Friday, September 26, 2008

Good Will... Gathering?

One of the best rants in movie history is, I believe, the one that Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) lets rip on a recruiter from the NSA. Partly I love it because it's delivered in the wonderful South Boston (Southie) accent that so many of my friends' parents and older brothers had from the old neighborhood. Partly it's because it's a wicked rant:
Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area," 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

It's a beautiful rant, and delivered, apparently, in one breath.

I've written before on my thoughts about hunting vs. gathering mentalities. Here's the quick version, in bullet point format because you just had to wade through a huge chunk of text and bullets will liven things up:

  • The two main types of early human productivity focused on hunting and gathering. We're anthropologically bent towards them.

  • Hunting requires more "fluid" skills, gathering more "directed" skills. Neither is better or worse, per se, they are just different.

  • The development of agriculture took gathering to a new level. Farming is, essentially, controlled gathering. You gather the crops and animals you want into your space, and then work on them there. It is, to my thinking, meta-gathering.

  • The industrial revolution did to other jobs what farming did for food. It took jobs (blacksmith, for example) that required many different skills and broke them apart... "farmed" them out to many specific workers, shops and industries. You no longer had one guy making nails, hoes, rakes, plows, etc. You had one guy who made the one part that went into the one slot on the one product.

  • The computer is a general tool; it allows one person to, once again, do many things.

  • The Internet is a "hunt based" tool. It relies more on one's ability to search, connect, add, comment, develop, etc. than it does on one particular skill. Ask yourself this: what would it mean to say, "He's an expert at the Internet." It's a ridiculous phrase.

  • Web skills and the ability to integrate them with other computer-based tools are turning us from gatherers (do the one thing, in the one place, over and over) into hunters (be flexible and fluid, concentrate on goals rather than steps, etc.)

There's a PhD thesis in there somewhere, I'm sure. Just not for me to write.

All of this apropos a Seth Godin piece on change, by way of Stephen's Lighthouse. Seth's main point can be summed up by this quote:
Oh, there's one other thing: As we've turned human beings into competent components of the giant network known as American business, we've also erected huge barriers to change. In fact, competence is the enemy of change! Competent people resist change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That's who they are, and sometimes that's all they've got. No wonder they're not in a hurry to rock the boat.

I would agree... except for one caveat. I believe that competent gathering is the enemy of change, whereas competent hunting is always ready for change and, in fact, lusts for it.

Set is right that "competent components" are reluctant to change. Why? If someone eliminates the square hole, and your job is to put the square peg in that sucka... game over. On the other hand, if your role involves leveraging skills that are more fluid -- find, connect, describe, convince, improve, direct -- you love change. Why? Because change is what you are trying to accomplish in a hunt. You seek to change the status quo (being hungry, let's say), not through a well developed system of activities that anyone can accomplish. You seek change through the skills and abilities of you and your hunting party. You don't know what you'll find when you go out... but you know you want to kill and eat it.

Again... I'm not knocking gathering/gardening/farming/factory skills. They are hugely efficient for feeding millions of people, manufacturing huge tons of similar items, etc.

I'm just saying that hunting is coming back. And Mr. Will Hunting is right... we don't want to be cogs in a giant, frightening machine that takes our individual work and accumulates it into something beyond our ken. We want to know, do, feel, connect, befriend, share, create, evaluate and reject. Why?

Hunting is simply more fun.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Text every 9 minutes

According to a new Nielsen poll (as found on cnet), Americans now send more text messages than make phone calls. And 13-17 year olds send 1,742 text messages a month. Assuming an eight-hour sleep cycle, that means they're sending a text message about every 17 minutes of their waking days.

And, of course, someone has to read all those messages. I assume it's mostly other teens. Which means that for every message sent, one is read. Which then means that they are either sending or reading a message about every 9 minutes.

Passing messages back-and-forth more than 6 times an hour. Even if the reply is just, "LOL," that's a lot of readin' and writin'.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dis connection, dat connection

"Connect" is a big word. At my place of work, it ends up in our tagline:

OCLC. The world's libraries. Connected.

From last Sunday around 4pm until Thursday around 3pm, we were disconnected by hurricane Ike. According to the weather folk, Ike pushed a really large, fast-moving warm air front up from the south. Said front met a cold air mass coming down from Canada (probably due to the good exchange rate, ha ha), and when they met... woosh. We had 75 mile an hour winds throughout much of Central Ohio, knocking out power for something like 1.4 million people in the state.

We were very lucky. We had some limbs down in the back yard, a bunch of twiggy, leafy crap in the front. We lost a fridge and a stand-alone freezer worth of food (which was covered by our homeowner's insurance -- something for y'all to remember), and had some very minor damage to our vinyl siding. No big whoop. And while having no power (or Web or phone or TV) for four days was a pain, it was also kinda fun, as it meant checkers by candlelight, more reading (I'm reading Neal Stephenson's new "Anathem" on my phone),  and early bedtimes. Again... I'm extremely thankful that all we lost was some electrons and frozen shrimp.

So... we were somewhat dis-connected. Or were we? I still had my cell phone, as did my wife. I had Internet access at work and on my phone. I did have to go to some lengths to retrieve some files off my desktop PC at home (thanks for the battery back-up, Chris!), but that was about the only real, "Crap! I can't do what I want without these connections!" that really needed to be "dealt with." The rest was just, well... suck it up and wait.

I might have felt differently if the weather hadn't been so pleasant, too. Nice, cool nights. Tack another 12 degrees onto the thermometer and Andy would have been a whiny camper.

So to celebrate our return to the connected world, I finally signed up for Twitter.  I have not yet really grokked Twitter. But, as a good corporate marketing wonk, I subscribed to an RSS feed of tweets that refer to my company, OCLC. And that has been very... interesting. Nothing hugely surprising in any given message (or as a whole), but the feeling it has given me is much the same as when I overhear a snippet of conversation in the lobby or at a restaurant. It's a kind of... slightly guilty pleasure. Of course, all these people choose to twitter about whatever it is... but they don't know, specifically, that I'm "overhearing" them.

Basically, it just seems kinda fun. Another level of Internetual awareness.

So... the Twitter widget is in my sidebar over there, and you're invited to follow along, if you like. For the time being, my vow is that all my tweets will be in haiku.

Why? Well, why the heck not.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Things that scare me: Palin on the "Bush Doctrine." Part 309 in a 42,006 part series

I don't often blog about politics here. For two reasons:

  1. I don't know much about politics.

  2. I'm more interested in other things most days.

The first reason doesn't stop me on every other subject, and doesn't stop everyone else on politics. I have opinions and preferences, sure. I even have beliefs and have done some campaign work in the past for candidates I wanted to support. But I'm not a political junkie, I don't follow much of the point-by-point analysis of what's going on in Washington, and (most years) I'm not sure I could name both my Senators.

All of this to say that it scares the crap out of me that Sarah Palin, in her interview with Charlie Gibson, didn't know what the "Bush Doctrine" is... AND I DO.

I'm a marketing manager living in Columbus, Ohio. I teach history of advertising one night a week. I play video games and read lots of fiction as well as non-fiction books and watch cartoons with my kid. I am, as far as I can tell, a fairly "ordinary" dude.  I have to look up the capitol of Afghanistan. I don't know what the currency unit for South Africa is.  I can't ever remember if Waterloo was before or after the War of 1812. I do OK on Jeopardy stuff, but not great.

If Palin hadn't known the difference between a "virtual world" and an "MMO," I wouldn't care. If she got "Star Wars" mixed up with "Star Trek," I wouldn't care. I wouldn't even really care if she stumbled on a question about net neutrality or digital copyright law, even though I think those are important issues. I don't expect every political candidate to know as much about certain things as I do. That wouldn't be fair, and I'm a fair (as well as ordinary) guy.

Is it unfair, however, to expect a vice presidential candidate to know about one of the most controversial and influential policies enacted by her own party's leader, the current president?

I actually yelled at my radio this morning when they played the excerpt from the interview. I'm so not that guy... especially about politics. But when I heard her response to Charlie's question...
Gibson: "Do you agree with the 'Bush Doctrine.'"
Palin: "In what respect, Charlie?"
Gibson: "What do you interpret it to be?"
Palin: "His world view?"

... I realized... she doesn't know. She just doesn't know what it is.

Cue Andy yelling at the radio.

Look back at my blog entries. There's more stuff here about my dog than about politics. So if *I* know more about this issue than Palin...

I am afraid. Very afraid. More than I was yesterday.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Push polled

So I just got push polled on the Ohio Payday Loan Referendum. Kinda hysterical, until it got to be more than 3 minutes long. Which is my personal time limit for confusing the hey-nonny-nonny out of push pollsters.

I'm a sucker for polls. I like being asked my opinion, an, if the person on the other end of the phone has a nice voice, I usually find the experience very soothing. It's like free therapy. Well, micro-therapy, anyway.

But push polling is, well... you know. Obnoxious. They don't really want my opinion. They want me to change my mind. This one went from bad to funny to sad pretty quickly.

Last year,  the governor and Ohio lawmakers approved HB 545, a bill that caps the Ohio payday loan industry's interest rate at 28%. The previous cap was 391%, which works out to $15 per $100 on a two-week loan. Obviously, the payday loan industry didn't like that so much, and so have a veto referendum coming up in November. It's one of those complicated things to get clear with voters: Vote "yes" on the veto in order to say "no" to saying "yes" to saying "no" to usury. Hunh? Yeah, that's right. A "yes" vote means that you are for being against being for being against super-high interest loans. As Kung-Fu Panda says, "Ske-doosh."

Early on in the call, after establishing that I vote, the pollster asked me, "Do you think that you are capable of making your own financial decisions?" I answered, "Yes." OK. Who wouldn't? Then she asked, "Do you think that other people are capable of making their own financial decisions?"

I asked if there was another answer besides "Yes" or "No." An answer like, "Some people. But not the ones in charge of the mortgage industry, the federal deficit or funding for Ohio public education." Or, "Some people, but not people who buy lottery tickets." She was not amused, and we went with "Yes."

Then it became clear... "Do you think that a person should be able to get a short-term loan of $100 for a service fee of $15?"

Ah-ha. I'd heard enough about this issue to know where we were standing at this point. I also knew, from the way those questions had been tossed out, that it was a push poll. So... at that point, my goal is to get out quickly, but possibly confuse their system a bit. I don't like push polling, and endeavor to waste their time a little, up to the point where it's not any fun for me.

I won't go into details, but my answers were all over the place. I said, for example, that "saving 6,000 Ohio jobs" wasn't a reason why I'd vote for the veto. But I said that keeping the government from "creating lists of who gets what kind of loans" was a reason I'd veto it.

Don't know why. Just went for the random thing.

I hate push polling. Did I mention that? Mostly because they don't care what I think, just what they do.

Would it change your vote about the upcoming election if you knew that John McCain was a cross-dressing alien from the planet Clam?