Showing posts with label concepts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label concepts. Show all posts

Thursday, January 18

Reassessing Direction: Ask Yourself What’s Important

What’s important? It’s a question we have to periodically ask ourselves.

For the better part of 12 years, writing content that centered on communication was important to me. It made sense. Marketing, communication, public relations, and journalism was migrating to a digital landscape as people who didn’t necessarily have much experience in the field opened up new dialogues, discussions, and channels.

I knew something about marketing and communication and entering into discussion with content creators — professionals migrating to the digital space or people in the digital space who were learning communication and marketing skills — was an exhilarating experience. As an educator, it still is from time to time, even if many of those conversations have migrated to places like Facebook and LinkedIn (for now).

I’m glad I did. This blog houses a considerable amount of content that chronicles the evolution and growth of communication. The best of it, those posts that have a certain timeless quality, are still used in my classes today — both those at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and some private classes that I’ve taken to teaching from time to time. In fact, I do have a few new ideas I want to sketch out and share in this space in the near future too.

I may have done it by now, but somehow I was overwhelmed by attempting to reconcile what I know works online (writing niche subject matter expert content) and what’s important to me (which is a bit broader in scope). I’m not the first communication strategist to struggle with this idea and I am sure I won't be the last. Most of us know that toggling back and forth between personal interest and professional prowess isn’t the right formula to attract eyeballs, engagement, and reciprocal action.

Then again, what’s important? 

While the social media measurement models we establish for business make sense (aside from the over emphasis on eyeballs perhaps), there is always that other side of the coin. The best posts are those that tap into what’s important to you as a person — because the spark is more important than whatever formula or standard you set. 

Right now, there are a number of topics that are important to me. After seeing some shake ups happen at the City of North Las Vegas and City of Henderson, I am considerably more attuned to what is happening not only in my community, but also the communities around me. When you combine these stories with continued reports that our education system is still broken, it becomes clear that communication alone, or lack thereof, is not the answer.

We need solutions, ones where communicators in those government entities can support them by serving their organizations and the public and not whatever agenda has been drawn up behind closed doors. Reputation management, after all, is not about hiding what has happened. It's about making it right.

Along with my community, the work where most of my time is invested is important. In addition to my own firm, I am assisting the Council of Multiple Listing Services in support of its mission to build a better marketplace and developing content for an integrative oncology site to help people cope and better care for themselves before, during, and after cancer treatment, among other things.

I’ve also considered drawing more attention to where my interest in youth sports intersects with personal fitness, and the psychology behind it. And then there are those short stories I write from time to time, and my desire to develop courses beyond the university setting. I plan to launch one online pilot class this year.

So, at the core of it, I have been spending more time feeding my passion to work only with those who serve people, aspire to make the world a better place, and/or seek to advance humankind. And, in answering my own question, that is what is important. It seems to me that these are the words, concepts, and strategies I should explore more often. How do we do things better?

Maybe all we have to do is kick a few hurdles out of the way. Maybe all we have to do is ask what's important. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, May 20

How Social Automation And Social Absenteeism Are Different

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of social automation. I generally advise clients to mostly avoid it, with "mostly" being the operative word. There are opportunities when social automation can be effective.

So why do I advise clients to mostly avoid it? Because the advice isn't meant to frighten them away from automation. It's to make them keep thinking so their automation doesn't turn into absenteeism.

How social absenteeism made social automation a dirty word. 

Social absenteeism can be defined by all signs Danny Brown listed it in his article about automation. He included bots that burp out content followers, communication shifts from conversation to broadcast, and a constant number crunching addiction that appeals to less social savvy companies.

In all three cases, it isn't automation as much as it's absenteeism, with all of it disrupting the value of social media. But let's be clear here. It doesn't disrupt it entirely. Social still drives more than 30 percent of web traffic, with Facebook dominating the top platforms, while search continues to slump.

Those numbers provide a proof of sorts. Search used to be the go-to answer for everything, even finding love as illustrated by this classic commercial about an American finding love in Paris.


While this spot is fun and clever, it doesn't always hold true anymore. Nowadays, people want to be told what to find as often or even more than they want to find something. In essences, we've seen a  social shift that makes search the go-to when you know what to ask and social the go-to if you don't.

The point was punctuated in a modernized version of Parisan Love. It features a man who is stuck someplace for a few days. Rather than sulk, he asks his social network friends what he should do. They offer up suggestions and he loads clips of his daily adventures drawn from their ideas. It's a clever commercial, proving that even accidental vacations are more fun with input from friends.

The spot represents the best of social media: interaction, engagement, inspiration, reciprocation, and reward. Social absenteeism, on the other hand, would have produced something else entirely because absent automation has no context for circumstance. It doesn't know where you are, what you need, or what you are doing. It's scripted regularity that points to the same products or people or places.

Unchecked, you can easily consider it a cousin to black hat SEO and email spam in that the objective of the communication isn't designed to help anyone except the broadcaster. It's their method of getting clicks, capturing followers, maintaining a presence, and executing content formulas. What's in it for the customer or consumer? Not too much. It favors a marketing agenda over customer experience.

Absenteeism doesn't require automations. Humans can be boring too.

There is a sandwich brand that asks its followers what sandwich they like (or some such variation of the question) every day. No matter what anyone says, the brand affirms they made the right choice. It's monotonous. Most people only follow the account for coupons. The rest they put up with to get them.

Most people would be surprised to find that the account is managed by a human, given that there is nothing human about the communication. It's shallow and empty, celebrating the brand not the fans.

It's not all that different from sending out blind pitches to journalists or sending out a discount on jeans just after the customer bought five pairs. Both examples are empty actions, contrary to some of the suggestions offered up by Brown. Content testing to improve communication, scheduling tests, action tracking, list culls and dead account purges are all smart automation tactics because they are all designed to enhance the customer experience and not detract from it. The difference is in the intent.

It isn't even confined to social media. Automation runs the risk of becoming absenteeism across all communication disciplines with content formulas, empty actions, and unjustifiable frequency. And in a world where the communication has become part of the product, for better or worse, you can't really afford to cheapen it by thinking the solution to every problem is an apple just because you sell them.

Wednesday, March 11

Has The Age Of Facebook Debates Come To A Close?


Facebook Wall
Trish Forant at Dayngr Zone Media recently posed an interesting and increasingly common question on Facebook, asking friends if they've pulled back from sharing opinions or engaging in debates on the popular social network. She is not alone. A few weeks earlier, Blog Bloke had asked a similar question, wondering what his friends posted besides kid pics, food porn, and celebrity sightings.

He had more or less asked where has the social imperative for social media gone.

It hasn't necessarily gone anywhere. But more and more people, it seems, feel that social networks are already too negative in between their servings of silly cat videos. After all, one person's social justice is another person's social poison. And unless you're up for some diatribe, it is best to be a sycophant or perhaps stay silent. Even constructive criticism is a skill set as plenty of people are easily offended.

Recently, one of my friends told me to "read the article" after I left a comment on an article she had shared. The article asked people to pick between two vices. I had said neither, which was later attributed to me thinking like a parent. I could have said I was thinking like a person and outlined my case, but why bother? It was already apparent after two invalidations that discussion wasn't welcome.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Not all social networks really afford as much two-way communication as one might think. Facebook is especially weak in the dialogue department.

BustersFacebook is a lousy platform for meaningful dialogue and intelligent debate. 

This isn't a network criticism. It's a recognition that the platform was designed to help people manage social connections and connect with those who have similar interests and not communication or social discourse. And while sometimes a discussion might lead someone to a revelation, such occurrences are rare. Most debates only make people feel bad at worst, awkward at best. Why?

• Facebook celebrates sycophants.  It isn't by accident that Facebook has a 'like' button. The system is meant to deliver positive reinforcement from friends. "Me too" and "good job" add happiness.

• Facebook invites dogma. The wall and comment section of Facebook is much less suited to dialogue than statement making. Most discussions consist of affirmative or negative sentiment.

• Facebook skews for affirmation. Much like more and more people watch news programs that reference their beliefs, they nurture friends in the same way and unfriend those who don't fit.

• Facebook favors majority. As people mass a majority of like-minded friends, they build an army of agreement to support whatever they happen to share and sometimes to shake down dissenters.   

• Facebook creates imbalance. Whereas blogs provide an open-ended forum with the potential for thoughtful discussion and Twitter forces dialogue with a 140-character limit, Facebook creates the impression that short comments feel like quips and long comments are akin to hijacking the post.

All in all, the social network is mostly designed to deliver healthy does of "good vibes" so you keep coming back for more. It mostly works that way too. Few people actually sign on to thrive as the one contrarian among friends, on their wall or someone else's spaces. Life is too short to be grumpy.

So most people sign on to share bits and pieces of their lives, with the unstated understanding that their friends will give them support or props as needed, and the unstated assumption that they do the same for their friends. And when you know that is the system by design, it doesn't make much sense to muck it up by floating out too many ideologies, issues, or opinions that people disagree with.

Sure, there are those like Trish Forant (and myself) who are generally more than happy to celebrate our diversity of friendships and willingness to agree to disagree. But nowadays, fewer people seem accustomed to the notion that most topics cannot be boiled down into black and white, red or blue.

Why would they be accustomed to anything else? Facebook is purposefully designed for someone to either "like" something or remain silent. Anything else carries the risk of negative reinforcement. Real discussion, on the other hand, requires a better format and, occasionally, a decent moderator.

Wednesday, February 25

Why Some So-Called Losses Are Really Wins In Disguise

My son had been staying after school for months, hoping to land one of 14 spots on the junior varsity volleyball team. It seemed like the ideal spring sport for him to balance out football in the fall.

He worked hard at it whenever possible, missing only one practice since the intramural pre-tryout program had begun. He was a dedicated player and progressed at a faster pace than most of his peers. When you asked any of them, they expected to be cut well before him. Except, they weren't cut.

In what seemed to be a split decision among the coaches, he finished one or two spots short out of the 30 some kids who were vying for a position. Even after one of the coaches told him coldly that he was "athletic, but not for volleyball," another coach openly disagreed and told him to come out next year.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. His more immediate challenge was that he had missed all the mandatory meetings for any other spring sports. It's a tough spot to be in, something long-time marketer and author Geoff Livingston described as being the "first loser." It sucks to be thisclose to a win.

Our compulsion to tally up wins and losses feeds an unproductive fantasy.

For some people, wins and losses can be very real. You either pass an exam or you don't. You win the state championship or you don't. You are hired for the position or you aren't. So on and so forth.

But mostly, our incessant need to make tally marks in the win/loss column is all a bunch of rubbish. One exam isn't a measure of subject mastery. The final score isn't an adequate measure of true performance. The position you're passed over for might be turn out to be your biggest win ever. 

The point here is pretty simple. Not only does our overemphasis on any given win or loss become a distraction from some yet-to-be-seen success, we tend to frame them all up with too much idealism. You see, winning doesn't mean everything will end well any more than losing means that you have something more to learn. Either outcome can produce the opposite of whatever it is you are looking for in the long term and you may never really know what that other outcome might have been.

As the old saying ought to go, the only thing worse than losing an account is winning a bad one. Bad accounts can burn up time with unrealistic service demands or relentless change orders, cost a company its solvency with late payments or by defaulting on any credit, and damage reputations by underplaying contributions or making vendors scapegoats for their bad decisions. They can make you crazy trying to keep them, sometimes at the expense of any underperforming but stable clients. So who knows? Maybe the universe did you a favor by spinning the wheel of fortune one spoke short.

As long as you keep doing, you will eventually have your fair share of wins and losses. And with any luck, the balance among all of them — and the real outcomes to follow — will one day amount to a legacy that you can pay forward. Because that, not any tiny win or loss, is what life is really about.

The best thing that never happened to my son was making that team. 

In less than 24 hours after being turned away from the volleyball team, my son received an unexpected text from one of his friends. While all the mandatory meetings for track had passed, the team was still looking for a few athletes to try pole vaulting. He was unsure, but undeterred.

When my son turned out on a day that the pole vaulting coach didn't make it, he asked to the practice with the shot put throwers instead. Three throws later, the shot put coach signed him to the team. Despite never having tried it before, the coach noted his perfect form and throwing potential. Now he's weighing whether he should focus exclusively on shot put or try pole vaulting too. 

Either way is a win-win decision for him. The fact that he has this decision to make tells a story that is very different from the one that opened this post. When he didn't land a spot on the junior varsity volleyball team, it opened up the opportunity for him to land a variety spots on the track team.

So was the set up really a loss? Or was it a win? Or does it merely prove one of my friend's favorite quotes that attitude is superior to circumstance? I don't know, but I'm leaning toward the latter. Losing assumes one has something to lose and most people don't. We either set out to win or merely break even. So just keep doing as long as you are happy in the pursuit of it. Being able to pursue it is the win.

Wednesday, January 28

What's All The Beef About The Naked Burger Ad?

With GoDaddy pulling its "Puppy Mill" ad, all eyes are now on Charlotte McKinney for Carl's Jr. to steal the top spot for most controversial Super Bowl advertisement this year. The advertisement, which will only run on the West Coast, features the top model bounding  through a farmer's market.

What makes the advertisement "controversial" is that McKinney appears to be naked in the majority of the spot, thanks to camera framing and prop placement. Feeding the fantasy is a series of gawking men who alternate between being distracted by the blonde beauty and fondling produce in front of her.

The commercial is supposed to sell a new hamburger for the quick service franchise, but mostly it sells McKinney. She usurps Paris Hilton and other socialites that Carl's Jr. has employed to sell food with sex. This time the caustic relationship is being all natural, alluding to nakedness and not altered.

Overall, the commercial does a great job at selling McKinney, but not such a great job at selling product. Most people struggle to remember the name of the new burger, a problem that isn't new for the fast food chain on the bottom of the big five burger businesses.


The problem isn't new. Most people don't remember what kind of burger Hilton or Heidi Klum ate either (and some can't remember the chain that supplied the sloppy eats). And even after doubling down on their decision to make premier hamburgers part of the product offering for Carl's Jr. and Hardees, the CKE business model has yet to eek out one percent of the quick burger market share.

To put that into perspective, its primary competition — Burger King, Wendy's, and Jack In The Box — have all captured 2 percent of the market. Meanwhile, McDonald's isn't even in the same category, owning 19 percent of the market share. The only reason it feels like the two compete for customers is that Carl's Jr. requires stores to spend about 5.8 percent of their sales on advertising to supplement regional advertising buys. In other words, the CKE sister chains tend to be more talk and less eat.

The Charlotte McKinney ad is less controversial and more boring. 

Let's be clear. McKinney is not boring. She does a fabulous job with a bad script and mediocre concept. Her presence in the spot is largely the freshest thing about it. The chain traded up in terms of spokespeople. It's a shame they didn't trade up their creative too.

The advertisement is a rehash of Benny Hill comedy with an Austin Powers twist. It pretends to be controversial, mostly because Carl's Jr. claims it is too hot for television, a boast that perpetuates some outdated masculine myth that women used to be sexually stymied but are now liberated, which is good news for men who love to objectify them.

Aside from that, it also perpetuates the myths that sex sells and attention is the end all of advertising. On the contrary, sex doesn't sell and publicity is cheap. Naked women aren't clever. They are a punt when every other play had failed and nobody in the room can come up with anything remotely clever.

This lack of creativity might even be contagious. Sex in advertising has been on a steady rise since the 1980s despite studies that show as many as 60 percent of consumers have a negative reaction to such advertising and women, specifically, are bored and disinterested in sex-infused advertising.

So where is the disconnect? Most people attribute it to the outmoded thinking of male executives who make the decisions and sophomoric creative types who lament that their best years were in college. I see it a bit differently, but only because I know hack creatives take most of their cues from television.

As television has become more titillating, they think advertising should follow suit. The only problem is that they never consider the context. Just because people tune into a sexually explicit show doesn't mean they want their advertisements to feature leering men and objectified women. The setup is done to death.

The push back that anyone who doesn't like it is a prude is banal.

All this isn't to say that sex ought to be excluded from advertising. There are plenty of treatments where it can work provided the creative doesn't eclipse the product. Consumers have a much more positive reason to like sex in advertisements when it's wholesome, sexily sensual, or smartly funny.

Those types of treatments tend to skip the stereotypes as they were defined in the 1980s. Nowadays, sexual liberation isn't defined by someone's tolerance for soft porn, but rather their maturity to see it as clean, consensual, and occasionally clever in its use of innuendo and humor. And unlike movies and television, copywriters and creative directors ought to remember that they have two jobs that fiction writers do not.

Modern advertising not only sells the product, but often holds up a mirror to its audience. So if the audience can't relate to the spot, don't expect them to respond to the product. They're much more likely to critique your ad instead, which is exactly what most people who have seen this ad have done. Hat tip to Geoff Livingston for the topic.

Wednesday, December 17

A Little Diversification Doesn't Make Anyone A Dullard

Prevailing wisdom dictates that that professionals are best served by being topic centric. There is some truth to the concept for those who are building a career within a specific industry or central idea. It can be considerably more difficult for writers, especially those who find anything and everything of interest — because we understand there are no boring topics (just boring writers).

So while I have experience teaching people how to develop a professional image, I also stopped worrying about being Batman. Sure, I don't always talk about my other interests in this space, but I do have them. They are eclectic as my library and play lists. And sometimes they pop up as guest posts.

In recent months, I'm very grateful for a handful of sites that have asked me to submit guest content and I think the best way to thank the publishers are to list a few of them here. Give them a gander.

Five picks from a short list of stories that weren't published here.

The Future Of Content, Part 3 with Danny Brown. When marketing professionals think about content, they think in terms that have grown all too familiar. Most of them know its easier to follow in the footsteps of best practices rather than look forward, lead ahead, and innovate the industry.

So when Danny Brown asked me to contribute to his mini-series on content marketing, I wanted to move away from practices and focus in on possibilities. The Future Of Content, Part 3 was a sneak peek into a future that is much more reliant on multimedia content, non-linear data, individualized communication, and interactive technology that some people have taken to calling enchanted objects.

Other people know it better as augmented reality. Marketers ought to think about it now or they'll have to play catch up like they did with every communication innovation since the dawn of time.

Guyside: How To Diet And Exercise Like Your Life Depends On It via Flashfree. Every now and again, it's not uncommon for people to ask me "how are you doing?" It used to be they asked because they wanted to know what's new. Nowadays, their interest is linked to being a cancer survivor.

There is nothing wrong with that. Life deals up all sorts of experiences and you can use them as an opportunity to make yourself stronger if you survive them. This was also one the reasons my friend Liz Scherer invited me to write a set of guest posts for her long-standing blog. Fitness seemed like a logical place to start, given my rapid recovery and work to become a certified personal trainer.

Beyond the obvious tips about fitness, the article is mostly a lesson in doing. It applies to almost anything. Success is a by-product of doing the things you are inspired by or have a passion to do as often as possible until you can eventually do them well.

The Art Of Being Gender Ambidextrous via Tue/Night. The concept of being gender ambidextrous hit me shortly after my friend Amy Vernon told me that the publishers of Tue/Night were looking for a few stories about father-daughter relationships. But it wasn't my idea exclusively.

My daughter was the inspiration. She and sometimes her brother are often the inspiration when I write anything about one-off marketing and communication topics like leadership, psychology, or perception. It's easy to find inspiration in their daily activities because I've always taught them both that the only hurdles in life are what they think. And yes, I include gender on the long list of what doesn't matter.

The crux of it is simple enough. As parents, the biggest responsibility we have to our children is to keep their focus on what they can do instead of what anyone says they cannot do. No hurdles needed.

Guyside: Girls Deserve More Than One Way To Wear A Bow via Flashfree. Shortly after the Gender Ambidextrous piece broke, several people suggested I follow up the story with a second piece. The timing was perfect. I had already filed away an experience that seemed to fit the series.

My daughter didn't think twice when she dressed up as Robin Hood for Halloween, which seemed to mildly put some people off because she hadn't elected to pick any number of bow-wielding heroines. On the flip side, she didn't think twice about being Belle the year prior either. I can only hope she remains so free spirited all of her life — embracing her gender (or not) without ever being made a slave to it.

Freedom doesn't come from choosing between "this and that" or "red and blue." True freedom comes from choices that are only limited by your imagination and colors from every spectrum of the wheel.

Spotlight On Stefan Bucher via AIGA Las Vegas. Although the intent of the piece was to promote the AIGA Centennial Celebration in Las Vegas, there is significantly more value to the story than simply introducing speaker Stefan G. Bucher. Think of it as more of a gateway article to the land of inspiration.

Bucher, if you are unfamiliar with name, filmed himself putting a few drops of ink on a piece of paper and then transforming the random blot into a fully realized illustrated monster. He didn't do it once. He did it for 100 days. So if you need any additional validation for the lesson of doing I mentioned earlier, I submit that you'll likely find it on The Daily Monster.

Bucher is an extremely talented graphic designer and illustrator who has created a career out of remaining true to the principles of design and being a little less willing to compromise. Who knows? With a little luck, maybe you too will find some inspiration from a drop of ink.

What's coming in the months and years ahead for this site and elsewhere?

This space — Words. Concepts. Strategies. — turns 10 years old. And while I don't want to say too much at the moment, anticipate a little more diversification. Sure, communication is an excellent framework for anyone who craves diversity, but communication can feel constrictive at times.

I know I might lose a few people in the process of this gradual change and that's all right. If you fit in that category, look for the headlines that pique your interest. For everyone else, you can always subscribe or come by from time to time at your leisure. I do appreciate it, especially when someone tosses out a topic that they want to see covered. Anything goes. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, October 22

What If The Only Hurdle Is What You Think?

A few nights ago at her practice, my daughter (age 8) and her softball team (8U, ages 8 and under) were challenged to a base-running relay race by their sister team (10U, ages 10 and under) in an older division. They readily accepted despite the odds.

Two years makes a big difference. Most of the girls on the 10U team had a 12- to 18-inch height advantage and the stride to go along with it. Even with a few 'accidental obstructions' by coaches to even out mismatched segments of the rely, it was pretty clear which girls would come out on top as victors.

Or maybe not. The race was relatively close in the end, with the team effort being only part of the story. While several 8U girls held their own, one of them gained ground during her segment without any coaching assistance or any easing off by the older girls. She was determined to win her heat.

And then she won it. The size difference didn't matter. The age difference didn't matter. The difference in life circumstances — having been born three months early and enduring juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for going on 6 years — didn't matter either. She won her heat from the inside out.

About 10,000 people a month Google the phrase "am I ugly."

Meaghan Ramsey of the Dove Self-Esteem Project wasn't the first to bring this disturbing trend to light, but she has been one of several voices who has helped raised awareness about self-esteem. Specifically, Ramsey has found a correlation between low body/image confidence and lower grade point averages/at-risk behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sex) and these correlations are heightened through the baked-in pressure of social networks to earn friends, likes and opinions via frequent feedback.


Ramsey contends that our increasingly obsessed culture is training our kids to spend more time and mental effort on their appearance at the expense of other values that make up one's self-concept. It's a good point, especially when you consider the depth and damage of crowd-sourced confidence beyond physical appearances.

Just as low body confidence is undermining academic achievement among students, low social confidence is undermining people well into adulthood. It's increasingly problematic because our society is adding layers of subjective superficial qualifiers that are determined by crowd-sourced opinions and visible connections. Specifically, superficial counts like "followers, likes, retweets, and shares" that have nothing to do with our value as human beings are being used as a means to validate their perception of others as well as their own concept of self.

The key to more meaningful outcomes transcends image. 

The overemphasis of imagepopularity and crowdsourcing in social media has a long history of undermining good ideas, worthwhile efforts, and individual actions. And the reason it undermines our potential as human beings is related to how we inexplicably convince ourselves that we are not pretty enough or smart enough or popular enough to be valued or liked or loved.

If appearances and opinions held true, then my daughter would be the least likely girl on the 8U team to become the fastest runner. But fortunately, no one ever told her that superficial appearances or history should somehow hold her back. So when I think about her, I always want her to be able to apply this same limitless attitude to her potential aptitude whether it is academics, athletics, or attractiveness (to the one and only partner who will ever really matter).

Wouldn't you if it were your daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, or mother? Wouldn't you if it were your son, brother, boyfriend, husband, or father? Then maybe it's time we all took the effort to let potential not perception prove our realities, online or off. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, July 11

Teaching Applied: What We Knew In 1895

A friend of mine recently shared some exam questions, reportedly used as a final exam in Salina, Kansas, circa 1895. The purpose of sharing the exam is meant to surprise people at how much more difficult an eighth grade education was in 1895 compared to, perhaps, a high school education today.

Two things struck me in reading over the exam. The first was that I wasn't taught all of it in school. The second was that the teachers in 1895 were doing something that not all schools do today.

While there is a certain amount of rote memorization, many of the questions suggest the instruction was tied to the real world. Right. The students weren't only being taught material in preparation for the next class but also how they might use the instruction in their lives if there wasn't going to be a next class.

The Questions From An Eighth Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas (1895)

Grammar (Time, one hour) 
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes) 
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per metro?
8. Find the bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a bank check, a promissory note, and a receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes) 
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. history is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) 
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals.
4. Give four substitutes for รป.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour) 
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

The Difference Between Educational Success Is Set By Expectation.  

There was something else that struck me about these questions. My son just graduated from the seventh grade but he wasn't expected to know most of it or any modern equivalent. There were only two possibilities why he wasn't expected to learn it, we surmised.

The first assumption was that it's just not considered important anymore because new material has supplanted the need. The second was that this instruction would come later in his education, which made wonder. There are dozens of people who want to delay education for one reason or another.

While I understand the reasoning, delayed education is one of the key ingredients that has caused many educational structures to underperform in the United States. Instead of fearing a child might be "left behind," we might be better off instilling a cultural model where no child is "held back."

And no, I don't mean pass students who are not ready. What I mean is that we ought to expect all children can excel by setting a higher standard and never holding back any child who is ready to excel. Ergo, if we want to create an environment where children can learn at their own pace, then there is no reason to hold back those who are ready to excel. And those who need extra help can always find it.

As the 1895 test might illustrate, it's not about the grade level. It's about what you learn and apply.

Monday, April 9

Questioning Perception: Psychology And Communication

Every now and again, someone asks me why I decided to include psychology among the topics I cover on a communication blog. Part of it had to do with missing a field I was interested in several years ago (I'm about 6 credits shy of having degree in psychology). But that's only part of the reason.

All communication relies on psychology. In fact, some might argue that communication is just a middle man. Really, what communicators do is "think up" messages that they want other people to "think" too.

Sure, the two-part equation oversimplifies a complex sociological exchange, but it's easier to visualize. In reality, the psychology of several people usually shapes the message and then the communicator (writer, designer, etc.) passes it through their filters (articulate, artistic, etc.) to deliver to other people who form opinions and ideas based on that communication and based on the communication of others.

Think, communicate, think. And success relies on perception.

One of the many blogs I read to keep up on psychology includes Psyblog, which explores scientific research into how the mind works. It has many outstanding posts, columns, and stories worth reading. But one of them reminded me how important it is to understand how different people think in different environments.

All too often on social networks, communicators are instructed to create the community. Ironically, this is sometimes the opposite of what copywriters are taught in advertising (e.g., if you want to sell farm equipment, watching farm movies near Madison Avenue might not cut it). One recent post on Psyblog cuts to the heart of it. You have to understand people before you communicate to them.

• In a small town environment, 72 percent of people will offer to help a lost child. Only 46 percent will help in the city, with some of the non-helpers prone to behave aggressively toward them.

• In general, people are prone to create order out of chaos. As an example, they cite an old Milgram study that found only 10 percent of people who cut in line will be ejected. Most people won't do anything.

• The mind looks for familiarity, with 90 percent of people being able to identify a familiar person. The odds of recognition increase exponentially if those people stand out in some way, e.g., a mohawk will do. People, by the way, are more likely to talk to "familiar strangers" in unfamiliar settings.

• People are more willing to pass along messages that they feel are important or correspond to their own personal preferences. For example, in one experiment, abandoned letters were more likely to be mailed if they were addressed to "Medical Research Associates" as opposed to the "Communist/Nazi Party."

• People are natural joiners. In one study highlighted in the post, they point to another classic Milgram study. People join other people looking at a building where nothing is happening: 4 percent of the time if there is one person; 40 percent of the time if there are more than 15 people.

• Busy people in cities, they point out, are more likely to have superficial interactions, rush business transactions, and practice common social niceties, which Milgram equated to urban overload.

All of these examples represent some of the societal filters that impact or distract people from receiving a message. And the lesson here, while not as directly correlated as I could make it, holds some considerations that communicators might think about while they are coming up with what they want to communicate. Ergo, shocking disruption might not be as effective as being familiar in an odd place, doubly so if a few more familiar strangers happen to be standing around.

Of course, there are plenty of other considerations to make too. And those considerations vary as much as the number of micro-societies we make. Who you speak to can be as important as what you say.

Wednesday, April 4

Changing Health Care: Mobile Technology

If you want to consider just how much mobile technology could change lives, consider how it might save lives. One company, ER Texting, is already experimenting with one possibility — providing information that can help parents make decisions on which emergency room to visit based on wait times.

The simple information-based service that taps mobile technology tracks current wait times at children's health care facilities. People who use the service merely have to send hospital text codes to 4 ER 411  and instantly receive the current wait times, hours of operation and direct contact information for participating hospitals.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC) and Miami Children's Hospital (MCH) are among some of the most recent hospitals to utilize these services. Since MCH implementation last May, more than 2,000 subscribers have used the service,

"When examining how to reach our patients and families, we knew we would have to meet them in the mobile space," said Kurt Myers, coordinator of community relations at CCHMC. "Providing an option to receive wait times via text was a logical first step into the mobile arena."

Not only does the service provide insight into wait times so parents might consider an alternate medical facility, but it also provides parents with expectations before they arrive. The service benefits the hospital with three locations too, helping control patient flow by increasing transparency.

Communication ought to augment the service, but the potential is limitless. 

Naturally, parents using the service shouldn't take to diagnosing life-threatening situations — adding additional minutes to their commute time to a hospital in life-threatening situations or opting to drive children who would be better off being transported by an ambulance — it still represents how technology can start to be used as a lifeline for medical purposes.

A few years ago, I was working with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and we would frequently discuss the far future of emergency medical services. While the iPhone was still in its fledgling phases by comparison, there was always interest in developing a 9-1-1 service that could incorporate mobile into everyday operations — including the use of video technologies to pre-diagnose when patients called (giving first responders a pre-assessment of the scene and giving hospitals more information before arrival).

The wait time text messaging service certainly expands upon that concept, driving future life-saving concepts toward two-way communication models. Perhaps one day, patients will be able to call 9-1-1 and receive emergency medical assessments and direction (including visual aids) before the ambulance arrives. Or, if medical transport isn't needed, which hospital would be best suited given wait times and specialties. Cool stuff.

Friday, March 2

Improving Criticisms: How To Be A Critic Without Being A Cynic

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." — Oscar Wilde from Lady Windermere's Fan (often paraphrased) 

Every year when I return the first graded writing assignments to public relations students, many of them feel trepidation. They have every right to feel it. I tell them in advance that I'm critical about the work.

Some of them don't need me to tell them. Several students have told me that I have a reputation for not being easy, maybe even hard. The words "necessarily evil" are sometimes attached to the unwritten course description.

I don't mind the monikers, but most students would never guess that I feel trepidation when I hand the first assignments back too. The profession requires that instructors be critics. But not every student appreciates the difference between the critic and cynic. (And some instructors forget it too.)

Instructors are not the only ones who have to walk what is sometimes is fine line. Scores of professionals do: reviewers, journalists, bloggers, politicians, business people, etc. And some do it better than others.

How To Be A Critic Without Being A Cynic.

1. Be selfless instead of selfish. Critics lend their experience, expertise, and opinions to help improve the performance or material for the practitioner or for the benefit of others interested in the work. Cynics draw attention to their experience, expertise, and opinions, and often make fault-finding their mission in order to elevate themselves if not in the public eye than to appease their own flailing self-esteem.

2. Be humble instead of egotistical. Critics do not see themselves as the final authority, but rather challenge themselves and others to continually raise the bar and find solutions. Cynics believe they have already obtained the high water mark in observation if not performance, and expect no one else ever will.

3. Be direct instead of directed. Critics keep their judgements focused on the performance or material rather than the performer or author, allowing them to be direct in their assessment. Cynics believe that finding fault in individuals reaffirms their own virtue, and frequently attempt to pin any failings on someone or something. 

4. Be empathetic instead of aggravated. Critics are interested in the effort and the thought process that led to the performance or material because it may influence their overall opinion. Cynics are interested in comparing the performance or material to whatever template of perfection they have constructed, and are easily annoyed when others don't see it as they do.

5. Be democratic instead of dogmatic. Critics see the good with the bad, recognizing that one point of weakness doesn't necessarily invalidate the whole of the performance or material. Cynics are dogmatic, focusing in on any irrelevant imperfection in order to obscure any other merit and invalidate the whole.

You see the differences play out daily. Cynics dismiss good ideas based on nothing other than labels, whether party affiliation and family history or philosophical and ideological differences. Cynics employ diatribe to drown out differing ideas and opinions because other views are automatically invalid. Cynics work hard to make small things look big and big things look small, distorting the truth or initial intent. 

You can see it in politics, public activism, and corporate policy. The lines are usually specific and rigid. 

Critics, on the other hand, tend to be more amiable and lighthearted. And while that sometimes makes them easier to dismiss against the diatribe that surrounds them, they usually benefit over the long term — continually working toward a vision that is further ahead or attempting to pull people forward along with them.

All of it is something to think about, especially if you review the performance of others in a classroom or column, office or blog. Everything has value, and failing to recognize that usually comes with a cost far greater than any perceived price. Now go do the right thing.

Monday, February 27

Filtering Content: Efficiency Or Liability?

A team of researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists has identified how different neural regions communicate with each other in order to determine what we visually pay attention to and what to ignore. The study is a breakthrough in visual cognition.

Although the findings will be primarily used to guide research in visual and attention deficit disorders, the discovery has some far-reaching implications. Specifically, it could shed some light on how brains are trained to seek out affirmation-related content and how we might retrain brains to be more objective or, in the case of marketing, better understand how to weigh new information for consideration.

How can you ask someone to consider a red pencil when they are already looking for a yellow pencil?

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, used various brain imaging techniques to show exactly how the visual cortex and parietal cortex send direct information to each other through white matter connections in order to specifically pick out the information that we want to see.

For example, if the parietal cortex (which is where free will partially originates) tells the visual cortex to look for a yellow pencil, the visual cortex and parietal cortex send information to each other to help find relevant information. It will literally screen out other objects and/or colors to make finding the yellow pencil easier and more efficient.

However, there are many presumptions made before we ever start looking for a yellow pencil. We may assume that a pencil is the right instrument for the job. We may assume that the yellow pencil may have other attributes (such as being a no. 2 pencil). We may assume it is made by a specific manufacturer. We may assume that a yellow pencil is superior based on previous experiences with the yellow pencil. Everything we associate with the yellow pencil (consciously and subconsciously) might come into play to find what we're looking for.

But what if some or any of these assumptions are incorrect? What if a red pencil manufacturer has made a better instrument for the task at hand, but consumers have already trained their minds to screen out other writing instruments? How can the marketer bring attention to what people are not looking for?

How visual cognition shapes our world, and not always in the best way.

What if we think about this phenomenon on a grander contextual scale? It is possible that people are predisposed to look for things that either affirm their opinions or cause alarm because something seems dramatically out of place from how they want the world.

Depending on what we have trained our minds to look for — either information that makes us right or information that causes us to be alert — people generally find exactly what they are looking for without ever considering any other relevant data. It could explain why inferior but popular products frequently edge out lesser known superior products. It could be why certain news grabs our attention (mostly negative) while we dismiss more important news (mostly positive). It could be why some people immediately dismiss some political candidates based on age, ideology, and/or party affiliation.

"With so much information in the visual world, it's dramatic to think that you have an entire system behind knowing what to pay attention to," said Marlene Behrmann, professor of psychology at CMU and a renowned expert in using brain imaging to study the visual perception system. "The mechanisms show that you can actually drive the visual system — you are guiding your own sensory system in an intelligent and smart fashion that helps facilitate your actions in the world."

While Adam S. Greenberg, post-doctoral fellow in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Department of Psychology and lead author of the study, suggested that the research could help scientists find new ways to train white matter (the connections that help the visual cortex and parietal cortex communicate) to filter out irrelevant or unwanted information, one wonders if the other is possible — white matter can be trained to allow more information, thereby seeing a bigger picture and drawing well-reasoned conclusions that are not weighted by presumption.

Friday, February 10

Balancing Acts: #Fail vs. #Win

Michael Schechter, author of A Better Mess blog and filling in for Geoff Livingston, guest penned a post that touches at the heart of a new social media meme. The Audaciousness of Corporate Social Media Failure is a thought piece on the fascination with pointing out more failures than successes.

He is not alone in his recent assessment. Jennifer Kane called her post The Rise of Social Schadenfreude. Jason Falls recently asked What Happened To Saying Something Nice? And several weeks ago, although not in a blog post, Shel Holtz asked pretty much the same question related to public relations.

Richie Escovedo captured the sentiment in his post New Year's Hat Tip For Triumphs. Along with Holtz's thoughts, you can see my quip about it: "Many public relations triumphs go unseen, which is why they are triumphs." To which Holtz asked if the abundance of blunder-focused posts skews the perception of public relations. Escovedo believes it does. I'm not sure.

Understanding the lopsided exchange of #Fail and #Win. 

Some of it goes back to old school marketing and customer service. Even before social media, consumers were more likely to share a negative experience at a rate of 8 to 1. With social media, that ratio can expand to 8 million to 1, depending on the complaint and who shares it.

Some of it goes back to old school journalism. Negative news tends to have more news worthiness than good news, much in the same way the old adage once conveyed: dog bites man is not news. A man biting a dog is news. But it goes even deeper than that.

Anytime Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media Group, speaks to my public relations class, he tells the students a story about one of the newspapers he worked for years ago. They agreed with everyone else. There is too much bad news. So, every Tuesday, they decided to make it a "good news" paper. It only took a couple months to find out what happens. People stopped buying Tuesday.

In fact, the phenomenon is not limited to communication. Watch most parents with their children after school. When "As" and "Bs" become commonplace, it will take an "F" for parents to take an interest. You can tell how influenced your children are already by the daily news they share with you. If they always lead with bad news, there's a good chance you're subconsciously ignoring their praises.

Some of it is hardwired. In one perception experiment featured in the free app Color Uncovered, you're asked to stare at a circle gray circle with magenta dots. Eventually, the magenta dots disappear. Except, they don't really disappear. We just stop paying attention when stimulus is unchanging or expected.

How to stop hating and live with the #Fail. 

Try to remember that people are not predisposed to negative. They are predisposed to ignore the expected. And unfortunately, that gives negative a leg up on everything. If the school bus makes it to school, no one cares. If it gets in an accident, it might make national news.

It's also why we never mention an 'expected' meal at a restaurant (it has to be exceptional or slightly below expected to be mentioned), why people mostly stopped tweeting about having waffles for breakfast (and were even made fun of), why negative political advertising works (even though people claim to detest it), why the media still tend to follow the mantra "if it bleeds, it leads," and why some review sites are staked with an overabundance of "1s" and "5s."

I experience it all the time too. I praised Corning Incorporated for a well-executed video and nobody really cared (not even people who claim there is too much negativity in the space). But coverage of any given crisis will always attract eyeballs. More people remember those case studies too.

In fact, after hearing from Writing For Public Relations students (last year) that I might include more negative than positive case studies, I counted them. The positive case studies outweighed negative case studies 10 to 1. They just chose to remember the negatives.

There is nothing much you can do to change human nature, but there are a few things you can do.

• Find different ways to make things unexpected by avoiding patterns that are too perfect.
• Critique negative behaviors and actions rather than the individuals or organizations.
• Stop writing for traffic and stay focused on what might benefit people to know.
• Never take social media, or even people in general, too seriously. We're all less than perfect.

Personally, I think it all comes down to intent. If the attempt is to willfully look to the next victim, the #fail #fails. But if the intent is to share an abundance of relevant stories, good or bad, and turn them into teaching lessons so people avoid making the same mistakes, then it can be great. Just use your head.

And now I have to go and ask my daughter what happened today. She always leads with good news for me because I'm interested. How about you? Are you actively looking for good case studies? And can you tell the difference between positive criticism and negative criticism?

Wednesday, February 1

Finding The Truth: Social Media, Psychology, And You

Two psychological studies were published on Jan. 30, with the lead news outlets being the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Depending on which story someone reads it could have dramatically altered their opinion and their reality about teenagers and the Internet. See for yourself.

Study: Face Time Benefits Preteens, Wall Street Journal 

Lead. A new study finds that media multitasking can hurt social and emotional development in preteen girls. And the researchers found a simple remedy—face-to-face tasks.

Summation. Heavy digital multitasking and more time spent in front of screens correlated with poor emotional and social health — including low social confidence, having more friends who parents perceive as poor influences, and even sleeping less. Ergo, the Internet is evil.

Researchers. Clifford Nass, communications professor; and Roy Pea, an education professor. Both at Stanford University. The paper was published in Developmental Psychology.

Shareability. Extremely shareable. More than a dozen pickups by major and mid-tier media outlets, almost all of which ran with much more negative headlines than the Wall Street Journal. My personal favorite is that "Too much social networking makes girls less happy: Study." The story was shared moderately on social networks, heavily when considering total shares from multiple articles.

The Comments. About 124 comments, mostly agreeing with the negative conclusions (and a few argumentative). Most of them were based on parental observations.

Do You Have A Blog?, The New York Times

Lead. Research has shown that keeping a diary helps soothe teenage angst. Researchers are saying that keeping a blog is even better therapy for the overwhelmed teenager. 

Summation. After the teenagers in the study were broken into six groups, two groups were asked to write about social problems, two groups were asked to write about anything, two groups kept private diaries or did nothing. The greatest improvement in mood was exhibited by the first group, which wrote about social problems and allowed comments. Ergo, the Internet is good. 

Researchers. Meyran Boniel-Nissim, psychology professor; and Azy Barak, psychology professor. Both at the University of Haifa, Isreal. The paper was published by Psychological Services.

Shareability. Not very shareable, not even the original article. There were only three other publications to run the story. All of them positive. The most positive headline "Science proves blogging is therapeutic — at least for teenagers. The story was hardly shared, either version.  

The Comments. About 40 comments, mostly disagreeing with the story and "reportedly" suggested that the comments were written by youth. The net consensus, overall, was that the idea of publishing their social problems for strangers was creepy and, in general, that they (teens) were much too busy living their lives to worry about the Internet. 

The Net Summation Of Two News Stories And A Different Reality.

When you weigh all of the observations, you might come up with an all together different observation. (It's admittedly tongue in cheek, but amazingly accurate at the same time.) Enjoy.

Two non-psychologists conduct an anecdotal study that they admit is non-conclusive (but they provide a solution anyway) that is wildly believed by parents who spend all their time online worrying about their kids online. It spreads like wildfire. 

Meanwhile, two psychologists actually conduct a study with control groups and prove the opposite might be true, but the kids in question say they are too busy living their lives to engage in a practice they consider creepy. And nobody cares. 

There are plenty of takeaways and you are welcome to take your pick. News isn't as important as it is sensational. Popularity doesn't make something true. Stanford professors should stick to their fields. The parents are a bigger problem than the kids. If you think this is bad, you should see how the political coverage has been lately. And so on and so forth. 

Please feel free to invent your own takeaways in the comments. I would love to read them because sometimes you need to treat the death of objective journalism with a good laugh. Wakes are more fun than funerals, after all.

Monday, January 30

Thinking Big: Why Not The Moon?

Although many people laughed when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested the pursuit of a permanent moon base by 2020, and a rival candidate said he would fire an employee who came to him with such proposal, there is another question to be asked. Politics aside, why not the moon?

For many years, NASA has struggled with a public relations problem. In 2006, even NASA administrator Mike Griffin made the point that the agency's scientists and engineers are not very good at explaining to the public why what they do is important.

Interestingly enough, journalist Taylor Dinerman almost pinpointed one of several problems for the space agency. It cannot control what its employees say about the agency's programs and goals.

The reason I inserted an "almost" into the sentence is because it's not so much that it "cannot" control what its employees say. The real problem is that the employees have no centralized vision to follow. A return to the moon would give them that. A return to the moon might even enamor Americans with NASA again. And a return to the moon might give the United States a leadership position that doesn't involve globetrotting and nation building all over this world.

Thinking Big Is What Makes People Great. 

I don't mean the person who proposed it, but rather the people who will do it. And I don't just mean a revived space program, but rather any organization that dares to recast entire industries. There are dozens of examples, modern and historic, but even keeping the moon in focus can illustrate the point.

What could the benefits of going to the moon really mean? Almost anything you can dream up, and I don't just mean the idea that humans need to find a way off planet or one day face oblivion (a true argument, but one that most people cannot fathom). There are benefits to shoot for the moon.

• Economic Shift. We have reached a crossroads in that it is difficult to employ Americans in manufacturing for what people want Americans to earn, which is compounded by the fact that the public will not spend more for products to support higher salaries and better benefits. The lone exception is highly-skilled manufacturing jobs. A space program could help change the negative perception of highly-skilled manufacturing because it transforms factory workers into robotic technicians or rocket builders, people who earn the higher salaries and benefits Americans crave.

• Education Shift. We cannot go a few days without hearing how dismal the eduction system has become in America. The problem is three-fold. Students are not being taught critical thinking skills, have a difficult time connecting the dots between the subject matter and their futures, and don't always think pursuing an education will lead to anything worthwhile. A viable space program with a defined mission could renew interest in math, science, and engineering.

• Energy Shift. Most people agree that the United States needs to place an emphasis on sustainable energy. Unfortunately, most debates get mired down in polarized issues like climate change and never produce intelligent solutions. The prospect of a moon colony kills the debate. There would be no choice but to pursue technological advances such as solar energy or other energy sources we haven't dreamed up yet because people stationed on the moon would need it while people on Earth would benefit too.

• Agricultural Shift. You cannot look around the world and not notice that a majority of people on this planet do not have enough fresh water or food supplies. Whatever innovations would have to be dreamed up to build a sustainable moon colony would no doubt benefit people right here on planet Earth. At the same time, nutritionists and medical professionals would have to work even harder to understand the physiology of people and place a greater emphasis on prevention and cures as opposed to symptom-control via prescription medication.

• Attitude Shift. Many Americans have grown sensitive to risk aversion. People are increasingly voting for security over opportunity. People want high-yield retirement accounts with zero risk. They want jobs to employ them indefinitely, with the flexibility to leave companies anytime they choose. They want bulletproof medical care that extends life indefinitely, but the freedom to eat junk food in wildly impressive quantities. They want space programs to be accident free, but are willing to hold daily transportation to a much lower standard, provided they can drive 10 or 20 miles over the speed limit. A space program, particularly one as aggressive as a moon colony, might reinvigorate our spirit.

• Who Knows? There is really no way to know what the future of space might hold. But there are plenty of possibilities. Mining could produce any number of new materials that could fundamentally improve life on earth without gobbling up our resources. Space tourism could finally become a viable industry, giving people a destination that is as brilliant as visiting another part of the world used to be in the 1900s. And much like previous space programs did for five decades, all of it comes with benefits that will outlast the initial return on investment.

Right now, the United States is not the only country on the planet setting its sights on the moon and beyond. In fact, we may be the only country that has shrugged off its own program without having a viable alternative beyond hitching a ride on the technological achievements of other nations.

Such a course of retreat cannot last or else the nation will languish in its own abandoned destiny. The benefits and advancements of science, technology, engineering, and knowledge by pursing a space program that places us on the moon and then beyond the moon is by far the most important undertaking this country could revive, reinvent, and remain in the lead with peaceful intent and empowered purpose.

While I have no sense of what candidate (or incumbent) I will vote for in the coming elections, I do vote to go to the moon. I vote to go to the moon because throughout history, this world is made better by companies, organizations, and nations of people who dreamed, dared, and did as opposed to those who have rested, have retreated, and have long been forgotten.

It is the very pursuit of the improbable that makes things possible. It is a singular overarching purpose that could correct the decades-long lackluster public relations program at NASA. And it is pursuit of space exploration that could be the catalyst this country needs to push itself out its current stalemate.
 

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