Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tweet Talking

President Obama does it. So does Karl Rove.

So does Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong, Miley Cyrus and Al Gore. Ditto Orpah Winfrey, Yoko Ono, Steve Jobs and Neil Diamond.

They all use Twitter, the social networking phenomenon in which userscan instantly communicate via text to friends, fans and family whatthey are doing or thinking at any given moment.

"I'm eating a bowl of Fruit Loops." "I'm walking the dog." "I'm contemplating a nap."

These are only a few of the fascinating messages you can give or receive if you Twitter. Or Tweet, as they call it. (Does that make the participants Twits? I'm just asking).

Personally, I'd rather read the fine print on my cell phone bill.

But I'm wrong, according to Time magazine. An article in that publication tells me that "Twitter turns out to have unsuspected depth. In part this is because hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds.

"The technology writer Clive Thompson calls this "ambient awareness": by following these quick, abbreviated status reports from members of your extended social network, you get a strangely satisfying glimpse of their daily routines."

What does Time magazine know? It once selected Adolf Hitler as its "Man of the Year."

I don't have time to continually invest in the daily routines of my friends. And I doubt they would find an outpouring of messages about the mundane events in my life "strangely satisfying." If they do, they kinda creep me out.

Maybe it's my fault that I don't have friends or family that climb Everest or dine with Warren Buffet. But even if I did, I doubt they could convey the essence of these experiences in 140 characters or less.

I'm not alone here. The Nielsen research tells me that "Currently, more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month or in other words, Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back thefollowing month, is currently about 40 percent."

And let's face it. Most of the stuff appearing on so-called celebrity tweets is written by public relations types and has all the substance of a bowl of meringue.


Brittany Spears: "I want to thank everyone at the Mandarin Oriental in London for the hospitality this month! You made my boys and I feel right at home -Brit."

President Obama: "Hosting a town hall on health care reform at the White House today. Watch on ABC tonight at 10pm ET."

Elen DeGeneres: "A big margarita sure is refreshing, but to really beat the heat, watch my show for a chance to win prizes! "

Michelle Wie: "Did you know that babies are born without knee caps? Weird!"

On it goes.

To give Twiter its due, it along with other social networking sites most certainly has played a role in the recent post-election protests in Iran. Indeed, it has helped keep the rest of the world connected to events inside the country as the Iranian leadership repressed dissent and the coverage of it.
And while we'd like to imagine that a tool designed to entertain attention-deprived adolescents will change the balance of power in the Mideast, it's not that simple.

First, it gives too much credit to the tool, not the people who use it.

Second, as foreign policy expert Evgeney Morozov told the Washington Post "...Whether it has helped to organize protests -- something that most of the media are claiming at the moment -- is not at all certain, for, as a public platform, Twitter is not particularly helpful for planning a revolution (authorities could be reading those messages as well.")

Some day down the road, Twitter will be superseded by some other networking device, perhaps some sort of "Star Trek" transporter system so you can actually stand by while your friend brushes his teeth or buys a loaf of bread.

In the meetime, beware of how you tweet.

A story making the rounds on the Internet tells of a guy who just got a job with Cisco, the giant technology firm. He tweeted, "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." His tweet caught the attention of a Cisco employee. To which he responded: "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web."

All the Answers

Just about the time I decided that the Internet, the great technological leap of the late 20th century, was becoming nothing more than a repository for political extremism, pornography and spam, a ray of hope appeared.

Someone, I learned, has actually developed a website that will makeyour decisions for you.

What great news. No more wondering what to wear, what to eat, who to date, what religion to follow, where to vacation. No more wondering what scarymovie to watch, where to live in San Antonio, Texas, how to politely bypass a Greenpeace volunteer.

Hunch.Com will make those decisions for you, leaving lots of time to, well, vegetate I guess.

All you have to do is buy into the concept and your problems are solved.

The idea is novel but the execution is a bit scary. Hunch asks its clients question, hundreds of them, to determine what kind of person you are.

Once they have you figured out, they base their answers to your dilemmas on what they know about you and people like you.

The questions are much like you find on personality tests that employers administer to prospective hires, some obvious in their intent,others less so.

If you saw a guy you thought was a jerk accidently drop a wad of cash on the sidewalk, would you (a) return it (b) think about it or (c)keep it because the guy is a chowderhead.

OK, that goes to character. I get that. But it also asks if I believe aliens live among us, whether I fold my underwear, if I everbroke a bad habit and if I wet my toothbrush before I use it. (For the record, I answered no, sometimes, yes and absolutely).

The scary part: Aside from dispensing advice, what do they do with this information?

The Hunch folks promise they won't sell it to to marketers. But promises get broken. And there are other dark uses for this information.

I'm waiting for the knock on the door some moonless night by government sleuths who will inform me that my "wet toothbrush" answer pegged me as a terrorist.

So despite some misgivings, I decided to give it a try in the interest of journalistic inquiry.

After I asked a few random questions, I was told the following: I am not genius (I've heard that from my wife), I should run for public office (and face a pack of rabid journalists? No thanks) , root for the Denver Broncos or the Washington Redskins (actually, I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan), drink Cabarnet Sauvignon (I lean toward Zinfadels), play golf (I do) and live in North Hollywood (settle down in a faceless subway stop? No thanks).

I can't say any of these answers lit the way for me. Maybe something a little more esoteric.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken: "If you want a chicken egg, your best bet is to start with a chicken. If you start with an egg you might end up with a lizard or something."

What gender am I? "You identify more with males. You may been seen as more male or enjoy more activities that are associated with the male gender." (But there was an 18 per cent chance I was female).

What profession is best for me? Interior design (early Ikea is a personal favorite), followed by advertising executive or agent.

Should I become a writer? "Unless you write teen fiction with wizards, wolves, or witches; diet books; exploit the hopes of people of faith; or self-help guides, you're probably not going to have a best seller this decade."
Come to think of it, I think I'll follow the old fashioned method in reaching a decision: Always trust your first instinct.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Good Luck, Grads

The chances of landing a decent job are about as good as finding
weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert." --- Will Ferrell,
speaking to Harvard grads, 2003.

Congratulations, 2009 graduates. Let me shower you with a few
feel-good commencement cliches: Today is the first day of the rest of your
life. Live for others, not just yourselves And as you go forth into the world,
always reach for the stars.

So much for the pleasantries. Now, let's get real. The job market
stinks. It's 10 times worse than it was when Will Ferrell spoke.

The best advice I can give you is to prepare yourselves for the
future is to get use to the idea of living with your parents again.

This especially true if you majored in art history, philosophy or
comparitive literature. For you, telemarketing, poultry processing or
roofing await you as career paths. If they're hiring.

Of course, if you're a former beauty queen, you can always get a
job as a TV reporter covering the mayor of Los Angeles. But I advise against
it. It never seems to turn our well.

"Your families are extremely proud of you. You can't imagine the
sense of relief they are experiencing. This would be a most
opportune time to ask for money." --- Gary Bolding

According to a survey from National Association of Colleges and
Employers, the class of 2009 is leaving campus with fewer jobs in hand than
their 2008 counterparts. The group found that just 19.7 percent of 2009
graduates who applied for a job actually have one.

In comparison, 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 and 26
percent of those graduating in 2008 who had applied for a job had one in hand by
the time of graduation.

One career counselor put it this way: "The bad news is this is
the worst job market I've seen, and I've been in career development
for 30 years.

"On the other hand, when the job market is tight, new
college graduates will find that while it is competitive, they have
the advantage of being a cheaper source of labor. The workers that
are being laid off by these companies are often more experienced and
so have higher wages."

That's comforting news. If you work, prepare to work dirt cheap.
And don't forget to step over the bodies of former employees on your way
in the door.

Meanwhile, more students are graduating from college, according to
the National Center for Education Statistics. Colleges and universities
will grant an estimated 1,585,000 bachelor's degrees this school year, up
from 1,544,000 in the 2007-2008 year and 1,506,000 the prior year.

It could be worse. In China, 6.1 million graduates have been
searching high and low for work the past few months. But they join an
estimated two to three million graduates from previous years who still haven't found

"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." --- Milton Berle

"...You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will
slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock
again. It's the only way to achieve your goals in life." --- Michael Uslan,
film producer.

The employment outlook is not all bad, some career counselors say.
Despite cutbacks in finance, retail, manufacturing and construction, demand
for recent graduates remains high in fields such as accounting, public
service, health care, education and technology.

And look at it this way. Your job prospects are a lot better than
they would be if you hadn't gotten that degree. Without it, your career is
on the fast track to fast food.

A couple more words of advice from one who's been there: Life is
not fair, get use to it. Business cycles don't last a lifetime. You can
expect to work until mid century and beyond so be patient. Most people have
to work their way up. Unless Daddy runs a hedge fund, start small but get

And last but not least: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end
up working for one.

"All that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is
the ladder." --- Author Unknown.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Happiness Is a Warm Republican

Here's something to chew on (if you still can) as you slide into the Buick and head on down to the local eatery for the early bird special.

Americans grow happier as they grow older. And a recent Pew Research Center survey shows that this trend is holding true even as the economy tiptoes like a drunk on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

What's more, the survey found, the rich are happier than the poor, whites are happier than blacks, married people are happier than unmarried folks and, drum roll please, Republicans are happier than Democrats.

That's great news. Next time I need cheering up, I'll follow the sounds of laughter to a group of rich old white people with grins on their faces and McCain/Palin bumper stickers on their cars.

The findings equating Republicanism with bliss cut against the grain a bit. Some of my perceptions were formed at my first real job in journalism editing the letters to the editor at the San Francisco Examiner in 1963.

Even in those days, San Francisco was a bastion of liberalism. Come to think of it, San Francisco was probably left-leaning in 1863.

But I would estimate that 75 percent of the letter writers were from an audience that was older, conservative and unhappy as hell. So being young and impressionable, I came to the conclusion that when you reached a certain age, say 40, you became Republican and grumpy. And you wrote a lot of letters to newspapers.
Even today, if you want to know Republicans are thinking, you tune into the Fox News, which manages to maintain a high degree of outrage day after day. I mean, who would watch Bill O'Reilly if everyone was happy?

If you want to know what the Democrats are up to, you switch on Comedy Central where politics is a running gag. Head yuckmeisters John Stewart and Stephen Colbert draw ratings that would have made Walter Cronkite envious.

Maybe these pollsters equated humor with happiness. For example, former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a pretty funny guy. Democratic Senator Barney Frank from Massachusetts is about as funny as a North Korean nuclear test.

Nonetheless, my assumptions are apparently wrong, according to the Pew people. About 45 percent of the Republicans said they were very happy, compared with 30 percent of Democrats.

Republicans have been happier in surveys going back to 1972, the Pew folks say. That could be attributable to the fact that the Republicans have held the White House for most of those years.

But not necessarily, according to the survey. "Republicans tend to have more money than Democrats and as we've already discovered people who have more money tend to be happier," the report states.

Even adjusting for income, however, poor Republicans and happier than poor Democrats and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.

Here's what the Pew people say separates Republicans from Democrats:

Republicans have more money, they have more friends, they are more religious, they are healthier, they are more likely to be married, they like their communities better, they like their jobs more.

Wait, there's more. Republicans are more satisfied with their family life, they like the weather better, they're more likely to feel that individuals - rather than outside forces - control their own success or failure.

OK, so that makes Democrats broke, friendless, single, sickly, atheistic louts who dislike where they live and work and feel manipulated by unseen forces. And, oh yeah, they complain about the weather a lot.

That sounds a lot like journalists.

The Pew people conclude that "there is a growing body of scholarly research, not just in this country but around the world, which supports the basic finding of these Pew surveys: that Republicans (or conservatives) are happier than Democrats (or liberals), and that these gaps persist even after basic demographic factors have been controlled.

"At least in the United States, this partisan happiness gap has widened in recent years."

I guess this means after the Democrats cure the ailing economy, conclude two wars, defuse the nuclear ambitions of rogue nations and provide affordable health care to all, they can start working on the Happiness Gap.

As for me, I adhere to the words of Albert Schweitzer:

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory."