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street art of Rosey the Robot Maid

Big Village. Rosey the Robot Maid from The Jetsons in the stairwell of Hibernian House in Sydney.

Back in denim-clad, braided summers when we Generation Xers were left to raise ourselves, way before travel curling teams and 3-D coding camps, we goonies, banished from our homes until dinnertime, would gather in a lazy haze on a stoop or in the tall grass and fall into deep discussions on matters of national importance. Swedish Fish vs. Any Other Candy, for instance, or if it was an especially close group, Proper Bubble Blowing Technique.

But the most heated arguments by far, peppered with judgments and insults of epic proportions, centered on The Jetsons. In reruns in the GenX’s formative years, the 1962 animated series of a tech-filled 2062 hurled our imaginations into a near future where all conveniences would be computerized. Which invention would we want first? The food replicator or vacuum tube transport? The TV phone or flat screens stored in the ceiling? The flying car or the jet pack?

For the kids in my town, a poor backwater hidden on the top of a mountain, the reigning tech of choice was the jet pack. Being one of the youngest in the group, I always agreed. I understood the desire; My young eyes and my little ears were big enough to catch our neighborhood’s scenes of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. The jet pack’s personal propulsion provided immediate and forever escape. picture of lone man in airfield hovering about 20 feet above the ground using a two cylinder jet back pack

Secretly, though, I wanted Rosey. That robot maid was not simply the Jetson’s family’s housekeeper, she was its moral center and fierce protector. I wanted a robot made of rivets and casters and a computer brain full of practical logic. Rosey was caring, clean, and a perfect protector and companion. I didn’t want escape; I wanted a solution.

Fast forward to now, a future with awe-inducing robotic advances like the Roomba, Siri, Asimo, Kismet, Jibo, and drones. The newest addition is Botlr, a rolling computer that makes deliveries in service of a Silicon Valley hotel. But my jet pack GenXers don’t seem impressed. In a recent Slate article, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, wrote about Botlr that human butlers need not fear for their jobs yet. Judging by Botlr’s design and features, Pang writes, engineers should “pay attention to what butlers actually do.” 

“Butlers turn out to do lots of hard, hidden work in order to create an atmosphere that is ‘unhurried, untroubled, and not informal, but full of ease,’ as one put it,” Pang reports. The argument here is age-old: nothing can replace humans. Rosey the Robot won’t ever read a furrowed brow. Siri will never sense sarcasm. 

Here we are, GenX grown up, left to raise ourselves in this digital age, and we’re opting for the jet pack of stories. Fill up those fuel cells of human fitness. Rev up the rockets of righteousness. Instead of the soaring imaginativeness of our youth, we have the same will-they-replace-us anxieties of every other generation before us.

Something about this idea – that we are unique and our value as humans lies in that irreplaceability – makes us feel better. But I anticipate a lot of angst coming our way if we stick to that story. The robots are here, more are coming, and the kids you spent your summers with will be the cyborgs down the street. The Industrial Revolution is now over 250 years old. It’s time to stop asking the same old panicked question. The answer is yes, the robots will replace us. They already have replaced humans in a myriad of ways (especially if you include computers). Let’s stop trying to escape that already-here future and let’s start working on what we want our coming future to look like. 

Will drone deliveries be OK or annoying? What will the US Postal Service look like? Is the Internet a public utility, like gas and electricity, or is it to be a private enterprise with slow lanes and fast lanes that go to the highest bidder?

These are the water cooler dust-ups we should be having. Our GenX imagination is unlike any generations’ before us, for it was formed in a world of moon landings and laser beams. It can’t be fettered with all the old fears. It’s up to us to forge forward, to not seek escape but instead form solutions. It’s up to us to shape the future we want. 

As for me, I still want my Rosey. But she’ll need to be able to fly the car and call the kids in for dinner. 

Rosey Pic: JAM Project on Flickr

Jetpack pic: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

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Love in the time of SHiYA

silhouette of a cat against an ocean sunset with the overwritten title: "things I don't do:" and checkmarks next to "Share" and "agree"SHARE IF YOU AGREE!

You’ve seen them; At least one friend that loves to post them: Overwrought, emotional value statements, probably written in Papyrus and overlaid on a pic of a cat thoughtfully gazing at a Malibu sunset. Facebook is full of them. Pinterest is packed with them. The aughts was the decade of the motivational poster. The teens is the time of the SHiYA (SHare if You Agree) poster.

Some common elements of the SHiYA:

  1. Background is usually a photo or artwork, but occasionally a solid color or blank
  2. Words are commonly written over artwork but above/under photos (like a title/caption)
  3. Content conveys some emotional state, personality trait, political leaning, or common experience
  4. A call-to-action, implied or explicit, to comment, upvote, and/or share the post

The SHiYA serves many ego-validating purposes. Some are:

  1. political beliefs
  2. moral value
  3. current feeling/emotion
  4. world view

SHiYA is a new passive-aggressive weapon in a post-political world. In a timeline where a clear political discussion wouldn’t fly, the SHiYA flags down fellow believers. In a world where straight emotional statements are suppressed, the SHiYA slyly expresses our joys and despairs. It’s sibling, the LiYA – Like if You Agree, is a scammer’s heaven. Post a puppy pic, amass likes, sell the file & all the “like” data to the highest bidder. It’s called “like farming“. (You can pronounce it like “Liar” – because that it what the scam amounts to.)

What are these posts doing for us and are they effective?

We are what we share

We share these blanket value statements in hopes to strengthen our bond with compadres, but we assume everyone who sees our (default: public) posts are in our camp. As social stream use becomes the norm, we run the risk of getting on the last nerve of our bosses, colleagues, neighbors and friends. Our belief system may be a rich source of pride and identity; we make take some pleasure in miffing those of opposite views. Over time, though, discourse gets shut down and friendly connections fade.

We should take the extra time to selectively share our SHiYAs with a group or a custom list. We could hunt out a like-minded forum. We could send it in a personal message to a friend instead of plastering our public feeds. If you want to truly connect with other people, do it in a more direct way by posting to a smaller venue or take the time to write a comment or a message. A micro connection will always trump a macro distribution.

‘Fess up

Do you share value statement/identity validation media? Why? If not – on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high) – how would you rate your annoyance levels when you see these ShiYAs and LiYAs in your stream?

_________________________

“Sunset Cat” by Kate on Flickr, edited by me, Christine Cavalier

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Myers-Briggs=Horoscope

a red ban slash circle over a 4x4 grid of MBTI personality typesThe business world loves measurements, obviously. It’s all about the bottom line. This isn’t such a bad thing, but it turns dubious when the measurements are false and paint a skewed or patently untrue picture with their results.

One of the common glaring falsehoods is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That pyramid is the pinnacle of overblown crap. Maslow was merely theorizing and backed up the theory with zero research. Nevertheless, CEOs everywhere plastered the triangular pic on every training manual within their reach. The whole thing is more than a little annoying to anyone who has studied the field of Psychology.

Next on the annoying list is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment loved by business folks the world over. Whereas Maslow was actually a trained researcher, the people behind the MBTI were hobbyists who hit it big. They mashed up a bunch of stuff from crazy-guy Carl Jung’s unsupported theories, wrote up questions and called it valid. Now it makes millions. It’s a scam of epic proportions.

Dan Ariely, a human behavior researcher and author of a few good books on Behavioral Economics, summed it up nicely in his advice column recently. His answer to writer “Cory” was short, sweet, and cutting:

Dear Dan,

A few years ago, I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and decided to take the test, which seemed pretty detailed. When I was shown my resulting “personality type,” I was blown away: It seemed to explain things about my personality that I had felt but had never put into words. But ever since, I’ve been insecure about whether my MBTI type is my “true type” or just confirmation bias. Help, please?

—Cory

Next time, just look at the horoscope. It is just as valid and takes less time. -Dan

 

I love this man.

_______________________________

Check out the PurpleCar Park interview of Dan Ariely from a few years ago. Check out Dan Ariely’s books and his website.

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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Going Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness jessie.orgOne of my best friends is losing her 13-year-old to cancer. Her daughter will be one of almost 2,000 children this year to die from the disease. I met and have loved this little girl since she was in tiny diapers. The pain is devastating.

The research in pediatric oncology is severely lacking. Actually “severely lacking” is an understatement. There basically isn’t much kids cancer research at all. The research and advances you thought were happening in the childhood cancer realm aren’t happening. Children with cancer are mostly treated with adult remedies, put through adult chemo rounds, and hit with adult-sized radiation. Children aren’t eligible for adult medicine trials. Some of these trials extend patients’ lives for a year or two, but no child or teen is able to enter the experiments, despite the fact they’ve been treated like adults all along.

September is the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. My friend is using her daughter’s illness as a conversation point, a face, a reality to help hit the message home. When you learn about the lack of options for these kids, you can’t help but wonder if your child’s suffering is needless. You wonder if there were only more scientists and drug makers interested, perhaps your child could live. The anger and the shock are unbearable.

The awareness is so low, a simple social share makes a difference. You can change your icon to the image above. You can share the following links on your social media channels to help spread the word. You can donate to one of the causes. But mostly, all I ask is a simple tweet, FB post or share, anywhere. Let’s raise the profile of kids cancer research and give people the chance to help. Thank you.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Jessie Rees Foundation (jessie.org)

Brain Tumor Avengers – Kid’s Division

 

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Microsoft’s Matt Wallaert talks tech & psych in Philly

Matt Wallaert of Microsoft

Matt Wallaert of Microsoft

On Monday, August 18, 2014, a Behavioral Scientist from Microsoft (MS) came to speak to a crowd of entrepreneurs in Philadelphia about the intersection of psych and tech. Former Philadelphia resident Matt Wallaert studied at Swarthmore College under Barry Schwartz but left Cornell’s PhD program to begin a life in start-ups. After developing and flipping three business, Wallaert took a job at MS using his knowledge of the human psyche and decision-making process to help the MS engineers to design better products. Wallaert also works as an MS consultant to businesses looking to boost their customer experience.

Competing Forces

Matt’s high-energy talk entitled “A double threat: Behavioral Psychology and Technology” was filled not only with delightful profanity but with graphical representations of his own theories. Several of the 50-or-so people in attendance were taking notes of Matt’s inhibiting and promoting theories of human decision-making. He used a few recent examples of product development, like Uber, and some old standards, like M&Ms, to demonstrate his points.

Simply put, the buying inhibitors for M&Ms are cost and availability. The promoting pressure would be pure deliciousness. So how to sell more M&Ms? Keep the cost down and sell them everywhere.

The audience taking notes

The audience taking notes

Uber’s promoting behaviors were pretty much established: people will always want a ride from Point A to Point B. There wasn’t much there to promote. Instead, Uber concentrated on taking away inhibitors that may steer people away from using Uber. The service made an easy app and implemented other “smoothing” strategies to get riders to adopt the service.

two arrows tip to tip, the red top arrow pointing down, the green bottom arrow pointing up

Wallaert’s model of Inhibitors in decision-making (red arrow) and promoters (green arrow). We tend to brainstorm promoting behaviors when we think of products and new tech. (I added the colors. Matt was using a whiteboard and a black marker)

Negative Space

In his experience, Matt added, the biggest disruptors usually come from brainstormed ideas in the inhibiting space instead of the promoting one. Uber is one of those examples. If you remove inhibitors to buying better than an established brand, your product will move.

Another example of smoothing inhibitors is the #IceBucketChallenge. The “calling out” of other friends erases some stops. One may feel silly randomly dumping ice on their head but if a friend asks them to do so, they have an external reason to “blame.”

Yet another example: sending a donation to charity via text. Wallaert called it “slippery smooth.” It’s so easy to text a short number to donate real dollars.

Wallaert went on to discuss psychology concepts like ego threat and group identity, and how product/service design should take behaviors like these into deep consideration.

Beers at the cocktail hour - me tweeting (naturally)

Beers at the cocktail hour – me tweeting (naturally)

My Tweeting Angst

It was right about this time in the talk where my general career frustration leaked out in a tweet. I educate clients on all the things Mr. Wallaert mentioned. I’m also more formally educated in Psychology than Matt (although I don’t have his entrepreneurial experience). I felt that “rrrrrg” feeling you get when you see someone else making a living doing the thing you love, and frankly, probably getting paid handsomely to do it.

Here’s where I’ll skip a bunch of other details about the night to jump to the end, when I had a nice amount of one-on-one time with Matt after the crowd dispersed. Matt and I have a mutual friend, Cecily Kellogg, and perhaps that connection smoothed the space for us to chat honestly. I spoke with Matt openly about my background, my goals and my roadblocks. He listened intently and then gave me heartfelt and constructive advice. I won’t write about it now but I will say, as someone who is constantly giving great ideas away, it was very nice to be on the receiving end of some game-changers. Matt is everything he seems on paper and more. Brilliant, generous, and – in the very best way – chivalrous (check out Matt’s GetRaised.com for proof).

After his talk, Matt stayed to speak with every last person in line

After his talk, Matt stayed to speak with every last person in line

Shout Outs

This was one of the first events in town where I didn’t recognize many faces. I’d met Kayne through my friend David Dylan Thomas at the EFA talk on Solutions Journalism, and Bruce Segal I recognized from the Philly marketing arena (but at first he confused me with my friend “@cupcakie” Carrie Estok). I managed to meet and talk with Alex Polyakov, newbie Brian Dragotto, Rayvann Kee II – a clinical psychologist, and his friend Omar Thompson about their adventures, and I got to finally see the VentureF0rth offices.

Deleted Tweets

On the way out I mentioned to the VentureF0rth tweeter that as a journalist I didn’t appreciate the only hashtag made available for the event was the name of the venue: #venturef0rth. I used it in a pinch, but it felt like my coverage of the event was simply a marketing ploy. I added the hash #behavior to help my tweets get to a wider audience in the subject area but they still carried the ad in them. I came home and deleted about 15 tweets with the #venturef0rth hashtag and apologized to my followers. I have never deleted tweets. It went against my transparency policies. I was in a tough spot. In the end I figured my conscience would suffer more if the tweets stood.

Iffy hashtag practices of the hosting venue or sponsors will force a decision on whether to be a part of the larger knowledge share or communicate solo. Or perhaps not communicate at all. Since I was the only one tweeting the event, the conversation was one-sided anyway. There was nothing to aggregate later. The only reason I used the hashtag was to be a part of the chatter. When I saw there was no chatter, I wasn’t going to allow those tweets to stay posted. That was a tough lesson which I hope will inform my future work.

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