You and future you

For the longest time, you didn’t have too much of a say in crafting the “future you.”

Even two decades ago, those who worked “above” you in your organization had a big say in what opportunities you got to work on. Want to make that big career switch? Or, want in on that exciting new project? You just had to wait to get picked by the powers that be.

But, that’s changed.

Now, you have access to an incredible set of media tools to shape “future you.” You could demonstrate your penchant for coming up with ground breaking insights about the industry you want to work in on your blog or on LinkedIn. Facebook or Instagram can be incredible platforms to show off your artistic abilities. And, Twitter is a great place to build a following around your comedic wit or knack for pithy dialogue.

Like all good things in life, these tools are entirely what you make of them. You can use them to consume an endless stream of sticky content. Or not. If you decide to do so, these tools can be your customized digital garage to work on projects that would open up opportunities for “future you.”

Here are 3 simple questions to help craft your approach toward social media –
1. What sort of projects would you like to work on in the future?
2. What do you need to learn and ship to get access to those opportunities?
3. Which 1-2 social media tools could you use to build that body of work? If you really love the consumption, pick one other tool to consume (guilty pleasure allowance) and nix the rest.

You could choose to unconsciously engage in social media in ways that simply benefit their parent companies and hurt you.

Or, you can harness the tremendous power these bring and pick yourself to do work that matters.

Despicable behavior and internet ethics

Critic Anita Sarkeesian has been the subject of intense harassment and abuse (a.k.a “trolling”) from the gaming community after sharing her views on how women are portrayed in video games. She shared 1 week of tweets from trolls from on her blog last week. Just as a preview, she has the following content warning before her tweets – Content warning for misogyny, gendered insults, victim blaming, incitement to suicide, sexual violence, rape and death threats.

Now, a question – how many of those who tweeted would have the guts to say that to her in person?

I would be surprised if one out of every hundred had real courage. The most courageous people would look to give Anita a call and discuss her point of view or perhaps disagree with her with a critique on her own. Despicable behavior is a hallmark of gutless cowards. And, unfortunately, such pseudo-macho behavior is a hallmark of cowardly male behavior on the internet.

There are 2 thoughts that come straight to mind –
1. In short term, Twitter needs to take a hard stand against trolling. We need to think of it as bouncers in a club. Users should be given a warning (strike 1), thrown out for a few days for abusive tweeting (strike 2) and then banned from the service altogether if there’s a third strike. I know this would run counter to the typical social media mantra of “we want all the users we can get,” but, Twitter is fairly niche and is really well positioned to take such a stand. (And, it looks like they’re thinking about it)

And, my hypothesis is that a few such actions will stop the rest from such behavior. Cowardice doesn’t do too well with hard action. It is just a question of creating norms – you rarely see such trolls on LinkedIn..

2. In the long term, we need more education and discussion around ethics on the internet. I spent a lot of time as a secondary student learning to write letters as part of the English curriculum. Now, I write letters just once a year but, at least, some of those learnings have been useful in the world of email. Services like Twitter are completely new territory and we need to think intentionally about ethics and norms.

And, the other question for the long term is whether we can figure out ways to reduce emotional distance between two people on services like Twitter. Emotional distance is what makes it easy for a coward to throw insults on Twitter but not in person. It doesn’t feel as “real” and we forget that the people at the other end are real people – a lot like us (see Derek Sivers’ excellent 3 min video if you haven’t as yet). I’m not sure how we’d do that as yet. But, there has to be a way. And, I’m sure we’ll find it.

Pressure, quirks and chopping wood

A close friend shared that his plans for today involved a quiet day at work. He also mentioned that he was getting screamed at by everyone he shared the plan with. Today is new year’s eve after all and there’s a certain pressure to do something memorable.

I was reminded of an evening a bunch of us spent together as teenagers. I think it was new years eve. After some time spent gaming in the afternoon, we spent about 3 hours in the side walk discussing our plans for the evening. Ironically, it was well into the evening by the time we ended our discussion. And, this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. We enjoyed talking about what to do. That meant everyone shared their preference and pretty much got berated for suggesting what always seemed like a dumb idea. Planning what to do typically meant lots of laughter and, I think, as a result, we spent a significant portion of those years planning.

Planning was the excuse, of course. It was just a blast to spend time together.

When I look back to my childhood, some of the best moments my friends and I spent together were spent on the most unspectacular things. An evening hanging out at my place, “planning,” a sleep over with a movie or two, riding to the beach (It was 1 hour away. So, it wasn’t the hanging out at the beach as much as it was about the ride), playing, eating panipuri at a roadside chaat shop, and just cracking up at each other’s expense – none of these cost much. But, they all made for really cool memories.

One of the funny consequences of the digital age and social media is that, somehow, they’ve added a certain pressure of expectation to moments of fun. Suddenly, it is not enough to be on vacation, it matters that it is a really cool vacation. Similarly, it is not clear if a fun evening with friends counts without a tagged status update or photo. As a result, fun occasions like new years days and valentines day have become high pressure days where we compete for likes and social status. Maybe some find it fun. I sure hope they do. This is for all those who don’t.

As you think about your fun events either to celebrate this new year’s day or an upcoming vacation, I really hope you think about what makes it fun for YOU. If that means, spending a week by yourself, so be it. In doing this, you will have to embrace your quirks. I realized a year or so ago that I don’t mind working on “stuff” when I’m on a break. What does matter to me is waking up without an alarm. You see, I sleep 10-11 hours on average most vacations and, as long as I do that, I’m happy.

It is up to us to design a life that will embrace that quirkiness. There is no shortcut to looking inward.

Finally, I came across this Zen quote – “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

It is a fantastic quote. Applying it to this context, it doesn’t matter how rich/successful/enlightened we are – at the end of the day, we are still human beings who crave love, attention, engagement, good food, good times and sleep. Here’s to that and more – on this new year’s eve and beyond.