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April 23, 2012
By Howard Mann

The longer (“Extended mix”) of the piece I wrote for Seth Godin’s ebook – “What Matters Now”

There are thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of businesses making many millions a year in profits that have still never heard of twitter, a blog or facebook. Are they all wrong? Have they missed out or is the joke really on us? They go about doing business through personal relationships, by delivering great customer service and it is working for them. Big time. They are more successful, by any measure, than most of those spending hours pontificating about how you will lose if you miss out on social media and the latest wave. They are doing business. Not writing about it. Doing it.

They missed out on the last dot com bubble and bust. Maybe they will miss out on the next one. Are we so sure they are wrong?

Ironically, the online world is enthralled with the TV series Mad Men. It provides a captivating window back to when work was social in that old face to face way. Work looked sexy back then because it was. No bicycles in the office, no Foosball tables and empires were built without so much as a single tweet. Advertising is broken!… we all like to cheer. But is it broken because we are all too busy to be “interrupted” by it? And is that good? Or, just as it always has been, do we tune out bad advertising and, because good ads are so rarely engaging, we move on. I don’t remember loving every commercial growing up but I can tell you I remember a truck load more of those jingles than anything I could remember in the past 10-15 years.

I am continually amazed by the number of people on Twitter, the sheer number of blogs that now exist and the growth of people (and brands) on Facebook. But I also am amazed by how so many of of us are spending our time. The slaves we have become to our mobile devices and the glow of our screens. It used to be much more simple and, somewhere, simple turned into slow. It’s not. Simple works. Always has and always will. And yet we strive to make it harder for ourselves. We worry about twitter followers, blog subscribers and getting “Dugg.” Does it make us a dime? Really? Does it help us make a dent in the universe? For a very few, maybe it does and that makes us all chase after that small glimmer of gold. But for most of us it has put our heads in the digital sand. Is it possible that we are so busy managing our “friends” that the power of real friends is fading away? Does anybody pick up the phone anymore?

What would happen if you unplugged back to 2000? Just simple email that you dialed in to check a few times a day and a phone that tethered you to a chair for a while.

Why are we sending emails and direct messages to see when a good time to call might be? When did picking up the phone to quickly resolve an issue become inefficient?

For the person with 368,000 Twitter friends I ask, how connected to people do you truly feel?

I love the idea of all of these tools and am amazed at their possibilities. But I wonder how many are truly getting something more positive out of it than the alternative.

Are they actually improving interactions with brands or, as it always has, does your experience with a brand come down to how great or not great the person you had to call when something went wrong was in solving your problem? Layer on as much technology and social media icing as you want, for any brand, YOU are the product! My new iPod may be shiny but, if the Apple Genius is a jerk, then I am not liking the brand. My Audi salesman acted like a jerk when I decided to not lease a new Audi this time around. It changed the way I think about Audi in a small but important way. Social media cannot change that fact.

What happens to what it feels like to be part of a business that is doing something truly great if we are spending more time protecting our personal brand? What did business do to all of us that made building your personal brand more important than doing something great together?

The echo chamber we are building is getting larger and louder. More megaphones does not equal a better dialogue.

We are busier than ever before doing more disconnected activities than ever before. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor. I want to know why.

We walk the streets with our heads down staring into 3 inch screens while the world whisks by doing the same. And yet we are convinced we are more connected to each other than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong, what we can do now is nothing short of spectacular. And yet the ability to generate real wonder and awe is fleeting. We no longer care how an airplane can fly us around the globe, we grouse about the food or the fact that you cannot check your email at 37,000 feet and 580 miles per hour. We rage against a short Twitter outage when it is a service that we get for free but shrug our shoulders and wait it out quietly when our paid electricity gets knocked out by a storm. When did we become so entitled to that which we don’t value enough to even pay for?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions but I find myself thinking about them more and more. In between tweets, blog posts and facebook updates.

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