Blogging is Not Writing

“it is graffiti with punctuation!”  That is how Elliot Gould (who plays Dr. Ian Sussman in the movie Contagion) describes it.  Having blogged for six years now

I am wondering whether perhaps he is right.  Graffiti is defined as writings or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.

On one level, I have to agree with the scriptwriter in Contagion.  After all, most of my writings are social commentaries in some form or another.  At least I hope I am not defacing public property.

I can remember the reason I started blogging way back then like it was yesterday.  My fellow professional told me that I needed to share my thoughts because she said many professionals had similar thoughts and might otherwise think they were alone … or even a bit crazy.

On the other hand, I can also remember a fellow professional chastise me with the statement that I shouldn’t take myself seriously and that most people only listen to me because they enjoy the stories and jokes.  The implication was that no one really listens to the content or the message and certainly doesn’t change as a result.

Perhaps then it would be appropriate for me to ask you as readers to send me a note confirming or refuting these thoughts.  After all, why should I waste your time or my own?  I had no intention to simply offer graffiti.

If it Bleeds, It Leads

The first use of this phrase is reportedly from a 1989 New York Magazine article titled “Grins, Gore, and Videotape – The Trouble with Local TV News” by journalist Eric Pooley.  It reflects the primal desires and fears of human nature.  Similar criticisms are made of NASCAR where people relish the crashes.  I remember the hockey matches at RPI where it seemed everyone was looking for the fights that were sure to break out.

I guess if people didn’t buy the newspapers or watch the TV when we are being fed this garbage it would stop.  It seems to be simply the law of supply and demand at work once more, but it is certainly a sign of less than the best in all of us that this seems true.

What is so alarming about Pooley’s phrase is that Pooley himself is already attributing it to something larger than any one person.  Pooley is using the phrase as a quote that would reflect the opinions and stances of most major global media corporations.  He finds himself exposed like the great Wizard of Oz and much like the Wizard’s last desperate attempt to cling to the illusion of Majesty when he utters the words “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” Pooley attempts to give the credit, or rather fault, of the quote to news in general.  But why would Pooley be unable to cite the person that first coined the term?  Because the phrase itself isn’t synonymous with any one person.  It’s synonymous with human nature.

The Roman satirist and poet Juvenal coined the term “bread and circuses” when describing the easiest way to rise to power with the common man.  Juvenal was remarking that the keys to power were held by those who were willing to appear righteous and favorable by distributing food and entertainment among the people, yet without giving the people anything of true substance.  Stories like in-depth coverage of politician’s personal lives, celebrity’s workouts, and stories that allude to possible future stories without actually covering anything are the media’s bread and circuses.  This is what the majority of the content of our journalistic sources have become: colorful filler to hold our attention and keep us entertained.

I don’t know about you, but I have cut off this influence in my life … as best I can.

Guilt is Not Good

I am sure many of you have been presented with a tablet or laptop screen after being in a restaurant or using Uber or Lyft with the suggestion of a seemingly outrageous tip.  An article in the Wall Street Journal is included here that comments on that.  After reading this excellent article completely, I have some very serious questions for you about how you approach customer behavior:

Are Those Screens That ‘Suggest’ 30% Tips Too Pushy? Tablet-based checkouts in coffee shops make it easy to add a gratuity, but many people feel manipulated into giving too much. JUST A SUGGESTION Some coffee house digital registers propose gratuity levels up to 30%.

By Jesse Will 

ILLUSTRATION: KIERSTEN ESSENPREIS

YES

WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE  —you pick up something as simple as a $3 energy bar or a $5 latte at the counter of your local coffee shop. At checkout, the clerk, someone you see all the time, spins the point-of-sale tablet around to display your tipping options, ranging from a buck to two or even three. You feel bad denying a friendly face but did the clerk’s efforts really rise to a level that merits a gratuity, let alone one of 60% or even 100%?

If you feel put out by the nerve of these machines, join the crowd. The proliferation of point-of-sale tablets from companies like Square and Clover has made coffee shop and other small business checkouts easy, but it’s also introduced awkward scenarios like the above.

“The main concern is when these devices wind up nudging people toward a level of tip that they wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable with,” said Lior J. Strahilevitz, a University of Chicago Law Professor who has written about these “dark patterns” in user interface design. When the most generous tipping option says 18%—standard by most modern rules of etiquette—that’s one thing. But when the options rise to 30% or higher, you might feel guilted into overtipping, especially if the “service” you’re acknowledging amounted to pressing a few buttons and asking robotically if you want a bag.

Then there’s the pressure factor: When the clerk is waiting, and you feel the eyes of the customer behind you on the back of your head, you might hastily punch in your gratuity without thinking about it. “What really worries me about these digital interfaces,” said Mr. Strahilevitz, “is that in some instances, consumers might just be bad at math, and they may not realize that they left as large of a tip as they did.”

NO

TIPPING IS ABOUT showing appreciation for someone who spends a little extra time or thought considering your needs, but it can also help build relationships with the staff at places you frequent. (Being greeted with a nod as someone starts your drink before you arrive at the counter can be a nice daily perk). And since digital tipping screens make it quicker and easier to tip the exact amount you want, what’s to hate about them?

These touch screen devices actually give you more, not less, control in the matter (“no tip” and “custom tip” are typically options), and can be quicker than tabulating a gratuity in your head and scrawling it out on a paper receipt or scrounging through your pockets to find the amount of change you want. According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, any friction we feel when confronted with a tablet is self-imposed: The person behind the counter didn’t design that point-of-sale app, after all, and isn’t likely to be offended or notice if you skip the tip on simple purchases.

“We need to have the wherewithal to know that tips aren’t obligatory, even when there are several options on a screen,” said Ms. Gottsman. You have the power and “can always hit the box that says ‘no tip.’” Consider whether staff are hourly employees (as in most coffee shops) or working largely for gratuities (restaurant servers). And if you don’t like the auto-generated tipping percentages—you should feel confident in tapping the convenient “custom tip” option and typing in a figure you feel comfortable with.

“You need to approach tipping with confidence—take two seconds to consider it, and then boom, you’re gone,” said Ms. Gottsman. “It’s like taking a shot.”

OK, now back to my point about behavior.  I have always been more than a little concerned about behavioral energy savings programs that use “guilt” by comparing you to your neighbor.  They basically can only use this for customers who use more than their neighbors … the assumption is that the net result of a percent or two of energy savings was good even though it uses guilt as the motivator.  Any of those who do check with customers about how they feel when these messages are received will see the same resentments most of us would have.  Plus, there is nothing helpful about what to do about these higher bills in most cases that is personalized.

We on the other hand compare customers to what they really can do.  The result is that all customer groups (high and low energy use, efficient and inefficient customers) can benefit from the analysis as well as the personalized suggestions about how to improve.  Sure, many do very little or nothing, but few find this kind of messaging distasteful.

Go ahead and check this out for yourself … yes … you need to check this out for yourself.  You say customer satisfaction matters … check it out.

Hypocrisy

Maybe it was because I had beautiful daughters who seemed to attract boys like flies. Maybe it all stems from my raising four daughters and imposing “inspections” every morning before they went to school and was deemed prudish and out of date as I counseled my daughters that the way they were dressing drew the wrong type of attention to them.  I would ask them what kind of a boy did they hope would notice them, and clearly their dressing styles would not do that.

So, I admit I am prone to keep thinking this way as I watch TV and see women dress in ways that draw the wrong type of attention to them.  After all, if a woman wants to be considered more than a sex object, I would think the way they dressed would reflect that objective and attitude.  Yet I don’t.

I am fed up watching female newscasters showing cleavage and wearing skin-tight clothes leaving almost nothing to the imagination.  Perhaps to my point, I am amused to see the female prosecutors in the Harvey Weinstein trial dress just the way I am suggesting a professional woman should dress.  Then why is the media awash in this showing it all attitude?

And, if you think this is on the decline, take a look at this article from USA Today.

So, on one hand, the media makes a big deal about bad male behaviors, and they should.  But, this same media seems to be telling our female population they should look like they want that kind of attention.

I guess the height of this hypocrisy is when these same scantily dressed ladies criticize men for their “unwanted” attention.

Perhaps it is the right time for women to dress the way my creative writing teacher told me when I was in 7th grade,  “Good writing should be like a bathing suit.  Long enough to cover the subject and leaving a lot to the imagination.”

Then why does the media have this hypocrisy?  I would suggest it makes them money: the shows with scantily clad news talking heads get watched more often and longer than the ones who are not hypocrites.

Oh for the day of Walter Kronkite and Joan London and the like.  Mary Tyler Moore where are you?

The Urge to Glurge

It is nice at this late stage in my life to learn new things.  Except that sometimes you learn things that take the joy right out of your life because they point out the incorrect or circumstantial proof of things we hold dear.  After all, we always want the good guy to win over the bad guy.  Or, we like to see meaning in things that otherwise seem hopeless and futile.

I have become suspicious of many stories I read online and then Google the key phrases to see if they have been debunked or simply taken out of context.  You all know about this because you see countless questionable statements online.  We should always take what has been reportedly said by Abraham Lincoln: “Don’t trust everything you see online!”  Honest Abe wouldn’t lie 😊

But checking on recent Facebook post brought a new word into my vocabulary: glurge.  Here is the definition from Snopes:

“What is glurge? Think of it as chicken soup with several cups of sugar mixed in: It’s supposed to be a method of delivering a remedy for what ails you by adding sweetening to make the cure more appealing, but the result is more often a sickly-sweet concoction that induces hyperglycemic fits. In ordinary language, glurge is the sending of inspirational (and supposedly “true”) tales, ones that often conceal much darker meanings than the uplifting moral lessons they purport to offer or undermine their messages by fabricating and distorting historical fact in the guise of offering a “true story.” Many of us, it seems, cannot overcome the urge to glurge.”

I have to say this does ring true.  Be advised, especially in this year of political nonsense to beware of this urge.