Thursday, September 30, 2010

They Get What They Deserve: Lessons I hope we're learning through social media tragedy

The other day I listened to one of the most brilliant modern satirists, David Sedaris, talk about his new transition into fictional stories, where the main characters are animals (David Sedaris, Anatomizing Us In 'Squirrel' Tales). These aren't fables nor are they for children. They are instead modern Grimm's Fairy Tales of a sort -- although Sedaris claims they have no moral to them (I think they do, in fact -- any satire of a culture includes a lesson, if you think on it).

Sedaris said:
"Fables have morals, and not all of these do," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "So I wound up calling it a bestiary, which is just a book in which animals do things that people do."

In contrast to classic animal fables like Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare," there are few identifiably good characters in Sedaris' stories.

"I don't think our world is as black and white now," says Sedaris, who consciously avoided Aesop and La Fontaine as he put together the new collection. "Sometimes in these stories, you'd kind of be hard-pressed to try to sort of figure out who's the worst."
Has our moral and ethical line become horrifically blurry and dynamic, to the point that we --even those who self-identify as "good people" -- can't tell when we've crossed a boundary into harm?

The article shared an example of a tale that hit particularly close to home for me:
Several of Sedaris' tales were inspired by the unbecoming behavior of others. In "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat," a healthy lab rat belittles her dying neighbor by claiming that he brought the illness on himself with his "hatefulness and negative energy."

The inspiration? People Sedaris knew, suggesting that certain sick people deserved what they got.

"I would hear them talking like that, and I would think, 'When did you get crazy like that?' " he says. "So I sort of found pleasure in writing about it in a fictional way. Instead of doing what I would normally do. Which is just condemn them."
It's childlike, this immature concept that people deserve what they get and if they aren't doing well it's a personal failing. It's unevolved, this concept that if I can see you then what you are doing is "public" and I can use it as I will.

From the moment I first logged on to the Internet and began harnessing its power, back in the mid-90s, I've struggled with the proper boundaries. My first foray into social media included reading some of the very first bloggers, but eventually I joined the online conversation at Web sites with chat boards. I was astounded by, and frequently profoundly grateful for, the power and influence social networking carried.

I'll be the first to admit that the Web has changed me. I hope, though, it has never changed my core ethics, including the ones I hold very dear about respecting other people's dignity and humanity.

That's why I am so shocked to see my beloved tools and mediums used for evil, rather than good. That's why I don't understand sites that secretly photograph or film people and hold them up for public mockery.

In shock after hearing about the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, and the vicious and abhorrent actions of his roommate that precipitated it, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter what they thought. I got some really intriguing replies.

One, I thought, illuminated a crucial point about the value system that enables people to be cyberbullied and harassed online. Michael Thomas said, "If I end up on the People of Walmart buying a case of beer with my butt crack exposed, and everyone thinks that's really funny, whose fault is that?"

Hmm. Whose fault is it? Excellent question!

Do we really...really?...blame people for ending up in a situation that makes them look silly?

Do we really...really?...think they get what they deserve, deserve what they get?

Is there a fault here? Other than someone disrespecting your dignity by photographing this moment and mocking you online for thousands to see?

My husband answered the question this way, "You are responsible for the way you present yourself in public, but you're not at fault for times when the public uses this for their personal gain. And that's what this really is: stepping on people to get attention, to get perverted traffic, the big numbers."

Maybe I should write my own bestiary. Initially I thought it would be neat to play off the Adam and Eve story, with chipmunks entranced by a snake named Social Media. But then I thought, it's not the tools, it's us.

Maybe my new bumper sticker should read: "Social Media doesn't hurt people; People hurt people."

But then I thought, you know, I'm not of the Tech Native generation, so I asked someone who is. And he verified that people of Gen Y and younger think of social boundaries and privacy very differently, especially for online, than we, the elders who came to this technology as formed adults, do.

"We constantly involve our peers in our decision making, both important or trivial; and we're AWARE of what our peers are doing. I think that we share more both about ourselves and others. It's not anarchy- we still have sense of decency. Just less private," said Bradley Bowen.

On Facebook, my friend Tracee said, "My personal boundaries are that I won't do it if my friends or family don't want me to. With strangers, I try to factor whether they'd be embarrassed and whether they would be identifiable. That said, just the other day I posted a camping trip to FB thinking it would be the simplest way to share photos with the friends I went with, but I didn't think to ask first. It was just automatic. Took me 3 days to think, "Oh, they might not like that. I should ask them."

My friend Andrea combined the two points of view, and I inferred from what she said that it had more to do with generational differences (Tech Native generation versus older) than with age and maturity, although these are clearly factors, "I don't think they (and by "they," I do not refer to all teens any more than I would suggest all teens in my high school were bullies) have any sense that there are public/private issues at stake in posting embarrassing photos. For them, these technologies seem to be a part of their everyday lives to such an extent that they see them as simply "normal" and not related to questions of privacy in the slightest. That, I think, is where the real potential for harm lies."

My generation were instrumental in developing and furthering the Internet and social networks -- as with any user, we formed it, and while it formed us back, too, it was more of an informing versus an ethical shaping. Subsequent generations are being formed by it.

And what does that mean?

I think it means the concept of "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should" is getting lost. In my youth, we could not do it. Now, not only can youths do it, but they are encouraged at every turn to use the tools and their potential to the max, all the time.

Commercials demonstrate how iPads can be your everything, for example. Our world is full of Web sites that make fun of people, very, very popular Web sites. Crotchety bloggers get book, TV and movie deals, and a recent survey found that more kids (42%) today want to be a celebrity's assistant than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a president of a college, or a Navy Seal. That stunned me.

Jake Halpern, who cited the study and its results in his book Fame Junkies, said, "That was twice as much as [the percentage who wanted to be] president of Harvard or Yale, three times as much as a U.S. senator, four times as much as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company."

Now I grant not everybody wants to be an academic, a politician, or a CEO. In fact, I doubt any of those would have appealed to me. But in essence, when asked would they rather be powerful, rich and successful or somebody's gofer, the kids chose not even fame itself but proximity to fame, instead. When did our aspirations get so low or askew?

I think it's part and parcel with this strive and drive for attention. And what better way to get attention than to post something that goes viral on the Internet? And what better way to go viral than to post something vulgar, intrusive and/or opprobrious, especially if it entails something easily mocked, and thus, entertaining and humorous.

Adrian Grenier, a truly interesting person, is branching again from acting to producing, with his new documentary Teenage Papparazzo. Grenier launched the project after an experience with a teenage papparazzo, his role on Entourage, and his experiences at the side of Paris Hilton. He thinks the celebrity culture reflects a shift in values.

"For a long time in our culture, there was an emphasis put on working hard [and] contributing to your society," he says. "Now it's not about that anymore. It's about the bling and how quickly you can get it without working."

The Internet, social media, and modern technology allow us all to become papparazzi. Cell phones with cameras and videos let us capture any moment, anywhere, anytime, and instantly upload it to the Web for anyone to see.

How do we know when that's okay and not? It seems quite clear to members of my generation who replied to me on Facebook and Twitter, when I asked.

Candace said, "I don't think it is ethical to photograph portraits of ordinary people without consent and then use those pictures for profit or mockery."

Josette said, "I would never upload photos of other people's kids. I don't know the comfort level of other parents nor their family situations. For instance, I'd feel horrible if I clued-in some crazed non-custodial parent as to a child's whereabouts. And it's not up to me to make decisions or judgments on other people's comfort level."

Josette's final sentence hits the nail on the head, I think, at least when it comes to my core code. And that's the very same code I want to teach my kids. I don't want them growing up thinking it's okay to choose other people's level of public sharing for them. I'm not comfortable with younger people's level of privacy (or what I perceive as lack thereof).

On Twitter I asked, "Are Gen X and older parents out of touch with how they need to teach their kids respect and boundaries within social and new technology media?"

Other than one friend saying she felt she had a good handle on it (she will hopefully share her secret) most said they were intrigued with what I'd learn from this question; in short, it seems we think our kids are more sophisticated with the tools and we're not sure if we're able to counteract the peer and societal messages.

I wonder what lessons and boundaries Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei's parents taught. Or didn't. And why the lessons didn't take on such a tragic level. I don't ask this judgmentally, but in a "is there any thing I can learn from this, do I have any hope of doing any better?" I know good parents raise good kids who do bad things sometimes. Frontal lobe. Science. Bill Cosby's "Brain Damage" comedy sketch.

Supporters and friends of this couple say they are nice, and friends can't believe they'd mean any harm. How can they -- and Dharun and Molly, and their defenders -- not see, not have anticipated, the harm in stealing and sharing such a private moment?

As social media shifts boundaries, and values shift too -- possibly as a result -- we have a tougher job as parents and society ensuring that we teach kids to respect others and always value the humanity in each of us.

More importantly, we have to teach them to take responsibility for their actions, and lay fault where it belongs: on their shoulders for their choices.

Not on their victim, simply for being accessible.

Entertainment, jokes, and fame are not justifiable ends for means that harm another this severely.

I hope David Sedaris does write about this. Maybe it's the very mirror we need.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How the Tooth Fairy Got His Groove Back many times have I written about the Great Tooth Fairy Conundrum?

Frankly, my husband and I sort of stink at Special and On the Ball. Someone once told me how they have stockpiles of Tooth Fairy prizes, at the ready, just in case. Someone else once said they have gold dollars that come from the Tooth Fairy. Another person has a special treasure chest for teeth. Our Tooth Fairy gets frantic texts messages, "OMG get off tollway NOW!! LOST TOOTH!! Must have WEBKIN, preference PINK and CUTE, nothing from OCEAN!!!!!!!!!!"

Then said Tooth Fairy has Webkin in hand (do not EVEN ask how the Webkin precedent got set, suffice it to say...LESSON LEARNED!) and said Tooth Fairy and his ahem colleague, aka the Assistant Tooth Fairy, are tired from a long day of tooth business and tend to sort of collapse right around Tooth Fairy time.

Then around 2 a.m. the Assistant Tooth Fairy tends to wake up in the middle of a heart attack, pokes the Tooth Fairy hard and hisses, "WE FORGOT! You must CREEP QUIETLY and DO NOT WAKE THE CHILD and GET THAT TOOTH and somehow with God on our side you'll be able to get the Webkin in WITH NO WAKING!"

The Tooth Fairy moans and grunts and hauls himself out of bed by swinging his legs off so the momentum carries the rest of him up and off too. He reaches down, gets the bag with the prize in it, and rustles it out.

The Assistant Tooth Fairy hisses again, "SHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Our next door neighbors can hear you that was so loud!"

The Tooth Fairy grunts, and, with Webkin in hand, slinks down the hallway in an erratic pattern to avoid the creaky spots. The Assistant Tooth Fairy helps by hanging on the door frame and hissing directions with frantic hand signals.

Assistant Tooth Fairy: hand slash across throat

Tooth Fairy, "Wha...?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "Shhhhh!!!" slash hand up, curve over to the right

Tooth Fairy, "Wha...?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "SHHHHHHHH!!!!" left hand yanks on tooth in mouth, sets fingers into palm of right hand, closes right hand, left hand with big face gestures to indicate lifting something, right hand pokes hard at air under whatever left hand is holding up, big gestures back and right

Tooth Fairy, "Seriously Jules, what the heck?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "She tucked it into a tissue and put it way back at the back under the pillow on the right side!!"

Tooth Fairy, "Where her HEAD is?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy: Frantic nodding

Tooth Fairy, "Oh for cra..."

Assistant Tooth Fairy cuts in, "Shhhh, language!"

Tooth Fairy, "She's asleep!"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "For now!"

Tooth Fairy, "Who came up with this harebrained scheme of sticking teeth under a pillow? I'd like to stick something..."

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "I mean it! Kvetch LATER!"

With a delicacy and patience the Assistant Tooth Fairy envies mightily, the Tooth Fairy gently lifts the corner of the pillow, finds the tooth, and lays the prize in place.

The two skulk back down the hall.

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "This is why you earn the big bucks, Tooth Fairy. Once again! Master of tooth extraction and prize placement."

The Tooth Fairy waves to the cheering crowd.

Tooth Fairy, "But seriously, we have got to remember better next time. I'll never get back to sleep and I have to be up in an hour and a half anyway. Work is going to stink tomorrow."

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "Tell me about it. I'm sure my adrenaline rush will deflate right about kid waking time."

And now? Now we have TWO CHILDREN at Tooth Fairy stage.

And now? I can tell you how I know it's true that Jesus loves me.

Right about the same time my almost six year old tells me her lower front tooth is getting loose and will I please tell the Tooth Fairy she'd prefer the moose (or whatever), I get an email about Tooth Fairy pillows from this lady representing Sorrisi Decor.

Would I be interested in a sample of a tooth fairy pillow? Oh yes I would!

Hey, also, by the way, 50% of the profits go to Medical Teams International to send teams of dental professionals sent to areas around the world in great need (currently Liberia and Mali) to provide better health through dental care.

The Tooth Fairy likes it! Lots and lots.

Okay the pillows are adorable, I mean a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e! I love them, the kids love them, they are rally great quality, and there are styles for every personality (personalizing with names is an option too!). My friend who has a kids' boutique saw them and wants them for her shop. My dentist saw them and wants them for his patients. It's not a matter of are they awesome. They are. It's a matter of how they improve the Tooth Fairy's existence.

The Tooth Fairy and his assistant are altering the whole "tooth under the pillow" scheme. Now, the tooth will go in the pillow's pouch, the pillow will sit outside the bedroom door (visual reminder) and the prize will go in the pillow's pocket.

Life is good. And so are the tooth fairy pillows. See?

A lovely nature one for my nature girl Patience and a sassy Diva one for my little princess Persistence:

You know me, I'm in communications with a heavy emphasis on promotion and so I have all of these standards, ethics, and complex rules I follow about doing promotion and review posts. I usually say "thanks but no thanks" to like 99.8% of pitches I receive. I have to be emotionally fascinated. It has to be good, do good, add good. This product hit that criteria for me. I did receive a free sample of the product (which I require before reviewing) but was under no obligation to write about it or hoof my way around the town, online or offline, rave reviewing this product. All of this is voluntary, and my own words and opinions. All 100% true.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Texas Women's Conference Winner!

Every single one of you who stopped to post and discuss where you are in your career really, really moved me. There is so much I want for each of you...and I'm working on that.

In the interim, if you can attend the conference or a networking group or jump into a Twitter chat within your field, I encourage that. Austin has some great entrepreneur groups and a wonderful conference that's pay-as-you-can and Houston has a number of women's business and networking groups above and beyond professional organizations.

And...I entered everyone's name who wanted to win a ticket (some commenters opted out) into randomizer and the results were:

List Randomizer

There were 15 items in your list. Here they are in random order:

  1. christina 52
There were several Christinas so I had to assign numbers. I contacted this Christina who is able to attend the conference and is very excited!

Congratulations, Christina, and thank you to everyone who commented.

Check back--let's see what we can all do.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

One huge kick start to my career and how you can have it too

Right now, my career is going well. It has been a pretty good run but that's 95% nose to the grindstone and 5% luck. Or thereabouts. I do what I do and have what I have because I've made and seized opportunities, taken risks, sucked it up for a lot of years, and worked hard.

When I moved to Texas five years ago I had to transition my career a bit. Not a huge demand for managing editors at major publishers here, unless you happen to be in educational publishing, which I wasn't (for good reason). So I had to parlay my skills into actual work, and it has been a five year journey.

I hit a point of frustration not too long ago when I'd get some opportunities, but...without the concept of pay attached. For some reason, these people would schedule meetings with me and assume I'd do all this work and promotion for them just have content for my blog. What a joke. Like other bloggers, I do not lack for content on my blog. I lack for time to write up and publish all the content ideas I have, and I lack for money to pay the very real bills that expect US dollars as payment, not a write up on my blog.

It annoyed me mightily. I have a twenty(ish) year career behind me and had never ever hit this mindset of "will work for...nothing." I've freelanced plenty and always, always, both parties understood that one was compensated with pay for work. On rare occasions, I've exchanged or donated services when it was something I was passionate about, such as a cause I cared deeply about or a close friend who I was happy to help. I never donated my expertise to a for profit company.

Why should I?

Was the person asking me to donate my services working for the joy of it? Or was there a regular paycheck attached? I don't care how awesome your product or service is, if you want the benefit of my expertise, it costs. I'd never ask you to work for free.

I began starting business query conversations that I was interested in with a very clear professional, work-for-fee statement. It could vary but in general it was along the lines of, "That sounds like a cool opportunity. I'd definitely be interested in talking with you in more detail to scope the project and determine my fee. I know I'd enjoy working on this."

I thought this was brilliant, a great strategy. Set the professional tone and expectations for pay upfront.

I was shocked with the responses I received. Most were surprised, "Oh, I thought, you know, that you would just, you know, enjoy doing this..." Some were offended, "Oh, but, this is such a great product, and I don't really have a budget..." A few were offensive and retaliated with slurs on my worth and ability. One actually wrote something so rude about my completely reasonable expectation of pay for work that I replied by saying that it was clear we'd never be a good working fit and have a nice life.

I stepped back and took stock. On paper, I thought I was doing it all right. But it wasn't working. Therefore, I needed a new strategy. But what? Should I stick to this self-employed notion? Get a job in an office? Compromise? Or stick to my guns?

I decided to stick to my guns, and also decided to find a way to make that work. I was motivated. And willing to change how I did things. But not willing to work for free.

Plenty of people have written about the corporate expectation that anyone who could be identified as a blogger will work for free. Plenty have advocated for both sides of the story. So I won't rehash.

My profession, however, is communications. It's what I do and have done for a living, and expecting to earn a living from it now is totally reasonable.

So what in the world did I need to do differently in order to achieve that?

Around the time of my peak frustration and maximum motivation, I ran across an advertisement for the Texas Conference for Women.

Why not, I thought. Anyway, the keynote speaker was Isabel Allende! The cost was reasonable, it was only one day, and it promised a lot of career development, including free (included) one-on-one sessions with career advisors.

I carefully selected sessions, and tentatively walked in to the first one. It was hosted by this incredible, dynamic, successful woman in media and she made us practice frame of mind and framing speech to be successful. It felt enlightening, and empowering.

I left her session thinking, I can do this. I skipped the next session in order to take advantage of the one-on-one coaching. I met with a career coach who carefully listened to my dilemma about pay for work.

"You're used to dealing with businesses, have primarily worked with corporations," she said.

"That's right," I said.

"Now you're dealing with individuals, and representatives of businesses. They work differently," she told me.

We discussed who I needed to focus my attentions on -- more businesses -- and how to refine my pitch and responses to these smaller businesses. She also told me to not make it personal.

All of this seemed obvious, but honestly, being able to sit and plan with a coach makes a huge difference. It made me frame out and write down the problem in a very coherent and logical way, problem solve, and write down the solution. I set a goal, and a plan of action. Then I began developing. And since then, I've been working pretty consistently, for pay.

The other sessions were great, too, and at the end of the day I was tired, but inspired and ready to get to work. I gained some great insight and tactics from successful women, networked with local professional women, and most importantly, learned from successful women how to be a successful woman. Not how to do it the man's way, but how to do it my way.

I plan to return this year, too. It's November 10, and is here in Houston, at the George R Brown.

Again, this year there will be a career fair and the mentor sessions. In addition to a great line-up of speakers and timely career-focused sessions. By no means do I think I know it all so I am looking forward to learning more and expanding my skills and knowledge of how to build success.

I was really honored to hear from the conference this year, who asked me to be a part of letting women know, any way I'd like. They also offered me not one but two complimentary tickets.

I'm going to use one -- you bet! -- but I'll happily give away one, too. Just comment here, let me know your career dilemma or goal that you'd like help achieving and I'll select a winner.

For more information about the conference, check out the Web site to see about speakers and sessions.