Sunday, August 31, 2014


I am a member of, or at least a lurker at, half-a-dozen freelance writing groups on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is as close as I come to engaging with “social media.” LinkedIn is the social medium for business people; you don’t find highschoolers bragging about how drunk they were last Saturday night. I’m on it because when I joined one of the professional societies I belong to I was told, “You have to join LinkedIn; everyone is there.” I didn’t take that literally at the time, but I think it may be true now.

The writing community spans a range of experience and expertise; there are rank beginners recently out of Journalism school, and there are veterans, among whom I count myself. The veterans cheer on the newcomers, and the new people keep us (or me, anyway) aware of what‘s going on in the electronified world.

I was “linked” for a year or more during which absolutely nothing happened because I didn’t work at making anything happen, and my resume was so dull no one would have cared anyway. Eventually the light went on and I realized I didn’t have to follow LinkedIn’s one-size-fits-all resume format, and that there’s a lot of latitude to how you can structure it. Mine will never be “complete” to LinkedIn’s standards, because your profile isn’t “complete” without your picture, and I don’t figure my mug shot is likely to win me any business. However, I’ve revised my profile to say what I want it to say, and I now find myself a semi-active participant.

I am linked to 39 people, some of whom I know and others who apparently come along attached to them. I’m told it’s a great way to prospect for business, but so far I haven’t cracked the code on that. I have offered “congrats” to a group member on attaining his seventh anniversary on LinkedIn, and sent a few words of encouragement to a recent Journalism grad. I asked an uncommonly bright friend who is also on LinkedIn (we’re “linked,” although neither of us is sure why) whether she was finding any practical value in membership. She summed it up beautifully: LinkedIn is like “a yearbook without names.”

But if, as they used to say, 50,000 Frenchmen can’t be wrong, 2,066,795 linkers, as I write this, just in "my" network, mustn’t be wrong either. And I've read there are 277 million members altogether. I’ll have to give it more thought.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Many Tweets Make a Twit?

Twitter is the big thing currently, and while I like word games as much as the next writer, and the challenge of saying something coherent in 140 characters might ordinarily intrigue me -- I can’t get into this one.

What it does is, it puts me in mind of the time when messages – urgent ones, anyway – were sent via Western Union. Because Western Union charged you by the word, you left out anything that wasn’t vital to understanding the message; you adopted a “telegraphic” style. 

Where the comparison ends, however; is at the word “urgent.”    I’d think that having mastered the Twitter format you’d want to go on to something practical for continuing communication. The idea of continuing to communicate by “tweet” doesn’t seem to me to make sense.

The redeeming feature, since brevity is the soul of twit, is that the people who do it are forced to make it short – probably against their real inclination in many cases. That spares you a longer version of a short unimportant or boring message.

I see now there is discussion about retweets (or “RTs,” to the initiated) and whether sending one constitutes endorsement of it. This is still being sorted out between various people and journalistic institutions with conflicting views.

If an outsider may be allowed an opinion -- the more reasonable of those views would seem to be to forward the message with a disclaimer if it’s not an endorsement. This might apply in situations where someone has managed to assemble 140 characters into something so outrageous that you feel you have to tell other people about it, but you don’t want anyone to think you sympathize with the idea expressed. 

That would be easy enough in a normal communication environment, but can you add an exculpatory message within the confines of this system? Could you say “exculpatory” if you wanted to? Why give up most of your vocabulary of more than one syllable if you mean to communicate?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Titular Enlargement

I think people are expanding on and even inventing titles for themselves on LinkedIn. Call me a traditionalist, or worse if you don’t like what I have to say, but I’m finding job titles that have never seen an org chart.

VP of Product Experience. There’s a title to conjure with. What do you suppose a VP of Product Experience does? What would be the qualifications for the job? You’d have to have experience, I imagine, with a product… Would he or she share an office with the Client Insights Manager?

I recently saw a 10-word title, and another made up of six arcane acronyms.

 A not-very-extensive (10-page) dip into LinkedIn turned up 14 Directors (and two CEOs) of Fun. One at a retirement community.

There are Directors of Events. And here I thought only the Deity had that power.

I see a lot of people’s titles start with “Award-winning.” Must be a whole lot of awards out there. Puts me in mind of a former L.A. television news anchor for whom that mantra became de facto his first name; he was never introduced without it. A lot of others start with "Senior." There are two possibilities for these people -- they can be in charge of some juniors, or they can just be old -- and mostly we can't tell which is the case.

“Lifestyle coach” I guess is pretty mainstream by now; there seem to be a lot of them. I think they replace “counselors” to whom we used to go for advice if we were having difficulties with our way of life.

Several “results-drivens” in varied fields: marketing, management, sales, ops, group coaching, and probably more if I’d continued the search.

Lots of “Thought Leaders.” Like Josef Goebbels? Kind of a scary concept. I guess the other 2,040,000-odd of us – even the results-driven, the lifestyle coaches, the award winners, the fun and event directors,  and that VP of Experience, as well as all us nondescript hangers-on on LinkedIn – we must be thought followers.  

Speak of the devil: 519 results for “Propagandist.”

“Influencer”: 37,204 search results; near 197,000 search results for “Visionary,” some of them company names. 34,000+ for “Healer,” including two job openings; 74,000 for “Networker,” some certified; 320,000 “Thinkers” (Creative/Strategic/Big Picture/Out-of-the-Box); 13,000 Philosophers; 3600 Pundits; 5800+ “Renaissance Men” (one of whom, thankfully, specifies “joking”), probably more than there may have been during the actual era. (Always wondered about people who apply that label to themselves. Even had he known he was living in The Renaissance and in fact epitomized it, would DaVinci have arrogated the term to himself? He probably wouldn’t have felt the need).

And of course there’s my other favorite. Anyone who has read this blog, if there is anyone who’s read it, could probably predict what that would be:  Director of Content. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Middie" Project

This being an election year, people may be more than usually touchy about some things, and you want to be extra careful not to offend. I’m not running for office or anything, but you never know when you might want to persuade someone of the error of his voting ways, and you can’t start down that road if you have a history of profiling him with some derogatory-sounding label, like “Midwesterner.” (Just kidding! Just kidding!)

I think I mentioned some posts back that we at one time developed a counter-Yuppie theme campaign (back when that seemed to matter), called the “Middie” project. That’s not to be confused with Middie as used at the Naval Academy at Annapolis where it’s an abbreviation for Midshipman (although I suppose some of their Middies could have qualified to be our Middies as well). Our Middie was an abbreviation for Midwesterner.

You may wonder, if you’re one of the small but not unconfused group following this blog, how this writer comes to this area of thought, being born a New Yorker.  

Again, the answer was telegraphed in an earlier posting, in which I owned up to having friends who were Midwesterners and to, in fact, being married to one. Instructed by my wife and these friends, I became a crypto-Middie.

The whole thing arose as part of the ill-fated mail-order venture we began when we relocated to Yosemite National Park. The community we lived in, a few miles outside the park itself, was the real-life manifestation of the proverbial “wide spot in the road.” We were a grocery store, a gas pump, a log-cabin gift shop, a mailbox, and a printing press. (Other vestiges of those times have shown up elsewhere in this blog, and undoubtedly will again.)

If you were a Yuppie of those times you are probably a Geezer today (as are we), but you will remember one of the insigniae Yuppies marched under: the Lacoste alligator.

We of course maintained that it was a croc, and went on to glorify the favorable qualities that identified one as a Middie, preparatory to introducing our competing line of lifestyle products. Admittedly, some of the criteria we applied could have been seen as less than profound:“You’re a Middie if …your highschool nickname was ‘Moose’ or ‘Dot’ …if you drank Seven and Seven all through the Perrier years; …if the words ‘Nehi Grape’ make your mouth water...”

OK, but then what was so hot about being a Yuppie?

We needed a logo, and tried repeatedly to gerrymander the map of the states that constitute the Midwest into something useful. At the time the region was defined by eight  states, but I see now that definitions on the web run to 12-1/2 (part of Colorado). The best we could do at the time resembled a truncated rhinoceros. Maybe we could have done better had we known to use the expanded definition.  At any rate, we eventually gave it up. Eventually we gave up the whole project. “Yuppie” became irrelevant. We became irrelevant before that. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Academic Writing

I’m getting a taste of academic writing, and I don’t like it.

I’ve been doing some light editing for a friend’s dissertation, and I’ve become acquainted with some of the more annoying aspects of pursuing a doctorate. For starters, the whole process seems to be geared to humiliating the candidate, whipsawing him or her back and forth between multiple mentors, each of whom wants something different. I’ve heard that from two different people now. I’d take a walk at that point if I were the candidate. However, I’m not, so that’s not the part that affects me.

One of the things that does bother me is in the exercises leading up to the actual dissertation. The writing assignments come with a minimum required word count.  

Why in the world would you teach to work to a minimum?  If you were going to do anything, you’d want to put a maximum limit on it; encourage the writer to put the thought into as few words as will get the idea across, respecting the reader’s time. Name the assignment; explain the purpose; specify the ingredients; and turn the writers loose. Some will need the full 500 words, but some will do it just fine with fewer. But the candidate aspiring to a managerial position who absorbs the academic approach is going to find him/herself ill-prepared to communicate in writing to the busy corporate CEO.

Writing is supposed to be about conveying information to the reader. Except poetry, maybe. You do it by being as clear and concise as you can be. At least, that’s what you want to do in the real world. But not in academia. I’ve now seen stuff whose purpose can only be to impress people with the most abstruse jargon possible, and to do it at length.

The other annoyance is the principle that you almost can’t express a thought unless someone else has already expressed it before. You’re constantly citing authorities (Burke & Hare, 1894) for just about any point you want to make, even well -established ones. “The sun will rise tomorrow” (Hubble, 1922) (Sagan, 1979) (Tyson, 2007) (Hemingway, 1926) (Genesis, 1:5).   I think it becomes a game to come up with the longest citation list.

It’s not that I don‘t understand; you’re building on the work of people who’ve gone before. Fine. But worrying people into documenting minutiae while encouraging them to write long – think that might be where academia gets its reputation?