Lessons on Social Media From Two Guys on the Subway

I overheard these two guys, Jim and Sam, talking on the subway.
Jim: You’ve been on this social media kick for some time now. Is it working for you?
Sam: Sure is, man. I’d be resenting talking to you right now if my iPad was getting a signal in this tunnel.
Jim: I know, “Google it,” has killed asking a question and starting a conversation. The woman I last dated couldn’t keep her hands off her Blackberry. I finally got up and left midway during dinner and she didn’t even look up from her Facebook chat.
Sam: That FB thing is a bit overrated, especially if you are trying to sell something. It’s like preaching to the choir – “The Mutual Admiration Society” I call it. Everyone is shouting “Like me, like me.” I get on only to post snarky comments about us little guys getting screwed by the big guys. Saves me from going to a shrink. It’s also a great place for tree huggers and plagiarists.
Jim: Why do you say that?
Sam: Well, the tree huggers are always talking spiritual things, about love and kindness and God and stuff when we know that there is very little of that around. They are hoping against hope, and I find that re•assuring. It tells me that at least someone hasn’t given up. And the plagiarists are cutting news clips from other sources and commenting on them as if they were their own material – who are they kidding?
Jim: What do you post?
Sam: Well, I started with posting diatribes of all that was not going well in the world: the rise of the right wing, the greed of the One Percent, unjust wars and stuff, and I found that no one was reading. No one had time. And no one really gave a damn. Here are my findings: the 140 byte tweet can get around to thousands, if it’s catchy, and if you take the 2% response rule from the direct mail world, you may get 200 to 300 people who will actually read your tweet. A 150•word article (diatribe, in my case) will get about 100 close followers reading you. After that, and the longer the word count gets, readers tail off dramatically. Never publish your novel on there – everyone will download it, but none will read it. Now, my focus is on creating pseudo accounts for myself and writing glowing reviews of my books.
Jim: Is the material you publish online, safe?
Sam: Heck, no! And don’t bother asserting your copyright with bold announcements – it looks good but it doesn’t work. A website will use your material the way it sees fit. The good news is that on “member sites” like FB, Twitter and such, your post gets swallowed up in the news feed within minutes. Chances are, you will never be noticed, unless you post an obscene photo and go viral. If you want to be immortal in cyberspace, post your stuff on open websites and make sure your material is optimized for the search engines, and be controversial. Controversial sells. I find stuff I posted in the public domain years ago are still showing up when I Google myself. I can’t even find my FB feeds from last month.
Jim: So why are you still at it?
Sam: Because, social media is the best damned water cooler chat line given to us workers who have been steadily relegated to solitary, insignificant cube•dom. I would die if I am unable to take a regular time•out at work and join my fraternity of online pals looking desperately for a “like” or an acknowledgement to say that what they had just written or plagiarised made sense. It’s a form of online hugging.

It was at this point that Jim and Sam got off at the next station. Or did I get off at that station? I can’t remember, the conversation was so engrossing! Come to think of it, did those two guys really exist, or was I dreaming the whole thing up? Oh well, I’ll be on the subway tomorrow too and if those fellas show up having a similar conversation, I will know!

The next measure of human growth: self-awareness

Reading books such as The End of Growth and That Used to be Us one gets the impression that it’s all over for us in North America: oil is never going to be cheap anymore, governments are bust, corporations are hoarding their money, and the best jobs have gone to China and India. These books also attempt to convince us that less is more and a back to basics approach is best for us now: save more, spend less, study hard, work hard and invest wisely.

All this is good, except that the standard we use to measure human growth is still weighted heavily towards a monetary yardstick, a simple but crude measure: GDP. Translated down to the individual level, when introducing yourself at a cocktail party, it’s easier to say, “I am a lawyer,” or “I am a corporate executive,” for that implies a guaranteed income potential and its accompanying elevated social status. I had some of those monikers in the past and it was smooth sailing in social circles. Now, when I say, “Umm, let me see, I write books and blogs, I play in a band, I do infrequent consulting gigs, I edit for a publisher, I dream a lot, I take lots of walks and I am learning much about myself,” people look at me as if I am a weirdo. “He has no MONEY!”

The United Nations made some strides in developing the measure of human development, going beyond the GDP yardstick. The Human Development Index (HDI) measures education, health, mortality, inequality and poverty, in addition to GDP. But as this is an aggregate country•level measure it only serves at that summary level – a good alert for a government on whether a “spring uprising” is brewing in that country, perhaps. Others have tried by measuring happiness quotients (HQ); there are tests and exercises on how to increase this measure, some people even self•medicate by repeating “this is the best day of the rest of my life,” several times a day to ramp up their ratings.

I think we need to go beyond HDIs and HQs. We need to measure self•awareness and make that a key driver of human success. Who am I as a person and why did I come to this earth? What is my role and am I on the path to achieving that measure before I pass on? The extent to which we are closer to achieving our life goal should be the measure of happiness, social status and all the other measures we use to grade human beings. We might find some surprising results: the multi•millionaire who is hopped on drugs may be lower on this scale than the poor fisherman who catches his daily supply of food and has a little surplus to share with his neighbours. Likewise, newly emergent nations, guzzling up the world’s energy supply and its jobs and on a path of consumerism never experienced in their histories may pause and say, “Hey, wrong track, must switch, chop, chop.” Arms factories may close, wars will stop or never start.

I’d like our ever shrinking census questionnaire to add the following questions: “Do you know what you were born to accomplish?” and “How far along that path are you at present?” and “Are you a net producer or a net consumer” and “If you have assets to leave behind, who should benefit from these after you die?” and the guilty question: “Who should pay for your debts?”

Tree•hugger philosophy? Utopian? Ballsy? But then nations are built by utopian and ballsy leaders, and I prefer a tree•hugger to a vote•hugger. And as our established western nations are under threat of falling behind, we need a lot of balls in our camp and some out of the box thinking.