Bang, bang, my baby shot me down…*

I was walking home today and happened to pass a Norman Rockwell-esque family moment: a hot and hazy mid-summer evening; a young boy (around five or six) is playfully chasing his slightly older sister; her mock screams, a sound like enjoyment.

What makes this scene a touch disturbing (to me, at least) is the fact that the boy is holding a cap gun and firing off rounds at his sister. Bang, bang.

It’s something I almost never see anymore.

And so I was a bit surprised that it made me feel mildly anxious. As if the image I saw was no longer fun or safe. (And I have to admit, I gave the gun more than a sideways glance.)

Now, this scenario is something I should have recognized from my own youth – related to. I had lots of cap guns. And I used them. Everybody did. So why my reaction?

Times change. So do acceptable mores. My own kids weren’t allowed to play with guns so overtly (so they made up games with weapons of their own invention). We thought that was OK.

The stories of my childhood are no longer the norm. We have a different approach; a different standard.

We look at life from another side now (with apologies to Joni Mitchell).

It’s a sobering thought – especially for communicators – when you consider that what you deem acceptable one day can become an anathema the next.

*BTW, here’s a link to the Nancy Sinatra song alluded to in the headline.


The next best thing

I remember an ad campaign from many years ago that used to proclaim long distance as ‘the next best thing to being there’ – pre-fibre optics.

I think the same epithet could be used to describe blogging and social media (except without the exhorbitant rates and busy signals).

For instance, you don’t have to call someone, wait for them to get back, wonder if enough time has elapsed so you can try again. You just start writing/talking and see who jumps in.

You can discover interesting tidbits of gossip and news (especially who’s feuding with whom).

You can add your two-cents and, by rewriting, make sure you’re saying exactly what you want to.

And your ear doesn’t get too hot (unless someone slags you in an unfavourable post).

I actually do think one of blogging’s greatest benefits is being able to tune in and keep track of what friends and colleagues are thinking about whenever and where ever you are and take part in an entropic, provocative and entertaining long-distance dialogue.

I also like the element of surprise: and you never know who might find you… or when.

A tempest in a blogspot

For nearly a month now, there’s been an uneasy truce with Israel. I’m talking Shel Israel and his feud with Loren Feldman over the sock puppet incident.

And now that the dust has settled, I think this is a good time to offer my (Canadian) two cents. To be transparent, I briefly met and corresponded with Shel Israel and quite like him, find him kind, smart and thoroughly enjoyed Naked Conversations. I have never met Loren Feldman, but I was entertained by him during one of the panel sessions at Mesh 2007 in Toronto.

First off I have a question: as with the current political situation, why is it always about Israel?

Second, a comment. It’s just a joke, folks. A tempest in a blogspot. I’ve watched the videos and have read some of Shel’s posts, as well as posts from people lining up on both sides and, quite frankly, I don’t understand what the fuss is all about.

There are certainly a lot more pressing issues in the world (one would hope).

(Though not for me, I guess.)

The thing is, the puppet is funny, albeit in a sick, edgy way. But isn’t that what satire is all about? Isn’t lampooning one of comedy’s great traditions? National Lampoon, Spy Magazine, Mad Magazine, Celebrity Roasts, Saturday Night Live and even Ed the Sock (a distant cousin to this joke perhaps?) are classic examples.

And isn’t imitation a form of flattery?

It didn’t take politicians long to learn that if they’re able to laugh at themselves, people will gain a bit more respect (tolerance?) for them. Look back (waaay back) to Richard Nixon’s Sockitome on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In or, more recently, Amy Poehler doing Hilary Clinton next to Hilary on SNL. (Sorry, I couldn’t find the videos, but if someone can, please let me know.)

So, what would I have done if the sock were on another foot and this happened to me?

I would both laugh at and embrace the joke. I’d ask the puppet for an interview (publicly; on my blog). I’d have a bit of fun with the situation (maybe make my own sock and issue a challenge for a sock hop or something like that). Become part of the routine.

But there’s certainly no point in getting all self-righteous about it. That only works to your detriment and portrays you as a sore loser. It also prolongs the agony. As communicators, we should know that.

Well, as the peace continues, I wonder if the sock may be looking for a new target.

If so, I’d like to say: I’m ready for my close-up, Loren.

Insult spam

For the past several weeks, my spam filter has been blocking emails I’m calling insult spam. The New York Times wrote about them in June, around the time I started receiving them.

(Oh, how wonderful it is to be an early adopter!)

Basically, these messages have a customized subject header that says things like: ‘You look stupid mwaxman’ or ‘You look like a moron mwaxman’.

At first glance, I was taken aback. I mean who are these people to tell me I’m a moron?

But then I had to laugh at the the absurdity of the situation. I mean, here I was feeling bad about a silly comment from someone I don’t know who’s ostensibly trying to spread a virus or sell me something.

And I wondered, who in their right mind, would open an email like this?

On further reflection, I realized messages like these are aimed at our neuroses, in much the same way as so-called complimentary spam (notes that say things like, ‘You look hot’ or ‘I noticed you across a crowded room’).

Essentially, they’re preying on our need to be liked.

And I think it’s high time we started doing a better job of human-filtering; of seeing things for what they are and leaving our insecurities behind.

In a world where communications plays such an important part of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to develop and practice good critical judgement.

Dispatch from the front lines

Yesterday, I was trying to call a former business associate who had recently changed jobs. So I went to his new company’s website, dialed the contact number and instead of the usual if-you-know-the-extension-press-it-now greeting, I reached the customer help line.

The woman was effusively polite and requested my name; and I was happy to oblige.

She then asked me what the problem was and I said I don’t have a problem, I’m just trying to reach John Hancock (minor reference for anyone who’s seen the movie), who works at the company. It was then I realized I’d made an error and asked if she could please connect me with the corporate office.

‘Oh no’, the perky woman replied. ‘We can’t do that.’

‘You can’t give me the number?’

‘No, I’m afraid not.’

I felt myself getting a little hot under the collar, as my dad used to say. And I realized this was not worth an argument or even more of a challenge. I told her I would find the number another way, went to online directory assistance and had it in under two minutes.

My point is that here’s a bit of public information and the customer help line folks aren’t able/allowed/inclined to give it out.

That’s not much help at all.

I’ve been to a number of business sessions lately where customer service has been identified as a company’s best shot at making a positive first impression with customers. As a way of building strong relationships. But to do that you need to talk openly to people, offer useful suggestions, communicate.

Some businesses – certain cell phone companies that ask for your phone number after you’ve already entered it spring to mind – still have a long way to go.