Further reminding us of his unique grasp of IT and consumer behavior, Jeff Bezos and Amazon announced “Prime Air,” near-instant merchandise delivery by drone, the day before so-called Cyber Monday. Naturally, the Internet surged with jokes about the service and expressed outrage at its foolishness. Who could possibly need delivery in less than an hour?
I can think of several hundred scenarios under which this service could be invaluable. How about:
- Replenishing groceries at home or in a restaurant as they are used
- Sending a critical part onsite to a construction crew to minimize downtime
- Providing mission-critical office supplies, like a print cartridge, to an office worker (at a corporate or home office)
- Saving face when someone has forgotten a birthday or anniversary (we’ll need electric stealth drones for this)
- Sending a part to a roadside mechanic
What’s that you say? These kinds of situations are caused by poor planning, bad inventory control systems, impetuousness, a “have-to-have-it-now” culture and an irrational craving for instant retail gratification? Correct! These are the same forces that have made Fed Ex overnight shipping so popular. It doesn’t matter that these situations are avoidable, emotional and even costly. They are a reality of how we live and companies like Amazon who know how to tap into this will continue to be successful.
Think about the reduction in traffic on local streets as quick, errand-style shopping is replaced by drone shopping? Making them clean and quiet is just a matter of time. It is a trivial technology challenge. And there are many more humanitarian uses that aren’t Amazon’s problem, but as the company refines the technology and helps define the regulatory (FAA, EPA) environment, how about sending first aid or medicine into the wild, or transporting physical diagnostic samples via drone?
Why do people share their shock and outrage over amazing and incredible “news” stories from questionable sources? Why do they continue to comment and share these stories, even after they know them to be bogus?
The story of the 60-year-old woman who supposedly shot and killed two teenagers who punched her in a knockout incident is a blunt allegory for the disdain older people have for youth. It’s not true and it’s a couple of years old but it is all over the internet. Why?
We are consumed by rage and confusion and our world has become incomprehensible and unmanageable. We latch on to these simple stories as a way of understanding, even for a moment, the complex dynamics of our lives.
From this very tenuous foothold, they give us license to say things we are thinking, but that would be taboo to express out loud, like “I hate teenage punks! I wish they would die!” We are then further permitted to dance with joy when they get what’s coming to them, death, because in a black-and-white world, they deserved it.
News as we knew it less than a decade ago is gone. There is no fact checking, no editing and no time for accuracy, ethics or truth. The mandate is to push out stories as fast as possible, generate buzz and most importantly, drive sharing, likes, comments, etc., the mindless “measurements” of social media success used to sell contextual advertising.
Here’s how I deal with these stories, and I recommend you consider a similar approach if you haven’t already adopted one:
- Stop for a moment and consider what I know about a story. If it is so incredible it defies belief, I defy belief long enough to do some checking
- Do not comment on or share a story unless I feel it is credible
- Check the source to see if the story came from The Onion or another satire/parody site
- Avoid too easily accepting stories that support my agenda/beliefs
- Use Snopes or Politifact to see if the story has been verified
- Own up when I’ve made a mistake and endorsed a story that turns out to be false. This could include a comment letting people know that a story is false and even apologizing for misleading people. Alternately, I delete shared stories that turned out to be false.
A strength of Facebook, for better or worse, is its ability to let our friends know everything there is to know about us.
Earlier this year, I started doing standup comedy in Santa Cruz and San Jose. With my newly added identity of “standup comic,” there has been a big change in my Facebook persona. I’m still a father, a boyfriend, a communications professional, an author and a former hockey player and Zamboni driver, but now I’m also a comedian. It’s all about personal growth.
I’ve always maintained a single Facebook identity. That brings with it certain conflicts. My Facebook friends know me from many perspectives. They’re corporate professionals, high school and college friends, social media folks, friends of friends, etc. And I’m really fortunate this year to have added a couple of dozen awesome new friends from the local comedy scene. Some of them are already close friends, and some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Therein lies the conflict. Many of my corporate colleagues expect a certain professionalism and decorum in how they communicate. Others are less formal. In the corporate workplace, there are many topics that are off limits. At Surf City Billiards and the Blue Lagoon, not so much.
As comics, we use irony, misdirection, exaggeration and outrageousness to get a laugh or to make people think about things in a new way. I’ve always been irreverent, in “real life” and on Facebook, but since I started doing comedy, I’ve been posting a lot more often, with jokes on current events and ideas for bits, to see how people react.
There’s been a backlash from this. One status update caused a friend to share my status on his timeline with the comment, “Classless, Joel Postman,” and a tag back to me. Another posted the comment “I’m sorry. This just isn’t funny.” I’ve been unfriended over it. I’ve maybe even lost a close friend over it, though I hope not.
I’m fine with people unfriending me if they don’t like my sense of humor, or my political beliefs or taste in music for that matter. I’m trying to understand where “the line” is. I’ve deleted a few jokes because a friend said they were offensive.
But I also have to say come on guys, I’m just having fun. If I offend you, send me a direct message instead of publicly criticizing me on my timeline. None of my jokes, onstage or on Facebook, has ever been targeted at any identifiable individual, nor any religion, nationality or ethnic group. I’ll have an open conversation with anyone.
There’s plenty of advice out there on what not to share on Facebook. Usually this extends to things like memes, pictures of kids on the first day of school, cute cat pictures, what you had for lunch and so on.
Does anyone believe that anyone’s life is as perfect and happy as the one they portray on Facebook? You’ll see the Foursquare check-in at Tiffany’s where they bought the 1.2 carat diamond ring, but not the one where they pawned it. The new job but not the layoff. The great deal on a new car, but not the $5000 replacement transmission.
Facebook is where we make our daily entry into the ongoing draft of our autobiography. We are the writers and the editors. We have full editorial control.
Which brings us to the real top five things you should never post on Facebook, because people have a hard time dealing with them:
- Deep depression and suicidal thoughts. This is one of the most difficult status updates to respond to, or to elect to decline to respond to. It challenges us all to be psychotherapists. Do we respond as if the person is in danger of harming themselves? What offer of help can be truly helpful? Can a Facebook message or even a phone call to someone we do not know well have any impact at all? Or are these conversations reserved for only the closest of friends, in which case, why are they posted for hundreds to see? There is still a stigma attached to depression, and I have seen many responses that indicate that even close friends think a person who is depressed just needs to have a happier outlook, or worse still, should shut up and stop “playing games.”
- Divisive political issues. If you want to polarize your friends, bring up abortion, handguns, or health care. The conversation is sure to spin out of control and may lead to insults and arguments. Better you should say “I love chocolate ice cream” and learn what flavors your friends prefer.
- Life and career failure. There’s nothing more uplifting than hearing that someone is getting married, got a new job or a promotion, received an award or published a book. But who wants to hear “I got fired today”? Facebook is a safe harbor.
- Love and tenderness. In general, we are not supposed to be too sentimental. And if, like me, you have a sense of humor and maybe express outrage at political institutions or injustice, when you post something from the heart, people simply don’t understand it and are unable to respond appropriately. I have often seen discussions of status updates about love quickly turned into tiresome exchanges of unfunny sexual references.
- Vulnerability. Even more taboo is vulnerability. We are supposed to inspire others with our personal inner strength and our sage advice. What will they think of us if we are weak, or human? What if we can’t cope with the stress of daily life, if we’re afraid of losing our partners, if we wonder if we matter at all? These questions are too big and too scary for Facebook.
Some of this will vary depending on how you use Facebook and who is on your friends list. If you really do confine your social networking to close friends and family members, you might be able to post these kinds of things, but if you interact with a large, diverse group, many people will be confused by your outbreaks of sentimentality, your true feelings, and your emotions. Better to stick to memes.
News and commentary about yesterday’s tragic events in Boston are dominating my feed on Facebook, but there, in the middle of it all, I was appalled to see a pathetic, contextual ad for the Zoosk dating site, with a montage of all the smiling hotties that were dying to meet me.
Hey Facebook. Here’s a radical idea: Why don’t you have your engineers write a few algorithms to make decisions on what contextual advertising not to include in a user’s feed?
Are we no longer permitted to mourn for a few hours? We’re targets for advertisers. I get that. But have we been reduced to just that and nothing more? Is the “social” in social network a lie?
In February, 2011, Kenneth Cole became the target of relentless attacks for his insensitivity when he suggested that the uprising in Egypt was in response to Kenneth Cole’s new spring clothing line.
Facebook is no different in its insensitivity to the mood of the people. I understand that the company can’t simply stop pushing out advertising every time there is a tragedy, especially as they seem to occur almost daily, but seriously, can’t they use technology to dial back a little when they see a predominantly somber and reflective sentiment among users?
Contextual ads are almost always annoying, but often cross the line into distasteful or offensive. Not long after the one-year anniversary of the passing of his grandfather, my son was presented with this ad on his Facebook page:
Apparently, my son overlooked this caring gesture while his grandfather was still alive. And his grandfather, was, like his father, Jewish, a religion which generally sees cremation as a desecration of the human body. All of the facts concerned with the passing of his grandfather were disclosed often in multiple Facebook feeds and could easily have been used by Facebook to determine that this ad was offensive and poorly timed, had they cared.
Facebook is not doing advertisers any favors by pushing the wrong content on unreceptive users. I have no need for Zoosk. I am in a committed relationship and not shopping around. But I will tell you this. Seeing the company’s idiotic ad in my feed while I contemplated with sadness the week’s events has caused me to think even more poorly of the company than I ever did.
And I certainly don’t consider Facebook the new agora, reserved for scholarly discussions on lofty topics, but it’s starting to look more like an inner city bus stop.