Much is written and spoken concerning all that is wrong with the emerging culture of this digital age, but it seems to me that there are two prominent sources of trouble, especially when it comes to the influence of social media and mobile technology.
The expectation of immediacy, and the assumption of anonymity are the Scylla and Charybdis of the waters we must navigate.
Growing up, the standard of latency in most communication was much different. In general, we ambled through our days and our world blissfully free of the expectation that we could connect with others “right now” … and even more free of the burden that they would expect – or demand – we be “available” 24/7. I recall when one of my brother’s best friends moved to another town in Junior High, about a forty-minute drive away. Most of their correspondence was by mail. It caused a minor hullabaloo when they sent a dead mouse (recently extracted from a trap in their old farmhouse) via the USPS.
I had a favorite cousin in Alabama, and we wrote letters. I could count on one hand the number of times we spoke on the phone. Long distance calls were an expensive luxury, a rare indulgence. Everyone knew that – and just as importantly – everyone was okay with it.
Since the advent of mobile phones and particularly texting, the standard of latency has shrunk to near-zero.
Everyone assumes that everyone else in their network is (or should be) available to respond immediately, all the time. This expectation is *not* limited to the young. My Dad cannot understand why sometimes I don’t answer my cell phone. I am sure everyone has experienced some level of accusation and hurt feelings from a friend who suspiciously inquires why you let hours slip by without responding to their text message.
Most people don’t stop to ponder how much additional stress this adds to our lives, in particular among young people who have no “before” with which to compare. It is not healthy and I see the negative impact in my friends and my kids.
Equally unsettling is the effect of the fallacious anonymity of our online persona, particularly on social media sites such as Facebook. In the “wild west” days of the Internet, when most chat happened on IRC (look it up) it was not only likely but expected that your “online identity” was kept separate from your “meatspace” identity. Personal information was respected and shared only with trusted connections. “Outing” someone online was a serious offense that would get you quickly ostracized in most circles.
With the advent of MySpace and especially Facebook, all of that changed. People are either openly “themselves” or that information is easily discovered. But the vestigial perception that “what I say online stays online” remains … oftentimes to disastrous effect. The reality is that we have never been *less* anonymous, and yet our behavior – particularly among the young – belies a sense of invulnerability that creates one crisis after another in our personal lives.
Is there a solution?
Honestly, I don’t know. I suspect that a future state of equilibrium will be reached, when the new cultural standards, expectations, and mores will be accepted and understood. But I’m not sure how we get there from here and how to avoid damage along the way. Perhaps one possible remedy is to work harder at applying real-world, face-to-face standards of communication to our online relationships.
Simply put, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face at a party, in front of a group of peers, then don’t post it on their Facebook wall, either. Online communications, and particular shorthand media such as texting and Twitter provide little-to-no context and of course completely eliminate the possibility of reading facial expression, tone of voice, etc. So perhaps we need to work harder to avoid making assumptions … when the inevitable “I wonder what they meant by that?” question pops into our head, perhaps we need to force ourselves to follow that question with a promise to wait. To wait until we can see them in-person, hear them, read them.
I worry about us – all of us. As the Uncle Ben meme states:
Two older quotes may help point the way to a safer future.
Filed under: Comp-YU-TAH! andEric on the loose ... andreadin' an ritin'
Had a nice morning in church today with Maria & Hannah.
The topic was focused on the legacy we give to our children, and there were more than a few wry smiles and elbow-nudges shared between eldest & I … along with a good share of hand-squeezing with Maria on my other side.
So much of parenting (and all of life’s relationships) seems to result in a jumbled mass of what-ifs and inevitable outcomes.
As Bob the Tomato so eloquently intoned: “You roll your dice, you move your mice. Nobody gets hurt.” Relationships, especially those of the parent/child variety, are indeed a roll of the dice. But sometimes (often?), people can and do get hurt. We love each other … and we hurt each other. Sometimes on purpose. We say we’re sorry. We try to heal.
I’m sure if we asked our kids to provide examples of our parental blunders, they would have no problem handing over a list. Not that we need their help, because we carry them around like stones. But rather than being a colossal downer, the whole affair was encouraging. Sobering … but encouraging.
People grow … children grow … hopefully we all learn.
Anyway, that was a ramble … maybe I will refine this a bit later.
Filed under: Eric on the loose ...
Was thinking about the act of helping people the other day.
Often we look at other people, maybe people with one area or another of their life really screwed-up, and we think:
“What they need is thus & so …”
But the truth is, we don’t really know what they need. God does … but we sure as hell don’t.
And it occurred to me – Hell, I don’t even know what I need!
But all we have to do is try our best to serve them. Let God sort it all out. We don’t need to “fix everything” … don’t need to figure out their lives. But that neighbor … that stranger … that guy next to us … the one walking through this world alongside us … that is what it is all about.
And I thought, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more concise summary of the Great Commission than this bit of wisdom from Eric Bana’s character ‘Hoot’ in “Blackhawk Down” -
It’s about the ones next to you. That’s all it is.
Filed under: Religion & Philosophy
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the past two decades, and although it can be most easily seen in the corporate world, it lurks in most corners of society.
Our businesses and organizations, our institutions, at times our very culture, are often being stifled and strangled by an over-reliance on “process”.
The un-examined reliance – sometimes bordering on fanatical promotion – of process as not only the solution to our ills but often the very path to prosperity. If only we employ the “right process” … so the notion goes … we can fix Problem A.
Often times the mere complexity of these processes can jam things up. In the worst cases, these best-laid plans carry us backward and harm the very projects, organizations, and people we seek to serve.
Other terms may be used to disguise the fact that process is the problem. One of the most dangerous in the business world is: “methodology” … when you hear that word – RUN.
There was a movie, not too long ago, in which the future population of our country decided to replace all of the water we use – for drinking, plant irrigation, etc. – with sports drinks. (That story was premised on a population that wasn’t too bright.) But I think it’s a good analogy for taking something potentially useful (or a least neutral) and mindlessly pressing it into service to do things and solve problems which it was never going to solve … and this is what we see happening with process.
A real world example: the mindless application of “standard processes” can result in a business spending hundreds of dollars in man-hours and resources just to collect on a $3 invoice. Who hasn’t seen this happen with the medical practice, the internet-provider, the lawn service?
In our educational system – processes and methodologies rule the day. John Taylor Gatto (in my opinion the greatest teacher of the last fifty years) puts it this way:
As a consultant, I’ve watched, powerless, as large-scale projects involving hundreds of employees burn through obscene piles of money … only to deliver … nothing.
In the end, many of those responsible simply blame “faulty processes” …
A useful name for one who mindlessly follows: LEMMING
Please understand that this talk is not meant as a diatribe against the very notion of process. We all use, and often *need* processes to get us through our daily lives. At work, at home, at play.
However, it is our over-reliance on process, our slavish devotion to these ideas that is – in many tangible ways – killing us.
It kills our productivity … it kills our budgets … perhaps worst of all – it kills our joy.
In fact, emphasizing process over people is often cited as the primary cause for the estimated 70-percent failure rate of change initiatives in business.
So, how did we get here?
Well, process roars loudest in the workplace. Businesses are gluttons for process … and entire markets have evolved around process design, process analysis, process re-design, and process CHANGE. Often, meeting rooms and boardrooms echo with the plaintive cry “if we could just find the RIGHT process, and master its APPLICATION … our problem would be solved!”
The Toyota Way teaches: ”the right process will deliver the right results.”
In my years studying the problem in a variety of industries, I have found that it is often the reliance on “experts” and this un-questioned assumption that the “right process” naturally leads to success which almost invariably leads to disaster. In the worst cases, an almost cult-like devotion to these “truths” can develop.
The high priests of this process cult are called Project Managers … or PMPs. Some people will pronounce that “pimp”. Full disclosure here, I am a certificate-carrying PMP, myself.
Project managers can add a lot of value, and there is a lot to be said for the particular skills required to shepherd a complex endeavor from start to finish. Often, there are indeed useful processes that can be applied. I have my own contributions to the mysterious alchemy of budget and schedule.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about …
A parable of sorts:
During WWII, the US Navy & Marines island-hopped across the South Pacific & the sudden influx of goods and culture brought the Law of Unintended Consequences to bear in a very unique way on the native islanders.
The war ended, and the sailors, planes, and Hershey Bars departed. The loss of what had seemed almost magical to the islanders, spawned a desire to bring them all back. In their minds, it was the external trappings – landing strips, huts, sailors waving the flags at the end of the runway – these were the very rituals – the processes, if you will – that would be necessary to call the gift-bringers back home.
So, they set about creating their “Gilligan’s Island” versions of these things … and to this day (no, seriously, they still do this) they wait and hope.
These new-found religions became known as “Cargo Cults” … and unfortunately the behavior often lives on in science, in business … it’s the “if we build it, they will come” strategy.
A manager witnesses the near-miraculous results produced (so he thinks) by some new gee-whiz process … and so brings that gospel home to his people. ”If we only follow this truth … success can be ours, too!”
We are in-love with the “magic bullet” and the quick fix! We see it in everything from diet plans to relationship advice to economic policy!
A dual-desire to find an instant fix coupled with an assumption that “someone else has probably already figured out a better way to handle this” too often leads us to make a short-sighted choice to apply a process which – if properly examined beforehand – perhaps never had a chance in our unique situation.
So, how do we get out of here?
For starters, we need to accept the fact that people are different … companies are different … products are different … cultures are different. What works in one place is almost categorically NOT GUARANTEED to work someplace else.
Processes are tools, my friends. Nothing more, nothing less.
A carpenter does not view his job as being in service to the hammer and the saw.
To paraphrase the bumper sticker, we should indeed Question Processes. We should consider whether they are serving us or we them.
Again, I am not suggesting an abandonment of process, but a careful examination of our use of processes. To paraphrase St. Francis: At all times do your work, and if necessary, use processes!
One great example of this sort of “positive resistance” is a group calling themselves the Programming Motherfuckers.
Like them, I encourage people to examine the “shit” they are fed … realize how often it is just a “con” … and focus on doing what matters: the work.
My hope is that people will consider the possibility that it is people that matter … ideas that matter … our work that matters … and that “process” should be our servant rather than our master.
Filed under: Eric on the loose ...
… this touching and imaginative ‘blog the other day, and thought I should put something up here before the year fades.
So much happens apart from the Intertubes these days (in my life, anyhow) … I never seem to find much time to “do” anything online other than read news and buy things. Most interesting happening recently? I will be speaking this Wednesday at the Cincy Ignite. Maybe I should attend as ‘The Dude’.
Every time I come back to post (or update my WordPress) I tell myself I will get back into a more frequent rhythm.
Filed under: Eric on the loose ...
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