The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘social networks’ Category

WEBSITES AND JUSTICE

A few months ago I was speaking with a chap at the dog park.  This fellow has two dogs of a breed I have never heard and although I’ve asked what they are several times, for some reason, I’m totally unable to retain the information.  It’s some sort of extremely unpronounceable Dutch name – and I’m usually pretty good about picking up foreign words.

Well, Jeff, the dog’s companion person, is a nice chap – although I wouldn’t call him the sharpest tool in the shed.  He would never make it as a politician since he is brutally honest – especially when it comes to past indiscretions for which he has been responsible in his 28 year old life.  I make a point of not asking people personal questions (at or away from the dog park), so I was surprised when I asked Jeff what was new and he explained he was about to go to court for a DUI.  He was quite familiar with the procedure since apparently this was the second time in two years that he was apprehended for the same offense.

In theory and as it appears on the books, DUI is a serious offense here in Las Vegas.  But apparently for around $3000 you can hire legal representation and somehow it all goes away – until the next time you’re caught.  I’ve often wondered if there were some split between the defense attorney and the court system – something that I would never have considered about ten years ago.  But with the general decline in morality and honesty, I suspect that might prove to be how the “system” actually works.  But that’s just a guess.

In previous conversations with Jeff I remember that he had been working part time in one of the clubs doing private security.  Considering his fondness for booze, it’s a good thing that Jeff does not carry a weapon while he is on duty.  In fact, he has expressed a blatant distaste for guns because we all know that “guns kill people.”  (I pointed out that people who drive cars while intoxicated kill about 15,000 per year in the U. S).  Jeff wasn’t overly impressed with that statement – or at least I surmised that to be the case.

I asked him if he was getting his defense fund from his folks.  (He lives at home with Mom and Dad).  He said that he had put up a page on GoFundMe.com to raise the money.  I was unaware of any such site and did not know what it was, so Jeff willingly informed me.  I thought the concept of soliciting donations from total strangers using the internet was incredibly interesting.  So naturally I went home and logged into the site to see what was there.  By the way, in a week, Jeff had raised over $800 towards his goal of $4,000.  You might remember that the actual cost was $3,000.  The extra grand was for “spending money,” although that was not stated in Jeff’s post.

I looked through quite a few of the posts on the website.  Some of them seemed a bit frivolous – but others were heart wrenching.  And I thought to myself, what a wonderful way for people to show their generosity to total strangers.  But when I thought about Jeff’s page and the fact that he was hoping to pocket a thousand dollars beyond the cost of his actual defense, I wondered how many of these appeals were legitimate and how many were merely a scam.  It’s terrible to feel so cynical but the more I look at people, the harder it is to have a great feeling about us as a species.

Well, I had forgotten all about the site until today.  I read a post by Jonathan Turley in which he denounced GoFundMe.com for taking down a page that was attempting to raise $600,000 as a defense fund for the six Baltimore police who have been charged with a multitude of offenses in the death of Freddie Gray.  The site was up for a little less than an hour and had raised just over $1,100 before it was “delisted.”  Apparently the reason for that was that GoFundMe does not allow posts in which the individual is charged with serious, felonious conduct.  I suspect that the logic is that the accused are not entitled to receive a good defense.  I think I read that line of reasoning somewhere in a KKK manual.

But I thought to myself, DUI is a serious crime.  Isn’t it a felony?  So naturally I looked it up.  As it turns out, a first or second DUI offense within a seven year period is normally charged as a misdemeanor in this state – unless there is death involved in one of the incidents in which case the felony charge will be filed.  So I guess that Jeff meets the terms of service of the site this time.   He’s only been caught drunk twice in the allowed time period and he has yet to kill anyone while driving intoxicated.  But I wonder what he will do the next time around.  And more importantly, I wonder if the juries who try these six cops subscribe to the GoFundMe.com philosophy of what is justice, how long they will be incarcerated, with or without the benefit of counsel.

INTO THE LION’S DEN

For years I have had Yahoo as my home page.  I’m not exactly certain why I selected them, but I did.  They carry at least a few interesting stories every day which often give me thoughts on new subjects for my own posts.  Some of those stories come from other sources – such as the Huffington Post.

The other day I was reading one such story and decided to reply to it.  The story was one which denigrated the Koch brothers and asserted that they were in the process of turning the country into an oligarchy in which they would reign supreme.  It seemed a little bit over the top and I wanted to try to offer a comment which would put things in a more balanced perspective.

Before I posted my own comment I read through those that had already been posted by other Huffington Post readers.  I was truly amazed.  After I scrolled through well over one hundred such comments, (this article generated a great deal of interest with more than 900 responses posted), I realized that I was stepping into the proverbial lion’s den.  Of the comments that I read, only one challenged the assertions in the original article.

Now I realize that the Huffington Post is a liberal vehicle.  But you would have thought that they had taken a lesson from Kim Jong Un on how to rig results.  I was surprised that there appeared to be such unanimity of opinion among the Post’s readership.  I mean, I read liberal journalism with some regularity, merely to see what it is that they are thinking.  It’s hard to offer an alternative to a differing philosophy if you don’t know what it is.

So I penned my comment after creating an account with the Huff Post and hit the “Submit” button, anxiously awaiting the appearance of my thoughts on the web page on my screen.  Instead of seeing my comments posted, I received the following message:  “Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter your comment is awaiting moderation.”

That took me aback as discussing campaign contributions and the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court didn’t strike me as being nearly as “sensitive” as watching Miley Cyrus twerk on prime time TV, looking at ads for vaginal creams to lessen the pain of intercourse after menopause or seeing ads by Hotels.com for an app in case you scored at the bar and suddenly needed to book a hotel room so that you could make the beast of two backs.  But maybe that’s just me.

Well, true to their word, three hours later whoever is responsible at the Huffington Post for reviewing comments and “moderating” them decided that my comment was “acceptable” and it was posted.  Much to my surprise there was a reaction to my brief comment as the next time I logged into the Huffington Post website, in the space that indicated “notifications” I found that that I had 22 of them.

I wasn’t sure quite what that meant, so I clicked on the notification button and found that six people had “faved” (their equivalent of like) my comment and 16 comments had been posted in reply to mine.  It will not surprise you that there was only one which supported my comments.  It will probably also not surprise you that the remaining “comments” were not actually a response to the points I had raised but were personal attacks.

It’s been a long time since I was called a “Fascist pig.”  In fact, to the best of my recollection, it’s never happened before.  Frankly, my response to reading that comment was to chuckle.  And then I thought to myself, no wonder there is such much division and dissension in this country – and such a lack of serious conversation on important issues.

One of the first lessons that the coach of my high school debating team advised us team members was that engaging in ad hominem arguments and personally attacking our opponents was the surest way to lose a debate.  If we resorted to that tactic it meant that we simply didn’t have either facts or logic on our side and clearly the person whom we were debating had triumphed.  I sincerely doubt that many of the Huffington Post’s readership ever was a member of a debating team.

As a result of this experience I’ve made a decision.

Now this may sound mildly masochistic to you, but I’ve decided to continue commenting on the Huffington Post’s stories.  I’ve gone out and purchased a new set of chain mail to protect me from the slings and arrows and the mauling that I expect will ensue.  But it seems to me that while preaching to the choir offers some psychological validation, it doesn’t have the potential for effecting change as going into the camp of one’s opponents with the hope of finding one or two of the troops who might be willing to consider an alternate point of view.

We’ll see how this goes.  But just in the event that there’s a weak spot in my newly acquired armor, I’ve laid in an adequate supply of gauze bandages and disinfectant.

ARE YOU NUTS? OR IS IT ME?

As I look back over my life I realize that I have had to make many decisions –choosing between two or even more alternative plans of action.  Some of those decisions worked out well – others, not so much.  I have always replayed the thinking that went into those poor decisions to see where I went wrong – not for the purpose of beating myself up in a frenzy of self-flagellation but to avoid repeating the mistake in the future.  But even after deciding on a path that didn’t work out well, I’ve never questioned the state of my mental health.  Until now.

As we have embarked on peeling back the onion which was the life of the mentally disturbed Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, as I suggested in an earlier post, more information would be uncovered and dissected by the media.  After all, they have space to fill.

One of the assertions that was made truly stunned me.  That was that, besides the obvious, Alexis’ several detentions for shooting a firearm in his apartment and shooting out someone’s tire; informing the police in Rhode Island that he had to move to three different motel rooms in one night because “the voices” were pursuing him, a message they apparently ignored; we should have seen his potential for being a violent person for one obvious reason, that being that he was a loner and didn’t have a Facebook account!

Perhaps not being a Facebook subscriber is an indication of mental illness.  I have read countless studies that suggest a majority of the homeless who live on the street have mental problems.  Obviously, when you’re living in a cardboard box you aren’t likely to have Wi-Fi up and running to allow you access to the internet on your laptop.  And while you might consider connecting at your local Starbucks, I wonder if you would be any more welcome there than those carrying weapons – or whether you could afford any of their beverages.

There are a number of people whom I know who feel that Facebook provides them with a valuable way to communicate with their families in an efficient manner.  That makes sense to me.  But I wonder how many of the subscribers utilize the platform in that manner.

My sense of the “social media,” mainly derived from anecdotal evidence and from the statements of those who are avid users, is that it they are a crutch which people who have difficulty communicating or relating to other people on a direct, interpersonal basis prefer to use to express themselves.  One of my acquaintances who is an active Facebook user, recently broke up with his girl friend by sending her a text message, announcing the end of their relationship.  Such is our modern, technological world.

It is always dangerous and probably inaccurate to make sweeping statements about any group of people, particularly when they number in the millions, and expect that we are categorizing them in an accurate manner.  Having made that disclaimer, I look at the social media with a certain amount of distrust – if only because they themselves admit that at least twenty percent of the profiles which are listed are either misleading or outright false.

As a child I was extremely shy – overly so.  I do not know if that was a result of a poor self-image or what other reason there might have been that caused me to be that way.  It was not because I was ugly and the kids made fun of me – I wasn’t.  It was not because I struggled in school – I excelled there.  It was not because I had no talents – I was musically gifted.  It was not because I was unpopular – my classmates generally liked me and sought me out as a friend.  Nevertheless, I was extremely reserved, introverted and uncomfortable when I met new people.

Fortunately, I overcame that.  But the way that I overcame that was that I had to overcome that to survive.  There was no anonymous platform called Facebook behind which I could hide.  My experiences and those of my contemporaries naturally forced me into associations with others on a direct, person to person basis.  That was the only basis that existed and I am grateful for that.  But I wonder if I had grown up today with the anonymity of the internet, whether I would ever have had to face dealing with people on a one on one basis and might still be that shy, introverted child.

If you were to take a poll of everyone with whom I have dealt during my life, I suspect there are a few of those who would check off the box marked “Dislike.”  But those would be very few in number.  (There’s no pleasing some people).  But I am confident that an overwhelming majority of the people who know me would be pleased at our association.  But the kind words or accolades of others doesn’t validate a person’s behavior.  That has to come from within the individual.

If I were to do something wildly outrageous, I suspect there are a sufficient number of moral heathens in our global society who would enjoy my performance and actively share that with others of their fellow degenerates.  My Facebook “Like” button might well get near being worn out.  So does that constitute an endorsement for my behavior?  I guess if you look at the raw numbers you might say that it would.  But if you consider the character of those who are the plebiscite, you might draw a different conclusion.  We all know that bad news sells.  So does bad behavior.

Several years ago I was playing poker and seated across from me was a fellow who claimed to be one of the people involved in the “Girls Gone Wild” tapes that were being sold on television.  He went on for some time about how much money he and his partners had made with this venture.  I believe that he was probably telling the truth.  Other than the ads, I never viewed the tapes, and based on what was presented in the ads would certainly not purchase an hour and a half’s worth of watching young women getting drunk and allowing their libidos to take over their actions.  But there are people who have different tastes and who found these tapes entertaining and titillating.  Would I feel proud if a large number of these went to my Facebook page and clicked the “Like” button?  I don’t think so.

If I saw a value in the social media I would have a presence there.  But I don’t.  I would rather have a sage person offer me good constructive criticism than a group of self-absorbed, self-adulating people tell me how wonderful I am and want to be my “friend”.  But that’s me.  I guess that makes me suspect in the minds of the madding crowd.  And that’s okay.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  What’s yours?

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Other than having read more than my fair share of Freud, Jung, Skinner and various others in their field, I have no training in psychology or psychiatry.  So it would seem that trying to understand the psychology of what motivates people would be best left to those with greater credentials in the field.

I do have training in other of the social sciences – all of which are inexact in both their methodology as well as their conclusions.  But it is not on this training that I will rely in this post – rather something quite different.  That is my own power of observation.

Perhaps it is a function of genetics, perhaps the environment in which I was raised or both but I am very observant.  I say that with no aim to self-promotion. On the two occasions that I have witnessed a crime the police have commented that, “they wished more witnesses were as descriptive and accurate as I was.”  By the way, the guilty parties were both apprehended.  (One conviction – one plea bargain).

I have been trying to make sense of the seemingly endless stream of impersonal group murders that have been making all too frequent news.  Whether it’s a movie theater or a Sikh temple or a military installation or a high school.  Yesterday’s shooting in a conservative organization’s offices in Washington, D. C. might well have been added to this list had it not been for the brave intervention of a security guard.

Can these all be incidences of copy cats run amok?  Or is there something else going on?  The motivation and the targets seem to be disconnected.  Yet, I believe there is a connection, if not in terms of the victims, but in terms of the perpetrators.

It is difficult to walk up to someone and insult that person to his face, let alone take his life.  Direct confrontation makes things very personal.  But it is not difficult to say something malicious about someone and post it on Facebook so that thousands of people can see it.

Are we becoming disconnected from one another on an interpersonal basis?  Let me offer this example for you to consider.

One of my acquaintances asked for my advice about her relationship with her boy friend.  She told me she wanted to talk with him about where it was going and what their mutual expectations were.  So she called to speak with him, actually wanting to have a sit down face to face conversation.  He chose not to do that – although he was willing to discuss the matter – but only if they did so by texting each other.  After hearing this it took me two days to recover from the shock.  By the way, my advice was, “Move on.”

Our technology has done many wonderful things for us.  We can communicate faster and stay informed under almost any circumstance or location.   That is a good thing.  But the bad thing is the impersonality of how we achieve this as we sit behind our computer screens and our smart phones.

Would it have been as easy for James Holmes to pull the trigger in the Aurora, CO  movie theater if he knew the victims he was about to shoot?  Would the shooter at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin have been able to carry out his plan if some of the worshippers were his neighbors?  Perhaps there is something so twisted about these people that it would have made no difference to them.  But perhaps not.

If we are becoming people who can only express our feelings about our inter-personal relationships through texting; if we view each other merely as out-of-body avatars and gravatars; if we give up our innate need to communicate on a personal level with each other through touch and compassion and feeling, is it any surprise that these sort of events are occurring with greater frequency?

I can’t help but think of the proverbial poor fish who are swimming in the barrel, the hunter poised to strike with his rifle outside their little world, looking in on his victims.  And we are the fish.

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If this doesn’t disturb you, you need to catch the next shuttle to your starship.

ON FACEBOOK AND MARKETING

If you have read anything about how to market goods or services in today’s cyber world, you are bound to find the following statement:  “You need to be on the social networks.”

Well, before delving into what all of that means let’s take a step back in time and see how things were done before we were all internet connected.  (This was at a time when snail mail was the only mail).

I remember picking up the current copy of “Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine” and quickly reading all the stories.  I was fourteen at the time.  At the back of the issue were some advertisements – one of which promised that if I only sent them $2.95 they would turn me into the most successful mail order marketer that either the Milky Way or Andromeda Galaxy had ever seen.  So, of course, I sent off for this information.

Well, about two weeks later I received a packet of material which was poorly printed and talked in vague generalities about finding a product which appealed to a large group of people, stocking an inventory and, of course purchasing a mailing list from their company.  The information was general in nature and essentially useless.  I learned a lesson.

I learned another lesson shortly afterward.  Most of the money that was made in mail order was made by people selling other people information on how to be successful in mail order.

Years later, one of the applicants of my executive search business who had met with me and given me her resume was involved with a company which sold its products, water filters, through a system known as Multi-Level Marketing.  The concept was a simple one and had, in my mind, a great deal of validity.

As this lady, Janet pointed out, a company could distribute its products via two means.  One was by paying to advertise those products in magazines, radio and television.  Or they could use “word of mouth” advertising which is where MLM came into the picture.

Janet went on to cite a number of successful companies which had grown to their present size by using the MLM model.  Among these were Amway, Avon Products and Nu Skin.

Instead of spending money advertising their product, her company took the money it saved and paid it to its distributors.  But the real benefit and potential for those distributors came not only from the profit on their personal sales of water filters, but that they would earn an override on people they brought into the company as distributors and on people that those distributors brought into the company.  I believe this went on for five generations of distributors – but the details really don’t matter – all MLM companies have similar sorts of compensation plans.  It’s the principle of how they operate that I am trying to communicate to you.

I saw nothing wrong with that logic and I was particularly impressed with Janet’s statement (which I did check out) that the MLM industry had created more millionaires than any other in the history of mankind.  That was a very powerful argument for why I should want to get involved.  Incidentally, that data was courtesy of the Direct Selling Association – the trade group to which MLM companies belong.

So Janet invited me to an “opportunity meeting” and I attended and became a water filter distributor.  I purchased the requisite number of filters to get started and I became part of her “down line”.  Over a period of months I sold those filters and recruited people who became part of my down line and on whom I earned a small commission.  I made my money back and then some, but I am not sure if the time that I invested would have come out to the minimum wage at the time.

I learned two lessons from this experience.

First, if you were going to make money in MLM you needed to have a product which was consumable and for which there would be regular repeat business.  That is why so many companies in the industry sell vitamins or detergents or beauty care products.

Second, the people who had become millionaires because of MLM were people who had probably started in another MLM company or perhaps several, had built a large down line with those companies – sometimes numbering twenty or thirty thousand – and then when a new MLM company came along with a new product would jump to that company, bringing their down line with them and making a huge profit from that single transaction and the sales which ensued the first few months after the new product began being marketed.

A third lesson, but one which I already knew was that we all say that we want to be successful – but few of us are willing to put forth the effort necessary to accomplish that.  I figured that if I recruited five distributors to help build our business, only one would have the gumption to stick with it.  I was wrong.  It was more like one out of ten.  We all know the old saw, “A chain is only as good as its weakest link”.  It is very true and it applies directly to MLM companies and the people who join up.

Early this week after last Friday’s Facebook IPO, some negative news has been circulating about whether the company really has the potential to be the profit maker it has been touted to be.  The reason I bring this into this post is because I see a tremendous similarity between the social network companies and MLM companies.  Remember today’s current advice on internet marketing – you have to be on the social networks in order to succeed.  Facebook now has 900 Million active users – but that still represents less than 15% of the people on earth – so they obviously have room to grow.

Because of the similarity in marketing strategies between the social networks and MLM, I tried to give you some background on the latter.  Odds are that you already know about the former.  And having prepared you in that way would like to present the ultimate MLM company and show you how the results are destined to turn out.

If you don’t believe that we have an obsession with youth and beauty, you have only to turn on your television after regular programming is done for the day.  You are most likely to encounter at least one infomercial for some beauty cream product, some dietary supplement to help you lose weight or a program of aerobic instruction which will help you tone and firm.  We have been concerned about looking good and feeling good and living longer at least since Ponce de Leon began his quest for the Fountain of Youth.

So I present “Eternal Life” – the latest release in MLM companies.  Here’s the product and the marketing plan.

Eternal Life has developed an amazing pill.  The day you take your first dose any and all ailments which you have acquired will be cured.  If you have missing teeth, they will be replaced with healthy new ones.  If you have failing kidneys, they will be repaired.  If you have cancer it will cease to be.  No matter what ailment you have it will be gone.  (Do you think there would be a large market for this product?  But,  as they say on the infomercials, “Wait.  There’s more – much, much more).

In addition to eradicating all your infirmities, each day you take the pill, a year of aging will disappear from your appearance – until you look as you did when you were twenty-five and you will continue to look that age as long as you take your daily pill and meet the other two requirements for being a distributor.

First, you must pay one dollar a month for the Eternal Life supplement.

Second, you must recruit one (but only one) new distributor per month.

The downside to this relationship is that if you fail to meet both these obligations, you will again begin to age but at a rate of five years per day and the ultimate consequence, of course, will be death.

Of course, you as the first distributor eagerly sign up for this program.  Your lumbago and rheumatoid arthritis have been bothering you no end – and you once again look forward to being able to eat corn on the cob without everything slipping under your dentures.  You are 85 years old.

So you take your first pill and, just as advertised, no more pain and your original teeth are in place.  As you continue to take your daily dose of Eternal Life the changes to your appearance start to manifest themselves to everyone at the retirement community where you and Zelda have moved.  Mrs. Warchinsky keeps complimenting you on how good you’re looking – “What are you doing to yourself?  You look like a 60 year old.”

At the end of the month, naturally your recruit your wife Zelda into the program and each of you pay your dollar for the month’s dosage.  Of course, Zelda experiences the exact same results you did.  (The people in the retirement community can talk about nothing other than your transformation).  They all want to know what’s going on.  But you keep silent so that you are not overrun by a horde of people in wheel chairs each wanting to sign up.

At the end of one year, you’ve ushered in to the program your dearest relatives and closest friends – as have those you recruited.  There are now, out of earth’s teeming seven billion population, a mere 2,048 people who have benefited from Eternal Life’s product.

You obviously want to continue your relationship with this miracle product – as do all the people you and they have signed up – and at the end of year two, you are surprised that the number of Eternal Life consumers has grown to a substantial 8,050,688.  That is the power of monthly doubling.  But, not to worry, you’re less than ten percent the size of Facebook.

And then comes year three.  Things move along smoothly until month eight.  In order for everyone to meet their obligation they would need to recruit 2.2 billion people, making a total group of over 4.4 billion.  The only problem is that more than half the world’s  population is under the age of 25.  So many of the participants fail in their contractual obligation and begin to see the entire process reverse.  The next month, there is no one on earth left to recruit.  In a month, half of us are dead of old age.

In some parts of town this marketing strategy is known as a Ponzi scheme.  On Wall Street, the polite – but no less damning phrase – refers to this as “The Greater Fool Theory”.

Will Facebook be able to continue its growth infinitely.  The answer, of course, is no.  It can’t do that because there is not an infinite supply of new subscribers.  So the question is can it find new revenue sources for which its users are willing to pay?  For example, what about a modest “user” fee to maintain an account – say five dollars per month.  Even if it lost half its users, that would still result in an annual revenue stream of $25 Billion.

Will Facebook adopt that strategy?  Well, nobody yet knows.  But it is clear that now that it is a publically traded company it is going to have to adapt from its original model.  We’ll see how they do that.

Meanwhile, it’s time for me to take my magic pill.

ON FACEBOOK POPULARITY

Facebook has now emerged into the wonderful world of Wall Street as a new IPO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is all the wealthier for that – to the tune of nearly $20 Billion.  Good for him.  I love success stories and hope one day to be the subject of one myself.

Facebook made its debut last Friday and co-incidentally that same day I received an email from an old acquaintance.  I say acquaintance because I didn’t know this chap very well to start with and still don’t.  However, he apparently feels a much greater degree of closeness to me because he invited me to become his “Friend” on Facebook.  The other portion of his email  explained that he had reached a milestone.  He now had 10,000 Facebook Friends.

Frankly, I was staggered by this revelation.  Two things immediately came to my mind.

The first, I obviously need to change my email address more regularly.  The second, it set me to wondering, despite all the time I have been plodding around planet earth, have I even met ten thousand people.  (By met I am reducing this to the lowest common denominator – which is that I have at least said,  “Hello” to them or them to me).

Well, I’m up to my junior year of high school – and I have to admit that the totals are looking depressingly bleak.  I am keeping tally in two ways – “Met People” and “Friends”.  Both totals are pretty dismal – the second one in particular.  But I’m going to keep plodding along with this exercise.

In the meantime, my acquaintance, although he doesn’t know you, would probably relish adding you as a “Friend” as well.  If you’d like to help this guy out, please send me your email address.  I’ll be only to happy to forward it to him.

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