What “the cheque is in the mail” was to the 20th century, and “it must have been spam-filtered” was to the first 15 years of the 21st, “it’s the algorithm’s fault” will be for the foreseeable future: the perfect all-purpose excuse.
Of course, excuses only work if they ring true. Plenty of cheques were delayed by postal services. Spam filters (which are themselves based on algorithms) still sometimes trap urgent emails from your nearest and dearest. And an algorithm can do a lot of damage, from reinforcing extremist beliefs and misinformation to imposing severe and baffling prison sentences.So it’ll be tempting to blame them for, say, tardiness. “So sorry to keep you waiting — I have no idea what my self-driving car was thinking, taking the route it did.”
(By the way, you haven’t really heard the song “Robots” until you’ve heard it played by your pre-teen kid on their ukulele.)
I think I’ve finally figured out all those times my MacBooks and PowerBooks refused to connect to coffee-shop WiFi. I’d thought maybe some low-level hardware incompatibility, or some difference in the way Apple and router manufacturers had implemented the 802.11 specs, or a strange electromagnetic field generated by my fillings… but no.
Those café networks just have a fear of intimacy. Maybe there was an “Is that all I am to you? A spam gateway?” conversation somewhere in their logs. For whatever reason, they had no interest in a long-term relationship — and certainly not long enough to give an IP address to every random laptop that swung by with DHCP on its mind.
I’m in no position to dump on people for posting open letters. I posted a kind of manifesto (the open letter’s cousin who never acknowledges it at family reunions) yesterday to my blog. (If you’re interested, it’s The Presentation Audience’s Bill of Rights.)
But there sure seem to be a lot of open letters out there, and Medium is the place to post them. Open letters to Twitter, to millennials, to CEOs, to mayors, to fans, even just to people looking for love.
And on their heels—because everything online phenomenon has to spawn its own immediate metashadow—are open letters about open letters.
Many of these letters say a lot more about the people who write them than about the addressees, in ways the writers probably didn’t expect—hello, Tech Bro! Sometimes the brilliant rant that seemed so clever when you pushed “Publish” at 2:30 am suddenly reads as horrifically mean-spirited at 9:00 am over coffee.
Anyway, if you’re writing an open letter trashing someone or some class of people, and you don’t want to be the next mascot for coldhearted pettiness, here’s my advice:
If you’re replying to another open letter, read it. Really read it. Too many open reply writers seem to be strip-mining their source material for vulnerabilities, and ignoring the context around them.
Put yourself in the position of the people you’re addressing. (And that doesn’t mean replying in a snide, high-pitched voice while rolling your eyes.) Dig deep for your most compassionate self, and try to make their case as best you can. Now reread your letter, and rewrite it.
Make it clear to whom you’re addressing it. And don’t address an open letter to a lazy stereotype, like “millennials”, and then go railing against their sense of entitlement, despite the fact that they’re a very diverse group of people facing some of the most daunting…
…—dammit, I feel an open letter coming on.
One last tip for everyone writing these things: you want it to really be open? Use a Creative Commons license. Let people share it.
After drawing this, my inner Beavis and Butthead have reared their heads, and everything I say about my iPhone suddenly seems filled with innuendo. “Multi-touch.” “Pinch to zoom.” “Mind if I… plug in to charge?” “71:40 aspect ratio.” Uh, huh huh. Huh huh huh.
In barely related news, I finished reading Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse a little while ago. I recommend it: it’s highly entertaining, and for days after reading it, you’ll be acutely aware of just how many microprocessor-controlled gizmos surround you… and the damage they could do if the silicon chips inside their head got set to overload.
I have to think Siri in particular could cause some havoc. Enough misunderstood phrases and mistranscribed messages (“‘Have socks tonight?’ What the hell?”) and humanity could probably be pushed over the brink.
Oh — once you’ve read Robopocalypse, watch this video. Maybe just before bed. Good luck sleeping.
While I’m recommending things, the kids and I have been hugely enjoying Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona. The eponymous 14-year-old shapeshifting girl with anger management issues signs on as a sidekick to supervillain Ballister Blackheart. In a medieval world where dragons, magic and plasma rifles coexist, Nimona and Ballister plot to thwart the evil Institution — pitting them against Blackheart’s nemesis and one-time bestie Ambrosius Goldenloin.
That description can’t begin to do the comic justice. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, except for Nimona’s anger and pain. That, Stevenson treats with great care and respect. Her cartooning, humour and storytelling chops started strong and have been growing by leaps and bounds since the cartoon debuted in the summer of last year. If anything in that description triggered even a tiny endorphin surge, go check it out — I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 10 takes you into advanced measurement, starting with how you measure relationships. Relationships are at the heart of social media; they’re the nucleus around which all else revolves. You can’t make the piñata of change without the papier maché of relationships – and yes, that metaphor is available for re-use under a Creative Commons license. You’re welcome.
But how do you measure relationships, and the value they offer? The book points to the surprisingly straightforward approach pioneered by professors James and Larissa Grunig, and how organizations can apply it to their own relationships. And as for value…
“Make a friend before you need one,” my communications mentor Dennis McGann used to tell me, and two anecdotes from the book bear his wisdom out: one, the online conversation that ensued after the accidental death of a SeaWorld trainer, and two, the way the American Red Cross was able to turn a Twitter misfire into a fundraising opportunity.
The latter incident saw a staffer tweet about getting drunk on Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer. Normally, that would be fine, except the employee used the official Red Cross account, which usually uses hashtags like #hurricane or #relief, and not – let me just check the spelling – #gettngslizzerd.
The organization responded swiftly, deleting the tweet but also explaining it wittily. Dogfish Head, meanwhile, encouraged its followers to donate to the Red Cross. They raised nearly $10,000, briefly crashing the Red Cross server and helping #gettngslizzerd to trend on Twitter.
The lesson is clear: when life gives you lemons, make beer.
It feels like this week’s cartoon should commemorate Steve Jobs.
But in truth, I drew my tribute to him just after he retired from his job as CEO. I shared my thoughts about his legacy a few days ago on my own blog. And by now, there’s very little to say about Jobs that hasn’t been said many times over, here and on other sites.
So rather than restating all of that, I’ll pay a tribute today that actually feels more meaningful than any other.
This cartoon stands on its own; it doesn’t have anything to do with Steve Jobs or Apple. But I drew it on my iPad, and i’m writing this there, too. In a few minutes, I’ll lay the cartoon out and create a thumbnail version on my MacBook Pro, where I’ll also add hyperlinks and send the whole lot off to Curtis at ReadWriteWeb.
Creating and sharing something using the products Steve Jobs introduced to the world: yeah, that feels about right.
I realized the other day, in the middle of a conversation with someone, that – for just a moment – I had stopped thinking of them as a human being, and started thinking of them as the thing that stood between me and some quality time with my iPad.
(If you were talking to me in the past few days, and wondering if you’re the person in question, let me assure you that you weren’t. It was someone else. Really.)
And, you know, that happens. At parties, some of us catch ourselves looking over the shoulder of the person we’re talking to, in case there’s someone we actually want to talk with nearby. A friend could be pouring their hearts out to us, and a stray anxiety could drift up from our subconscious long enough to distract us. Even when we give someone our full attention, we’re rehearsing what to say next or wondering how they’re reacting to what we just said.
All of which is to say, let’s cut devices a little slack. They have the reputation of sucking our attention away from other people, but it’s not like there isn’t plenty of competition for that attention already, devices or no devices. Hell, the Cro-Magnon probably had that problem. (“Ogg stalk mammoth for hours. Then mammoth turn and look at Ogg, and – hey! You not listening to Ogg!”)
And one of the nice things about a connected device is that it often connects us to others who aren’tin the room. There’s a terrific Ze Frank TED Talk where he projects a photo of a woman looking down at her iPhone and smiling. (You’ll find it around 6:25.) While this is the stereotypical image of someone zoning out of the real world, he points out that “life is being lived there, somewhere up in that weird, dense network.”
That said, it’s still possible to be a thoughtless jerk about these things, and I’m living proof. We’re still working out the etiquette and sifting through conflicting protocols. And as with nearly everything that really matters, it comes down to human connection.
Or high-velocity connections between pigs and angry birds. Those are fun, too.
This iPad doodle came from a conversation we had a few nights ago with our friends Aaron and Sarah, about the complexities of updating your relationship status on Facebook. Honestly, it can seem like more of a commitment there than in front of a justice of the peace.