Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Your Facebook Profile Pic Makes You Look Bad

At work today, I got a call from a coworker wondering who ran our company's Facebook page. She was concerned by one of our Facebook "fans" whose profile picture apparently was a scantily-clad Playboy model. My coworker thought we should kick out the fan for his potentially offensive profile picture.

The fan in question is not an employee of my company. If he were an employee, I could call him and let him know that the company is at this moment developing guidelines for how employees behave on social media sites – even when on their own time. He could take that under advisement and either change his profile pic or go to work for a hipper industry.

Frankly, I'm not sure why a young man with, shall we say, more artistic aspirations, would want to become a Facebook fan of an engineering company. But he is. And that is just how the web works.

I spoke with our social media administrator, and we agreed that the best course of action was no action, but the situation reminded me of a phone interview I had with professional speaker and coach, Jane Atkinson. I was talking to her about personal branding, and how a person's brand influenced their professional opportunities. The conversation turned to channels (like Facebook and LinkedIn) for marketing the "self brand". She navigated to my Facebook page as we spoke, and she saw my profile pic – a photo of a statue of three deer in a, shall we say, artistic pose.

I was deeply embarrassed. The personal brand article turned out great, but I instantly became aware of how my credibility was jeopardized by my admittedly juvenile sense of humor.

My internal debate has been that desire to live an unfettered life versus finding new opportunities, personally and professionally. Perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt said it best with "with great freedom comes great responsibility" – or am I thinking of Ozzy Osbourne who wrote "I don't want to change the world/I don't want the world to change me"?

It's a new world, I guess. Love it or leave it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is Transparency Wearing Thin?

The Obama Administration is missing an excellent tie-in to the health care debate around the issue of airport scanners.

Instead of just looking for weapons or explosives under our clothes, why not scan for cancer or osteoporosis? People would flock to the airport for regular check ups, freeing up hospital waiting rooms for good old fashioned gunshot victims.

Airlines could fill prescriptions right in flight. Along with the $5 headphones, passengers could purchase backless gowns, very comfortable, and extremely practical when dealing with more aggressive security procedures.

I recently heard someone say, without irony, that "there ought to be a law limiting big government."

It seems like we, the public, want our proverbial cake and we want to eat it, too.

It's as if technology has brought us to a golden age of interactive everything. Pushocracy (push button, remote control democracy) is just around the corner. We'll be able to vote on every line item of a budget bill while we drive to work. We will be the government, an iMob of virtual patriots.

Meanwhile we expect a high level of what has come to be known as "transparency" from our governments, our employers, our bankers, our celebrities, and thanks to web cams and Skyping, one another.

This idea of transparency not only seems to have been driven by technology, but it is currently embodied by the discussions about full body airport scanners that can see through our clothes. Now that is literally mandating transparency.

As technology has pushed everything into overdrive, our tolerance for waiting, for not knowing, for inaction has plummeted. We want it now. As long as we don't have to do anything.

This is the cake conundrum. I notice more and more that we expect to keep tabs on what "the man" is up to, sort of a quid pro quo for Big Brother government wanting to keep tabs on us via airport screening and citywide video cameras and marketing databases.

We show you ours, so let's see yours.

The problem is that what we see isn't necessarily of any significance. Even if it was significant, what we really do about it, anyway? Tweet?

The folks demanding transparency may inadvertently be fostering a larger bureaucratic monster who always keeps one hand waving at us while the other hand slices the throats of good ideas. By simply demanding "transparency", we are really demanding a peek at the inner workings of power. Just seeing the inner workings of power, however, doesn't transfer any power to us simply for having seen it, any more than watching a storm on radar will keep it from raining.

Yes, I know that the radar analogy could also be turned to suggest that by seeing the storm coming, we can prepare ourselves with umbrellas and rain boots, but that's not what the iMob wants. We want someone to keep it from raining, as infantile and illogical as that is, it is what we want. Our desire for transparency isn't motivated by any bold underpinning, that if we are discontent we would go so far as to do something about it.

Heavens, no.

We want a more passive relationship with our masters. Yes, we want to keep an eye on those rascals, but from a safe distance, generally measured by terabytes. We want to feel like we control them, because as long as they stay in the confines of our Blackberry and iPhone screens, they are diminutive and less threatening.

For my money, "transparency" is simply the new "shallow".