The Safeway Test

Safeway is my local grocery store. It’s a remodelled one, open 24 hours with a Starbucks. Because it’s next to my gym, I am probably there three or four times a week.

No one knows who I am when I walk Safeway’s aisles. No one. Some people from the local neighborhood recognize me, but I never hear, “Hey, you’re Geoff Livingston, the blogger!” Or, “I see you on Twitter all the time!”

I like this anonymity. The lack of attention is real: It reminds me that I am not famous or special.

I see a lot of actions and words taken by influencers on back channels and on the public interwebs. The absolute nasty attitudes these people have with their peers, and yeah, sometimes me, is just astounding.

Over what, x0,000 followers? Or xx comments? Or x trade books published? Or access to xx?

Do people know who these mighty influencers are in their grocery stores?

It’s like people have forgotten where they came from. Perhaps folks were the uncoolest kids in high school, and now that they’ve garnered a little nano-popularity, they feel the need to wipe everyone’s nose in it. While quick to point out Justin Bieber’s inability to handle fame, they, too, act like teenagers spouting immature angst on their peers.

Putting Pants on One Leg at a Time

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Sometimes I act like a diva as well and spout some nastiness online, but I always try to come back to earth, and clean it up. I’m like any normal human and get annoyed at times. Yet I really try not to respond, and instead say nothing now.

The truth is as much as I dislike some of the things people say and do to me, I’m lucky to be pitched. It’s a really quality problem to not be able to respond to everything folks ask me. I am fortunate to be read well enough that I catch negative comments.

These aren’t even normal first world problems. Most people want to be in this position. Let’s be clear, interest is not a given thing. I could lose momentum at any point in my career.

If someone is really bugging me online, I just unfollow them. It’s not necessary to act-out. It’s not. Last week a peer called me an idiot in a bit of a drunken rant on Facebook. It wasn’t the first time I had seen such nastiness from x, just the first time directed at me. So I deleted the comment and unfriended, and I haven’t thought about it since. Some folks are incapable of getting it.

I wish that moment was an isolated incident, but I see influencer tantrums and bad behavior almost every day now.

In my co-working facility Connect113, I work next to a couple of folks who engage in social media for a well-known hair product brand. Because of a certain shine on my head, they can tell I chat to be friendly, not because I want their business or a free trip to the salon. The stories they can tell about bloggers, oh my.

Everyone of us puts our pants on one-leg at time (if we are wearing pants that day). Few of us actually have an original opinion, we’re almost always riffing off of someone else’s research or punditry.

None of us can say that the people we engage with won’t be our bosses or clients or competitors at some point.┬áThat’s regardless of age, folks. That 25-year old kid getting a dose of bloggy attitude about an email or tweet they sent might just be the boss in five or 10 years.

No, I am aware of these truths. That’s the benefit of the Safeway Test.

Something to think about going into the weekend without our Klout scores.

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Featured image by mcicki.

Beware of Pedestals in the Attention Economy

The Devil's Horns

Danah Boyd wrote a fantastic post last week about Internet fame and its negative impact on individuals. It is easy to buy into the rock star kool aid when people frequently sing your accolades (and fallacies) online and at events, especially when popularity is valued by society as an achievement. But accepting a pedestal as an individual, and viewing a personality in a higher light presents numerous difficulties, many of which are hard to surmount for those who don’t expect to ever receive such accolades.

As the attention economy strengthens, we have failed to provide a balanced view of attention, and how to truly address it. The Boyd post talks about Kiki Kannibal’s trials and objectifcation as a teen Internet celeb, and then Boyd’s own experiences. Having had a turn at microfame, it is easy to identify with Boyd’s comments.

When Now Is Gone came out in 2007, there were so many people saying how great it was, touting the accomplishment of publishing a book, and me as the author (please forgive the rare digression into first person). The lavished perception of brilliance was intoxicating. My wife Caitlin wanted to kill me, and this was the beginning of a long year of difficulties that almost cost us our marriage. Fortunately, we worked things out.

Looking back, I had a timely intervention just weeks after the book came out at the hands of the Fairfax County Police. It came in the form of my third reckless speeding ticket in six months. Speeding to make appointments and work tasks seemed necessary because I was so busy (and important) in my own mind. Virginia DMV had a different take, and felt it would be better if I didn’t drive at all for three months, and suspended my driver’s license.

Employees drove me to appointments, and I spent many, many hours in the DC Metro system. It was virtually impossible to think I was a hot shit personality while I took the bus and metro to meetings. Big blogger boy on the back of the bus. Yeah.

This forced humility was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. As the attention continued, the license suspension reminded me not to take it seriously. And when people became overzealous, I pointed out that I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like they did. Later in 2008, I did a stint of volunteer service at Alexandria County jail; again, a great reminder of where I could be if my self centered speeding and possibly worse manifestations of selfishness had continued. But for the grace of God, as they say.

Applied to the Larger Attention Economy

It has been hard watching several peers succumb to the big Internet influencer hype, a result of the attention economy. Perhaps my reaction has been stronger and more severe than most, partly because I knew these people before they assumed their pedestals, and partly because I see the worst in me when their behavior takes a more ego-centric bend. Truthfully, it scares the crap out of me.

So many of these so called rock stars have fallible sides which we don’t see, or turn a blind eye towards. This is no different than the recent difficulties Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lance Armstrong are experiencing in the larger public limelight. These two men have done great things, but because we put them on and they accepted such high pedestals, their very flawed defects have decimated public trust.

We need to be careful about turning great acts into great myths and legends. Our culture creates unsustainable images that cannot help but disillusion and disappoint both the people who assume these pedestals and their fans. There are no social media Gods, but there are illusions that can cause us to become distracted and lose months, even years of time chasing things that don’t really matter.

In the end, it is our actions that make us noteworthy as people, both good and bad. Greatness is a daily act. So is failure. In an attention economy you can live on a success for a long time, but sooner or later, you have to do something else worthwhile. We have an equal opportunity to do good or act poorly every day, and in fact, rare is the person who isn’t human and doesn’t do a bit of both. That’s why it’s important to beware of pedestals.

Winning Beats Fame

Grandma at Shula's

In an era where people chase fame like dogs running down a hare in a field, there’s little discussion about winning. That’s too bad, because winning beats fame every time. It’s imminently more satisfying, yields more benefits, and is much more memorable.

Why do we focus on fame instead of winning? Just look at the obvious. Consider the media attention bestowed on famous people, and the idealism of thought leadership bestowed upon those who achieve notoriety in smaller online communities. Fame seems attractive, like it’s attainable and rewarding. But as time has shown, the emperor often doesn’t have clothes.

Many Internet famous people have had to get real jobs, their dreams of being recognized for their 10,000 Twitter followers have been unmet. But the best can always get a free plane ticket and hotel to speak at a gig. Such are the spoils of nanofame.

Winning Requires Work

Winning – achieving a worthy goal in the face of competition and/or circumstance – is not easy. It’s deeply personal. It could be making a choice to spend more time at home to raise a child who is well-rounded, educated, and loved as opposed to hitting networking events every night. For some winning means building a product or a company and selling it (or not), or achieving social change over a period of years in the face of staunch opposition.

Such hard work is rarely noticed. Being a great parent won’t necessarily win you thousands of fans on Twitter. It often takes years of dedicated committed focus, day in day out, surpassing struggles small and large, always, always with the end result in mind. It requires personal sacrifice as opposed to self glorification.

Winning often means struggling, failing, and learning to become better at whatever the end goal may require. It takes perseverance, guts, and a certain kind of faith that carries one through the difficult days. And there are hard, rough days that force people to really consider whether they have the stuff to survive the journey.

Aaron Strout, CEO of Powered, now bought by Dachis, is achieving some of this kind of success now. Aaron may never be noted as the most popular marketing voice on the interwebs, but he’s certainly one of the most successful ones.

Compared side by side, Internet fame sure seems a lot easier. Heck, you’ll have lots of friends, too. That in its own right may be enough for some, a win.

Yet, fame and the pleasure of its vain fan-based love doesn’t fulfill in the same way as achieving something. Whether it’s love and joy with the kid and their achievements, the rewards of successfully waging a business, the civic pride in having made society better, these things cannot ever be taken away. They are worthwhile successes.

Sometimes fame is bestowed upon someone for their winning ways. The limelight captures them in the moment of their success, a by product of all those hard years of work. Then the pleasure of fame becomes a laurel wreath, temporary and beautiful, capturing a moment in time.

Most winners don’t get caught up in it, though. There’s no proverbial “kool-aid” moment. They are off to the next thing, starting the next company, maybe running a marathon, teaching children, or planting a bounteous garden. It’s what makes them feel happy. It’s something you never want to stop doing.

Do you prefer winning or fame?