About 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year upon seeing the first new moon after the vernal equinox. Today, festivities in New York's Times Square are televised around the world. Although my traditions don't date back nearly as far as either of these, each year at this time I try to create a Legal Bytes piece intended to be more thoughtful and philosophical. So this posting will contain no hypertext links to distract you; it will not have citations to offer more information about a snippet; nor will it dazzle you with factoids or intrigue you with today's news. It's just me philosophizing, about where we've been and where we're going. My one chance during the year to simply ramble about where we've been and where I think we might be headed – without any credentials, qualifications or expertise to do so.
So, loyal Legal Bytes' readers, just pull up an easy chair, put away your other distractions for a moment, pour a glass of your favorite beverage, sit back and enjoy . . . and again, thank you.
Much has been written about social media. Whether it's the Facebook phenomenon, now with 1 billion "friends" in sight, or the Twitter tweets that either rock or knock the world – everyone's talking about it. I just read an interesting blurb from a powerhouse of a social media strategist I follow on Twitter, describing the social media and corporate world as an example of "orthogonal bliss," and I thought, that's interesting, but not quite right. Why, you ask? (You did ask, right?) Hang on.
Much has also been written about privacy and data protection. Online behavioral advertising, geo-targeting and location-based services, tracking, identity theft, the buzz words go on and on. I keep reading how advertisers capable of more accurately determining my preferences represent a massive invasion of my privacy and my rights. Wait a minute. That's not quite right either. Why, you ask? (You did ask again, right?)
Well, let's put these in perspective, because all of these inter-relate with cloud computing and mobile and wireless technology and, yes, drive-up windows! When Henry Ford introduced mass-production assembly lines in the early 1900s, prices of automobiles dropped, making personal transportation more affordable. Closed body construction, first available on General Motors' Cadillac Model Thirty in 1910, as well as the first use of an electric starting motor (invented by Charles Kettering), also in the Cadillac sold in 1912, made the automobile easy for anyone to start and capable of being used in all sorts of weather.
More than just trivia, society as we know it in the industrial age has largely been based on the rapid increase in personal transportation: Drive-up windows, shopping malls, suburbs, gasoline/petrol stations, rumble seats, not to mention paved roads, interstate highways and so much more. Try to imagine not just the vehicles themselves, but also the lifestyles that have changed, the culture and society that has arisen around personalized transportation. The airplane has shrunk the globe, and the automobile has enabled us to go where and when we like on it!
Thirty years ago, computers were largely mainframe monoliths, connected to dumb terminals requiring rocket scientists with punch cards and a working knowledge of Boolean algebra to do anything. Raised floors for cabling, sophisticated air conditioning cooling systems – 1 megabyte of memory in 1978 cost more than $30,000. Why would anyone ever need more than 64K!
Today, personal information systems are transforming our society and our culture as well: Everything from how we work, play, game, learn, research, find things and, yes, interact with each other and the world around us. Rapidly. Our appetite for personalized capabilities has created successful companies that have learned the skills of "mass customization" – yes, there's an app for that! Devices become smaller and more powerful. I can take my toolkit, my work, my school books, my roadmap, my address book, my email and my phone with me wherever I go. I can keep in touch and shop with one device. "Clouds" and wireless devices proliferate – in the next year or so, estimates indicate there will be more than 5 billion active mobile phone contracts, most Web enabled and most with GPS tracking capability.
Social media isn't really "media." Social networking isn't really "networking." Online (or more correctly, "digital") behavioral and geo-targeting isn't really an invasion of privacy. Is it? Are they? Getting back to my "orthogonal bliss" observation, social media and corporate aren't really at right angles, intersecting on a single axis point for each and diverging orthogonally – are they? When corporations have "Chief Tweeters" and pages on Facebook, and display Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Plaxo, Google+, Digg and a host of other icon/links on their own domains and even in print and television, as well as online/mobile advertising – is it orthogonal? Not sure. Don't have a better solution, but I'd like to think about it and that's key. The site that gave me that description – the strategist who mentioned the word "orthogonal" and noted it came from a "fancy" person, with "fancy" words at a "fancy" evening party – well, that site made me think. Isn't that what this is all about? Let's conclude by breaking down some myths:
True, some elements of social media depend on media. Some are even social.
True, some aspects of behavioral tracking and location-based services could intrude on my rights.
But we continue to use language that is increasingly irrelevant to the reality of what we do and what we want. The Internet was originally designed as a communications mechanism. Remember Arpanet? Tim Berners-Lee found a way to establish residences (domains) on the information superhighway. Lou Montulli gave us animated GIFs and, yes, cookies, among other things.
So now we can communicate, store, process, transmit, retrieve and use information ourselves, with our friends, family and colleagues; with strangers around the world or around the corner. The "borderless world" envisioned (or perhaps more aptly, reported) by Kenichi Ohmae is here. Privacy – a word that really doesn't capture the accumulation of information about my publicly available activities – does it? Social media – words that don't really describe the amazing revolution and evolution taking place at home, at work, how we educate and how we shop.
Neither of these terms (and without getting to boring, none of the laws or regulations) really hit the nail on the head. I'm not necessarily advocating a change in terminology. Meanings of many words have changed over the years, but we need to change the conversation so that the words and the meanings start to more closely align. If we can't, then change the words. Because the meanings and the ways in which you and I use and want to use this fantastic technological capability – and those emerging into the future – will not stop moving forward.
When a human being first set foot on the moon, the space ship, the lunar landing craft, the clothing used to make that incredible feat of scientific and engineering magic, were all depicted and predicted with unnerving accuracy in fiction, science fiction and writings from Jules Verne, and perhaps earlier. What was equally amazing and unpredictable was that when Neil Armstrong placed his left boot on the surface of our moon at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969, almost the whole world could watch the live transmission on television.
I daresay 800 million people aren't really friends – on Facebook or otherwise. Yet we use the word as if it is meaningful in the same way. Can a judge be "Friends" with lawyers appearing in their courtrooms? Can an employee of PepsiCo, "Like" Coca-Cola with impunity? Think about all the ways we give information to others willingly and in what context. Are we really complaining about privacy or are we more concerned with our loss of control over information about us?
Something and some things to think about. Some ramblings to ruminate about. Fortunately someone else has to proofread this (thank you Lois). I'd like to tell you I have the answers because that would make me both rich and famous. I don't (not yet).
My second tradition has always been limited to my personal contacts – friends, family, colleagues – but this year I received so many kind words and so many requests to post it and share it with others, that I have reformatted my personal holiday message for Legal Bytes and I share it with you. Perhaps the start of another tradition. Here goes:
This is the time of year when season's greetings, holiday and new year's wishes, regardless of religion, culture, ethnic background or heritage, fill the air. We spend a lot of time and attention on cards, gifts, attending or hosting parties, dinners and otherwise gaining the 10 pounds we resolve to lose in the New Year. Far be it from me to screw up the tradition, so among the flurry of well-wishers, holiday revelers, frosty noses and smiling faces, let me join with others and wish you a cheery and joyous holiday season now; and in the months ahead, a healthy, happy new year filled with wonder, challenge, excitement and, yes, traditions old and new.
Over the past 30+ years I have agonized over gifts to clients, colleagues, family and friends. About three years ago, I started a new tradition (for me), passed on to me from a colleague who had started doing it years before. He told me to write a thoughtful note and send it out – let the ripples flow through time and touch the people that you know. So as we leave 2011 behind and look forward to 2012, I gratefully appreciate you for allowing me to share my personal holiday and new year's wishes with you.
We can't all change the world. But we might just be able to change a life or two or three. Yes, it's corny. So what? We are already edgy and hip. We are all cool. Can you spare some good old-fashioned corny? We talk about random acts of kindness as if it were a bumper sticker. Sure, maybe the homeless guy will spend it on a beer - maybe not. Yes, someone might be ripping off money from the battered women's shelter - maybe not. Maybe showing a little faith and kindness to those who have felt so little, will pay more dividends than we care to believe. The real inconvenient truth is that we use failure as an excuse not to give to or help others who have less. Think about every person who is extolled for their selfless dedication to helping others. We admire them not because they gave to others; rather, we honor them because they never gave up helping others. Adversity. Challenge. Humiliation. Their belief in helping others was steadfast. Beat them down, they simply got up and went on. Perhaps each of us, in our own small way, should try and show others who are less fortunate that we care and we are willing to help - even if we are not sure they will use our help wisely or to turn their lives around, and even if we are disappointed. Have a little faith - it's not about religion, it's about tolerance and understanding and a willingness to accept that we may not know why some people are what they are, but we can help nonetheless. I am not the paradigm of virtue. I've walked past my share of corrugated cardboard box people without a glance - avoiding their gaze so I'm not shamed into coughing up a few dollars. Then I realize I spend more on my newspaper subscription or Starbucks and I feel guilty. Sometimes I go back - not often enough - but when I do I feel better. I like that feeling. Stupid me, I don't reproduce it often enough. My father did, rest his soul. I should have learned from him. Hopefully it's not too late. So I'll try again, starting now, to be better. I'll also try to keep in touch more.
I also value the diversity of people I've come to know and care about over the years and throughout the world - you know who you are and if you aren't among them, send up a flare and say "hi." There is much I still have to learn from each of you.
So to family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, clients and adversaries, loyal Legal Bytes readers and those who browsed here by accident, let me wish you peace, comfort and joy. May those who love you come closer and those who dislike you become fans. But most of all, I wish all of you the extraordinary sense of goodness that comes with changing another person's life for the better... a person to whom you owe nothing and who expects nothing from you. Think what the world would be like if we all did that.
No matter what language you prefer, it means "Thank You," and I offer my thanks to all you readers and fans, new subscribers and sporadic browsers. A special appreciation to Erin Bailey, Lois Thomson, Rebecca Blaw and the Reed Smith and Lexblog team that makes what I do appear a lot easier. Thank you all for everything you do to make Legal Bytes a special place to visit.
Happy Holidays & Best Wishes
Health, Happiness, Prosperity and Peace in 2012
- Joe Rosenbaum