Does the Corporation own our personal life?

There was a time when bosses used to say to employees who were having a hard day at work, “Don’t bring your personal life to the office,” or “I don’t want to know about your personal life, get on with the job I’m paying you to do.” That message has changed over the years, and now reads, “Get on with the job of doing more with less, and also lead the life I expect of you.”

Somewhere at the end of the last century, employers realized that they needed to embrace the whole person at work, that the private life of an individual influenced his professional life and vice versa, and that they were ignoring a whole area that affected employee performance. So began the rounds of personality testing, and the emotional intelligence movement that scored employees on scales from extrovert to introvert, from red to blue, from feeling to thinking, from emotionally evolved to emotionally stunted, giving us night sweats that we had never before had in our lives, making us want to conform to an optimal corporate personality stereotype that some of us were totally unsuitable for. This “whole person” movement then intersected with a quest for doing more with less as machines and computers began taking over “routine” tasks but creating other routines that now had to be dealt with incrementally by these personality and emotionally “boxed” employees.

Then came the social media age where employees were encouraged to express themselves on corporate and personal social media pages, as long as they posted politically correct messages. This followed with the move to check on what these employees were engaged in at their desks by planting clever bots to spy on keystrokes and provide reports to inquisitive bosses. Then the action moved on to monitor employees’ behaviour at recreational events that were no longer tied to the 9-to-5, or should we say the 24/7, workday. And woe be unto employees trying to de-stress in a socially unacceptable way—they were now on Candid Camera! Some of these employees had no social lives to begin with, due to being strapped to a grinding corporate life, so their behaviour outside of work had to have a reactionary component shaped by social media itself.

Then the sanctions and punishments started to rain down: “You were seen at this public sporting event, uttering rude words.” “Our team lost, I was upset.” “But you were spouting four-letter words.” “That’s the way I talk when I hang out with my friends” “Well, you were caught on public TV and your tee-shirt bore our logo.” “Sorry, that’s the only stitch of clothing I have these days, you pay me so poorly.” “You’re fired!”

I am glad that I escaped before things got to this stage at the Corporation. Even back then, I realized that my days were numbered when I released my first novel fifteen years ago; I realized that I was going to end up in a conflicting situation sooner or later. My novels are not politically correct and are aimed at discovering the truth, while corporate messages are based on “positioning that exposes truthful elements and masks untruthful ones.” My books are complete exposés—all or nothing! Yes, it was time to exit gracefully. And I did.

But younger employees may not have that luxury. Theirs will be a life that will bear more scrutiny from employers, more suppression of their true natures (not sure what it will do to their emotional intelligence!), more nervous breakdowns as a result, and an earlier mid-life crisis, all in the name of earning a pay cheque. It may also lead to more self-employment that will ultimately compete and weaken the Corporation, and start the next cycle of workplace evolution.

Trying to imagine life without social media

I tried to recall life without social media. Wasn’t it just a few years ago when I walked around without a portable device strapped to my waist, a device willing to announce my every grunt, burp and fart to the external world, if I only let it?

Without social media, my concentration would improve, that much I am sure. I would not be constantly interrupting my daily chores to go check that infernal device for the latest chat or inspirational message. My self esteem would mature for I would not have those “likes” to prop me up but would have to “like” myself instead. I could spend many hours with just me and my thoughts and reap the inspiration that comes from a stilled mind. I would not suffer from “too much information,” a syndrome that makes you skim the surface of everything, just to cope, and miss some of the major issues in the process. I will get to talk to people instead of sending them written messages even when they are in the next room. Friendships will be few but more lasting and not something to be activated and deactivated with the push of a button.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be “famous but poor” anymore. Instead, I would be “unknown and still poor.” I wouldn’t get to play closet politician anymore for my audience will have disappeared. I’ll have to stand up in my little room and declaim, to myself. Or join a political party and schmooze my way to the top over a number of years, not in mere days that it took me in the social media world. I would not have a test market for my writing. I would not be connected to the pulse of my peers, forever unplugged from their thoughts, drives, fetishes and joys. I would not be let into their living rooms, introduced to their families, invited as a virtual guest to their parties, or exposed to their embarrassing moments when they suffered mental or wardrobe malfunction and decided to share (or bare) all via the instant photos uploaded to my “stream.” Yes, I would have to kiss goodbye to my voyeuristic but engaged life.

Someone recently told me that “there is no going back.” We seem to have crossed a threshold into a new pattern of social behaviour that is irreversible. And I am not sure we are unique in that respect. Did people go back on their old habits when new inventions collided with their social lives in the past: the telephone, the TV, the car, the supermarket, the microwave, and canned food? Digitization and sharing has now replaced the communal life of the village where everybody knows everything about everyone else. Even the anonymity of cities—something I used to love to escape to occasionally—is breaking down under the new rules of conduct, where city dwellers cooped up in glass towers and matchbox condos, ostensibly isolated, are connecting with each other like never before.

Okay, so there is no going back, we are the social media generation, suck it up and get on with it. But there needs to be some “information firewall behaviour” called for; the confidence to switch on and off when needed, without the pressure to be “always on” in order to be relevant, despite Facebook and Twitter sending you those “How are you doing?” messages when you are minding your own business, or Klout warning you that your score is dropping because you have been silent for awhile. Taking social media•less vacations is a good idea, and retreats from “always on” to just read a book is also good for the soul. And most importantly, selfishly carving out time for contemplation and meditation is paramount.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, where did leave my Blackberry…? There really is no going back, is there?

Is Social Media only Social Mania?

I have been watching events unfold in North Africa and across the Middle East and I am wondering if this is a well orchestrated attempt to drive up the price of oil, or a cheaper alternative to “Shock and Awe” that got bogged down in “It’s Draining Our Money Away.” The formula is simple: pick a repressive regime and flood it with social media and “…let slip the dogs of war.” Or are these events really occurring through the impetus of people•power fuelled by truly democratic and impartial social media?

One thing is obvious: nothing can be kept hidden in this world anymore, not even those now•proven•as•non•existent weapons of mass•destruction, unless you own the media that enables the information flow. And even then, there are organizations like Wiki Leaks and Anonymous who create checks and balances in cyberspace. Sidebar: don’t parade nude in front of your laptop anymore, guys, just in case your embedded camera has been secretly invaded by a spybot and you are instantly unloaded to You Tube and made a hero (or a zero, depending on your physical endowments) in minutes, for Big Brother is indeed watching.

But let’s get back to these revolutions taking place in countries ruled by despot dictators. It’s great that people are starting to express themselves (and how!) and that the smell of democracy is in the air. But like that “zero to hero” business, how can a people who have lived for generations in the dark suddenly emerge into the light and govern themselves under the benevolent but eccentric rules of democracy? Will they get it right straight out of the gate? Wasn’t it Churchill who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”? Well, people emerging into the light after years of oppression and terrible loss are not going to settle for second best, even if it really is the best, according to Sir Winston. Would they end up to wandering in the desert for forty years before they find themselves, or find democracy like the Russians are still trying to discover, or would they fall into the arms of another repressive regime, one they can instantly identify with after having lived under several in the past, and being blinded and frightened by this newly discovered light of freedom, embrace the known devil in desperation, thus beginning the vicious cycle all over again?

Social media is great for unleashing mass hysteria and hype, we know that, but can it take the next step and create sustained and progressive dialogue that leads to understanding, knowledge and agreement as to how people should govern themselves under the rules of democracy? Does the very viral nature of social media inhibit it from the rule•defined approach, aka Robert’s Rules of Order, needed for good government? The events unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa will certainly be a key learning for us in terms of how far social media can go, not only in dislodging despots but in leading people towards progressive and sustained self•government.

And while we are it, can you guys who control the oil industry out there, please put the price down a bit? There is absolutely no reason for you to jack up prices, just because a small country like Libya is cleaning up house. You know what happens to despots who amass private fortunes – you could next be in the sights of that maniacal leveller called social media!