A Portrait of The Poster

lettuce

I worked with a guy who had this as his desktop image. This was in the days before Facebook was such a big deal; certainly, long before it became so meme-heavy. The image had novelty, and in fact I was so tickled by it that I ran to the internet, found it, and saved it for my own future amusement. (To be honest, I still can’t see lettuce without giggling a little inside.)

In a discussion about Facebook today someone posited that the things people post – even silly memes – “reveal much about those who post. It could be a way to revealing a bit of the emotional struggles that they are going through (under stress, need to laugh, or a need to share with others).” And as ridiculous as it sounds, that honestly had not occurred to me in that specific way. At least not in the context of silly pictures of cats (to pick just one scapegoat).

The use of such an image – and the ones that succeeded it from the same site – was completely in character for my coworker. He was famously random, off-beat, even eccentric, but his randomness had a predictable hilarity to it that was regarded with indulgent fondness. I have no doubt that if he is active on Facebook, his page continues to make his friends tilt their heads to the side and say, “That’s really odd.” And then laugh.

I have several intelligent, well-educated friends who frequently post intriguing articles it is impossible not to read – even when they’re on subjects I wouldn’t have said I was interested in. I have a number of witty or “punny” friends, and friends who are always having small adventures, whose statuses are not only enjoyable but immensely repeatable. I have friends with definite interests (writing, gardening, travel and photography, off the top of my head) and friends with unique voices. I have Facebook-friends who are honest about their lives in large and deep ways that make me determined to have them as real-life friends. There is even one person who shows up in my feed whose statuses are confined to such cheering things as “I’m tired” or “bad day” or “so bored”.

And I would say that all of these things are true to who these people are in person.

Yes: what we say and do says a lot about who we are, and that’s true whether we’re in person or online. Whether we are kind or dismissive, joyful or negative, goofy or serious, that comes out in what we share. No, nobody does this perfectly. I certainly don’t. Nor is there anything wrong with presenting different facets of ourselves at different times. There is not even anything wrong with posting silly memes (after all, many of them are clever and most are funny enough to elicit an involuntary smile, even from me!).

The same person who made the comment about posts revealing the poster added something very wise:

Social Media can be a lot like attending a party. It is not always easy to control what the others are bringing to the party. You can only choose to respond to those conversations that appeal to you.

My husband is fond of saying that Facebook’s problem is that it does what nobody would ever dream of doing in person, because it is an obvious recipe for disaster: collecting everybody you know in one place and having an open conversation that any and all of those people can participate in. In such a situation, there is absolutely a need for people to take the above advice, to tune in or out as they desire.

And yet… in face-to-face conversation, most of us recognize certain responsibilities. You have the responsibility not to be deliberately offensive. To avoid (at least in certain contexts) controversial subjects. Not to monopolize the conversation with a topic your hearer has no interest in.

Do we have these same responsibilities online? I believe that we do. With hundreds of potential hearers, no, it is not possible that everything you say will be interesting to everyone. But most of what you say should have value or meaning – preferably a variety of types of value. You should post at intervals that allow others’ newsfeed not to be dominated by you.

Of course people can block you if they don’t like what you have to say. Just as someone you’re talking to at a cocktail party can zone out or ignore you. But it’s not a pleasant position to be in – and why would you force someone to block you if you could possibly help it?

And yet… even if you think that online all the responsibility rests on the hearer, there is no getting around the fact that whether they react or not, people will evaluate you based on what you share.

I don’t think I know too many people who are accurately represented by pictures with silly captions. So the question is: are you risking being known as the person whose main contribution to the conversation is silly pictures and ecard wine jokes? And is that the impression you want to give?

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You Just Don’t Get It!… and it’s my fault

The agency relationship I inherited from my very talented boss is a challenge on the best of days. On a day when a multitude of final decisions had to be hammered out seemingly for the third time, I started seriously considering where I could get a recommendation for a new agency. But, thanks to the hassle that is Corporate Procurement, instead I pulled up Google and typed in:
 
HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH PEOPLE WHO JUST DON’T GET IT
 
The first result is very good and I recommend looking it up in its entirety. The first paragraph got right to the heart of the matter:
 

Early on in my consulting career, I remember having a hard day with clients and coming home to my wife, saying: “Those stupid clients just didn’t get it.” My wife, very gently, said “You mean that today, just today, you weren’t able to help them understand?”

 
Or, in one phrasing I particularly liked from the comments:
 
“There are no stupid questions, only points that we have failed to explain properly.”
 
It suggested a new and strange idea about anger and frustration. You sometimes hear stories about babies and developmentally-challenged children going through angry phases because they want to speak and convey their thoughts, but haven’t yet learned to. So perhaps when adults get frustrated in conversation, it’s because they still haven’t learned how to say what they need to say. Or, alternatively, because the adult is still being a toddler and refuses to accept that not everyone will agree with them and they won’t always get their way.
 
Either way, it’s one of those nice uncomfortable revelations. You mean that when the agency delivers the wrong size ad because “you never sent us the specs,” I have to take responsibility, even though I did send the specs, because I didn’t explain properly that those specs went with that project? What fun is that?!
 
But it does fit a piece of conventional wisdom that most people usually like to forget. As Samuel Johnson wrote in 1750, “He, who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.” Or in modern speak, the only thing you can change is yourself.
 
Improving one’s communication skills and learning to explain things clearly has its own obvious benefits, but there’s a side benefit, too: If you view it as your responsibility to make someone understand, then you will treat them with more patience and understanding and gentleness when they don’t. You won’t give yourself a heart attack, and they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt without feeling the need to get so entrenched in their own point of view.
 
Is it possible that some people never will get it no matter how great a communicator you are? Seems probable. But if you do run into one of those, at least the process will be much pleasanter.

Microscope vs. Telescope

One of the most educational aspects of my trip to New York was the hotel. I was allowed to book somewhere I had particularly wanted to stay and was therefore very, very excited – which is not something one can often say about business trip hotels – in spite of the very divided reviews on TripAdvisor. It seemed that people either love it or hate it, with little to no middle ground.
 
I expected that I would tend more to the “love it” side, and indeed, here is a partial list of Things About My Hotel That Made Me Happy:
  • The atmospheric (aka dim) lighting. It made it like a nightclub for intelligent people.
  • Keycards that NEVER demagnetized, even when I accidentally put them next to my phone.
  • The tiny perfection of the room’s arrangement, even if it didn’t always adhere to “Anatomy for Interior Designers” best practices (i.e., if you can’t fit through a space 9” wide, you’ll have to climb over the toilet to get in the shower)
  • The Library Bar. It’s a Library! And a bar! Together! Genius!
  • A very effective air conditioner which did not rattle, thus soothingly drowning out Blondie’s “Atomic,” which could be plainly heard echoing up from the courtyard 7 stories below at 9:59 p.m.
  • Hudson Hall. The concept pleased me – Harvard/Oxford-esque communal dining made cool (and also fitted out with a beautiful bar).
  • Unbelievably delicious bread.
  • Louis-something chairs painted silver and upholstered in mustard suede – the perfect blend of uber-formal and rocker-chic.
  • Potentially snooty design, very casually helpful staff. Almost everybody I dealt with was somebody I’d want to be friends with, too. The combination made the whole place fun and cool rather than pretentious.
To be sure, there were things here and there that were escaped perfection by some little distance, but I greeted them with cheerful indulgence. It was much like when Junior captures the neighbor’s cat and starts pulling out all its fur, only to have his doting mother exclaim, “Oh, boys will be boys! You can’t expect them to behave all the time!”
 
But eventually some of these things needed to be dealt with, which was more of a hassle than it should have been, and all of a sudden everything snowballed. I was going to present you with Things About My Hotel That Made Me Furious, but honestly, the list goes on and on. You know how it is – once you see one flaw, you see them everywhere. Eventually it overwhelmed all the positive feelings I started with until my whole mood and demeanor collapsed under the weight. 
 
I had to force myself to refocus. Get out of the room with patchy internet, and go sit in the Library Bar with a book. Don’t think about paying $19 for a nectarine (don’t ask), just take another helping of the spectacular bread. I was never able to get back to that early, effervescent delight, but at least I wasn’t angry all day.
 
The thing is, I still really do love parts of the hotel. (As a product, not an experience. I can’t help viewing all this as a lesson in Marketing and Brand Promise failure. But I digress.) And I knew almost from the moment I stepped inside that loving it would be the product either of them having a really good day, or my willingness to make allowances, my ability to ignore the less-than-ideal details and revel in the concept of the place. The hotel does not fare well when gone over with a fine-tooth comb, but if you zoom out a bit and add a bit of romantic blur to the picture, it’s irresistible.
 
From a marketing perspective, it’s great that the standard of service has been raised so much and customers have gotten so pampered, but expecting, and demanding, perfection isn’t the best way to enjoy it. Nor is it realistic. Things will never be perfect – and neither will people.
 
There’s an old saying that you choose on a daily basis whether you will be happy or unhappy. And we know that love is a choice too. Turns out it’s the same one.

Selling Point

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading Behind the Cloud, Mark Benioff’s story of how Salesforce.com “define[d] itself as the leader of the cloud computing revolution and spark[ed] a 46 billion-dollar industry,” but lately I’ve been looking forward to the day when everybody embraces the software-as-a-service model, more commonly known as SaaS, cloud computing, or software on demand.
 
For instance: Adobe, makers of such programs as Photoshop, Flash, and Reader. I use several of their products at work, but since switching to a Mac several years ago, I’ve had to do without at home. Admittedly, even if I had a PC I’d be hopelessly out of date – I bought my copy of Photoshop 8 years ago. And, honestly, I’d gotten to the point that I wasn’t using it enough to justify buying it again – but every so often you get a project that Word isn’t quite sufficient for – creating a really exciting resume, laying out a friend’s engagement party invitations – and miss it desperately.
 
Adobe has just released Creative Suite 5 (CS5), a bundle of all their programs for the bargain basement price of $2599. Buy that, and you’ll be afflicted with an inferiority complex when they release CS6 in two or three years.
 
And that’s when it hit me. Adobe Creative Suite as Saas, paid for as a monthly subscription and accessed online.
 
Let’s be optimistic (from their perspective) and suppose a new release every 2 years. At $2599, that works out to $108/month. But then, suppose they charged by the program – 15 programs – that’s only $7/month for each. I don’t say they wouldn’t play with the pricing a little to compensate for the less popular programs – and I’d pay $15, easily, for a month’s access to Photoshop or InDesign – but let’s look at the benefits:
  1. The cult of the new and shiny is eternally satisfied (Salesforce puts out small fixes every six weeks or so and bigger version releases every three months)
  2. Those of us who hate the “waste” of software upgrades are satisfied, because there’s only one always-current version.
  3. Adobe comes out ahead. Suppose on their current schedule the releases are closer to three years apart. Under that model, the obsessive-updaters are paying $2599 over 36 months. Under the SaaS model, because they’re paying at the 2-year price calculation, they’ve paid $3898 in the same amount of time. And the people who wouldn’t have upgraded until it became absolutely necessary are paying just as much.
  4. Adobe gains new customers. Because of the low, low barrier to entry, more people will use their services – especially if Adobe followed the Netflix model of allowing you to “pause” your account when you know you won’t have a need for their service. The $1500 necessary to get the minimum capabilities I would need is way out of my reach. They’re not going to get that no matter how much I’d like to give it to them. But they’d get a few bucks out of me here and there, which is better than nothing, right? There must be a lot of people in the same boat. Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of bored people who would say, “I’ve always heard about this Photoshop thing – I think I’ll try it and see what all the fuss is about,” who would never have invested $600. Maybe it takes, maybe it doesn’t. But every time it “takes,” Adobe has just gained a customer of incredible lifetime value (see #3).
 
I’m not Salesforce’s all-time biggest fan, although I would like to be, but the industry and model they pioneered? Yeah, I’m sold.