets enabled things that were already done to be done better, easier, more reliably and faster.

Google, etc. did away with phone books, dictionaries and other information sources.

Many more fantastic inventions have made life faster, richer, and more interesting in a lot of ways.

But so far there really is nothing that helps most people cope better with how to deal with today’s vast information overload.

For example, even with Facebook, Twitter and dating services, are people better equipped today to select a really suitable life partner?

Even with lots of help with job searches, are people better equipped to pick the right job–either employee or employer?

Has it gotten easier or harder to raise children in this new world?

I have been looking for a new app that might be called “Crystal Ball.” It could help someone view the future based partly on past experience and partly on extrapolation of future trends down to the personal micro level.

Despite dreamers who keep looking for a crystal ball, if someone creates one, that would likely be the Xerox Effect PLUS.