Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking the impact of always on and always connected, on value and meaning

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 7, 2018

We increasingly live in an instantly, ubiquitously, always-on, always connected world. That means immediate ease of immediate communications and message sharing, and that can be good and even necessary when addressing the sudden and unexpected for opportunity or challenge. That can be an essential part of any effective emergency response. But at least as importantly that means an equal ease and speed for simply sharing the unconsidered and un-thought through, with all of the need for damage control that that can bring when things go wrong from it. And more importantly at least for most of us, that means a blurring and even a disappearance of the traditional boundaries that we have always assumed, separating our work lives from our private lives, and the times that we would hold to ourselves and with our families from our more publically shared lives.

I have at least touched on this set of issues, or at least on key aspects of it in earlier postings. And I have particularly done so when writing of the need for all of us to show judgment in our writing and other shared communications, and certainly where they might impact upon our professional lives and careers.

From a more strictly business and careers perspective, I write this note while thinking back to how Elon Musk has created chaotic uncertainty in recent months, and for both himself personally and for his company: Tesla through his unconsidered tweets. Lack of judgment and forethought on his part in what has he tweeted to the world, have raised questions as his capability as a business leader and even as to his mental stability. And as part of the fallout of his tweets regarding possible actions that he might take at Tesla, he has provoked potentially hostile scrutiny from federal regulatory agencies too, for possible business irregularities that he appears to have suggested pursuing in his impulsively tweeted remarks. For a few sample references to this entirely avoidable self-damaging news story and as background references to what I am writing here, see:

Tesla Board Surprised by Elon Musk’s Tweet on Taking Carmaker Private.
Elon Musk’s Tweets on Tesla Started a Tizzy. Someone Should Hit the Brakes..
Tesla Directors, in Damage Control Mode, Want Elon Musk to Stop Tweeting.
• And Tesla Is Said to Be Subpoenaed by S.E.C. Over Elon Musk Tweet .

Musk’s online activities and his efforts to pull back from his less than fully considered impulse-driven sharing through Twitter, and the consequences of his online messaging serve as cautionary note examples that others should pay attention too. And Musk is in no way unique in effectively putting his foot in his mouth this way, through the spontaneous real-time of online social media, where reasoned judgment can all too often only become involved after the fact.

The types of problems that Elon Musk created for himself and displayed from this, are not just a prerogative of high profile business executives; he simply highlighted by way of publically notable example, a type of problem that anyone can make for themselves, in their work lives and professional careers, and even in their more personal lives too.

I have, at least up to here, been addressing this complex of issues in terms of business-impacting communications and professionalism but anyone who follows the news at all, and certainly in recent years, knows that misuse of twitter and instant messaging can and does create chaos in a political context too. The key to what I am getting at here can be summarized in a simple to state equivalency:

• Spontaneous and essentially instantaneous communications (as found in Twitter postings and so many other channels these days, and increasingly so)
• Equals
• Unconsidered communications, devoid of the reasoning-based editorial oversight that our experience and training should be bringing to these messages too, and particularly when the emphasis is on speed and immediacy, and not on planning or forethought.
• And Twitter and related message sharing services are all about speed and immediacy, and spontaneity.

But focusing on jobs and careers, or even on just that set of issues plus political messaging, still only touches on one aspect of a larger and increasingly more complex and impactful reality that we all face, even if it is one that has specifically prompted me to write this posting now. I go back as I write that, to what I offered in the first paragraph of this posting, about blurring and disappearing lines and boundaries in our lives.

What does it mean for an employee to work a forty hour work week, to cite a still accepted number for that, or a thirty five hour week, or a fifty hour week, when they are always tethered to their jobs through their smart phones and other devices, and their bosses are too, and when they can become expected to “bring ‘some’ work home with them to finish there”?

And the lessons that Elon Musk’s example highlights, apply to all of us and not just to highly placed and publically visible business executives. If one part of the problem that he created was in tweeting provocatively about his business without thinking through the consequences of what he was sharing, at least as big a part of it came from when and where he did this too, and from the context that he did this in and from the condition that he was in when doing this.

Musk’s tweets and their impact offer validation to a basic approach that I have offered to others who also do too much of their thinking, seemingly only after so publically sharing:

• Take a cool off period, or a time-out period if you prefer to think of it that way, before making that bold but less than strategically considered twitter or similar announcement that you cannot then retract, and that you might find just as difficult to justify and live with.

Do you really have to send this out to the world now, and in this way and in this form, devoid of detail, explanation or nuance? If so, then share it after you have crafted a more complete message, and through channels that would help you to keep ownership of your message and how it might be understood too. Prepare the way for the dramatic announcement, if you in fact would actually share it, to keep what is heard and understood in line with what you intended. And don’t share that message if you cannot do this too.

I initially conceived of this posting as a brief note about Elon Musk and his communications gafs, and I set out to write it with a very different working title than I ended up with. My first draft working title for this was “when in doubt don’t tweet: a memo to executives who might be too eager to social media connect.” But that is too focused on the specific details of one specific unfortunate incident.

I write here instead, of one of the key emerging challenges of the 21st century, and for the workplace and for all of us as we engage in jobs and careers, and in our lives in general. The challenge is one of finding new ways to partition our lives in ways that make meaningful, value-creating sense for us, and between our work lives and our private lives and between our more publically shared and connected lives and our more personal time. And if for whatever reason we cannot or would not find ways to accomplish this, we have to understand and find ways to live meaningfully with the consequences of that. I write this with people in mind, who seemingly share photos of every meal they eat and every detail of what they do, online through Facebook and photo sharing apps and other channels – who then find themselves devoid of private lives … and at what cost?

Where can and should we draw the line, and what type of line, in personal sharing and in the voyeurism that it mirror image creates? Where do we draw the line, and what type of line should we draw in prioritizing and in establishing a sense of larger meaning and value in our lives, so that all that we do and share does not devolve down to only holding the value of a photo of a salad that we ate for lunch three weeks ago? If the value of what we do, holds meaning and in a sense that might be analogous to the value that is societally assigned to currency, then does over-sharing and with essentially everything offered as if of equal value, invoke a variation of Gresham’s law? If huge quantities of bad currency, not backed by or representing real underlying value can drive good currency out of the market, to cite that economic principle, can a flood of meaningless trivia shared with all, drive out any real meaning or value in what we share that we would at least want to consider as being of greater value?

I offer this as a brief, and hopefully at least somewhat unsettling thought piece in our emerging age of over-sharing, and of floods of what become more and more trivial, and trivialized and certainly as the volume of the flood increases. I have no real answers here. But right now it might be more important for all of us to look for the right questions that we would have to address, coming out of this.

As a final thought, returning to the Elon Musk Tesla tweets, I have not in fact changed the topic in the midst of this posting, when shifting from the how and when and where of tweeting and otherwise impulse-posting, to the trivialization of messages so shared. A big part of what Musk did was also in how he shared what should have been considered a consequential and important type of message, if shared at all, as if it were that proverbial photo of a salad eaten at lunch last week or earlier.

I am certain to return to the issues that I raise here, in future postings to this blog. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Social Networking and Business 2 and also see its Page 1 for related material. And I also include it at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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