Rebelling Against Scripts

We know so little about ourselves as human beings. Yet, the technology and media industries are full of finite statements about how people will act in this new age of technology and sensors. Such are the opinions of futurists.

Vision attempts to deliver a script of how things will evolve. Programs are developed with algorithms that suggest the “best” behavioral path. They create a means to help people fit within the vision of how things should be.

Then reality strikes. Both the data and human instinct defies the vision.

People rebel against scripts. They defy them and act differently. Computational models respond to the new behavior and suggest improvements. New and better means are found.

Defiance Today

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Image by Phantom Rebel.

As more of our lives become scripted by tech — and by design what others determine the best method to act is — we will find outliers. These people look at a recommendation and defy it.

Rebellion is an inevitable consequence of the human condition. When people are forced into defined situations, a small group breaks free from the norm. They see that everyone is behaving one way at that time, identify alternatives, and choose to find a different way.

The fastest way to work? Google Maps be damned. Everyone participating in birthday congratulations on Facebook? Pass on wall writing, and send a text.

By bucking the trend, some people make things worse, but others succeed.

One of the biggest scripts we are fed today is the need to share. Share everything. Share it on Facebook (Like it will do, too). Retweet, pin, and/or plus one it, too! Send us your photos wherever you are, and check in.

Sorry, corporate America and your data-compromising social network partners. More and more people are rebelling and saying no.

Conversations and photos are going private. More than half of social updates are occuring on dark channels. We know about SnapChat, but how about WhatsApp? Beyond the billions of messages, six hundred million photos are shared privately on WhatsApp every day.

Check in frequently and find your friends coming by and interrupting you? Use anti-social app Cloak to avoid them.

The social script keeps getting disrupted. People say no, and migrate to a technological alternative. A new norm is established.

A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

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The algorithm-driven “smart” world we are developing brings to mind Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. From the description, “He’s made an illicit copy of a state-of-the-art interactive device called A Young Ladys Illustrated Primer Commissioned by an eccentric duke for his grandchild, stolen for Hackworth’s own daughter, the Primer’s purpose is to educate and raise a girl capable of thinking for herself. It performs its function superbly.”

As the novel unfolds three different girls are raised with the algorithmic primer as a nanny of sorts. We see that socioeconomic background, situations and personality dramatically affect actual outcomes, even through all three have access to the exact same primer program.

None of the girls end up the same. Hunger, desire, emotional disposition and drive all make a big difference as their lives evolve.

Algorithms cannot predict the evolving human mind, and how it will react to each random situation. Many people will follow the prescribed script. But every person is new. Some will break from the path.

A mentality of following change exists. Innovators trailblaze, then early adopters follow suit. At some point it becomes safe for the general population to leave the tried and true, and adapt the new method of doing things.

Then a new generation of tools and technologies becomes scripted. Innovators and outliers rebel. The cycle continues faster and faster.

This seems to be our world now.

But whatever the truth about technology adoption may be, I am not too worried about algorithms driving human existence. We just won’t stand still long enough to let it happen.

What do you think?

Freaking Out About Surveillance at SXSW

The topic of surveillance threaded the general conversation at the SXSW Interactive Festival this year. From live video keynotes by the exiled Julian Assange and Edward Snowden to ever present sensor enabled wristbands and a surprising amount of people wearing Glass, privacy — caused by sensors, data, and the Internet-powered applications they empower — found its way into the very pores of the conference.

As a result, the always-on quantified self created a bit of a freak-out amongst attendees. Almost every conversation I had touched on this topic.

First, let me say it was refreshing to see social media and marketing take a supporting role at SXSW as the conference moved to discuss larger trends in the interactive sector. Clearly, the movement towards an omnipresent Internet creates dramatic implications for society and businesses beyond extrapolating personal data to deliver contextual marketing.

It was ironic to see everyone wearing sensors and discussing the latest personal data-driven app, while they conveyed concerns about societal. Those fears included stalking, government and corporate abuse of data, personal privacy (will your Fitbit report your bedside activity?), and the impact on self identity caused by constantly being on.

Yet, most of us felt that while valid, the sensor train has already left the station. We move about our lives vaguely knowing the tech we love is disrupting our own privacy and security, and ignoring the consequences. People may value their privacy, yet they strap on their fitness band or allow access to personal data via social networks, mobile phones, sign-ups and web browsers.

Perhaps it was the Snowden and Assange video keynotes that caused the underlying meme. Invariably, when conversations begin about on these topics people become concerned.

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Having attended (and walked out of) the Assange session and seeing what Snowden said, the two keynote speeches struck me as the self-justifying rants of sociopaths. The exiled self-proclaimed defenders of the public interest seem to need the attention, and enjoyed the audience. It is clear Assange and Snowden think they are above the law, and have no remorse for the certain deaths their actions have caused.

I am not saying that the societal impact of surveillance by friends, family, co-workers and government is not a worthy topic. People are rightly concerned.

BUT surveillance is a government, corporate and personal action that has been occurring since the beginning of civilization. Discussion of spies can be found as far back as Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The medium creates the current manifestation of data and video surveillance. It’s no surprise that governments are collecting and sharing data, while pressuring companies to open their information repositories.

Unrestrained corporate actions leveraging personal data are not a surprise either. We live in a free capitalist economy that influences the government with lobby or special interest dollars.

No Restraint with Personal Technology

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My reaction to a full explanation of sensor-driven personal data.

What is surprising is our personal lack of restraint about data and privacy. We treat it like we treat the environment. There is no personal valuation or action to address the situation even though we fear the worst.

Yet when surveillance in this new digital world order is discussed, we freak out. That is ironic given the larger context. In reality, the fear is self-centered. We don’t like the thought of our little wrongs and guilty pleasures becoming easily accessible to others via the Internet.

Vulnerability is not openly embraced by a vast majority of people.

In the social media era, we saw ourselves, good and bad. In the end, we saw the ugly side of human nature. Perhaps we’re not ready to see even more of the bad openly served to the digital public thanks to our various personal technologies.

Yet, you have to think that such exposure would be bad business for many of the companies involved. Who wants an app that’s going to out them at every corner? Of course, if you live an honest life this is not an issue.

In addition, this is an issue of the moment, and for the older generation. The next generation, the children of today, will grow up in this world. It won’t even bother them.

What do you think?

How You Live This Life Is How You Leave It

I just withdrew from a very contentious family incident surrounding my grandmother’s estate. She passed away in late January.

Thanks to ugly family politics during the past year, I and the rest of her direct descendants will receive nothing from her estate. Not even a photograph. That’s too bad. I visited her in France every other year throughout my childhood, she helped me propose to my wife, attended my wedding. And I served as her guardian from 2009 through most of last year, and saw her almost weekly for the last seven years.

I could have fought this, but why fight for a year or two in court over money and things? You see, to fight this would have continued a terrible legacy.

While my grandmother did some great things, she was not a great person. Punitive acts, harsh words or divisiveness marred almost every conversation. Plus the estate was squandered, the result of a decade of uninhibited spending and alcoholic behavior. The expenditure alone would have eaten a significant portion of the estate. It all added up to a distraction, a big negative sink hole.

The results from grandma’s life could be seen at the funeral. Outside of the family members who forcefully took over her care and estate last autumn, there were only four people in attendance.

The acrimony after grandma’s death matches her life. Some behaviors have been passed on, but the seeds of the past don’t have to take root in the future, at least not my future.

I remember discussing this matter with my last close relative of that generation, my step grandmother Miriam. She’s 95, and just lost her beloved Mort last year. She said, “How you live this life is how you leave it.” Miriam was right.

I could not help but consider the contrast between Mort’s passing, my paternal grandmother Jean, and my maternal grandmother Muriel. In the case of Mort and Jean, there was profound sadness. Both served their communities, easily made friends, and did their best to take care of others. Mort was such a well known volunteer and community organizer, his passing was felt throughout Philadelphia.

And then there is Muriel’s death.

I did love my grandmother very much. The painful discord during and after her life makes it much harder to reconcile her death, though.

I can only say that while she loved me, too (I think), in most situations she was a great teacher of what not to do. That includes giving instead of taking, and understanding when to fight as well as what to fight about. It always leaves scars for both parties, and can become a huge distration from what really matters in life.

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My grandmother Jean used to always say when something was troubling me that this too shall pass. Instead of remembering the bad, I hope I can cherish the good things like the many trips to the Vallongue in Provence (pictured above), as well as Paris, Rome, and Geneva (featured image). She did many things for me, and I know that. Only time will tell how I feel about her overall legacy.

But no matter what, she has proven that how you live this life is how you leave it. I’ll keep that in mind.

Breaking Up Google

It may be time to break Google up. At a minimum, the Justice Department should consider taking up antitrust action against Google again.

The search monopoly impacts almost every part of the Internet, from content creation to email to data collection. Every small change it makes creates far-reaching ripples.

Google takes these actions to drive revenue for its advertising products. Revenue is derived from a wide array of advertising properties, including search, YouTube, ads in products like Gmail, and the far reaching AdWords network.

So what’s the hubbub about? Consider how the company uses data sourced from Google+, Android phones, Chrome browsers, organic searches and soon its sensors (via the Nest acquisition) to customize ads. Contextual and creepy at the same time, Google uses all of the data collected from products to serve the ad beast, which in turn suggests products from paying partners.

In doing so, Google pushes the boundaries of fair data use. Further, whenever it alters its search algorithms, Google creates tidal waves across the media industry, and impacts every single business with an Internet presence. Because of Google’s size, every business owner and media publisher must at a minimum pay attention to these changes, if not yield to them.

Google, The Data Bully

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Image by Charles Ovens

Consider how Google pressures sites and companies to provide their data for free. When content owners and publishers say no, Google often replicates the data or it launches a competive product to replicate the creation of that data. This basically tells every data owner to you open their database to Google, or face competition from the Silicon Valley giant. Don’t be evil, indeed.

In many ways, Google’s creation of Google+ sought to replace paid access to Twitter and other social network sites that bar public search crawls. By making Google+ and Google Authorship components of its search algorithm, Google forced Plus upon content publishers and website owners. As a result, Google+ is actively marketed by millions of websites across the globe.

What would happen if the Justice Department acted and demanded that Google pay its competitors, and that Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn social data received equal weight in Google searches?

I’ll tell you what. Most content publishers would stop trying to make Google+ work. A vast majority of those G+ social buttons across the social web would disappear like outdoor Christmas lights retired in the midst of January.

Google+ would collapse. And maybe it should.

In its quest to ensure data quality and drive more revenue, Google consistantly pushes the boundaries of privacy. The list of privacy violations is significant (scroll to the end of this Huffington Post piece). You have to wonder what’s going to happen with data from Glass and Nest.

The search algorithm changes impact every media and business across the world with an Internet presence. You can see the panicked Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda update posts that dominated the marketing and publishing interwebs over the past two years.

Last year Google deployed filtered emails based on keywords and data to create a less spammy email experience. Even Gmail filter changes impacted millions of people and businesses alike. I wonder how many companies have to pay to have their products seen in email ads now? Personally, I’ve had a few emails unnecessarily buried by the new tabs.

With many of these actions, Google forces content creators and site publishers to choose between SEO and smart business. Consider the placement of no follow links in press releases and now guest blogs. Now you can’t transfer Google juice in what should be common sense business activities.

I value organic growth by attracting people to my site more than I care about search algorithms. So I tend to ignore some of the finer points (keyword placement, no follow links on guest blogs I accept, etc.) in favor of a good read, but Google’s changes make me consider each tactic.

Case in Point: Guest Blogs are More than SEO

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I read Google Web Spam Leader Matt Cutt‘s arguments last week to eliminate guest blog links from Google’s search algorithm. While I am certain Google sees more blog spam than the average person does, the recommendation to cease guest blogging is a flawed one.

In particular these statements were erroneous: “Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more.”

Though Matt reversed his statement a bit with an amended title and a footnote at the end, this needs to be said loud and clear: Guest blogging is more than SEO.

Guest blogging is an attempt to introduce yourself (or a brand) and garner credibility with new audiences, the virtual road show if you would. In trade, you provide quality content. Even a respected author understands that.

Let me give you some examples:

I wrote a novel call Exodus last year that’s still realtively new. So I guest blogged last Wednesday on To Read, or Not to Read about the possibility of technology destroying us. It was a fun post that delved into post-apocalyptic narration and world building as storytelling devices. It also introduced the book to new audiences.

Then last Thursday I blogged about the coming Zombie Content Apocalypse on Copyblogger. Copyblogger is one of the top blogs in my business. It is always a great opportunity to offer a guest by-line there.

In both cases I delivered unique content to the sites. I believe the original content was useful and interesting to those communities. As a result, I gained a few new followers and contacts from these efforts.

If you told me I would be penalized by Google before I drafted the posts, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Guest blogs and articles remain a strong tactic. That is true with or without Google’s blessing.

This type of situation seems to happen with Google monthly, if not more frequently. And that is the problem with the Internet giant. Small moves create massive waves when you have all the power.

Google Is Threesome

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So how should Google be broken up? Personally, I think Google should be broken up into three companies to create a fairer Internet ecosystem.

The first is the search engine itself as a stand-alone product. When tied to other content elements on the Internet, Google search achieves insurmountable economies of scale. Google tends to leverage search, its various sepearate content mechanisms, and its software (Chrome and Android) for unfair advantages, most notably data mining and the weighting of Google+ in its search algorithm.

The second company would be software products, from Gmail to Android. Also included in this second company would be YouTube, Chrome, Feedburner, and other application elements. In many ways, search is search, and company x is content. We will call this company Google2.

Google3 would be comprised of the hardware companies. Glass, Motorola and Nest would be form Google3. Why seperate these companies from the group? Google clearly uses data to its advantage. Creating and acquiring new devices to capture data seems to be an evolving pattern here, and one that leads to a slippery slope. Separation creates a forced check and balance.

So there you have it, my vision for a safer Internet sans the Google Empire. Much like AT&T, the Baby Bells, and Lucent Technologies in the post telecom divestiture era, the three Google companies would all be very powerful in their own right.

Google Pays to Avoid Trust Busting

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Like other big business lobbies, Google will likely avoid action or penalities for leveraging all of its business powers. Google pays to make sure its agenda is at the forefront of DC legislators’ and administrators’ minds. There are too many dollars at stake.

Washington, DC is a town built on special interest dollars. We all know this; the money involved is a central problem in today’s political gridlock.

Google was the largest tech lobbying company in DC in 2013 with $14 million spent. Ironically, this is a significant decrease over the prior year when Google faced antitrust action.

Though Google may be too powerful, it would take significant public outcry for Washington to act. Google knows the game and plays the system on every corner. We will have to continue dealing with Google’s data manipulation and Internet tactics.

It could be worse. While often overbearing in its moves, at least Google realizes that it can only grow by committing to better search, less spam, and useful information and data products. While I advocate for Google’s breakup, I’d much rather see this management team operating with these economies of scale as opposed to Facebook’s executives. That would be dangerous indeed.

What do you think? Should the government break Google up? Is the company too powerful?

Featured image via The Digital Reader. Capitol Building photo taken by me.

MLK Day 2014: State of the Divide

Given that today is MLK Day, given his dream of equality, it seems fitting see examine how the digital divide persists in the United States. Pew released a study two weeks ago examining African American use of technology that showed progress.

Though a seven percent lag exists between white and black use of the Internet, the gap depends on platform and age group. The good news is that African Americans are as proficient with mobile Internet access as whites. Some 92% of black adults are cell phone owners, and 56% own a smartphone of some kind.

However, on the broadband side, 74% of whites and 62% of blacks have some sort of connection at home.Gaps seem to occur with older African Amercians and with prosperity as well.

On a more positive note, a reverse gap occurs with Twitter. Whites are lagging behind their black counterparts when it comes to adopting the 140 character microblog medium (see chart below).

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Though the digital divide persists, it has weakened significantly. From my viewpoint, there has been progress since 2011, when I wrote a similar post on MLK Day.

Moving Forward

When I wrote my 2011 MLK post, Glennette Clark commented: “I feel that now that the digital divide is starting to close, there need to be more focus on minorities as producers as well as than consumers.”

In that vein, I’d like to suggest folks follow these seven minority social media producers that I admire:

Sean Gardner, @2morrowknight

Tinu Abayomi-Paul, @tinu

Wayne Sutton, @waynesutton

Melinda Emerson, @smallbizlady

Shireen Mitchell, @digitalsista

Brent Leary, @brentleary

Liza Sabater, @blogdiva

This is not a comprehensive list. Feel free to add additional personalities in the comments if you’d like.

Moving forward, there’s still room to grow. When you analyze the divide as it exists now, it’s hard not to consider economics. Broadband is expensive. So much of prosperity is tied to education, which of course requires access to information and top notch schools. In that sense you have a chicken and egg situation.

If you don’t give people access to the Internet and its many information resources, are you limiting education possibilities? Or is this just BS now that broadband wireless is becoming widely adapted? How will the collapse of net neutrality impact access to information resources, if at all? And one cannot help but wonder if a resolved digital divide will impact racial equality.

One can only hope that progress continues, and that we move closer towards MLK’s dream online and offline, too. What do you think?

Waiting for Life to Happen

Do you wait for life to happen?

It was Jack Welch who said, “Contol your own destiny or someone else will.” Jack seems to have a superman attitude that fails to recognize the influence of outside forces, but… You can let the world run you, or you can create opportunities.

I don’t wait for things to happen, and I don’t give others full power to determine my destiny. This is true in business and in other pursuits. Yes, things are often out of our control, but we can always create another opportunity by proactively engaging.

I rarely have no options because I am constantly creating other chances and opportunities. If you don’t look for new business, it’s not going to land on your door. Even when opportunity does come, inevitably it’s because of proactive marketing and activities.

But the key is to do the footwork. If you do the footwork, the opportunities appear.

As the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The hard part is walking down the hallway and turning all the door knobs until it opens. That’s when the fear kicks in. You have to walk through that fear.

Writing and Destiny

People often ask me when I will write another business book. My honest answer is I don’t know. I’d rather focus on writing fiction, at least for the immediate future, and so I do. And while I can’t invest the time in fiction like I would a business book, it won’t happen on its own. I have to write every day!

Because I want to publish fiction, I didn’t even look for a publisher last year. I went out on my own. Destiny is not kind to fiction authors who leave their fate in the hands of traditional agents and publishers.

Publishing Exodus was one of the most powerful and fulfilling moments of personal destiny I have ever experienced.

I honestly believe one of my books will break open some larger opportunity. Why? Because footwork produces opportunities. Perhaps it’s a movie deal, or a traditional publisher buys the rights to my books, or drops a fat contract opportunity in my email, or maybe by the time I am an old man, they just start selling en masse. But it won’t happen if I don’t pay attention to my hobby when I can.

Moving Forwrd

Today is the first full week of the year. I am pretty busy, but I think that’s because I busted my butt in October, November and December.

Now it’s time to keep moving forward, and create opportunities for the second quarter and beyond. If we want a full destiny, then we must take the necessary actions to make it appear.

What actions will you take to create opportunities in your life?

Featured image by Robert Gouley.