Ransoming our privacy, big words, and the illusion of knowledge, among other deep thoughts for this week…
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I spent a good portion of my life on the commuter train, juggling a cup of coffee and a donut and a broadsheet newspaper or two. When boredom set in, I’d play a game I almost always lost: Seat Selection Psychic.
Anyone can play a round of on the train, the bus, a fast-food restaurant…pretty much anywhere that seats aren’t assigned in advance. Somebody walks in and you try to anticipate where they will plant themselves for the duration of their visit. Aisle or window? Booth or table? Alone or next to someone? Same sex or opposite?
Per usual, this game said nothing about the people I was watching, because it was really a test of the assumptions I make when I first see someone. What’s their gender, race, age? How are they dressed? Are they carrying coffee or a briefcase or a grocery bag or a protest sign? We use all of these visual cues to get a sense of who the person is, whether they are friendly or cold or professional or unemployed or fugitives from another galaxy.
I know a few people who would be wizards at this game, but I am clearly a Muggle. Over a period of years, I don’t think I ever predicted the new rider’s destination accurately. Still, the exercise reminded me about the limited insights provided by first impressions.
People, like ogres, are like onions. It takes a while to peel back all the layers. Some people grow on you as you get to know them better, while others prove to be less human than they appeared at first. We like to pride ourselves on our ability to size people up quickly, but we’re off base much more often than we’d want to admit.
It might be true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but we have many chances to make a good impression or, at least, a real one. Fairly often, I’ve found my first impressions to be just a trifle shallow and arrogant, only to be softened and better informed by subsequent encounters. That experience has made me better at withholding judgment, which just might enable me to get better at life.
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Maybe they don’t mean it that way, or perhaps they do, but there are some statements that I hear repeatedly and they just rub me the wrong way. If you were writing a blog, you could be whining about this stuff, too…
Time for some audience participation: what comments drive you up the wall or over the edge or around the bend? Add your faves to our comment section this week and we can all cringe together.
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I always cringe a bit when I read a news report that refers to "informed sources."
Often, it seems, it's only one informed source and we never know exactly who informed the source about whatever he or she or they are informed about. Sometimes, there are two informed sources, but it’s possible that both received their information from the same person, so they really should count as one source.
When the source is a few levels down in the food chain, it's like a game of telephone, where the story changes just a bit with each retelling. It can make a huge difference if the "informed" source was the actual doer or six steps removed from the scene of battle.
Worse, there is a pathology I noticed in my days as a news reporter and, later, as a consultant, that can skew the story significantly. This isn’t about bias or agendas; it’s about life.
When we interview people for insights, the best informed people will often be the ones who say the least. Perhaps they give us the smallest amount of time or they are more circumspect about how they speak. As rule, people whose words are impactful will be careful in their choice of words.
That means, often, that the guy who gives you the best quotes and the largest amount of time might also be the least informed or least connected or least powerful person on the interview list. Of course, that person might have tons of spare time to spend as a source.
There’s a difference, of course, between least connected and least powerful. The most connected and powerful person might be in the best position to see the big picture, understand the competing issues, and deliver on his claims, or he might be out of touch with the daily details or too protective of the status quo. The least powerful person might be a whistleblower or most familiar with the way plans are actually implemented. Other times, the least powerful person turns out to be a crank.
It doesn’t matter if I’m reading something from the right or left, about business or art or politics, simply calling someone an informed source doesn’t do it for me. Of course, if the person is referred to as a well-informed source or a senior-level source, that changes everything. Those are the people you just know you can trust.
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When hand crafting is no longer a plus, initial thoughts on diseases, and a blabst from the pabst, brought to you this week from a clean desk and a very cluttered mind…
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Take a quick look at the photo that accompanies this post, the one with the panels from three comics that appeared recently in my daily newspaper. (Note to Millennials: Ask your parents to explain what a newspaper is.) Today’s post was supposed to focus on those comics, but it turns out that you won’t be able to read the story online.*
That’s because I have discovered the one thing you absolutely cannot publish on the internet. Yes, you can post pornography, threats, vile characterizations, fake videos and the worst moments of some stranger’s life. The thing you absolutely cannot post, though, is satire.
I tried, I really did, and my failure offers up a lesson about the medium that transforms the message.
Quick flashback: I was sitting at the kitchen table and I noticed that three comic strips all focused on the same topic on the same day: women’s hair. It’s pretty common that two comics might touch on the same theme on any given day, of course, because there are only so many general areas (family, money, exercise, pets…) that are universal sources of mirth. When I saw the trio about hair, though, it reminded me of Auric Goldfinger’s explanation that, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.”
Genius!! I had been meaning to put together a post about conspiracy theories, but I hadn’t found the right way to tackle the subject. This blog is a politics-free zone, which prohibits any comments about 99.9999% of all conspiracies. But the comics pages are perfect. Nobody could really see a conspiracy among cartoonists, so a funny riff on a comics cabal would be exactly right.
So I wrote a post about the conspiracy I had uncovered among cartoonists to undermine America with their flagrant attacks on women, families and other institutions. I added ALL CAPS and bold type and underlines and SOMETIMES ALL THREE to mimic the suspect screeds that arrive in my morning feed.
And it’s pretty good, at least in comparison with most of my stuff, so I put it in the queue to run today. But then reality set in. The problem with putting satire online is that so many, many, many, many…many people do not grasp the difference between real and fake. Our subscribers would recognize the post as satire, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that somebody somewhere would miss the humor and launch a boycott against Blondie.
I tried adding a spoiler alert of sorts to the beginning of the post, but that’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny. I thought of adding a note at the end of the screed, but that would work about as well as the “thanks for sharing the fun” announcement at the end of the War of the Worlds broadcast.
In the end, I gave up. If we were sitting in a bar and I leaned in close and told you about the comics conspiracy, we could have a good laugh. On the internet, though, we’d cause a panic.
Damn. Now I need to think of something else I can post today.
* If you’d like to read the conspiracy rant, just leave a comment (include your email in the appropriate info box) and I will send the pdf to you by email. Don’t share it on the internet, though, because innocent lives are at stake.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.