The VP Pick -Behind the Scenes

As Joe Biden was being considered as a running mate for Barak Obama, reporters from all over began to camp out on a scenic road in Wilmington, that gets most of its traffic when the school down the street is in session.  Driving by and taking a look at the reporters, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them, waiting for hours on end, hoping they would have a news story to report.  And I felt sorry for the Bidens and the neighbors, who clearly have to deal with every move they make being watched and analyzed for any hint of a story.

I ended up bringing some cookies and brownies to them, since I knew one of the cameramen, NewMedia Jim, through Podcamp EDU and Podcamp DC.  Jim is a wonderful guy, and knowing he was spending endless hours away from his family, trying to get brief shots of Joe Biden coming and going from his house seemed like a lot of time, for somewhat prosaic footage.

But this is how the news game and media game is played now.  Reporters and cameramen wait, on call, at a site of possible news, hoping they have been sent to the “right” location.  They have to be vigilant for any movement of people and the crowd, so they get the footage that makes their trip worth while.  We need news as it happens, next day or later in the day is not good enough- we have to feed the 24 hour news machine.  (And I am glad Biden was chosen, even if only to have made the camping out worth while- I feel sorry for those waiting at Senator Bayh’s house…)

What’s more interesting is how New Media also changes the game.  The story is sometimes as much about the wait as it is of the event itself.  The locals driving by Biden’s to check out the whole brouhaha was shown for a while live on CNN.  Snippets of the possible selection were gleaned by checking websites like flightaware.com, that tell the registered flights coming and going from certain locations.  Was the plane from Chicago Midway to Wilmington Friday night “the plane” that would take Biden to Springfield for the announcement?  The flight that took him to Springfield was registered and showed its departure time openly on this website, but, of course, only shortly before it took off, and well after the news had been announced.

An ABC news reporter found out a secret service detail had been dispatched to Wilmington before the announcement was made, and this was reported online- while we weren’t sure if it was true, it turned out to be a pretty good predictor of the choice in advance of the breaking news.

This frenzy to get a story also meant that red herrings like printing up Obama- Bayh bumper stickers in advance, and this news leaking to the press to throw them off the scent.  Yet it makes you wonder how much time and money (and even perhaps Sen. Bayh’s dashed hopes) were all involved in this process of cat and mouse, chase and deception.

News travels faster than ever before online, through Twitter, blogs, cell phones.  We basically have to assume these days that you have no privacy except perhaps in your own home;  that your digital footprint regarding travel, plans and almost anything else can easily be tracked by laymen, if they so choose.

The questions about what this means for safety and privacy abound.  You either decide you just simply need to live your life in such a way that everything you do is honest and responsible and therefore, you are unlikely to care much what people know about you.  Or, in the alternative, you have to lead a cloak and dagger kind of life, carefully monitoring everything you do and say, and ultimately, deciding not to do or say very much for fear of what could happen later on.

I worry about the way we stalk public figures, whether in entertainment or politics or public life- it’s pretty unfair, but we say they chose this life, and therefore it’s okay.  But what boundaries still exist when there is an infinite number of media resources looking for the next big thing?  And when do we simply start to tune out, because too much information is just that- more distracting noise, taking our attention away from things that might matter more.

I got very caught up in the local drama of whether Joe Biden would get picked as Obama’s running mate, hoping it was him, because I genuinely admire and like Joe Biden, and voted for him repeatedly when we lived in Delaware.  I think he will be excellent and really help barak Obama be a great next president of the US.  But I hope we all can get used to the fact that “our” town may become a little different than ever before.   Our local boy is in the spotlight, and the news cycle has just begun.

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Political Theater

The Political conventions are coming up, and we’re all waiting to see who the candidates pick as their Vice President.  Reporters and journalists are camped out in front of Joe Biden’s house, just a few miles away,  and I am sure this scene is being repeated at all other contenders homes, just in case.

I worry that the Conventions are no longer substantive, but just several days of media created stage craft.  Previews of the convention site make it look more like a Super Bowl half-time show than a stage for discussing the future of our Country.  And I think the money being spent to convince people of one candidate over another is becoming all about effective marketing and less about substance, which is a worry.  Because flash over substance is what got us into this debacle in the first place.

In Delaware,  the locals are both bemused and slightly aghast at the local version of this Show (and Wilmington is historically one of those popular places to try out shows before they hit Broadway) .  A friend of mine is driving her son to track practice at the school within 500 yards from Senator Biden’s house, and said she hopes the brouhaha is long over by the time school starts.  I drove by to see the fuss and ran into New Media Jim, a cameraman from NBC News, so we came back later and dropped off cold drinks and snacks for them.  It’s like a line for fantastic concert tickets, with everyone camping out for days, waiting for the box office to open.

The drama and the wait is fun on some levels- what will it be?  But the days on end of speculation end up seeming a bit silly, really.  There will be a VP candidate, and while I hope it is Biden- I worry that coming from such a small state like Delaware, he might get passed up for someone who has more “prizes” attached to him.

I can’t say that I know Joe Biden very well.  Like all politicians in Delaware, he is very personal, and we see him all the time, at local eateries and coffee shops.  I saw him the day after the Iowa caucuses where he closed his presidential bid, having coffee and I spoke with him for a few minutes.  I thanked him for all the help he’s given the hospital where my husband works and does clinical research.  Joe is a pleasant guy, and while he is a political legend both in Delaware and nationally, he still is just Joe around here.

Delaware has 2 senators and one congressman; two democrats and one republican (respectively).  They are all friends and commute to DC together regularly.  Delaware is so small you have to know not only how to reach across the aisle, but you also know everything you say or do is public, all the time.  Everywhere you go, you run into someone you know, or someone who knows someone you know- the Peyton Place of States.  Also a place with very long memories- people remember who you were as a child or when you first came to town, who your friends were- it’s real life social networking, whether you like it or not.

(For example, a friend was once complaining about another person we both knew in line for a theater performance; her best friend was standing behind her, and word got back very quickly.  My response?  Typical Delaware.  If you have to do character assassination of someone, do it at home, not in public.)

Hopefully, this means Joe will not have any John Edwards problems, and will be the same stand-up guy with a devotion to being a straight shooter, who comes from a State too small to be overly partisan, where pragmatism ends up ruling the day.

Good Luck, Joe.  I hope it’s you.

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Narrowcasting- Where’s the Market?

Ars Technica reports that Pandora may end up going out of business, now that the fees required by SoundExchange for royalties for internet radio have increased three-fold.  Pandora is a great service, and has something called the Music Genome Project, where it recommends new artists to you based on music you already like.  It creates a whole radio station for you of music, based on an artist of genre, and will give you more music it finds of that same “type” and it’s simply fantastic.  I love this feature, and it’s like the music version of Amazon recommendations, except it’s all free.

So for example, I like the Bare Naked Ladies.  On my custom radio channel, I get Bare Naked Ladies, John Mayer, The Dave Matthews Band, and others.  On the Lyle Lovett channel, I get Lyle, Wayland Jennings, Joe Cocker, and Jack Johnson- who I had never heard of before.  I then went and purchased his album on iTunes, straight from the Pandora site.

You can decide by voting whether you like a song and want to hear more of that or less, and Pandora takes it all into account.  You essentially get to be your own program director at your own radio station- and it’s amazing.  By programming my “likes” into the service, I get more of what what I do like, I get exposed to new music, I get the radio station of my dreams, but commercial free, and it’s all so simple.

I’ve taken services like Pandora for granted.  As a podcaster, I listen to a tremendous amount of audio all the time- editing interviews, listening to other shows, and sometimes I forget how pleasant it is just to have Pandora playing in the background.  And of course, now that it is hanging on the edge, I am nervous about what I’ll do if it’s gone.

Pandora may also face problems that podcasters still face- people aren’t sure how to access all the great programming available out there, or the options available to them, because they simply don’t realize it exists.  Taking a random poll of my non-new media friends, few people really knew about Pandora, and how fantastic it is.  This tells me that it’s not that Pandora doesn’t have huge potential- it is awesome- but it needs to crack into the main stream more.  More people, like my mom, need to understand how fantastic Pandora is, in order to take advantage of what it offers.  And this requires companies to expand their advertising beyond the 20 somethings and consider other demographics, like Moms with kids.

As a Mom of a 13 and ten year old boy, kids on the verge of becoming teen music junkies, Pandora lets me plug in some of my favorite artists and find others that are of the same ilk- a perfect way for parents and kids to become exposed to music they can share together.  So for example, I can plug in Bare Naked Ladies and John Meyer, and then I also get Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Dave Matthews Band, and other artists that don’t make my ears bleed while working.  And it’s music I can “wean” my kids on, while gradually extinguishing the High School Musical style music, but not jumping them straight into  50 Cent.

Yet I am sure the idea of mixing demographics and hitting an older and more maternal audience might not be the first thing Pandora thinks about.  But the fact is that programming radio to our own tastes, beyond just the ipod is a huge innovation- I just think it is way under-appreciated. And I know a whole cadre of Moms who would love this option, especially in the car, when commercial radio stations don’t provide a format that could be described as “Family friendly” unless it is programming to really young children, like the Disney Channel.  There isn’t  much of a selection for real music programming that has a chance to meet with kid and Mom approval, while broadening both of their music tastes.

Because the beauty of Pandora’s service is under-appreciated,   Sound Exchange sees an opportunity to put Pandora out of business with the vast increase in fees.  Yet Pandora and other internet radio stations need to do their work as well, to make sure people realize why they should care if Pandora struggles- they have to work to extend their reach so more people care, write Congress, and get involved.  But you can’t get that grass root support without making sure people know why you are so important in the first place.  And this means realizing more people need your service than just hipsters-  in fact, I would bet the demographic that needs the service is more of that NPR crowd in the first place.

I hope Pandora doesn’t go away- this would be a tremendous sadness for me personally.  But I also think they need to make sure the word gets out farther than it has so far.  Because more people need to care, beyond the first wave adopter geeks like me.

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Blogging- The Legal Side

Being an attorney, a blogger and podcaster, friends occasionally ask questions about how all these new media tools integrate with business, particularly from a legal front.  I usually dish out my lawyerly opinion and leave it at that.  But I’ve done a bunch of research lately to see whether my opinion squares with that of other practicing attorneys who may be dealing with this sort of issue more frequently in their practice.

Add in the fact that Wired Magazine reported in 2007 that almost 10% of companies had fired bloggers, this is certainly an issue that bloggers, podcasters, video producers and their respective employers need to take seriously. The Employment Law Alliance reports 2006 survey results that showed that few Employers were prepared with policies that covered blogging, despite the fact that as many as 10 million American workers were estimated to have a blog.  Unfortunately, I could not find any more recent results, despite the fact that blogging is more prevalent and I believe more and more employers are aware of it now than just two years ago.

The good news is that the advice I’ve been dishing out to my new media friends has been right on the money and squares with the other opinions out there.  I’ll give you a quick synopsis:

At the Employment Law Alliance, a website that helps employers with legal considerations, there is a great article about a 2007 employment arbitration award based on “indiscriminate blogging.”  A worker in a unionized retirement home blogged about her dissatisfaction at work and about the home’s residents.  The worker was fired for insubordination and for breaching patient confidentiality.  The termination was appealed by the employee, who claimed the posts were supposed to be private, for family only, and immediately apologized when the blog came to the attention of her employers.  The arbitrator upheld the firing, emphasizing the very public nature of the internet blog, and that this was a clear violation of the employer’s confidentiality policies, despite the accidental public nature of the posts.

The UCLA Journal of Law & Technology published an article called Employment Termination for Employee Blogging: Number One Tech Trend for 2005 and Beyond, or a Recipe for Getting Dooced? This is a great law journal article, and worth your time.  For those of you less inclined to weigh through legal language, the upshot is that anything you say or do online can and may be used against you.  Cases are discussed where various bloggers have attempted to restrict access to their websites or message boards through passwords, approvals and the like, but the information contained within have eventually become public knowledge and served as a basis for terminations and legal actions.   There is functionally no zone of privacy (yet) for any communication online, and as a result, you should anticpate that anyone and everyone will know what you twitter, so you should conduct yourself accordingly.  This remains true whether or not an employer actively monitors your email, or gains access through third parties.

Another great article you shouldn’t miss is Social Isolation and American Workers:Employee Blogging and Legal Reform by Rafael Gely and Leonard Bierman published in the University of Cincinatti Public Law Research Paper.  This takes a look at the useful aspects of blogging as a way of employees expressing themselves and extending their social networks, providing a social benefit in an increasingly isolationistic world.  It also suggests some legal reforms that would help make some distinctions between on the job and off the job, and help employers understand the positive aspects of “bitching about work online” so to speak.

The Workplace Prof Blog has a great post about whether or not Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act might protect bloggers- I’ll excerpt the important part here:

The argument goes something like this: Section 7 of the NLRA provides rights to workers to self-organization, to engage in collective bargaining, and to engage in concerted activities for purposes of collective bargaining and for mutual aid and protection (sorry for the loose paraphrase).  In any event, one of the little known aspects of Section 7 is that it does not only apply to workers in a union or in the process of organizing a union. The language of Section 7 is such that it applies to all employees in the workplace who are engaged in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection. See NLRB v. Washington Aluminum, 370 U.S. 9 (1962).

Which brings me to Rafael’s point: shouldn’t Section 7 protect bloggers who blog about work on their own time and who are critical of their employers on their blogs?  Is this not a form of protected concerted activity under Section 7, which if the employer interferes with (perhaps through firing the employee), should subject that employer to an unfair labor practice charge under Sections 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(3) of the NLRA?  And, of course, one of the possible remedies for employer anti-union discrimination is reinstatement.

And before you conclude too quickly that there is no concerted activity under such circumstances, cases have held that individual employees are acting in a concerted matter when they act on behalf of others in protesting conditions at work.  NLRB v. City Disposal Systems, 465 U.S. 822 (1984).  Moreover, one could argue that to the extent that other employees are participating on the employee’s blog through a back and forth on the comments section this is the very definition of concerted activity.  In any event, I would be very curious to hear what individuals have to say about this theory and whether blogging might actually help to revive not only labor organizing activities, but also industrial democracy in the workplace by giving employees more of a say at work.  This could occur by not only giving employees more access to other co-employees outside of the workplace through blogging, but also by giving union organizers a much needed tool for organizing employees in light of the difficult company access rules for such organizers since Lechmere.

Another great post on the subject is as follows:

Another Blogging in the Workplace Article

Laptop_guy_3Here is a somewhat biased view about blogging policies in the workplace by two management-side attorneys (Littler Mendelson), but nevertheless this article from Law.com provides a nice overview of many of the issues that confront employers when they are thinking about protecting their interests in light of employees blogging at and away from work.   There are also some interesting ideas, such as establishing a “blogging oversight committee,” which merit further consideration.

Take home point for employers from this article: have a restrictive as possible blogging policy which does not permit employees to undermine corporate interests on-duty or off.

Personally, I think the authors give short-shrift to the privacy interests of employees away from work, especially in states in which off-duty conduct statutes are on the books or in situations in which employees are unionized, protected by civil service laws, or otherwise have just cause protection.   I think a more subtle balancing of employer and employee interests is called for when employee blogging starts impacting employer interests.

Also, I think the “Big Brotherism” (authors’ terminology) engendered by such aggressive blogging policies will inevitably cause negative effects on the morale and productivity of the workplace.



Lastly, From The Labor Law Prof blog, written by a law school professor who deals specifically with Labor and Employment law:

Employer Blogging Policies  (from 2006)

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Makovsky and Co. released a survey of employer blogging policies (see here for the press release and here for the survey itself).  Among the highlights:

  • Only minorities of top executives surveyed are convinced to “a great extent” that corporate blogging is growing in credibility either as a communications medium (5%), brand-building technique (3%), or a sales or lead generation tool (less than 1%). In contrast, most executives are somewhat or not at all convinced of blogs’ growing credibility in these areas, (62%, 74%, and 70% respectively).  (Note- this is 2006 data, and while I believe that this has changed substantially, I could not locate any more recent data or surveys to compare with this one.)
  • Nearly half of senior executives polled do not have corporate policies pertaining to blogging, although 77% believe that their organizations should address such policies.
  • Even though 12% of senior executives say their companies have taken legal or other action in response to a blog, only 20% report having a formal process in place for monitoring blogs written about the company.
  • A minority (15%) say that someone in their organization is currently writing a blog related to the company or its activities.
  • Only one in five (21%) report reading business-related blogs once a week or more frequently.
  • Only 30% of senior executives report that they have a thorough understanding of the term “Internet blog.”
  • Forty percent believe that their companies should have corporate policies to address the writing of blogs unrelated to the company or its activities. This compares with the 77% who believe their companies should have such policies concerning the authoring of blogs sanctioned by the company.
  • Further, 8% report organizing a team of dedicated people to write sanctioned blogs about the company and its activities.
  • Three percent said their company changed its product, service, or policies because of publicity generated by a blog written about it.

Hopefully this has been helpful in giving you an overview of blogging in the workplace- I’m also working on a post about getting blogger’s errors and omissions insurance, and I’ll give you the ins and outs of that as well, if I can ever get the agent to return my call.

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Ticket Chaos in Beijing for Olympics

I have a close friend who lives and works in Beijing. He wrote me an email about his experience getting tickets for the Olympics today, and he said it would be okay to share this with the rest of you- I thought you would find the contracts between his report and the AP interesting.

The Ticket to Chaos in Beijing

July 25 was the first day the general public in Beijing could buy Olympics tickets. As reported in the media, the experience was quite colorful. The trip began well on the newly completed, Line 10 train. The station was clean, a platform was not crowded, and the air-conditioned train took me to my final destination very quickly.

Things changed the second I left the modern embrace of the subway. First of all the ticket area was a very long walk away from the train station. Since it was smoggy and 34¢XC, with no shade, it was not fun hiking around the 2 km barrier set up by the police around the ticket office. After walking several antiaircraft missile batteries, I finally got to my destination. It was not a pretty scene. There was a huge crowd standing in a dirty fenced off area being held back by at least 100 police. It was a sea of light blue normal police and green clothed military police pushing back against the hot and unhappy crowd.

Although I tried to be inconspicuous, the police noticed my camera and assumed that I was a journalist. In one second, I changed from just another white face to a threat that required at least five police officers to take control of the situation. Their immediate response was to tell to leave the area and to say that I could only take pictures in a far-away but somehow authorized place. This is a good metaphor for life in China: In general, the authorities let you do what you want but if you cross a line, force comes out quickly and in numbers. A possible journal story on a near riot during ticket sales would be an embarrassment to China so they did not want me there recording it. Oddly, locals were free to take pictures of everything. Of course, the western press found a way to record the event anyway! I have pasted an AP story below.

Unfortunately for the police, I was not their biggest problem since the crowd was looking increasingly agitated. One woman collapsed from heat while things were becoming a pushing match between people and the police. Seeing that things were venturing too close to violence, I chose prudence instead of valor and went to another venue to get tickets. The good news is that I actually succeeded! There were also lots of happy locals around ¡V some intended to see the games while others bought tickets with the hope of reselling them at a huge profit later. Between buying great but horribly expensive tickets from someone I knew and surviving the heat and humidity to buy more tickets, I’m the proud owner of four Olympics tickets. Best of all, no one confiscated my camera or hit me. Not everyone was so lucky.

Here is the AP Story about the same event!

Ugly Scenes as Beijingers Snap up Last Olympic Tickets

– Associated Press

Violence broke out on Friday among the more than 50,000 people who queued to grab the last batch of Olympic tickets on sale in Beijing, as police struggled to control the frustrated fans. The mood was tense and strained as angry people — some of whom had been queuing for two days — jostled to maintain or improve their place in the long line. At one point the surging crowd broke through a control barrier and lurched towards the ticket counters.

In hot and dusty conditions, some groups in the crowd chanted insults at the police who were seen dragging people out of the line and kicking and punching them before leading them away. “The police didn’t have a clue how many people would come here and there was no organization at all, it was chaos,” said Wang Zhongliang, a delivery worker for UPS.

It was the last chance for Chinese to buy tickets for the Games, with 250,000 on sale at several locations in Beijing from 9:00am (0100 GMT) for events including athletics, diving, and gymnastics.

Demand was so high that more than 10,000 people were in the line by Thursday at one of the main ticket selling centres near the Olympic Stadium, district police chief Xiong Xingguo said. By early Friday huge reinforcements of police were moved in to maintain order as numbers ballooned to between 40,000 and 50,000, Xiong said.

Xiong conceded that police had been taken by surprise by the numbers. “The situation was chaotic and difficult,” he said. “Once the newspapers released the news about the ticket sale, too many people came at once so we had a security problem.”

A Hong Kong journalist was detained by police on Friday while covering the chaotic scenes, organisers and an AFP witness said.

Despite the pushing, jostling and discomfort, Xu Wengang, an information technology expert, said that he thought the method of ticket sales was fair.

“This way everybody gets a chance. But that’s also the problem, because so many people came. It’s a lot of trouble but it’s fair,” said Xu, 30, looking for tickets for the synchronised swimming. There were smiles too from people like 23-year-old Lei Peng, who had slept on the footpath for two nights.

The engineering graduate from eastern China‘s Anhui province was close to the head of one massive queue and managed to score two seats to one of the hottest event of the Games ¡V the final of the men’s 110m hurdles.

Chinese hopes for an athletics gold medal rest on Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang who is defending his 110m hurdles title.

“It was hard but worth it,” said Lei, who had been queuing since midday on Wednesday. Han Ruxiang, 76, had spent two nights sleeping on a bamboo mat so that he and his 67-year-old wife could see the finals of the diving competition.

“How can you be Chinese and not go to the Olympics when it is in China?” he said. “I am tired but so happy.”

Unlike Han, others were not prepared to queue for themselves. Ding Ye, 27, said she had got two tickets for the diving competition for her boss who runs a food supply company. “He sent me in his place,” she said.

There is a flourishing black market in selling tickets at a massive profit, even though scalping has been outlawed. Police have arrested 60 touts over the past two months, according to state media reports.

Outside Beijing, 570,000 tickets for football matches went on sale in football competition host cities Tianjin, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao and Shenyang. Altogether around seven million tickets were up for sale for the Games, with around 75 percent going to China‘s vast domestic audience, with the rest made available overseas through each country’s National Olympic Committee.

Friday’s release of tickets was the fourth and final round of sales for the August 8-24 Games.

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Social Connection

This is a follow up to my recent post on the Social Contract.

Humans have a basic need for social connection.  The experiments done by Harlow and others in the 50’s show that primates need touch and nurturing to do well.  In fact, many of the cases of failure to thrive in infants may be due to a lack of love and stimulation in a caring, loving environment.

This does not go away as we get older.   People most prone to suicide are those with little or no social connections; and elderly people become more and more likely to pass away after a spouse passes away as well.    There’s a great book where you can read more on all these phenomena called Connect: 12 Vital Ties that Open Your Heart, Lengthen Your Life and Deepen Your Soul by Edward M Hallowell, MD (well-known for his work on ADHD.)

As this applies to my previous post on social connections, I don’t think the basic need for humans to connect has changed over time.  Even online in social media, we are essentially looking for connections to others for business and personal reasons- other people who “get us” especially when we are not particularly connected to our real world communities.

People still have to deal with the paradox of wanting to be simultaneously recognized for our individuality and value, while contributing to something larger and more important than ourselves.  Essentially, we want to answer those big questions- What Will I Be Remembered For?  What Will I Accomplish?  Why Am I Here?  Where Do I Want To Be?

I think it has become so easy to chase the job, the money, the dream, or whatever, that we sometimes lose patience with working it out where we are.  People leave jobs, relationships and marriages because they are frustrated and have lost patience in trying to get it right with the job/person they’re with.  Sometimes, the situation is unfixable.  Other times, we leave situations because we are bored, and blame other people for not filling all of our needs.  (Often I think some of those needs are things you should expect to fill for yourself, but that’s another blog post entirely).

I hope we are all on a quest to become better people.  I hope we all understand that no one else or no specific job can make you happy – that’s your responsibility.  It’s nobody’s job to make your life easier unless you are specifically paying them to do so.

That being said, I think we have to take a larger view through the lens.  We can’t always look at what’s best for us without considering the impact we have on others, or the downstream consequences of our actions.  I don’t mean this to imply we all need to become Hamlet and have “paralysis by analysis”.  We need to act, we need to protect ourselves and our families, but we also have to understand that there are real benefits that come from being connected to others, nurturing relationships, sharing, and not giving up just when it gets a little hard.

I hope the transiency that exists in our society today is not breeding a culture based on filling only temporary needs and no longer looking past the next quarter’s profit and loss statement to figure out value.  If we remain myopic about the big picture, all the short term churning is for naught.  Just look at everyone who took out big home loans, thinking interest rates would never go up, and are now losing their homes in the mortgage crisis.  This is looking at the short term- What Seems Great For Me without considering downstream issues at all.  And the cost is gonna be pretty high for them, and now for the rest of us with the bail out currently in the works in DC.

So I guess what I am trying to say here, whether we like it or not, we are all interconnected.  What’s good for you may not always be what’s good for me, but maybe if we work together we can both win, as well.

What do you think?  Do you have online proxys for connectedness that take you out of your real life communities?  Is connectedness to your neighbors, social institutions, things outside of your immediate family important?

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What’s happened to the Social Contract?

There’s a great blog post over at IT Toolbox, on the Original Thinking blog by Dennis Stevenson on The Myth of Job Security- Employer Version, with a promise for a follow up giving the employee’s point of view. I was going to comment, but because my comment was so long, I thought a separate blog post was more appropriate.

Job security is largely seen as old fashioned these days. People are downsized as soon as their salaries get too large and the business feels they can be easily replaced with a cheaper and less expensive worker-widget. Likewise, employees are just as likely to jump ship as soon as a more attractive offer comes along. But what is the fall out from all this movement, seeking out the better, cheaper and faster ways to accomplish everything?

I think the interesting contrast here is when there is no longer any “job security”, there is no reason for employees to have any loyalty to the greater mission or goals of the enterprise, no matter what the size. Therefore, their only core motivation has to be what is best for them and their families- a mercenary “available to highest bidder” mentality. And why should it be different? With no social contract between the employee and employer anymore, other than that of health care and any remaining employee benefits, there is no reason to stick around and keep your money on the table, so to speak, with your employer, since they are just as likely to terminate you without any warning at their earliest convenience. And should you bother to “do the right thing” and provide notice? Why? The favor is rarely returned in kind. The social contract is (has) disintegrated over time- there are no more rules as to what is appropriate.

I grew up in Rochester NY, a company town with Kodak, Xerox and more for many years. The decline of “cradle to grave” job security has changed the nature of the community, now making the town more transient than ever before. People go where the job is more and more rather than stay in their current situation if a job is terminated. Families rarely live in the same town where one or both parents grew up. The social ties of living in a place where everyone knows your name is becoming an anachronism more and more.

This means less long term investment in social infrastructure in real life communities, like museums, art galleries, churches, charitable organizations, etc. Why should people spend their precious time and resources supporting the community when they are just transient residents in nature, and will never personally benefit from any of the good they are doing? Regular towns and cities are becoming mere way stations along a pathway of jobs, and people have no more incentive to make a long term investment in the success of schools or civic organizations than summer time residents of beach communities do in making sure those towns are sustainable 365 days of the year. They only care that their needs are met at a price they can afford during their brief stint to pump some money into the local economy, and then their contribution is over.

This is true just about everywhere- we are seeing the same transition happen in Wilmington, DE now that MBNA has been bought out by Bank of America. The lack of job security means lack of loyalty on both the part of the employer and employee, and people speak of just doing what they have to to get by, not investing in any sort of larger sense of contributing to a company- they are just collecting a paycheck, nothing more.

I agree businesses can’t necessarily be job charities, but by totally forgoing the social contract of employment, they gain no loyalty and thus the same people who businesses have invested time and money to train and educate have no reason to stay in that position if they can get a better deal elsewhere. I’m not sure this is necessarily a long-term success strategy for helping all boats to rise, so to speak, but it does create cut throat competition where people become more isolated and only concerned for themselves. You can’t expect people to “take one for the team” and act altruistically if the team is unlikely to return the favor.

What do you think? How do we balance efficiency and economics with the importance of building sustainable communities for the long term? Is it possible?

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