Facebook versus Twitter

Tonight, over dinner in the real world, I got into a debate about which social media platform is better: Facebook or Twitter. It’s kind of like picking a college football team, once you’re loyal nothing and no one is going to shake you loose. But it is also a false dichotomy.

Who the hell cares?

The reality is that both tools are useful for some things. Twitter is clearly better at casting a wide net and connecting on specific topics or subjects with a wide group of people, some you know, but most you don’t. Facebook is better at limiting connection to people that you know or that know the people that you know. Both have mechanisms for allowing individuals to communicate privately with you as an alternative to maintaining your own contact list of cell phone numbers and emails.

I like Facebook, probably because I am a relationship junkie. I don’t care all that much about what some stranger thinks about a viral hashtag, but I do care what the boy I had a crush on in 7th grade pre-algebra did with his daughters over the weekend. I don’t want to see what crisis of the day is trending, but I do want to see the pictures of my daughter’s friends and my alumni peers from my hometown homecoming. I want to see what people I care about think about the world as it stands, even if what they say isn’t what I would say.

The person I was talking to argues, and I agree, that Twitter is more timely. That the news finds Twitter and comes to light there faster than anywhere else. He argued that while he might enjoy seeing my posts, having to argue points with people who are my friends (that he doesn’t know) would be tedious. And, the day-in day-out banal ramblings of what someone ate for breakfast or what their kid was doing or a repost of political diatribe was not only annoying it was grounds for leaving all together. The only reason he logged on, he said, was to wish people Happy Birthday.

(No argument from me, by the way. The Birthday stuff is the single best thing on Facebook.)

I’m not sure, though, that being right is necessary in this case. After all, I have accounts in Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and Pinterest. Yes, Facebook is the tool most suited to the things I do and how I act in social media, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only tool in my toolkit. In fact, my expansion into WordPress (as my blog tool) is probably every bit as important to me as Facebook. I create in WordPress, I only market my posts in Facebook. Could I market them in Twitter? I guess so. But how? No one follows me there and I’m not sure what hashtag I could use to get people who don’t know me in real-life to give me a try.

Best and right are words suited to a scarce resource model, and I think there is more than enough demand to support multiple technology formats. In fact, the people who will become thought leaders in social media will likely be those who have no loyalties to any platform. They will be the ones who jump in early, figure out how to connect their digital personas seamlessly and become relevant everywhere. They will ask the big deep question of why and not what

  • Why: Why is this a good tool? Why do people go there? Why should I engage here? 
  • What: What does it do? What should I say? What is the use case?

So, I’m going to dig deeper. I am going to look for the whys around Twitter and be more engaged in figuring out the why for me. Maybe it is just a personal proclivity versus a best tool dialogue. Maybe I need to be more open and more flexible. Maybe I need to figure out why I don’t get the why of Twitter.

Now, hand me that hammer. I have a post to create.

Me, for the Generations

On my Friday drive into work I was contemplative. So many things were running around in the gray matter between my ears that I popped on a podcast. Let someone else have the thought leadership, I reasoned.

I picked the second part of the Ted Radio series on the impacts digital technology (Screen Time – Part 2). And as I listened, this segment was nuzzled toward the end.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/440305511/441174851

I’ll pause a moment so you can listen…

Have you listened? Ok, good.

Now, I have given a lot of thought to the archival value of Facebook and this blog to me. I’ve even considered how a record of me might help me stay connected with my contemporary family. But never once did my brain swell enough to consider that my grandchildren — nay, my great grandchildren — will be able to use this to see who I was.

Think about that for a minute.

One of the hardest things to do is wrap your head around the fact that the elderly people in your life were once just like you. That they struggled with math tests or dated someone inappropriate or were the parent who didn’t know the first thing about anything. And yet, when you meet them, they are already fully baked (in your eyes at least) with all of the answers.

I was lucky, because my grandfather is a storyteller. There isn’t a visit that goes by that doesn’t include a story. And many of the stories have  been about his childhood. Later in life, after my grandmother passed away he even wrote it down in a book. I have treasured the stories and the book as a way to understand him and our connections.

But, in someone’s digital archive you have not only the stories but the connections of stories. I can think of my kids telling their kids’ kids that I was the oldest of three kids, and then showing them the posts between me and my brothers. Or that I was really close to my mom, her nana, and showing them those posts. Or talking about how they were both in my cousin’s wedding when they were little and pulling up pictures. I didn’t get that with my grandfather.

And when some little kid asks, “But what was she really like?” they can read for themselves. They can form their own opinion based on the primary evidence. They can see from what I put online, how people responded and how I responded back. They will know me not from my stories years later or from the stories that are passed on generation by generation. They will know me from the way I told the story at the time it formed.

Now that my mind is open to the possibility that what I write is not just for today but for generations to come, I’m not sure what will change. But the idea that one of my descendants might read this someday — might meet me virtually across the years — gives me pause. It reminds me that we are all part of a cosmic pattern and that even if I feel ineffective or unworthy or insignificant someday in the distant future I will be history. No, I will be someone’s history.

How cool is that?

Walking on the Third Rail

In my mind, faith is different than religion. Faith is a personal tenant, the belief in something even when evidence or logic or data can’t give you support. Religion is a group tenant, the shared rules and structures that people use to practice a system of faith.

Here’s the truth: I’ve never been particularly good at either one.

I am sure that statement will surprise some people. It may hurt or worry others. Some may even be angry. It isn’t easy for me to acknowledge because in our culture, like most cultures, being a good person is associated with being good at having faith or practicing a religion. In fact, last night on the Tonight Show, Carly Fiorina took the moment to define why faith is good:

“I actually believe that people of faith make better leaders,” she said. “Whether they are Christians, as I am — my faith has sustained me through some very bad times. I’ve battled cancer, I’ve lost a child, I’ve been tested. But whether it’s a person of Christian faith or Jewish faith or Muslim faith or other faiths, I think faith gives us humility, and empathy and optimism. And I think those are important things.”

I agree with her that humility, empathy and optimism are important things. I think they are characteristics that make both a good person and a good leader. The problem is this: how do I respond to people that, like Ms. Fiorina, believe that because I have neither faith nor religion that I am less good? Or even worse, bad?

I rarely offer up my religious opinions because I learned early on that living without the protection of an organized faith is lonely. I’ve grew up in a Lutheran family and learned all of the words and motions. I can attend nearly any Christian service and sit, stand and speak at the right times. I can go through the motions. And I have done so, mostly to show respect for the people that I love.

Unfortunately, there came a time in my life when it felt hypocritical to do that — to attend and go through the motions. There were too many times that I said the words while my heart asked, “Are you sure you want to say that? Do you believe that? Doesn’t it insult everyone else if you fake it?” 

And that was when I stopped attending. When I realized that being authentic was more respectful than being present.

That isn’t to say that I am against either faith or religion. I respect and admire the many people I know who channel their faith into good works or use their faith to persevere through life’s difficult times. I appreciate and support the many religious organizations that provide important social services to their communities and give individuals a way to connect. Like many things in life I don’t understand, I am thankful for the fact that religion is there for the people I know who place immense value in it.

Until now, I have confided in a very small group of people: family, close friends, people who have a very long history of knowing me and the person that I am. Among them are a subset of people who I would describe as devout — people whose faith is part of who they are at their core and whose religious community is an active and important part of their lives. In most cases, the conversation started not by me opening up, but by their sincere willingness to share their experience and point of view. They listened to my questions with interest and curiousity, but not judgment.

I recognize that it is only from a position of privilege that I can worry about this. That while I would never be electable for high public office if I were honest about it, my lack of faith has not held me back. And maybe it is silly to worry now, typing this line, whether readers will look at me differently tomorrow. So, instead I will be optimistic and believe that people will continue to judge me by my actions. I will be humble and know that once I put myself out there that I cannot control how people react. I will be empathetic and know that however people react it is a true reflection of who they are and that their feelings are legitimate.

I will hope that, in their eyes, I am still capable of being a good person and a good leader.

Authenticity on Screen

On the drive into work yesterday, I listened to the Ted Radio Hour podcast, an episode called Screen Time – Part I. The podcast explores how screens have changed our life to date and tries to answer the question: What’s next? One of the coolest things I heard was about virtual reality movies — I tried it out myself tonight via Vrse, an app that lets you take control of the movie point of view. It’s pretty neat.

As I listened to the dialogue on screens, though, it got me thinking about my own screen existence, the Mel who exists not in three dimensions in Illinois, but in two dimensions anywhere in the world there is a device connected to the Internet.

I entered social media in April 2007 for a silly reason. I had lost the contact information for my youngest brother and I suspected he was on Facebook. I worked at a university at that time so I had the necessary .edu email address to sign-up. So, I did it. I found him, connected and confirmed all was well. I never really intended to be a social pioneer.

But, once online I found I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with people in new ways. Like the more than 1 billion other people who have accounts on Facebook, I found that the ability to share my life and experiences with people I cared about was fulfilling. In the beginning, my posts were pretty lame. Because the Facebook prompt started with your name, some of my finest examples were:

  • is catching up on desk work after being gone yesterday.
  • is cleaning up from a rocking audit party.
  • is writing an audit report, aren’t you glad it’s not yours?
  • is enjoying the weekend surrounded by family…it’s all good.
  • spent last night up with the stomach flu. Miserable. But at least it was the night of 12/25 and not 12/24. Little miracles, for which I am thankful.

Exciting, thought provoking and interesting, not so much. Honestly, it’s a testament to the human need to be connected that the platform (and my friend group) survived such enlightenment. Maybe it was just the pictures of the kids.

From my history, it looks like sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 Facebook changed their prompt to the current ‘what’s on your mind.’ My posts started to get more interesting, because talking about me (and what I am doing) is significantly different than asking what is on my mind.

What isn’t on my mind?

My grandfather once asked me why I bother with this new fangled thing. We were talking about some news story where someone posted something inappropriate or got caught in a lie or something. He felt it was a stupid risk to take. What’s the point?

I remember the conversation because it brought to life my entire philosophy for sharing online. I am a natural sharer and I’ve built most of my relationships by being the first person to put something out there. It’s just who I am. But, I have created some guardrails for myself — things that have helped me build (and not break) connections.

I avoid sharing on polarizing topics, especially early in relationships. I avoid sharing opinions without sharing the story that got me there. I avoid sharing personal stories, even important ones, when I know they could trigger very painful feelings for someone else. My ‘watch out’ areas in real-life are all places where I have had a painful experience hurting someone or pushing someone away. Unintentionally.

So when I was having that conversation with my grandfather, what I said was simple:

There isn’t any more risk online. My brand and the way I am there is exactly the same as it is in real life. If I wouldn’t share it in person, I don’t put it online. If I would share it in person, I put it online. Periodically, I scroll through my own wall and I check: is this me? If someone saw this would they see me? If it is, great. If it isn’t, I calibrate. There’s no more risk to me being on Facebook than getting up in the morning and walking around and living. I stand by who I am.

For me, that is the big risk in the digital space. If you want to be someone other than your authentic self, you will have a hard time keeping your selves aligned. If you say something intentionally hurtful or unintentionally insensitive, it’s not just your buddy over a beer — now the audience is anyone and anytime. If you care about building relationships, thoughtful authenticity is the only real way to handle life in a digital age.

And, trolls had best be prepared to live under a metaphorical bridge.

The Anti-Helicopter Parent

I learned the most important lesson of parenting when I was a seventh grader. After an elementary life of academic excellence, I went through a rebellious streak. In a fit of principle, I decided that homework (especially in math) was no longer a requirement — it was simply a means to an end. Once I knew the material, I reasoned, it was just a waste of time to keep doing problems.

It was a great strategy with one fatal flaw — homework was graded.

As the quarters progressed, I did less and less homework. Although my test scores stayed consistently high, my homework grades went further and further down. By the end of the year, my grade in pre-algebra had dropped from an A to a D. I spent the two weeks between the end of school and our family vacation worried sick that my parents would get my report card and I would be left at home.

I shouldn’t have worried. When my record card arrived, my parents didn’t yell.

They listened as I explained my logic. They told me that I owned my academic success and that my actions were my own. They reminded me that all actions have consequences. They didn’t make excuses or tell me I didn’t understand what I was doing. They didn’t try to fix it.

In short, they let me fail.

When I look back at that moment now, as I have many times in my life, it is with amazing respect. Letting me fail couldn’t have been easy. I’d like to say there weren’t any real consequences, but the truth is that there were. I got kicked out of honors math and had to take pre-algebra — the exact same class — again. After that, I couldn’t take honors math and because my high school gave a 5.0 A for honors classes, losing the maximum honors load mathematically eliminated me from being valedictorian.

But the negative consequences were far overshadowed by the positive ones. I learned my lesson well, paying close attention to each teacher’s requirements in the future. I met my best friend in pre-algebra that ‘repeat’ year and we ended up being in math every year in high school. Graduating ninth placed me in the top ten, but didn’t put me in the pressure cooker that was the fight for first. I got into a good college and I left home knowing one important thing: No one was going to protect me from my own errors in judgement.

As a parent myself, I want to believe I am capable of letting my kids fail. I look back on that moment and wonder if I would have done the same thing. When it matters, when the stakes are high, will I have the courage to give my kids that lesson? Or will I want to fix it? Will I rationalize and tell myself that they didn’t know any better and bail them out?

I don’t think we really know how we will act, until we act. I’m just thankful that I know what it looks like and feels like to trust your kids to own it. To accept and acknowledge their growing maturity and to give them the right to make decisions and to take the consequences that come with it. To reject the helicopter.

Because I’ve made it clear, I’m only flying to college for parent’s weekend.

Why I Care about the End of Dating

I’m not in Tinder’s demographic, so perhaps I can be forgiven for not understanding the app and its impact on the dating process. When I first heard about the ‘swiping’ app, my response was ho-hum. After all, I reasoned, how much can any technology change the awkwardness of dating? You still have to summon the necessary courage to put yourself out there and provide enough witty repartee to succeed in wooing, right?

Ohhhh, how wrong I was.

During my weekend foraging through new things to think about, I stumbled on an article in Vanity Fair called Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse. I don’t normally read Vanity Fair, and no reference to apocalypse feels worthy, but this article definitely struck more than a few cords with me. I would recommend a read, because given your age and lifestyle you may take away a different message than I did, but for a middle-aged serial monogamist and relationship-builder I came away with three things:

  • What does it mean if sex between consenting adults is easy, but doing so means a man is ‘sowing his oats’ and a woman is ‘not marriage material’?
  • How will people learn how to date — and through dating learn about compatibility and what they need from a relationship — if we reduce interactions to nights of hook-ups based on sexy pics?
  • What happens to population demographics if individuals put off (or are incapable of) forming relationships that result in children? What if they have children with no relationship?

Heavy stuff, I know. But reading the author share the Tinder scene in NY, where singles sit at bar tables leaning over their phones waiting for a *bing* like Pavlov’s dog because they both swiped right, freaked me out. No small talk? No banter? It’s getting all the instant gratification of sex without having any of the fear of rejection or worries about intimacy. Everyone gets to be big man on campus — and who the heck wouldn’t take that deal?

Ok, so maybe I should back up. Some people who are reading this — like me — may not know what Tinder is. To put it simply, Tinder is a location-based social media app. It shows you pictures from other users and if you find them attractive you swipe to the right. If you don’t find them attractive, you swipe to the left. If two users swipe right (*bing*) the app alerts you to a match and you can chat via text and potentially meet up in real life. I found a couple of sources that say there are a billion swipes a day by Tinder users. That’s billion. With a ‘b’. Lots of people saying basically, “Ooh, I like that.”

When I first heard about Tinder (old school, serial monogamist that I am) I thought, “Oh, isn’t that sweet? If I’m afraid to go up to that cute boy in Physics and say hi, I can just swipe him. If he doesn’t think I’m cute, no biggie. But if he does maybe we can get an ice cream down at the malt shop and chat.”

Again, not so much. Here’s a quote from the article.

Mobile dating went mainstream about five years ago; by 2012 it was overtaking online dating. In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida. “It’s like ordering Seamless,” says Dan, the investment banker, referring to the online food-delivery service. “But you’re ordering a person.”

Ordering a person? Did he say that out loud? To a reporter?

Part of the challenge for me in internalizing this whole thing is that I am not joking about being a serial monogamist. Even when I knew a relationship wasn’t serious or wouldn’t last, I took the point-in-time commitment seriously. For me, the idea of dating or being intimate with multiple people is completely foreign. Not because of any moral compunction (I have no judgement of individuals who have multiple romantic interests at any given time) but simply because it is not the way I am wired. I could no more date two people at the same time as I could cheat on my husband.

But let’s put that aside for a minute. The world isn’t made up of Mels, the world is made up of a fascinating variety of individuals who get energy and purpose in a lot of different ways. Some people are happy balancing a bevy of engaging partners —  with or without the strings of emotional entanglement. The problem is, when it comes to learning how to build relationships, I have yet to meet a person who had it all figured out. Most of us struggle. 

In fact, most of us can give examples of relationships where we thought we knew what we were doing and we didn’t. Or we thought we knew what we wanted and we were wrong. Where we failed to ask a critical question, or heard what we wanted to hear. Or maybe we just had to figure out how to ask for what we wanted, or be more assertive. But the point is, we didn’t get it right the first time. We got it wrong, but for most of us we stumbled around when we were young. We learned before the stakes became too high, and before the drop could be too significant.

What if we could have avoided the learning when we were young because we could just skip to the sex. Be honest, wouldn’t we have? If we think back to our 18-28 year old selves, wouldn’t we have just passed by the awkward? Be honest, we wouldn’t be any different than these guys:

“It’s instant gratification,” says Jason, 26, a Brooklyn photographer, “and a validation of your own attractiveness by just, like, swiping your thumb on an app. You see some pretty girl and you swipe and it’s, like, oh, she thinks you’re attractive too, so it’s really addicting, and you just find yourself mindlessly doing it.” “Sex has become so easy,” says John, 26, a marketing executive in New York. “I can go on my phone right now and no doubt I can find someone I can have sex with this evening, probably before midnight.”

In the end, I don’t have to worry about myself. I have the bumps and bruises from dating that helped me gain capabilities for building a good relationship. I learn new skills and techniques all the time. That good relationship has given me a solid foundation, for me and my kids. I’m not worried about whether or not I’m getting any right swipes and what it means. But, damn, I am still worried.

What am I going to tell my kids?

Work in Progress

Growing up, there was one sentence that my grandfather said more than any other. In fact, if you ask my kids what his catch phrase is, they could quote it. He still says it: I learn something new every day.

As a child, he was the smartest, most successful, oldest person I knew. I was convinced that he was making that up, because he couldn’t possibly mean it — what the heck did he have to learn? When he said it in response to some new-fangled innovation we kids would show him, he was clearly just being polite. When he said it as a precursor to a story, it must be just to set tone. When he said it to encourage us academically, he was helping us build academic passion, sometimes in the face of adversity.

My cynicism ended when I realized no one could fake enthusiasm for that long.

By the time he watched my six-year old use an on-line application to play a complicated physics-based ball ramp game, I could have scripted his response. Cue the older man leaning in over the young girl at the computer. Cue the rapid fire questions:

  • How does it work?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Where did you find it?
  • What other things are available?
  • What more can you do?

Listen to him cap it off with his classic statement of learning wonder, “Well, I’ll be darned.”

Truth is, I’m a bit of a learning addict myself. This week, I had a moment of zen when I realized that my happiest moments are the ones where I learn something new — and specifically when I am able to rewire my brain around a complex cultural or value proposition. Sure, it’s fun to learn a new skill or a new fact, but for me when I am able to look at the world a different way, that is truly earth shattering.

When I was growing up, I arrogantly thought that I was the most sophisticated person I knew. I read constantly, I had traveled internationally and I knew I wanted to get out and explore. I was unaware of how little I actually knew about the world and my place in it. Thankfully, as I faced new situation after new situation that forced me to think about the world differently, I heard my grandfather’s voice in my head. “I learn something new every day.”

I thought about it. If he learned something new every day, maybe I should learn two somethings every day. If he was three times older than me and could still learn new things, what was my excuse for thinking I knew it all? Suddenly closing myself to learning seemed worse than arrogant, it seemed ignorant. And I’ve never liked being ignorant.

That mindset and openness gave me the foundation to grow, to mature my thinking about nearly every topic during my late teens and 20’s. I still value knowledge, but what I value more is the humility to be open to what you don’t know. In fact, if you need me to come up for air long enough to listen, here’s what you should say, “Mel, that’s pretty rigid thinking. I expected more from you.” Ouch.

That should be enough to get me to stop advocating my point of view. It should be enough to remind me that I have something to learn. I should slow down, back off and start asking questions of understanding. If I don’t, you’ve hit a topic that is hard-wired deeply into my brain and I need you to do me a favor. Take a breath. Let me soak in the silence. Hold onto your data, your evidence and your experts. Give me a moment to shut down my brain and bring my processors back online again.

And, once I’ve rebooted my hard drive I’ll be ready to add new data. And learn something.