Out of Control

September 28, 2012

Our modern age has given us so many new tools to manage ourselves. iPhones, laptops, PCs, traffic navigators, you name it. In effect, these gadgets offer us a semblance of control. And feeling in control is necessary for our mental health.

And yet we really aren’t in control as much as we think we are. That is why Facebook is so intoxicating. Updating your status, checking in with others, posting feelings, thoughts and memories provide us with pseudo-connection with others. But we don’t really hear their voices, feel their feelings or see their faces as they express these things. In addition, Facebook is another way of controlling our image. I like to call it Fakebook because in reality, who is going to admit that they just did something less than reputable, yet perhaps very human?

As connected and controlled as our lives appear, it is a virtual world we create when we use these social media platforms. Our real lives on the ground are the ones we need to nurture the most because there is no substitute for a physical hug when you need it.  It takes a moment of thought. It takes a human touch. And it takes time.

Everything else is a neatly controlled world, a cartoon version of ourselves.

I’m for being real. Are you?

 

We all hold secrets inside. My family makes a game out of it. It’s called the “Little Known Fact” game. So at dinner parties where the guests don’t all know each other, my mother introduces the game for everyone to play. We are called to reveal a little something about ourselves that no one at the table knows such as “I won a singing contest in Italy once,” or “I know how to tame a horse.” Playing a game like that today can be hard in the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

My daughter insists on keeping her face off Facebook as much as possible. It may seem strange to my US family, but she wants her privacy. And rightly so. I don’t want my neighbors knowing my business so why would I want 1,000 FB friends to know the same.

In early August my PR colleague told me not to post any more vacation photos on Facebook during my trips.

“You are there to enjoy yourself. You can tell us about it later!” And so I refrained from posting anything on Facebook at all. She was right. Enjoy it now. Share it later. That’s true Slow.

Such social media abstinence feels really good. Just because it is available to me doesn’t mean I have to share every detail of my life, my pets’ lives, or those of my children, with the world. Like the Native Americans who believed taking a photograph of someone was the equivalent of stealing their souls, it is okay to tend to your Secret Garden by yourself.

I am careful who I let in to those secret spaces inside. It’s good that way. It makes those true connections all the more sacred.

And besides, I will admit it may just help me in playing the “Little Known Fact” game a little while longer.

Diane Johnson and I are in the same age bracket so for those of you who don’t remember when there was no Internet, you may snicker at the following stretch. But believe you me, when it comes to persistence, Diane Johnson has it all.

Recently charged with establishing a Facebook fan page for her $10 million heavy client, she was reminded of the time she was challenged to kill a snake her daughters had found in the garden.

“I’m a divorced mom of two. There was nobody else who could do it,” she remembers, wanting not to harm the snake, but knowing her dog might get hurt if they tussled. So, shovel in hand, she muscled through the scariest day of her life, whacking the snake with her garden tool until it slipped into eternal slumber.

“That was the scariest day of my life…until the moment I had to set up my client’s Facebook page.” Once again she was stretched beyond her perceived limits, literally learning the ropes by doing it. She learned:

  • You need 25 fans to register a username.
  • Her client didn’t have 25 fans.
  • She had to come up with a marketing email requesting people to get them to ‘like’ their existing page.
  • She even had her daughter ‘like’ it.  Her daughter asked Diane to tell her when they hit 26 fans so she could unlike it—she didn’t want her friends to see that on her Facebook page.
  • Then once she obtained the fan count, the username registration process was a whole new can of worms she had to untangle.

And she did. While her learning curve was steep, she carries a new confidence about her. “I did it. I really did it!”

Soon after, another client made the same request of her. And you know what? She said, “No problem!” Only this time she meant it!

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Remains of the Day

November 23, 2010

The Internet is a place of great complexity. You can be as close to someone in Shanghai via Skype as your partner in the next room. You can interact with someone via Email and have a sense of familiarity without ever hearing the person’s voice. You feel united with all of humanity without touching a soul.

I would argue that the very act of connection is touching our souls more than we think.

This morning I received the saddest news. The editor of several trade publications for which we have offered our PR client’s stories passed away. Did I know that he had cancer? No. Did I know that his email to me on October 21 would be our last ‘conversation’? Never.

It makes me sad that he is gone. I never really knew him. And perhaps it wasn’t meant to be that we would ever get to know one another beyond the “Great story. It will run next week” chat. But I sense a loss that is deep and surprising. And it causes me to reconsider how much we really ‘know’ about each other.

While I may be on the up and up about certain aspects of my friends’ and family’s lives via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I don’t really know how they are doing. Phone calls and Skype chats bring us closer, but nothing replaces the touch of a hand, a full-body hug and a smile. While we may be informed about certain things, the Internet lends us a false sense of security and intimacy.

Remember AT&T’s slogan, “Reach out and touch someone?” Perhaps it is time for us to do that in person. So go ahead and reach out, touch someone’s soul. If you can’t in person, give them a call, then listen ~ really listen to what the person is saying. You never know if it might be the last time.

What will you do with the remains of your day?

 

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The Power of Fast Rescue

October 14, 2010

All thirty-three trapped Chilean miners were rescued faster than authorities thought possible yesterday. Their feat of endurance and the rescuers’ act of perseverance demonstrate how incredible human beings truly are.

In a strife-torn region (Bolivia has some beef with Chile),  the miners’ story brought together not just the nation itself, but the entire world edged a little closer as we followed the story live. The term algeriá (Spanish for ‘joy’) could be found all over Twitter yesterday. U.S. President Obama, German Chancellor Merkel and even the Pope were rooting for the rescue workers and their charges.

This crisis moved me on another level, too. Families were staked out for almost 70 days as they followed the rescue efforts minute by minute. Anyone who has loved ones working in seriously dangerous jobs (miners, oil rig workers, police and firemen and women come to mind) knows the fear that accompanies it. One learns to live with that gnawing notion in the back of one’s head, but it never really goes away.

I may not be from Chile, but somehow, after watching those people agonize for that many days, we’ve all become a part of something much greater than ourselves.

I bow deeply to those who risk their lives every day for me. Thank you for your courage.

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Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn.

We hear your siren’s call. You are the social media triumvirate and in less than a handful of years, you have altered the landscape of our modern-day world.

In the face of your trendy existence, slow takes real courage. It is not easy to go against the grain to honor your own slow flow.

Resisting the allure of social media (to get some work done and remember there’s life beyond the digital divide) can be a full-time job.

Writer and blogger Lisa Rivero of The Wild Thyme Unseen says she’s embracing the power of slow to get her writing done. And it seems to be working. Just the other day she proudly reported she wrote 1000 words.

I have had people tell me they’ve cancelled their Facebook accounts because they found they spent countless hours updating, playing Farmville and frittering away their free time with nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

In this day and age, social media and all its buzz have categorically changed the meaning of our lives.  PR professionals (like myself) will tell you that for the sake of our clients’ online reputation, we have to pay attention to the tweeting of public opinion. The key is to dissect what is important from what is not. And therein lies the challenge.

What influences our decision to pay attention to something or not? For a glorious two days I went offline (not without a few communication bumps that were ironed out at last). When I hopped online to check an urgent email, I noticed the news aggregate showed worse news following bad.It left me feeling vacant and reluctant to reenter the online world.

To a great degree we are driven by negative news stories. After resettling into an online focus, I realized how often we seem to pay attention to that which contains shock value versus real value to our lives.

To my online addict friends, I say untether yourself. It’s really okay. If people can’t reach you via instant message, they’ll get over it.

So if I missed a few bits of buzz during my 48 hours end-of-the-week hiatus, so be it. The power of slow says live an artful mindful life and remember to uphold what is important to you. Matching yourself against the grain of popular opinion won’t make you happier and chances are you’ll spend a lot of time chasing something that you already have within.

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Retrevo, an online gadget shop, came up with a neat survey whose results are not that surprising. The 35 and under crowd is clearly in love with its mae westPDAs. In fact, 36% of those surveyed said they updated their social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter immediately after sexual intercourse. A most upsetting 40% admitted to doing so while driving (updating, that is!).

Whether they are driving an automobile or their love life, clearly a large number of younger folks have shifted their focus from a hands-on approach to a more digital one. Virtual worlds are starting to trump their real ones.

I can’t help but think of Mae West who once offered up a great slow quote well before the days of digital devices in the boudoir.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”

The next headline might very well read: More people engaged in social media than to each other. But who needs an engagement when you’ve got post-coital tweets to keep you warm at night?

Last week in New York City, I sat down with Distracted author Maggie Jackson for a rare face-to-face interview. It was rare because most of the interviews I conduct are through the digital medium, either via phone, Skype or email. We enjoyed a cup of chamomille tea at a quaint Swedish cafe just off Columbus Circle where, during one of my previous visits, I had spotted Scarlett Johansson rushing by while chatting on her cell phone.

Once we got acquainted, our discussion quickly turned to one of the subjects in her book that is most pressing on my mind – the blending of man and distractedmachine. Digital devices are rapidly becoming extensions of ourselves. Quickly surveying the Manhattan landscape, you are guaranteed to see at least five people with a cell phone or BlackBerry pressed to their skull at any given moment. I had to ponder whether that man on the corner who was smiling into space was actually directing his humor at me or at the pinky-sized ear attachment that blinked periodically as he spoke.

“Our constant connectivity leaves little time for self-reflection,” Maggie aptly stated. She pointed to the surfeit of information we handle on a daily basis. “Virtuality [on some level] trumps ‘reality’.” We have built worlds based on digital data. And now it’s portable, too.

Cultivating our inner self comes when we give our thoughts time and space to unfold. Take the recent Miss USA debacle in which Miss California took a stand against gay marriage. It is said that Miss California felt she was the true winner of the Miss USA pagent because of the number of Facebook friend requests and tweets she received. If that is true, it does not bode well for our children’s generation. Internet ranking as the benchmark for morality? A scary prospect indeed.

“Twitter, by its nature, is very reductive. It accentuates the trivial,” Maggie suggested. She was quick to point out how Twitter exacerbates our love of the instantaneous. Instant gratification informs who we are as a nation. Don’t make me wait. Give me the answers now. Yet, at what cost?

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane at Munich’s International airport. The air was a blend of spring and serenity. People weren’t generally moving at the speed of a Tweet. I returned home to my non-existent couch that I had ordered seven weeks ago.

“You’ll receive it in the eighteenth calendar week,” the sales rep stated, not without a tinge of annoyance that I should expect it any sooner. I marveled at the cultural differences between the US and Germany for a moment. The power of slow shone through once again. Some things take time. We needn’t rush it. The furniture store hasn’t learned about citizen journalism or Twitter yet. Perhaps a new social media movement will provide the tipping point that will make the furniture industry in Europe self-adjust. Given the speed at which Germany moves, it may take decades before they catch up.

And that might not be such a bad thing, after all.

The power of slow is the antidote for information overload. Snap off your TweetDeck, enjoy a drink on the porch, savor the setting sun. Social networking can become an obsession if you let it. It can also be a useful tool, if you know how to use it (more in an upcoming public radio interview I promise to link here).

twitterAccording to a recent study by the University of University of Southern California as reported on CNN**, Twitter, and other sites with instantaneous feeds, have been found to desensitize people. Researchers fear it will lead to moral depravity as the younger generation is unable to switch on its ‘moral compass’ fast enough. While it sounds like a bit of a stretch, I agree with this researcher’s thoughts about speed:

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” said researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.

So switch off your laptop and go for a run with your kids. Enjoy the offline life when you can…and the power of slow!

**Editor’s Note: Ironically, I originally found this article on Twitter!

Life is in the details

March 3, 2009

uncle-sam@KarenLynch on Twitter agrees with me that life is in the details.

Here’s proof: just look at the level of detail on your income tax return. If that’s not the ultimate expression of  your life over the last twelve months, I don’t know what is! :)

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