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.

According to a recent report by Cisco, one in three college students and young professionals ranked the Internet as important as food, air and water. These under-30 folks don’t have a working memory of Life Before. Like television, it’s just always been there.

But it goes deeper than that. Two-thirds of colleges students admitted they’d ask about a company’s social media policies during a job interview. The sticky question “What will this position pay?” has been replaced with “What are your thoughts on Facebook during work hours?” Fifty-six percent wouldn’t even consider a job offer that banned social media. Wow.

And it appears the next generation is willing to forgo a higher salary for more flexibility. One in three prefer mobility, social media freedom and device flexibility over more pay.

Give me Facebook. Or give me death.

Forty-one percent of those companies surveyed claimed they used attractive social media policies and device flexibility to attract new talent. Four in five college students want the freedom to choose the device they get to use.

Amazing.

As a freelancer, I work with several computers, an iPhone and even a GPS. I’m just as saddled with devices as the next person. And I’ve never considered the restrictions others may have who work in an office setting. It appears the next generation prefers a work-at-home solution. Three in five believe they have the right to work remotely.

Corporate learning and development professionals could benefit from this intelligence as they devise training programs for the next generation. These are exciting times full of possibility.

If given a choice, how would you prefer to work? Remotely? In an office setting? A combination of both?

It was bound to happen. As you know, I’m a recovering speedaholic and there are days when I fall off the wagon and do something too quickly. In our 24/7 world, we often feel the crush of the rush. It’s as if a little black cloud nestled above our right shoulder is whispering our doom if we don’t hurry up and finish. Hurry up and react. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!

But our inner tortoise says, “Hey, you! Slow down and breathe….”

So I sent out a notice on behalf of a client, then got an astonished response from them that I sent it already. It was supposed to go out tomorrow. They had hastily read their e-mail from me confirming the release date and agreed on Wednesday, although they were thinking Thursday.  But Thursday to me, who travelled 1,000 miles in the last  four weeks, meant last Thursday. And I thought I was late.

Turns out I was a day too early.

In the PR world, that’s heady stuff if you send out an announcement before it’s time. Like grounds for dismissal forever.

And whilst the black cloud to my right was telling me to hurry, my sweet and wise turtle was plodding unnoticed to my left.

But then the air cleared once the client admitted confusion and we all made up. In record time.

Instantaneousness can lead to heartache. That hasty e-mail sent without thought, the fierce text message dashed off without care, the flaming Facebook rant for all eyes to see.

We live in a transparent, harried world. My dear slow, I love you so. If I ever leave you again, you have my permission to give me a nudge.

Slowly, of course!

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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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A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in i...
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“Never write anything down that you wouldn’t be proud to show a nun,” my mother once advised me. Curious advice for a then seven-year-old, but she saw the sparks of my word-smithing passion early.

To divulge or not to divulge. That is the question in our Web 2.0 lives.

Lately I have been fascinated with the concept of our digital selves as social media and the notion of transparency continue to shape the public relations industry (of which I am a part). We reveal what seem to be our deepest secrets (I prefer dark chocolate) and stay in touch with people via Facebook that we haven’t seen in twenty-five years. We create a false sense of familiarity, as if we really know what’s going on with the other person, only to be shocked when we see that person in the flesh to realize all is not well in the State of Denmark.

In truth, through our online self-branding management efforts, we develop a pseudo-reality for ourselves and, along with it, pseudo-selves.

Roaming about as the avatars of our own creation, we have reached a Brave New World of information exchange at the highest (and lowest) level. But much of what gets belched broadcast out onto the Internet has the life of a match. It fizzles out of existence as quickly as it was written. All the while we self-soothe, thinking someone might be listening or care what we write. We yearn for connection and get it in some way ~ oftentimes through people we don’t know. We meet on a virtual plane for a passing moment at a cross-section in time that can be instanteneous or time-controlled, should we choose not to respond just yet.

I have ambivalent feelings about the very medium that has granted me much of the freedom to pursue my life’s work. The Internet is more powerful than most of us realize.

Despite its influence (or perhaps because of it) transparency and authenticity are great challenges in today’s 24/7 world. As a human race, we may be more connected than ever before, but our digital existence is merely a part of our greater selves.

Will our children realize there is a parallel universe beyond the screen? I am optimistic that they will.

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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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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?

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