On Click-Bait, Echo Chambers, and Content Circle Jerks

From The endless echo chamber of online “influencers” is robbing the Internet of its soul.:

The problem with these people is not that they want attention, but that they’re unwilling or unable to trade fairly for it. For the longest time, society has had a pretty straightforward system of rewards: you give us something of value, and we’ll heap praise on you. It’s a fair trade, and one that most social media gurus (sorry, “omnichannel growth evangelists”) are unwilling to make.

Sadly, click-bait, plagiarism, and content circle jerks are as old as the media itself. Ok, click-bait is an Internet phenomenon but the idea of writing a sensationalist headline so that people will read your piece that they probably stole from someone else is nothing new.

The sad reality is, if you can’t fill someone’s need, you’re of no use to them. The small amount of reputation I have gained over the years with a certain group of people is largely the result of being able to fulfill that group’s needs. It may not gather as much attention as the latest social media expert who has figured out yet another way to spin the same old stories for yet more likes, reposts, or whatever, but the attention I get has been sustained far longer than some of those so-called “social media experts” have even been alive.

Which makes me wonder what needs these social media circle jerkers are actually fulfilling and why we all seem so susceptible to their ways. My guess is it's probably this:

We’re all guilty of wanting recognition and, at times, wanting it so badly that we’ll post or repost basically anything. But that doesn’t make it a healthy strategy.

The Force Awoke, But Meh

Yes, I finally did my geek duty and saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I'm not going to spoil it for you, except to say that if you liked the original movies (particularly A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, i.e. Episodes IV and V), then you'll probably like this movie as they borrow a lot of elements from these two movies.

That said, I can't help but feel not excited by this movie. Maybe because I realize that Disney is behind it and I know they're going to milk this Star Wars cow for all she's worth in terms of merchandising, native advertising on Disney-owned networks, and who knows what else. Maybe because it felt like a modern reimaging of the original trilogy of Star Wars movies (which is probably true).

That isn't to say I don't think they did a good job on the movie. Compared to the prequels (two of which I didn't even bother to see), it was good. But I just don't feel the excitement or passion that many others are expressing.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical.

Surefire Rules for Getting Responses to Email

You can, of course, read this long piece on the topic, or just read my TL;DR version:

  1. No more than three short sentences, maybe four, with attention to formatting and readability.
  2. Make it clear what action is required, but be realistic with the time commitment you're asking for.
  3. Help the other person understand why they should help.

All Fake Almost All The Time

From I am 90% fake.

I’d like to escape my brain for one hour, get off this barreling steam train of endless thinking. I’d like to escape my heart for one hour and stop feeling sad, frustrated, lonely, and completely out of place. I wish I didn’t need two shots of vodka to become everyone else’s normal. I dream of a time when I could just be an authentic version of myself. With so many people to satisfy and roles to play, I have no idea who that is. To be the best mother, sister, partner, daughter, friend, employee, leader, community member, I have to do a lot of acting. I hold back parts of myself, display untrue emotion, I lean in, raise an eyebrow, tilt my head to demonstrate my deep interest, laughing heartily at quips that are frankly boring as hell.

I can certainly relate to the sentiment of needing to be someone else around other people. Then again, the world is full of needy people and if you can't fulfill someone's need, people won't give you a second thought.

And sometimes, to fulfill someone's needs, you have to fake it. Some people probably have to fake it a lot more than others. Thankfully, I don't have to do it too often, which is a good thing as my capacity to "fake it" is fairly limited. Then again, maybe that's just a story I tell myself…

Keeping Up With The Jonses Is Expensive

From $100,000 and up is not enough – even the 'rich' live paycheck to paycheck

The trend of Americans earning six-figure paychecks living from paycheck to paycheck grew during the 2008 recession from 21% to 30% in 2009, according to a CareerBuilder.com survey. A recent survey by SunTrust found that things had not improved much by 2015. About 25% of those making over $100,000 a year still live paycheck to paycheck.

When I was a kid, my parents mostly lived paycheck to paycheck and they weren't making anywhere near the kind of money this Guardian articles is talking about. They were the "poor" version of this.

Back then, it never occurred to me that "rich" people might live paycheck to paycheck. Today, I see it all around me. They have fancy cars, every cable channel known to man, fancy furniture and dishes, $200/month cell phone bills with new smartphones each year. This includes their kids.

Me? I've got a nice house, but I still use folding tables for the desk in my office. I drive a 12 year old car that's paid for, my wife drives a 3 year old car that's also paid for. I have Internet, but basic cable TV service. Work pays for my mobile phone, the family is on prepaid service. Only person with the newest smartphone is me, which I buy every other year. The wife just got a used iPhone, my son just got her old iPhone. My daughter doesn't even have a smartphone (though that may change).

What I do have that the paycheck to paycheck folks don't? Savings that we use sparingly and restock regularly. Retirement accounts that I won't touch until I use them for retirement. What I don't have? Debt. Other than my house, everything is paid for. Money isn't spent unless we actually have it to spend. That sometimes means delaying purchases on things you need—or want.

Bottom line: I don't even try to keep up with my neighbors. That said, I live a comfortable lifestyle I can afford today and, with a lot more saving, will be able to afford when I retire.

The One Thing You Can Steal

From If You Want To Be Successful, Learn How To Steal:

We are too busy trying to steal things that we cannot keep, and forgetting about knowledge. Instead of trying to steal someone’s success, learn how they built it. Steal their knowledge and build your own. If you didn’t build something, it is never yours.

Calling it “stealing” makes it seem so illicit, so immoral. And yet, all great ideas were built upon other great ideas that came before.

Sadly, knowledge too does not last until our last breath, as we all grow old and forgetful eventually. When compared to other things you can “steal,” it is the one thing that cannot be taken back.

How I Failed Gracefully Early In My Career

A post on Medium, along with my recent thinking about the early part of my career got me reflecting on the less than auspicious beginning to my career. From the author of the Medium post:

Here’s something that I think everyone needs to learn and learn young. How to mess something up with grace and maturity and not let it destroy your life and your work. I’m not talking about learning to fail – although that’s useful – I’m talking about learning to accept and respond in a positive way when you make a bad decision. When you make a decision that is really indefensible and possibly even totally stupid.

While in the senior year of college, I managed to get a job with a company within walking distance to where I lived at the time in Santa Cruz. The job was as a sysadmin, which I had been doing while I was in an Engineering lab at Santa Clara University, so I had some experience. The company knew I was still in school when they hired me and accepted that, at least for the few months I had left before I graduated, that I would be part-time.

That job only lasted a grand total of three weeks. Let me tell you, being fired at the age of 21 when you think you’re all that and a bag of chips was a humbling experience. The walk home I took with my exit paperwork and final check, while relatively short, was a walk of shame.

Meanwhile, as I still had a couple months left before I graduated, and I still needed to pay some bills. That meant asking for my job back at the Engineering lab. That was yet another humbling experience: asking for a job back that I had left in a manner consistent with someone who was full of himself and lacked grace. Thankfully, I got it back, but I probably didn't deserve it.

The lessons I learned from this experience that have served me well:

  • Most mistakes aren’t fatal. In fact, shortly after making whatever mistakes I made with that first job, I felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to me (to that date). I can’t explain why I came to that conclusion at the time, but it ended up being a good thing for me in the end. Accept responsibility for what you did, acknowledge that which you can not control, and move forward.
  • When you quit working someplace for whatever reason, make as graceful an exit as possible (i.e. don't burn any bridges). You never know if or when you’ll come back. This specific lesson served me well two years later when I made the decision to return to a previous employer after only five months. Ironically, I was discussing a return with said employer the very day I got laid off. Talk about fortuitous timing.

Needless to say, these were valuable lessons to learn when I did.

Who Decides What Is Hate Speech?

From Facebook, Google, Twitter agree to delete hate speech in 24 hours:

Germany said on Tuesday that Facebook, Google and Twitter have agreed to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours, a new step in the fight against rising online racism following the refugee crisis.

The government has been trying to get social platforms to crack down on the rise in anti-foreigner comments in German on the web as the country struggles to cope with an influx of more than 1 million refugees this year.

The new agreement makes it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report hate speech to specialist teams at the three companies, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.

The question this articles does not define is an important one: who decides what is hate speech and what will be removed by these three companies?

Personally, I don't think this is a good policy, because I already know what will happen: the "hate speech" will simply get driven underground where the disinfecting rays of sunlight cannot reach it. In other words: it will make the underlying problems worse than they are.

Then again, I'm starting to think that's the point of this move—to keep us uninformed and fighting with each other so the thugs in charge can solidify their positions of power over us.

Motivated or Inspired?

From Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action:

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

I've gone through periods of time where I have been motivated and other times when I wasn't, or at least so I thought. Maybe it wasn't motivation I lacked in those periods, it was inspiration…

What's In A Social Media Interaction?

I was listening to the most recent episode of This American Life and was quite disturbed by the first part of the episode where several high school student discussed the complex set of interactions that occur around the selfies they post around Instagram, which they do regularly. Commenting versus liking. What you say versus what you mean. It's completely counter-intuitive but when you hear them explain it, it makes a lot of sense.

Contrast this to my teenage son, who has wisely figured out that social networks of all kinds are a complete waste of time. He has a Facebook account, but rarely uses it. He had an Instagram account that he stopped using once he lost his smartphone. He keeps up with this friends using traditional SMS and Skype.

I have to think that most people who use social media are somewhere in the middle of these extremes. That said, everyone has their own expectations about what they share, how they expect their "friends" to react to it, and what that reaction truly means. Even I have my expectations, if I'm honest with myself, but my expectations are likely much lower than those teenage girls on This American Life.

The driving force in all cases is attention and desire to be acknowledged in some small way. I just wonder how often we eschew attention in the real world for attention on social media and what impact that is having on our relationships, both short-term and long-term.