Inexcusable Twitter Behavior: Why Aren’t We Beyond All of This?

Danah Boyd photo: by Joi (Flickr) thru creative commons

I follow a lot of blogs on technology, libraries, librarians and social networking.  One of the blogs I follow is the blog of danah boyd.  danah boyd is a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  She is probably the leading researcher and scholar on the subject of youth and social networking.  I have no idea how many talks and presentations she has given; but, I can only imagine that it is A LOT.

Last week, she was giving a talk at Web2.0 Expo.  This is a conference for web geeks and those interested in web geekery.  You can read her post on what happened here.  I’ve always had tons of respect and admiration for her work anyway and for being so active and present in a man’s world; but, that post has elevated my admiration even further.

To quickly summarize:  The organizers of the conference decided that a Twitter stream should be visible behind the presenter.  So, while she was speaking, there was a live stream projected behind her of what people in her audience were saying about her talk.  The Twitter stream behind her turned nasty when the audience started making comments about her presentation style and apparently (though I have not seen all the tweets) personal attacks.  By her own admission, it was not the slickest speech.  I went on YouTube and watched it.  It actually was not that poorly presented in my opinion.  She definitely spoke too fast; but, I’m certain that having the audience burst into laughter when you haven’t made a joke is unsettling and I too would race to the end.

At the bottom of her blog post there are numerous comments and a couple of the commenters talk about the “social contract” between presenter and audience.   This is an important part of the conversation.  Is there a contract between presenter and audience? When is it okay for the audience to be equal participants?  Is it ever okay for the audience to become the focal point?  Why do we go to hear speakers?  All these and a million more questions have been raised by Ms. boyd’s experience and her sharing of this experience with the larger, connected world.

To me, all the debating in the world can go on about whether broadcast Twitter streams have a place at conferences while people are presenting and/or about whether what happened to danah boyd was a legitimate use of Twitter or a bunch of people angling for exposure, trying to one up each other with deeper and wordier insults; but, the core issue is humans treating other humans with decency and respect.  When did it become okay to take fidgeting during a “boring” lecture to delivering public and personal attacks on the presenter?  This is not okay.  There is an appropriate time and place for CONSTRUCTIVE criticism of a lecture; but, during a presentation is not one of them.  It only ends up being disruptive and rude.  If you wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a lecture hall and yell it, you probably shouldn’t tweet a personal attack.

The sad part of all of this is that we’ve completely lost her message which is incredibly thought provoking.   I urge you to read the transcript of her talk.  She is one of our brightest minds and what she has to say is relevant and insightful.  I found her closing comments  ironic in light of what happened.

As we continue to move from a broadcast model of information to a networked one, we will continue to see reworkings of the information landscape. Some of what is unfolding is exciting, some is terrifying. The key is not be all utopian or dystopian about it, but to recognize what changes and what stays the same. The future of Web2.0 is about information flow and if you want to help people, help them reach that state. Y’all are setting the tone of the future of information. Keep it exciting and, please, recognize the power that you have!

I txt; therefore, I am.

photo: Steve Punter

photo: Steve Punter

There is a fascinating article on the NYT site this morning about the etiquette of using your smart phone in meetings.  The article points out cases on each side of the argument where the use of a Blackberry helped and where it hindered the task at hand.

If I had 15 minutes with Malcolm Gladwell, I’d quiz him on just when the tipping point happened.  When did it become okay to txt, surf, fiddle with a gadget during a meeting, presentation, lecture, whatever?

One person in the article claims that the txt banter between people at a meeting loosens it up and add to the creative productivity.  Maybe this is true; but, it seems like there is a time and place for this sort of loosening and when someone else is speaking is probably not the time.  I also suspect that some of this banter is mean spirited and then I wonder what type of productivity, team building, working energy that could possibly be promoting.

All of this txting while your attention should be elsewhere is based on the misconception that we can multitask.  Multitasking is actually impossible.  Juggling: yes.  Multitasking: no.  Our brains are only capable of having one thought in each moment…the speed between those moments can be quite fast; but still: 1 thought per moment.  So, in the time it takes you to txt the guy sitting across the conference table from you, you have missed something.

Folks that txt while driving think their eyes only leave the road for a moment; but, in that moment so much can happen.

Giving your undivided attention to someone, to me, is a given.  Anything else and you are signaling that there are other things or people more important than that person in that moment.

I was surfing the web one day and came across an online discussion about whether it is okay to use your cell phone to talk or txt while conducting a retail transaction.  The comments were leaning towards yes and this deeply saddened me.  What could possibly be so important you can’t give the person waiting on you a short moment of your time?  And if it is that important, then perhaps you should step off line and give your full attention to the conversation.  The consensus seemed to be that it wasn’t rude.  What?  How can ignoring a person who most likely has spoken to you and/or is waiting on you not be rude?  I’m at a loss with that one.

But we need to be connected 24/7 to keep up.  My kids need me in case of an emergency.  I can do two things at once.  Ugh.  Really?  I think most people who are txting a million times a day, kids included, spend almost no time having a quiet reflective moment.  I also suspect these parent/kid emergencies are more likely about what a kid should have for lunch or other questions the kid should be answering on their own.  Now, I’m not a parent, so it’s easy for me to look in from the outside; but, I do like to gently remind parents that, yes, they can reach their kid anytime, anyplace; but, the other side of that is so can other people.  I remember riding a bus in Minneapolis and overhearing a conversation between a teen girl and her boyfriend.  The whole purpose of the call was for him to keep track of her whereabouts.  She gave him a minute by minute run down of where she was and where she was going and what she was doing.  Hmmm.  Not sure about you; but, I definitely would not want anyone keeping tabs on my child like that.

But, I’ve gotten slightly off topic.  I’m a bit of an evangelist about this:  BE PRESENT in your life.  Talk to the barista who pours your coffee; thank the person who pumps your gas; refrain from txting and talking while you’re interacting with another human being.  There are times when it’s appropriate to engage in these activities and preceding them with a warning and an apology go a long way in maintaining  a respectful interaction.

And in case you were wondering or suspect that I’m someone stuck behind the times or am waiting for retirement while I blame the younger generation for all of our society’s ills:  I’m 44.  I am the new technology librarian at my library.  I only own a cell phone (no landline) which is a smart phone (google phone).  I txt.  I have a laptop and wireless high speed (Fios) internet access at home.  There are things I love about technology.  I just think we need to remember that there is a time and a place and in person, human to human interaction comes first.  Pretty sure that on my death bed, I won’t be wishing I spent more time on the internet.

Power of Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and the power it can have in the workplace.  In my personal life, I like to cultivate and forge relationships with people who are patient and are capable of extending forgiveness.  There is a freedom that comes with establishing these types of relationships.  Generally, you are free to make mistakes without lasting harm.  Of course, it also requires that you see your mistakes and the nature of them and apologize or ask for forgiveness.

In the workplace, cultivating a place where there is forgiveness helps create a space where people are encouraged to try things, to think outside the box, to stretch themselves to their very limits, to be risky without it bringing harsh consequences down on them.

It also creates a place where people’s individual quirks are not used against them, where new employees are not expected to be perfect, where staff are allowed to make mistakes knowing that they will learn from those mistakes and that they will not be punished for taking risks.

Punishment and the holding of grudges is poison.

I’ve worked in places where grudges were being held for things that happened 10 and 20 years ago!!!  Clearly, this is not productive.  This is what can happen when we start looking outside of ourselves instead of just focusing on our own work and our own impact on the workplace.

The next time someone does something that pisses you off, let them have a free pass.  Forgive them, let it go and move on.  See how it feels.  Does it really matter that your manager made a mistake with the schedule?  Does it matter that an irate customer is passed to you because of something someone else did?  No, ultimately, it really doesn’t matter.  Schedules get ironed out.  We all make mistakes with customers or maybe even it’s an opportunity to educate a coworker about a policy or share with them a different way of handling a problem.

In the big picture, being mad at these people, wouldn’t help you serve customers, wouldn’t help you maintain a healthy, enthusiastic morale, would negatively impact your happiness and would generally distract you from your work.

Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to share with your coworkers.  Try it once, see how it feels.

Lesson in Snark: Meghan McCain Tells Right Wing Talk Show Host: Kiss my Fat Ass

It’s all over the wires.  I saw it here.  A quick synopsis if you’ve been on a trashy news boycott and missed it:  Meghan McCain is a political blogger for The Daily Beast and daughter of John McCain.  In a column on March 9th, she comments on Ann Coulter :

I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. But no matter how much you or I disagree with her, the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied.

If you haven’t read the whole column, you should.  She actually presents an interesting position about extremism within the Republican Party from a unique perspective, and a perspective we rarely get to hear.  The media love to show us the extremes from both parties because it’s more exciting and provocative.  Here is the daughter of a recent presidential candidate, a self proclaimed “new Republican” thoughtfully wondering aloud about the health of the Republican Party and the ideology she feels they need to leave behind.

Ann Coulter herself actually had no response which is slightly surprising.  It was right wing talk show Laura Ingraham who took the discourse to a new low when she said McCain was “just another Valley Girl gone awry.”  She then joked that McCain was rejected for inclusion on The Real World because she’s a “plus sized model.”  McCain responded on her blog:

Instead of intellectually debating our ideological differences about the future of the Republican Party, Ingraham resorted to making fun of my age and weight, in the fashion of the mean girls in high school.

Forgive me for cherry picking the most mature and thoughtful of her responses; but, go read the whole post here.  Her whole response is clearly thought out and raises some good points without stooping to snark.

But, it was her appearance on The View that has sparked the most web chit chat.  When left to providing an impromptu monologue on the incidents and without the ability to edit, McCain succinctly sums up with this gem:  Kiss My Fat Ass!

At first, I was a bit disappointed in this response; but, the longer I thought about it, the more I came to accept it.  For one, it does not attack anyone’s attributes, competencies or even ideologies.  It is borderline empowering and I’m pretty sure girls who love and accept their bodies are cheering heartily.

As a big, unapologetic Lefty, I disagree with Meghan McCain on most things (though Kudos to her for supporting Gay Marriage!); but, I welcome her voice to the political conversation.  Rachel Maddow has already proven that you can be wildly successful without having to resort to yelling and mean spirited, snarkish commentary.  I urge Ms. McCain to leave the ass kissing behind and continue with her thoughful musings.

I have an odd track record at the last couple of libraries I’ve worked at, of befriending the person on staff who I have large, serious ideological differences with.  At one of my jobs, I teamed up with a gentleman who was my age, straight and married, and deeply religious and conservative.  On so many levels, there were a myriad of opportunities for us to not only dislike one another; but, to keep our interactions to the bare minimum.  Yet, he and I forged a friendship and I know that more than one coworker called us The Odd Couple because there was nothing that could be seen that would bring us together as friends.  But, we were friends.  And it was easy to be his friend.

We found common ground: love of vintage clothes…it probably helped that I tend to like old men cardigans!…and mid century modern design.  Every summer, he and 3 of his friends would fly to another city to watch a baseball game and go to museums, eat good food and basically have a boy’s weekend away.  I loved hearing about his trips and on a couple of occasions I gave him advice about fun things to do in a couple cities.  I was given one of the greatest compliments when he said that if one of the guys ever dropped out he’d want me to join in.    Clearly, the logistics of this probably wouldn’t work; but, that he shared that feeling with me, to this day makes me smile.

I was enriched by my friendship with him and I would have missed out on this awesome human connection had either one of us written the other off purely because we were soooo different.  He accepted me just as I am: queer, leftist, opinionated, Buddhist and I accepted him without judgement.

What would happen to us if we removed snark?  What would happen to us if instead of fighting with put downs and exaggerations, we stuck to intelligent dialogue?  What would happen if the airwaves were filled with thoughtful, skilled debaters on both sides of an argument?

No one is going to listen to you if you are mean.  You can still be critical; but, delivery is everything.

5 Tips for Cultivating Good Work Relationships

telephone1 Painting: Betsy Boyle

1.  Communicate.  This one would seem like a no brainer; but, I’m always amazed at the lack of communication I find in the places I have worked.  Here is an example: Employee A organizes the adult programming for a library.  She has scheduled movies on a certain night of the week for a few years.  She logs onto the calendar to book the community room several months ahead and finds that Employee B, the person who does children’s programming has booked the same night for several months.  Employee A can move the movie night to another night; but, it will require training a generally elderly population into switching nights.  It will also require a rescheduling of personnel.  All of this is fine in the long run; after all, staff must share the facilities.  The problem exists because Employee B didn’t have the courtesy to just call up Employee A and have a discussion about booking the room and there by at least giving Employee A a heads up.  Now there are feelings of irritation and suspicion instead of one of teamwork.  Employee B missed an opportunity to bond with her colleague and build a relationship based on negotiation and support.  Do you think Employee A will jump at the chance to help out Employee B should she need it?  I doubt it.  Pick up the phone or wander down to your colleague’s desk and talk them.

2.  Set up your coworkers to succeed.  What I mean by that is if you are presented with an opportunity to make a situation smoother or give your coworker the information they need to successfully navigate a problem, DO IT!  A good example is when dealing with a customer complaint that needs to be handed off to the next person.  Take a moment, whether by phone or in person, to bring your coworker up to speed in an objective way.  You don’t have to bias your coworker’s opinion of the customer; but, you can give them all the facts and even suggestions for resolution if you have any.  If you need to forward a customer call to another person, take a moment to introduce them to the problem before allowing the call to transfer.  This is a win/win situation because not only are you building a trusting relationship with your colleague, you are also improving customer service.  There is nothing more annoying than calling a customer service line and getting handed off  a million times and having to tell each new person the whole story.

3.  Avoid office gossip.  This is hard.  There is always one person in any workplace that others like to complain about.  Try to avoid this kind of chit chat.  Although it may feeling like a bit of coworker bonding at the moment, it is actually planting the seeds of distrust in everyone involved.  If your coworkers talk about your other coworker behind their back, who’s to say they don’t talk about you when you’re not there?  And there lies the rub.  By not participating in these conversations, you coworkers quickly learn to curb these types of bitch fests while you are around.  They also begin to realize that you are a person that can be trusted to treat others fairly.  This is an excellent role to have in an organization because it puts you in a position of being able to help create a cohesive team and change a distrustful atmosphere.

4. Give when you can.  There are times in every organization when you are less busy than someone else.  If you see your coworker stressed from overwork and you have time, offer to help.  If you have an answer needed to help a customer, offer it.  In my library I’m seen as one of the techie people around here and reference staff have been known to interrupt my offdesk time to get me to help a customer with a computer question.  When I was younger, this would sometimes irritate me because I felt that the other staff should know these things.  But, now that I’m older and just more experienced I realize that we all have our strengths and roles.  Mine is to help people with computer issues that are beyond basic troubleshoots.  I’ve had coworkers whose strengths were in business resources, government documents and geneology and I was happy to pass the customer to them.  That’s teamwork and when the team is working together, the customer always wins.

5. Show respect to others at all times, even when someone drives you crazy.  This can sometimes be hard; but, it is really not negotiable if you want good working relationships with coworkers.  Deliver criticism gently and receive it maturely.  I’ve seen coworkers snap at each other, treat each other rudely and disrespect each other in a whole gamut of ways I had never thought of before.  I’ve had a boss who yelled and kicked file cabinets and liked to make people cry.  I’ve had a boss who never came out of her office even if the library was crazy and we needed her help.  I’ve seen coworkers treat nonprofessional staff as if they were idiots.  All of this behavior leads to a workplace in chaos which is always bad for the customer.  And it may be a cliche; but, seriously, a little respect goes a long way.

This is a good start.  I’m sure there are many other ways to build good rapport with the folks you work with day in and day out.  Some of us spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families.    We should take some care tending to these relationships.

Rules of Engagement: Dealing with Social Media or Online Conflict

The web is now participatory. We have profiles on social networking sites; we have blogs; we comment on blog posts; we review products, movies, music, books; we engage with unseen people all over the world. The anonymity of the net allows for a certain misbehavior that threatens to devalue the potential for intelligent dialogue and turn off folks who have something to offer.  Sharlyn Laubey over at Mashable has posted some excellent advice on how to handle and avoid virtual conflicts.

Link: How to Deal With Social Media Conflict

I love the first one: Don’t take it personally.  This of course is excellent advice for real world and virtual world.  It is actually my stumbling studies in Buddhism that has helped me learn this lesson the most.  There is such internal buildup when we take things personally and more often than not it has nothing to do with us.

Rudeness is for the Rich: Wealthy People Make Poor Conversational Partners: Scientific American

Rudeness is for the Rich: Wealthy People Make Poor Conversational Partners: Scientific American

I found this article surprising in some ways and sad in so many other ways.  I did not grow up in a wealthy family.  At one point during my childhood there were 4 generations living under one roof.  I grew up in a house where there was always someone home, someone to talk to.  I was never lonely.  I never lacked a conversation partner.

My parents were and still are friendly people.  My father would get out of the car at gas stations and talk to the attendant.  He could talk to anyone.  In the 70s, my parents joined a “van club” and we started traveling all over the East Coast with the club, going to Truck Ins and van shows and camping as a group.  I was quickly socialized to be able to chat with all sorts of adults and kids.  This training has served me well.  I’m not super extroverted; but, I have little trouble talking with anyone in small group settings.

I’m curious about this wall between the wealthy and the world.  What are they missing out on?

A few years ago, while living in Saint Paul, MN, my across the street neighbor began to have trouble with some college students 2 doors down who were under the mistaken impression that my neighbors had called the police on one of their parties.  At one point, they T.P.ed my neighbor’s yard.  My neighbor, wanting to start a healing dialogue attempted to talk to two of the students.  The young men were students at a small Catholic college known for having a wealthy student body.  These men were no exception.  One of them drove a car that cost more than my house.   My neighbor asked the young men to clean up his yard and explained that his children didn’t understand what was going on and were scared by the attention aimed at their house.  They students came across as not really caring about my neighbor or his family and didn’t really see what the big deal was.  My neighbor again asked that they clean his yard up and the one young man responded: just call your service.  At first my neighbor didn’t even understand what he was talking about.  When it finally dawned on him, he informed them that he didn’t have a “service” so the boys would have to clean it themselves.

I remember being astonished by this conversation.  First of all, I’m pretty sure I had never met anyone who had a “service” that they could call to clean up all their messes.  Secondly, I had met wealthy people before and not really noticed this level of poor communication, as if they didn’t need to be bothered with listening.   Part of it may just be the arrogance of youth.  But, my immediate next door neighbor was also a house filled with wealthy college students.  These students were respectful and polite.  One of them cleaned our gutters and shoveled our snow while I was recovering from a scooter accident.  Just nice young men. I even called the one man’s father, who owned the house, to tell him what a nice young man he had raised.

I don’t know how I feel about this article.  Confused.  I’ll leave it here for now and perhaps revisit it in down the road.

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Kindness in Action

Today my coworker was at the reference desk and a woman slowly approached the desk. She asked if we had a certain video. My coworker looked it up, informed her that it was a children’s video and located in the children’s department.

Facts: The customer was slow moving and seemingly having difficulty moving. She was a larger woman; but, did not have a cane or any other implements.

Facts: Standard practice is to direct customers to the children’s department where there is another librarian who could serve her.

Reality: My coworker informed her that the video was in the kid’s department, offered to fetch it for her and when the customer accepted her offer, my coworker went around the reference desk and pulled a chair out from a study table, so the customer could sit down.

This was not just excellent customer service. This was service delivered with kindness and from the heart. How many people would have responded the way this librarian did?

Desperation Brings Decency



There is an article in the New York Times today about the restaurant industry and how horribly it is struggling during these economic hard times.  This is not a new topic of discussion.  I’ve probably read a half dozen other articles about the same topic, whether the journalist is taking the angle of all the bargain meals to be had or they are reporting about the restaurants disappearing one by one.  This article is different because peppered throughout the article is commentary about how now the waitstaff at some of the highest end NYC restaurants are all of a sudden happy to see you.  Gone (apparently) is the snobbish, sometimes rude reception a diner might get on any given night or over the phone when attempting to make a reservation.  One restaurant owner of two failed restaurants advised his colleagues, “You need to hug your customers.”

I’m assuming most of these places that were wildly successful despite their less than pleasant attitudes toward their diners are now scrambling to figure out just what “nice” even means.  Can you retrain your staff to be pleasant and helpful?  What if these establishments had been “hugging” their customers from the very beginning?  At this point, I imagine that customers will continue to go to these restaurants, especially if they are offering deals; but, the customers are not invested, just bargain seeking.

What if you have a store, a restaurant, a department, a library full of pleasant and helpful staff winning the customer’s heart over and over and over again no matter what the economic climate.  Won’t those customers be more invested in the health of your organization?  Not just looking for a fire sale?  In the library world, these questions need to be asked as government leaders turn to us to cut budgets and tighten belts.  Are our customers invested enough to fight for us?



Over at Library Garden, Peter Bromberg has an excellent post about Twittering public events.  In this instance it was a professional conference.  It’s a great reminder that people actually read these things and whether you are at a professional conference or lecture or some other event your tweets are recorded and read.  Be professional.  Be kind.