Are you one of the lucky ones?

Mashable is one of my favorite sources for social media news. While there are several others, I find the breadth of information, the quality of writing, and the range of topics appeals to me. While researching the digital divide, I came across the following infographic they published in a February blog post. I think it does a good job of condensing a lot of information into one, easily-digestible chunk. By the vary nature of it simplifying the information, it does capture the nuanced antecedents and problems that arise out of this issue. However, I think it’s an image that can evoke a visceral reaction to the injustices that continue to plague our society. What do you feel after taking a look at it?

Image from Mashable.com

The Digital Divide Transcends Class and Geography

I was hanging out with a couple friends yesterday, when somebody started talking about some guy who was displaying his masculinity by tearing a phone book in half with his bare hands. The idea that any person would feel compelled to show their strengths in this way is comical to me, but my friend posed a question in jest that I later thought about. He asked, “Why would anybody need a phone book in the first place?” I replied, “I guess for when your Internet goes out.”

I remember looking through phone books as a child, trying to understand how everything was organized and why some businesses had pictures or bigger fonts than others (it was before I understood how advertising works). I also remember being constantly reminded to look for something in various reference material. When I didn’t know how to spell a word, Dad would tell me to look it up in the dictionary. If I asked about the history of an event or person, he would tell me to look it up in the encyclopedia. If I had a question about where a state or country was, he sent me to the almanac. We didn’t have a computer in the house when I was growing up. Yet, I was one of the lucky ones.

My parents were told they would never be able to conceive. So a few years later, when they found out my mother was pregnant with me, they did everything they could to ensure I would arrive with as good a chance as anybody at success. Before I was born they purchased a full reference library complete with an unabridged encyclopedia, unabridged dictionary, yearbooks for the decade leading up to my birth, medical and science encyclopedias, almanacs, and literary classics ranging from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare to The Last Days of Pompeii. I remember reading the Divine Comedies around the age of ten trying to figure out why they weren’t funny.

This is a perfect example of making the path easier. By bringing the reference materials into the house, there was no excuse for me to be lazy in my inquisition of the world around me. However, times have changed. Encyclopedia Britannica recently announced they are ceasing with the production of printed reference material. Job searches and applications are performed almost entirely online. We can watch videos inside of books now! And those are just a few of the things we are able to do online now. People are engaging in dialogue about important issues over Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. It’s not uncommon for us to know something about current events in foreign countries before many of their citizens know about it and vice versa. Often, that news reaches us before the press catches wind of it. President Obama even stated that it’s a human right to have access to the Internet.

I argue, though, that access is not enough. After all, what’s the point in having access to Monster.com if we don’t know how to write a résumé, understand how our values and strengths align with a company, or how to search for other pieces of information? Sure, you might get the job, but what if you knew how to make sure you were offered a fair wage? Women, who are typically grossly underpaid compared to their male counterparts, have an especially difficult time with this. No. Access is not enough. Literacy is increasingly important as well—and it involves much more than knowing how to perform a Google search. The digital divide was once thought to be an issue of class and location. The lack of infrastructure dominated the public discourse. And it’s true, it is largely a class issue. If you live in a place without access to broadband, then you may find yourself at a disadvantage. But it’s not only a fight between the reach and poor. The haves and have nots can exist in any social structure and class as well as the most urban, suburban, or rural or places.

My current state of SW4SX

As per usual, I’m deviating from the expected path. During our last online class, I was asked to share some of my key learnings from the perspective of a person who teaches personal branding. Technology wasn’t in my favor, and I think it might be for the best—for I think I tend to be much more articulate in print than I am verbally. In this blog post, I hope to explore my motivations behind taking this course, what I’m getting out of it (learning), and what I’m observing. So with that introduction, here goes…

This is where I came to write this post.

Why Am I Taking This Course?

I was very much on the fence about taking this course—not because of the course content, but because of the timing. For most of the third quarter of my BGI experience I planned on using the summer to launch a few products, solidify some speaking engagements, and believe it or not, catch up on some sleep. From the first time I heard about the Social Web for Social Change course and upon meeting Sir Christopher Allen (I don’t know why I chose to address Christopher Allen as Sir, but it just feels right. So I go with it), I knew I would want to take his course at some point. Looking at when the class would be offered next year, I came to the conclusion that this summer would be the best time for me to dive into the course. So, here I am, last one to register, and taking this class for credit. Thanks Patrick for the gentle prodding.

Several people have asked, “Why are you taking a class you could probably teach?” Well, the honest answer is I don’t think I could teach this course. I honestly cannot think of a person more qualified to offer this course at BGI in terms of content and pedagogy than Sir Allen. And don’t get it twisted, I am in this to learn just as much about how to teach as I am what to teach. There’s so much to learn in both respects.

What am I getting out of this course?

I’m learning how to run a course

I’m learning quite a lot in this condensed summer course. The course is, for the most part, very organized. Given the fact that we are in the middle of a platform transition and a technology beta test, there seems to be a certain level of consistency I feel many would not be able to exude. However, every time I need to look at the upcoming assignments, I find myself in Gmail searching for “Alex.” Besides that though, the delivery is pretty crisp and it’s obvious that the teaching team has put a great deal of effort into not only the selection of content but the design of the class.

I’m learning a lot about psychology and the people in this community

Psychology has always played a major role in the fields that have formed my educational and professional background, which consists of business, marketing, sociology, communications, and DJ’ing. There have been so many adjustments and changes for me throughout my relatively short journey at BGI. I’ve found myself in a completely new environment, with different types of people, and a different way of living. I never thought this city boy would ever be studying business in the middle of the woods. Although I find myself at home in most of the classes I’ve taken here, none have come so naturally as this one. After all, social web for social change is kind of what I do.

I have been deeply impressed with the community of individuals taking this course. I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to watch people like Michelle V.–a person who admittedly hated the idea of putting herself “out there"—create some of the most entertaining video I’ve ever seen. Technology is a scary area for many people, and watching how my classmates are accepting the challenges it poses with such patience and grace is a motivation in itself and a testament to the type of people BGI and like-minded institutions attract. I've said it more than once, but I made my decision to come here based on the group of people in which I knew I would be immersed.

Marketing and branding are almost universally misunderstood terms

For years now, I’ve been engaging in an internal battle about whether or not I should use the terms marketing and/or branding when I describe what I do. I feel this way because I am completely aware of the negative connotations associated with these words. Marketing is often thought of as sales, advertising, or manipulation (manipulation in the negative sense). Branding is often thought of as merely visually representing one’s identity, or worse, creating a false persona for the outside world to believe. Let’s set the record straight right now. I hate these associations just as much as anybody. The reason, however, that I continue to use these terms is that I want to try to preserve the authentic meaning and integrity they have when used  and practiced appropriately and ethically. Nobody should have to continuously look for euphemistic words to describe something that is already accurately captured by the correct term. Doing so would be even less authentic.

So I understand when I hear the internal issues and challenges my classmates are facing when they try to write, talk, or present about themselves. In fact, I appreciate that. As a class, we are apprehensive about sharing our gifts, talents,and values.  We don't want to come across as know-it-alls, arrogant, or overconfident. It’s this quality that I think keeps people humble. The fact that you’re asking the questions you’re asking means that you are concerned with how your behavior affects the people around you. Don’t let go of that. But (yes I said but) also keep in mind that your story is also worthy of being told. In order to make the difference you want to make, you must be able to clearly articulate who you are and what you're about. Being braggadocios is not the way, but allowing yourself to be in tune with your strengths, talents, and uniqueness is critical to paving your way. 

So, what is personal branding?

A brand is not what you portray to the world. A brand is the collective sentiment people hold when they think, hear, see, taste, or otherwise experience a service or product. You do NOT own your brand. Branding activities are not an attempt to be fake. Branding activities showcase your true values. What do you find important? Who are you really? What is your unique value proposition? What is it about you and your talents that distinguishes you from the rest of the world? What purpose do you hope to serve; feel compelled to serve? Keep these kinds of questions in mind and branding will help guide decisions that are not portraying who you want others to think you are, but instead reflect, in a very authentic way, who you really are.

Fable IV: The Boy And The Scorpion

Fable IV: The Boy And The Scorpion

First things first—be aware. We value awareness in this country. In our job descriptions and résumés we often state that “attention to detail” is a key attribute with are looking for or posses respectively. I tend to be very observant, especially in regards to my environment and the people around me. However, my awareness is probably of the basic sort. What I mean by this is that I notice what is present. I notice what is not present. I pick up on the messages being delivered through body language and tone of voice. However, where I often fall short is awareness of myself. I am not always in tune with my own state of being. That’s a problem and and is something I am actively working on.

I think the boy in this story is facing a similar issue. He has a very superficial awareness of his surroundings, perceiving the large number of locusts. However, he is so caught up in the hunt that he doesn't not realize what legitimate threat is imminent. He owes a great deal of gratitude to the scorpion who spares him not only a great deal of physical pain and a potential fear of locusts in the future, but it also raises the boy's awareness of his surroundings immediately. To me, the scorpion represents those events that force one to stop and become aware. These events often manifest themselves a near-death experiences, deaths of loved ones, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, escapes to nature, or some other experience that is either traumatic or causes some high level of cognitive dissonance.

I was just participating in a conversation a few days ago about how paying attention to nature allows us to be receptive to learning some of life’s greatest lessons. Have you had any of these experiences lately? If so what was it and how have you become aware as a result?

Handwritten by Michael B. Maine

Fable III: The Wolf And The Crane

I volunteer—a lot. And not just by donating time, but also skill. I often volunteer by providing professional services and training to non-profit organizations and individuals. I do it because I enjoy connecting with people in a genuine way. I also find that I consistently come across some of the most interesting and authentic people in the process. I find it rewarding in and of itself. When it comes to traditional volunteer activities, people seem to understand my motivations a little more easily. When it comes to sharing professional resources and time, that’s when I get asked more questions:

  1. Why would you take all that time to write an ebook and give it away for free?
  2. Why do you invest so much money to host personal branding workshops that free to attend? You could be charging for those.
  3. Why do you treat pro bono clients the same way you treat paying ones?

For me, it comes down to doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Without going into ethics, there are a few guiding principles I live by. One: I never want access to be an issue for the things I do. Especially with regard to personal branding and communication, everyone should be able to have access to the information if they want it. I feel it’s a human right. Everyone has a story. They should be able to share it. If there is anyway I can help make that happen, I want to be a part of it. Two: every experience is a learning opportunity. One of the most difficult things I had to overcome in order to deliver my workshops was the feeling that I was not knowledgeable or qualified enough to teach. After all, I’m not trained in teaching. However, by putting a date on the first workshop, I forced myself to be intentional about not only the information, but how to curate and deliver that information. My sincerest hope is that those who took part in the series have gained actionable skills and met some great people in the process.

I truly enjoy what I do. I do it because I find fulfillment in working with ideas and people. I’m all about seeing potential realized. I love sharing stories.

Handwritten by Michael B. Maine

A goal is a dream with a deadline.
— Napoleon Hill

What Is The Digital Divide?

In just some twenty five to thirty years after the origin of the Internet we found ourselves, in the United States and around the world, with a tremendous discrepancy between the digital haves and the digital have nots. This discrepancy has come to be known as the digital divide. There are currently two major schools of thought regarding the digital divide. The first focuses on the lack of access to information and communication technologies (referred to as ITC). The second focuses on the ability to use ITC once access has been gained. The earliest allusion to this issue (that I can find) appeared in a sobering report published in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Commerce entitled Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the “Have Nots” in Rural and Urban America. In this report there were several alarming statistics. If you have any interest at all in this topic, I recommend you check it out for yourself. One important thing to note about the report is that it provides one of the earliest confessions that U.S. telecommunication policy needed to be updated. Until 1995 a major goal of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was “universal service” and was measured by “telephone penetration.” Contributing authors went on record stating that this method of measurement was not comprehensive enough to address the changing landscape. Not only is access to computers and Internet important, but the knowledge and skills to use them are equally so. In short, the following conclusions were clearly expressed in the report:

1. At least in the United States, the “have nots” primarily reside in rural areas and central cities.

2. Native Americans , Hispanics, and blacks are least likely to have access computers, telephones, and the Internet.

3. People under 25 are the most likely to be denied access. Elderly follow.

4. The less educated a person is, the more likely they are going to be negatively affected.

5. Bridging this gap must be made a priority.

I’ll spare you the numbers (although the numbers are shocking), and look at some of the impacts this divide is making. The economic and social ramifications of such a discrepancy negatively affects not only those who have not, but those who do. The next blog post on this topic will focus on how the widening gap poses a significant challenge for balanced development.

The Fox And The Grapes

The Fox and The Grapes reminds me very much about how consumerism has placed us in a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction. In our constant effort to keep up with the Jones’ we forget to cherish the things we do have in front of us, whether it be material, spiritual, emotional, or community. My perfectionism is as much a weakness as it is one of my strengths. I have to thank a friend of mine who told me in the not-to-distant past that my desire to plan and execute everything so meticulously will prevent me from enjoying the process. True story. Always strive for better, but never forget to enjoy where you are and what you have now.

My Journey Through Aesop's Fables

Have you ever heard/read what seemed to be the wisest quote of all time to see that it was attributed to somebody by the name of Aesop? I found myself coming across more and more of these and began asking myself, “Exactly who is this Aesop person?” Apparently I missed something during my childhood, because, although I was familiar with many of the morals, I was somehow able to reach adulthood without a basic understanding of Aesopian literature. That is about to change. I went by my neighborhood Barnes and Noble and picked up a hardcover copy of Aesop’s Fables and, for the first time in a long time, I ready the entire introduction. I’ll spare you all the details in this post, but as I delved deeper into the poems, I realized that they were all relevant to life, business, and…yes even marketing. As I take a closer read of this work, I’ll post my analyses and welcome yours. If anybody wants to read along, feel free to do so. The fables are readily available for download for free via Google, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Kobo, etc. Also, I’ll most likely post the piece I’m reading along with my analysis so you can follow along that way too. I hope to spark some interesting discussion, so please feel free to comment.

Where I've Landed With "The Beat"

As per usual, I have decided to do something a little different with my beat blog. The assignment asked us to produce a digital artifact we would be willing leave behind—something worth sharing with the world while evoking our passions. You may remember, from my first post, in introducing my ideas for “The Beat” I was very much torn between several topics ranging from social justice to the spiritual journey of a BGI student. After much thought and introspection, I have landed on the following two topics, each evoking different passions for me. The first allows me to analyze a real problem and research it from an inquisitive perspective. I considered take a solutions-based approach, however, in doing so, I feel I’d be doing so at the expense of more completely understanding the issues. The second topic allows me to revisit my passion for literature and my need to spend time in reflection.
 

So, what are my topics? I will alternate between sharing my research and analysis on what is called the “digital divide” and my exploration through Aesop’s Fables. I plan to bring a mixture of media and content, including not only text, but images, interviews, video, and the occasional hand-written letter. Stay tuned and I hope you enjoy the journey. Until next time…peace.