Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Did you see The Office last week? After nine years muddling through interoffice romances, downsizing, and quite a few comic misunderstandings, America’s favorite paper company signed off with the brand of heartwarming storytelling that made the show famous.
It’s very trendy right now to pull broad, general life lessons from seemingly unrelated media (check out “5 Social Media Lessons I Learned from My Mom”). But, it would be difficult to argue that The Office had nothing to teach us. The show delved deeply into interpersonal relationships, life’s greatest joys and challenges, and the way we all feel about work. So next time you catch a rerun of The Office and laugh at Dwight Schrute’s zany antics, think how the touching comedy relates to your own life and work. Here is what I was able to glean.
1) Everyone is just doing the best they can. Every day we work with or around difficult people. We come in contact with our own Michael Scotts or Angela Martins. People who just don’t seem to get that their actions are bugging everyone! People who criticize or speak loudly or tell inappropriate jokes…It’s easy to get frustrated. But The Office, better than any other workplace comedy, demonstrated that these individuals who annoy us so much have their own stories, their own heartache. Life is hard. For every single one of us…It’s a struggle. Michael declared bankruptcy. Angela’s husband was cheating on her. Pam and Jim had to see a counselor. And, while there isn’t always a camera to reveal our quiet tragedies, believe me…they are happening. Cut people some slack.
3) Growing up doesn’t mean giving up on your dreams. We all wanted to be something special when we grew up. The Office did a fantastic job demonstrating the very sad reality that as we age we make compromises…Like taking a job at a paper company. The show took that devastatingly depressing reality and revealed how we can all overcome it. Pam was never happy as a receptionist. She wanted to be an artist. So, she went to art school and eventually wound up painting murals for the city and her employer. Jim was passionate about sports. So, he took a risk and created his own sport’s marketing company. Andy wanted to be an entertainer and along the way discovered that he was better suited as an admissions officer at his beloved Cornell. Kevin, the office dimwit, was fired in the last episode and is shown owning and managing a successful bar as a result. We don’t always wind up exactly where we want to be, but that doesn’t mean we give up. Make your life fit your dream. Paint murals. Plant a beat farm. Do what you enjoy, even if it isn’t your full time job.
4) Make Unexpected Friends. Work brings together a lot of different types of people. People of different ages, interests, and backgrounds often find themselves on the same team. At the end of The Office we see that Dwight considers Pam his best friend. Oscar helped Angela care for her son and allowed her to live with him during tough times. Stanley and Phyllis clearly miss and value one another. Even Kevin and Dwight find common ground. Our work can bring us out of our comfort zone. It can let us meet people we might never come upon in a social setting. These unexpected friends can wind up meaning everything…
5) Know when its time to say goodbye. This is a hard lesson. But its one The Office does very well – regarding both the actual show and its plots. When Michael Scott realized the love of his life needed a change, he said goodbye. When Andy realized he could never be an entertainer if he stayed at Dunder Mifflin, he said goodbye. When Jim, Pam and Darrel realize that they are being called to move on, they say goodbye. When the creators of The Office realized that they had taken the show as far as they could and that it was time to wrap up nine years of story, they said goodbye.
6)"It all seems so very arbitrary. I applied for a job at this company because they were hiring. I took a desk at the back because it was empty. But, no matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home." Isn’t that how it goes? How many of us can say that life took us exactly where we expected to go? I know in my case many of life’s greatest joys came from chance. We don’t always know what will happen if we sit at a particular desk or talk to a particular stranger. It may be nothing at all. But it may be something spectacular. And, I suppose, that’s what makes every day matter.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I have to admit that as a member of the MTV Generation I’ve become pretty desensitized to violence. I was in Elementary School for the Columbine Massacre and High School for 9/11. I played violent video games and always saw the latest slasher film. We’ve been at war for my entire adolescent and adult life, and since that war has asked so very little of me…Sometimes I forget about it entirely. So, when something terrible happens, when something precious is attacked or defiled, it can be difficult for me to look it square in the face. It can be tough for me to bring it into my reality and confront it for all of its repulsiveness.
This morning when I woke up and turned on the morning news, they were showing images of survivors and heroes. People were running into flames and debris to save strangers – not knowing if there would be another explosion . It wasn’t just police and firemen running into the danger zone (though they certainly deserve credit), it was regular people – runners, their families, spectators. An immigrant who lost his son in Iraq helped provide treatment to the wounded. A Superbowl champion carried a lady to safety. Marathon runners tore off their shirts and used them as tourniquets …
As the morning show continued reporting, they explained the American Red Cross did not need any blood donations. So many wished to donate blood that the organization set up a wait list where people could make appointments to donate in the future. Others offered a warm place to stay to those who were stranded, or a lift should anyone require transportation. Airlines waved change fees. Restaurants provided free meals. Some businesses just offered a nice place to sit, use the wifi and take a moment.
It wasn’t the gory, awful, ugly images of blood and destruction that left me stunned in place. It was the overwhelming kindness, selflessness and bravery that shook me to my core...
Later on, the news reported on an inspiring Facebook message posted by comedian Patton Oswalt. It has gone viral and, I imagine, is providing comfort to many right now. He ended his message with this –
“So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden- variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.’"
In the days that come, we will learn more about the identity of the bomber. We’ll hear about the heinousness of the injuries and the innocence of the victims. I suspect the next couple of days will be extremely difficult. And, no video game or television show can desensitize us to such an extent that we won’t remember this as one of 2013’s ugliest ordeals. It’s going to be hard be in a crowded place and not wonder…Many of us will think twice when we step on a subway platform or into a sporting event….But we can take some comfort in the knowledge that, when faced with crushing, unthinkable tragedy, we have shown again and again that the good to outnumber the evil – that regular people can be heroes when necessity demands it – that those traits that divide us are not nearly as powerful as those that unite us. We are hurt now. And we likely will be for some time. But, we’ll recover, and we’ll continue saving and protecting one another…because the good outnumber the evil.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Years ago, I remember seeing an episode of my very favorite high school melodrama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the title character was forced by a dancing monster to sing about her feelings. If she ran out of things to sing about, she would set on fire and burn up. So, as our heroine reached the end of her rope, she sang out in a voice that was more plea than melody “Give me something to sing about…Please…I need something to sing about.” In this new world, where content is king and constant updates are expected…I often find myself thinking the same thing.
Give me something to sing about! Between Twitter, Facebook and keeping up with blogs, we are expected to be “singing” all of time. We should have opinions on everything, be experts on everything, react minute by minute to every development in the world…It can be exhausting.
My husband used to have a little online comic. It started to become popular and he’d get comments encouraging him to produce more and more content. Last week, I noticed he stopped updating. When I asked him about it, he said that he didn’t like having to rake through every part of his day searching and analyzing for something that might be funny. He didn’t want to sing anymore.
I have had similar experiences, as I’m sure many of you have. And indeed, we are in uncharted territory. Content generation is no longer the exclusive responsibility and privilege of a handful of specialists. The internet has democratized content and with that we have all been given the opportunity to step up and have our voices heard. I treasure this and I believe that it represents a net gain in our society. However, I do have to wonder about what its doing to us.
When the President addressed the nation about Osama bin Laden’s death, a friend asked me if I’d be writing about the millennial response. When NASA successfully landed the rover on the moon, my first thought was how I could relate this to social media and blog about it. When the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, I received an e-mail asking if I wanted to write about the event and how millennials can stay so optimistic is such a depressing world. These events were meaningful and represented pivotal moments in our cultural story and all I could think of was trivializing them to churn out more content in a never ending quest to add to the discourse. I worry that the democratization of content has created an entire generation so intent on “sharing” that we aren’t digesting information fully. We are just responding. Singing…so that we don’t burn up…
And, when there is nothing to say…when we’ve reached deep inside and just can’t find a voice, then what? We either turn out something uninspired and inferior or we entertain the worst of all options. Saying nothing. And we know, every week we don’t come up with something to say, we slip more and more into anonymity and irrelevance – the two dirtiest words in our content driven world…
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
In our office, we have never had a receptionist and our automated voicemail system is typically only turned on after regular business hours. Everyone who works here is expected to answer calls when they’re in the office, and all calls are to be answered by the third ring.
As you can imagine, it gets chaotic at times. It can also make it hard to concentrate when you’re trying to focus on a complicated project. As a staff, we have talked about this a lot. The conversation always comes back to two essential points.
First, there is no cheaper or easier market research than hearing directly from your members about their latest and most pressing concerns. I am always learning something new from these conversations that helps me better understand how to address their needs, and develop ideas for new services.
Secondly, as an association (in our case, we work for multiple associations), we need to remember that our primary function is to serve our members. We all get pulled in multiple directions every day. But as a membership organization, everything else is second to meeting our members’ needs. We try to remind each other that a bigger problem than incessantly ringing phones would be no ringing phones.
How does your workplace handle calls? What works best and what hasn’t worked for you?
Monday, December 24, 2012
Years ago, when I sat in my junior high classroom learning about citation styles and wondering how I would ever use this in real life, it was all so simple. We were given MLA and APA style guides and told to have at it. Never take credit for anything again, they said. Cite your sources, they said. Well, back when my sources were encyclopedias, text books, journals, and an occasional website, that was all very easy. (As a side note, I once had a teacher who would not allow us to cite websites because “the web will never be a serious source of information. It’s for amateurs.”)
In college it got a little trickier, but largely became a matter of routine. I’m not ashamed to admit Son of a Citation Machine, EasyBib, and BibMe became some of my very best friends. If you are struggling with maintaining consistency in your citations, I highly recommend these sites. They will help you develop your works cited page as you go…so you don’t wind up waiting until the end of the paper and having to retrace your steps… (Not that I did that or anything…)
So, I finished my undergrad right as social networking/media sites were starting to become actual citable fodder. As a result, I was never placed in the position of having to cite a Facebook post or create an in-text citation for a Tweet. But now here we are… a brave new world where social media requires citation. I want to be careful because I’m sure there are more than a couple (thousand?) professors out there who will not accept something from a social networking site as a legit source. Some situations call for the legitimate use of material from social networking tools. Others do not. Citing the President’s tweet about the launch of a new federal program – good. Citing a professional discussion on a LinkedIn discussion board – maybe. Citing your sister’s Facebook status on why Mall of America is the best – probably no. Also, while citing a social media source is sometimes necessary, citing exclusively social media sources is a good way to earn an F.
It is of note that social media is new and constantly changing. Unlike a book that, once published, exists out there somewhere forever, anyone can simply “pull back” or delete a post, tweet, etc. So while a social media post may exist one day, it could be gone the next. If you are doing a long and involved piece of research and you don’t want to risk losing a source, consider doing a screen shot or saving it in some way.
While this is, by no means, meant to be the definitive word on any of these tools, I do hope that this is somewhat helpful for those looking for a quick reference.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this. I’ve spent some time online looking for various ways to cite social media. Here is what I’ve pulled together.
When citing a profile or status update, it is sufficient to include the url in parenthesis within the text. It is not necessary to put it in the reference list.
When citing a group or page, APA recommends formatting your citation to look like this:
Username or Group Name. (n.d.). In Facebook [Page type]. Retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.facebook.com/specificpageURL
n.d. stands for no date. Use this when the date of the post isn’t apparent. Also, for information that is not publically available on Facebook (i.e. a message), treat this as a personal communication.
When citing a profile or status update, MLA recommends using the standard citation for web publications.
Last, First. “Post title.” Facebook. n.p. Day Month. Year. Web. Date retrieved.
APA blogger Chelsea Lee gives some pretty solid examples of how to cite tweets. Here are a few:
BarackObama. (2009a, July 15). Launched American Graduation Initiative
to help additional 5 mill. Americans graduate college by 2020:
http://bit.ly/gcTX7 [Twitter post]. Retrieved from
to help additional 5 mill. Americans graduate college by 2020:
http://bit.ly/gcTX7 [Twitter post]. Retrieved from
Notice the use of BarackObama instead of Barack Obama. Use the name as written on Twitter. The URL should also lead to that specific tweet, not the general feed.
MLA’s website also provides an example.
Athar, Sohaib (ReallyVirtual). “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 1 May 2011, 3:58 p.m. Tweet.
There are a few points of note. With MLA, you use the author’s name first (not their Twitter handle as you do with APA). The Twitter name goes in parenthesis later. MLA states that the date and time should reflect the reader’s date and time (including time zone). Also note, a url does not seem necessary.
Boise State provides some great examples of citing YouTube videos.
Author or Producer Last Name, First Name. (Year, Month Date). Title of the
video [Video file]. Retrieved from http://-list the entire website-
video [Video file]. Retrieved from http://-list the entire website-
Editor, author, or compiler name (if available). "Posting Title." Name of
Site. Version number. Name of institution/organization affiliated with
the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available). Web.
Date of access.
Alright, so this is the hardest one. Try as I might, I have found very little specific reference to how to cite a LinkedIn profile. A few months ago, I communicated with APA on it. I asked if the following was correct and they seemed to think it was…
Nicole Schiller Palmisano. (n.d.) LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved July 12. 2012,
I could find no information on this. I did put a question on LinkedIn Answers but did not get anything that seemed serious. So, I got to thinking that the principles that apply for a FB profile should carry over for any profile. With that in mind, this is what I’ll be going with:
Palmisano, Nicole. LinkedIn. n.p Web. 21 Dec. 2012
Now, there are a few things to point out. I don’t think it’s possible to tell what date a LinkedIn profile was published, so I eliminated that date and only included the retrieve date. Also, no url seems necessary as one is not needed for Facebook.
Friday, December 21, 2012
I have written in the past about how I think millenials are making choices based on a different set of priorities than previous generations. What was once considered the American Dream – a big house with a big, green lawn and a two car garage – just doesn’t seem to resonate with this generation. What was once considered the epitome of a status symbol – a fancy new car - falls flat with us. Millenial Marketing writes that “[we] are making life choices based a broader definition of success and one that is more attuned to experiences than material goods.” So, if we don’t define success the way our parents did, how do we define it? What’s our American Dream? I posit that, more than cars, houses, clothes, etc, we value travel.
A few days ago, I asked a question on my Facebook page – “What do you really want to do or have in the next 15 years?” Within minutes I received two answers, both from millenials and both stating that they would like to travel. Login to Facebook and check out your friends’ photos. I’m willing to bet they do not share photos of items they own, rather they have album after album dedicated to their various trips. We are far prouder of our travels than we are of our belongings. We get far more satisfaction out of an exotic dish shared on unfamiliar soil than we do out of expensive jewelry or hot new car.
My brother-in-law theorized that we have merely traded in one form of materialism for another. Instead of hoarding up objects, we seek to hoard experiences. We treasure them more for their worth as Facebook photos and bragging rights than we do for any recreational, spiritual, or intellectual value. And I have to wonder if there is some truth to that…As children of the baby boomers, we saw first hand that stuff doesn’t buy happiness. But, does travel? And, if we think it does, what does that mean for futures? Luckily, the world is a big place, so I don’t anticipate running out of new experiences any time soon. But, will there come a time when we face the diminishing returns that many of our parents have? When a new exotic trip or tour just doesn’t excite us anymore…? I hope not. I’d like to think that this paradigm shift is a good one and I suppose as long as we continue to travel in an effort to enrich ourselves and not amass Facebook photos…we’ll be ok.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Because of its population size, social media types often like to compare Facebook to large countries. Well, if Facebook really were a country, we’d likely be hearing news stories about the behemoth’s recent move to end its experiment with digital democracy. In 2009, after coming under criticism for some of its privacy policies, Facebook decided that it would let users vote on any policy change that received more than 7,000 substantive comments. The 7,000 comment threshold is pretty low for a 1 billion+ networking site and the “trigger” has been pulled three times – resulting in three “elections.” The catch in all of this has been that the vote is only binding if at least 30% of Facebook’s users vote. If less than 30% vote, the results are merely advisory.
So, the most recent election just happened…and guess what it was about…
Whether or not Facebook should continue to use a democratic vote on policy changes…
Well, the votes are in, and while more people voted against the change than voted for it, the vote did not cross the 30% threshold. So, the company is changing the rules and has announced that it will no longer allow voting on policy changes.
For many this move is meaningless. Because voters have never come close to 30% participation, some have claimed that Facebook only ever offered phony democracy. This shift only represents the firm publically stating what has always been the case. Others say that, even if the move is largely symbolic, it is terrible symbolism. Since it’s so hard to get to 30%, why bother eliminating voting? Why not just raise the 7,000 comment threshold to a more reasonable number?
Facebook seems to argue that such low democratic participation only indicates that something is very wrong with the system, and while they are changing the policy they are still interested in maintaining the “participatory nature of [their] site.” I’m not really sure how they plan to do that.
So, along with ending the vote, Facebook is making a few more changes. They are adding privacy shortcuts include a “Who can see my stuff?” pop up and a feature to allow users to easily block other users. However, what Facebook giveth it also taketh away… The company is eliminating users’ ability to hide their timeline from a search.
It seems to me like we’ll be seeing a lot more changes coming soon and I really hope that people begin speaking up at some point. I’ve heard this old and factually untrue wives tale about a frog in a pot. The idea is that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it would jump right out. However, if you put it in a pot of cool water and gradually warm the water, the frog will be lulled and eventually cook to death. I sure hope that we aren’t all frogs…