When nobody is driving - thoughts on being a Gen Xer today

My kids think it's funny that I watch 90210 reruns on The Soap Network every time they're on. That I search for music on iTunes with the keyword "80s." (And won't let them change the local 80s station in the car when we are doing the shopping.)

They can't understand just why it is that I laughed so hard, and cried, when I saw A Serious Man. Why Ben Stiller's characters in the movies are worth discussing to me on an academic level. Why I love Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, St. Elmo's Fire, Less Than Zero.

They think it is funny that I like things that "old fashioned." What they don't understand is that for me those shows and that music are not about being stuck in the past. They are about helping me to deal with the present, and to think about the future.

I remember when I was a kid and we used to take these long car rides to visit my grandparents. We usually drove about 10-12 hours, a lot of it overnight. My dad would get coffee at rest stops to keep him awake, and I would try to sleep in the back seat of the car, sitting up.

Most of the time I succeeded. But sometimes I would wake up. And I would see my dad's eyes in the rearview mirror, closed. Or he would be snoring. And then I would get really scared, and yell "Daddy!" to wake him up.

It's been 30 years since those car rides. In the interim my dad has cared for his parents through old age, illness and death, and still now oversees their buried remains. He is somebody who in many ways remains a mystery to me, but I know for sure he's a devoted son.

Nevertheless at that young age I grasped a terrifying fact on those car rides - grownups, no matter how good their intentions, are sometimes asleep at the wheel of a car I'm riding in.

As a teen and young adult I saw that theme reflected over and over in popular culture. It was my experience and it was there on the screen. And now, as an adult in midlife, it is terrifying to me to realize that what I saw 30 years ago remains true in many ways, and in many seemingly organized societies and institutions.

So I am going through this phase where it is dawning on me that I must drive the car. I must take the wheel. I am responsible. And I am not 100% sure of where the car should go, only that the road has potholes and that there's no way I can see all of them.

I am fortified by the knowledge that there are others out there who see the same thing and who have shared what they know in that collective database known as the Internet. Like on the pop culture shows I grew up with, and that are made by those in my own generation, I have faith that even if our well meaning parents can't always save the day, there are good people, friends and neighbors, who will help to see things through.

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Social media is not about me

I am learning something I didn't fully understand before: Social media is about interaction much more than self-expression.

The whole way it is set up makes you think the former. After all you start with an "account" where you proceed to "update" the world on your thoughts, comings and goings.

If you are lucky you figure out a way to "monetize" the "followers" you have made online and turn yourself into a product, or "brand."

Me, me, me, it's all about me - yecch.

The people I follow online understand the difference between self expression and social media and they don't mix the two. For example Penelope Trunk has her blog, Brazen Careerist, and a social network that is affiliated but separate.

Give your shpiel (speech, routine in Yiddish) in one room, socialize in another.

Another good example is Seth Godin but in a different way. Where Penelope has two spheres of expression, Godin melds them both into the blog, providing advice of significant value to the reader and keeping himself out of the discourse to such an extent that it really is "all about you" as opposed to himself.

Both approaches lend themselves to monetizing. Both are social, indirectly or directly. And most importantly, both are compelling, credible, clear and consistent (thank you Karen Hughes).

I wonder what will happen with Facebook and Twitter. Personally I dislike online ads, have a deep-seated belief that the Internet and its social connectivity services should be free, and get offended when people pretend to be interacting when they are really pushing a product.

I am still learning. There are so many people who seem to be whizzes at this. The technology alone is moving so fast, it's amazing.

One thing I am getting pretty sure of. The main draw online is usually not the content. The comments are where the action is. Kind of a new way of thinking about things.

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Non-transparency is better than pseudo-transparency

My mother always told me that the one thing she hated was a liar. She
isn't always comfortable with bluntness, because she doesn't like to
hurt anybody's feelings. But lying for her is a cardinal sin. (As is

As an adult I have internalized my mother's values. They are mirrored
by my larger family on all sides, and I am drawn to friends and
colleagues who simply "tell it like it is," even if it hurts and even
if I disagree.

So I naturally embrace the modern buzzword of "transparency." But with
experience I have learned that just because you use the word, that
doesn't mean you actually live in a glass house. Rather, you choose
wisely what to share and set boundaries around the rest. In today's
social media environment however, the difference from the past is that
you share by default and restrict as needed, rather than the other way
around. (Heard that from social media expert Shel Holtz.)

Yet I have the disturbing sense that a lot of what is passing as
transparency, in whatever sector of discourse, is really
pseudo-transparency. Misleading. And the tipoff for me is when I can't
understand in simple terms what is being explained to me.

Good example is the half an hour of torture I experienced yesterday
going over my "transparent" cellphone bill with my service provider.

Another is the incredible obscurantism around the state of the oil spill.

We can all think of examples.

Bottom line is, if you can't tell me the truth, I would rather be told
the following:

1. I can't tell you. Here is why (followed by logical answer.)

2. I will tell you later on, but not now (followed by timeframe and
follow through.)

3. Here is what I can tell you.

4. If you don't believe me that I can't tell you, here is your
recourse including a link to an objective third party that oversees
me, rates me, etc.

5. Here are some information resources that can help (meaningful please.)

In general my view is that non-transparency is better than
pseudo-transparency, because at least it avoids the lying factor that
destroys stakeholders' trust.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

Customer service is the brand - for worse and sometimes better

Oh the examples of bad customer service I have seen lately. I suspect
these are generally due to companies' myopia about where the brand
really lives - the customer's point of purchase interaction either
with a person, a website, a machine, whatever. How else would one
explain paying frontline retail reps minimum wage or close to it? Or
designing websites that annoy the customer, don't work on all
operating systems, etc.?

Here are just a few things I personally experienced the past few days.

--Cell phone carrier took 20 minutes of cellphone time to explain
overbill and correct error

--Retail store employee hovered over me while I browsed then quickly
folded up the one item of clothing I picked up, the second I put it
down (disapprovingly)

--Fast food cashier argued with me when I gave back burnt coffee

--Website where I sought to buy something took me to last step then
said it didn't work on a Mac

--Online vendor refused to accept return of defective item till I
called customer service to "troubleshoot," where I was placed on
endless hold.

A few bright lights in contrast:

--Starbucks frontline employees have great attitude all the time, no
need to elaborate

--Same goes for Borders Books

--Comfort One shoes is near heroic

And a little story. Bought rotisserie chicken from local deli, called
them to report stomachache, full refund over the phone. Koshermart in
Rockville - thank you for your no questions asked, customer driven

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