30 September 2009

X-er Meme: Sell Out? Who, Me?

Since what I'm reading this week mostly comes down to the responses to the "Has Gen X Sold Out?" meme Maddie started (impetus provided by Jeff), and I've been tagged by both Maddie and KiKi, I'm letting the meme take over this week's blog round up.

In their answers, JNott redefines the question as "how do you keep your edge?" and Matt provides a Wikipedia-approved definition of "selling out" to guide us:

"Selling out" refers to the compromising of one's integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, 'success' (however defined) or other personal gain.

Meanwhile, Lindy's just finding her edge (and likes it just fine, thank you very much), Maggie admits that maybe she has sold out, at least in her blogging, and Lynn gives us Xers some big props (thanks Lynn!).

But I think the real question is: would your early 20-something self recognize your thirty (mumble mumble) self? More importantly, would she like and respect her?

Salon.com recently reviewed the current season of Mad Men. The article included a quote I find incredibly relevant to this discussion:

The beliefs we hold most sacred, the ideas that define our identities, more often than not boil down to trends. It might take a few decades, but one day we inevitably wake up and notice that a big percentage of the individuals in our demographic were also smoking, dabbling in Buddhism, using formula, spanking their kids with a wooden spoon, getting divorced in middle age, reading Dr. Spock, becoming vegan, you name it. The very choices that feel fundamental to us are the ones that look almost hilariously clich├ęd and goofy in retrospect.

Would my grad school self recognize me now? What would she think? Can someone who lives a comfortable life still have an edge, or does driving a BMW automatically indicate that one has, in fact, become The Man?

I've always loved music and writing, but I'm also a pretty hard-headed realist. I made the dry-eyed assessment as an 18 year old high school senior that I lacked the talent to pursue a career in music, and I was wise enough to know that, while living in a hovel putting My Own Big Thoughts to paper sounds Terribly, Terribly Important, that would get VERY old in a hurry. Listen, there's no nobility in poverty. I've been there, and it wasn't fun. I think distance - and not having to worry about affording *both* groceries *and* the electric bill this month - allows us to romanticize how cool we all used to be back when two of our major food groups were ramen and store-brand peanut butter.

One of my dear friends and I recently met for drinks and were chatting about previous hard times in our lives, and, more importantly, getting through them. (She? Was a 35 year old single mother working full time in a low-paying, stressful job while going to law school at night AND putting her son through an Ivy League college. Me? Full time grad student with no funding, a brainless part time minimum-wage job, and a spouse working full time plus as much overtime as they'd give him also at minimum wage just so we could afford the aforementioned ramen and peanut butter.)

When I bailed out on grad school with the Master's, rather than continuing to the Ph.D., my happy and totally unrealistic fantasies of teaching political theory at a liberal arts school in some lovely, leafy college town evaporated, leaving confusion and disillusionment in their place. I literally didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My bookshelf is still littered with tomes from that time - books about the writing life, about how to make a living while doing good, about how to figure out My Purpose, etc. While sipping our martinis, I mused aloud to my friend that things really have turned out far better than I'd even dreamed - I live in one of the most interesting, beautiful cities in the world, doing work that I enjoy and that Does Good In The World, and I get to write here (and here) as often as I want, and some people even read it! On a regular basis!

Would Birkenstocked, hippie-style, vegetarian, no makeup, protest folk-music listening (often very rigid and self-righteous) me be pleased with ALL the choices I've made? No, she would definitely disapprove of at least some of them. But that kind of single-mindedness eventually becomes exhausting. I've definitely mellowed, and I don't think that's necessarily such a bad thing. (And I know grad school me would definitely appreciate the fact that 2009 me could be counted on to pick up the tab!)

My also-Gen-X spouse has recently been thinking along similar lines, too: what am I doing with my life? Am I creating anything that has lasting meaning? In other words: we're starting to hit the mid-life (scary thought!) re-evaluation, right on schedule. Of course, we'll bring different values to it than our parents (more Wikipedia):
Nomads [Strauss & Howe] are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They grow up as the underprotected children of an Awakening, come of age as the alienated young adults of an Unraveling, become the pragmatic, midlife leaders of a Crisis and age into tough, post-crisis elders during a High.
Sounds about right. We're moving from "alienated" to "pragmatic." Does that mean we can no longer be a force for change? Hell, no. But these days, it's a lot less about being artistic slackers in thrift-shop grunge flipping off the world, and a lot more about being fiercely independent entrepreneurs trying to build something that has some roots and staying power. And if that brings with it the disposable income to donate to some favorite causes *and* afford a nice pair of shoes or two, I'm not going to complain.

29 September 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Blog Action Day is coming! It's set for October 15 this year, and the topic is climate change.

Register your blog to participate.

28 September 2009

Always the Last to Know - Protovis

Want to make REALLY cool graphs and charts, but lack the programming knowledge to do more than futz around the edges of Excel? Check out Protovis, and wow them in your next presentation/report.

25 September 2009

Friday Top 5

Did you know that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month? (OK, really it was just September 2007 according to Congress, but I see that as no impediment to honoring it as such EVERY year.) And although the month is nearly over, there's still time to celebrate. Top 5 Fun Facts About Bourbon:
  1. Bourbon is, of course, named for Bourbon County in Kentucky. Bourbon County is a wet county, although the majority of counties in Kentucky are dry.
  2. In order for a whiskey to be classified as bourbon, its mash must (by US law) be made of at least 51% corn, which is part of what provides its distinctive sweet notes.
  3. Bourbon distillers only get one shot - bourbon must, by law, be distilled to 160 proof and can have no additives after distilling and aging other than water, which is used to adjust the proof. Whiskeys like Jack Daniels can only be called "bourbon-style" not because of where they're made (bourbon, unlike champagne and tequila, is defined by the process of distillation, not the location), but because they do include additives.
  4. Typical proofs for bourbon at bottling run around 80-100, although George T. Stagg bourbon, distilled at Buffalo Trace, can run over 140 proof at bottling. Its nickname? HazMat (because it's illegal to transport on airplanes due to its high alcohol content and concurrent high flammability). The alcohol that evaporates during distilling creating proof levels is called the angel's share.
  5. Many people know that scotch and bourbon are closely related spirits. But did you know how close? Law dictates that bourbon must be aged in NEW oak barrels. Where do all those barrels go, once they've served their single term in bourbon distilleries? Many go over to the UK, where they are re-used in the scotch aging process.
Get out there this weekend and raise a bourbon cocktail in honor of our national spirit!

24 September 2009

Always the Last to Know - JAJAH @Call

Got something short to say (under 2 minutes)? Know the person's Twitter handle, but not her phone number? JAJAH @Call can hook you up - literally.

23 September 2009

What I'm Reading

  • John Haydon on why traditional marketing execs want social media plans to fail.
  • Andy Sernovitz reminds us all to calm down and breathe.
  • An interesting take on the health care reform debate from the small business perspective.
  • Forget "innovation" - think awesomeness. (Thanks to JNott for the link.)
  • Guy Kawasaki on using Evernote. I've got it and learning how to use it is on my perpetual "to do" list - maybe this will spur my own interest in learning a new piece of software.
  • The FCC endorses net neutrality. FINALLY! (This has been a pet issue for me since my days at CoSN).
  • Still working my way through the latest issue of Technology Review (the annual TR35), Julia Child's My Life in France, and Groundswell. It's a good thing I have some business travel coming up - maybe I can get through a few of these!

22 September 2009

Great American Dine Out

Apparently, it is all about the change blogging on T4P this week. Got a free evening between now and September 26 (this coming Saturday)? Participate in Share Our Strength's Great American Dine Out to help stamp out childhood hunger.

The web site lets you plug in your desired ZIP code, and it shows you all the places that are participating. They range from low price (California Tortilla) to really fine dining, so you can find something to match every taste and budget.

Myself? Planning to hit Hank's Oyster Bar tonight before seeing Moonlight at Studio Theater (assuming I can get a table since they don't take reservations), then the spouse & I have reservations at Art & Soul Friday night. Didn't particularly care about Chef Art's Oprah connection, but I became *far* more interested in checking out his place after his showing on Top Chef Masters.

Eat good - do good!

What I'm Watching

Paul Simon talks with NACHRI VP Jackson Bain about the importance of remembering kids' needs in health care reform:

Want to add your voice to the debate? Check out Speak Now For Kids.

21 September 2009

World Car-Free Day

The annual World Car-Free Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, September 22. How do you plan to observe it? Can you commute to work by other means? Can you telecommute? Can you run some errands on foot rather than in your car? Is it time to dust off your bike, your roller skates, or your walking shoes?

Post your plans in the comments section.

Is Reading REALLY Fundamental?

One in 7 US adults is functionally illiterate. The percentage is even higher in DC - it's estimated that 20% of adult DC residents are functionally illiterate. Literacy affects health care, employment, immigration and a host of other quality of life issues.

Join the Adult Literacy Resource Center at the DC Public Library (in partnership with DC LEARNs) on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW in the Great Hall to learn more about adult illiteracy and what you can do to help.

More details, including a video, are available here.


18 September 2009

Friday Top 5

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 19, is the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup. Top 5 Facts about Ocean Debris:
  1. The number one source of ocean debris? Cigarettes and filters. Attention, smokers! Contrary to popular belief, the world is not your ashtray!
  2. Number two? Plastic bags. Get yourself some Chico reusable bags - what are you waiting for?
  3. Number one marine animal entangled in debris? Fish.
  4. Number one source of marine debris? Recreation and other shoreline activities. Haven't you people ever heard of "take only pictures - leave only footprints"?
  5. The total weigh of garbage collected world-wide = the weight of 18 blue whales.
(all facts from OC's site)

Not doing anything tomorrow morning? It's still not too late to register, and it's a world-wide event, so ANYONE can participate. If you're in DC, look for me and the spouse at the Anacostia site.

17 September 2009

NTEN social media web conference

I can't participate, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Wednesday, September 23 from 10 am - 1 pm EDT, NTEN will host

Develop Your Social Media Strategy with NTEN (Choose Your Own Adventure Style)

Beth Kanter will keynote, then participants will get to choose from 1 of 4 tracks:

It's cheap and you don't have to leave your office.

For more info or to register, check out the NTEN We Are Media site.

16 September 2009

What I'm Reading

  • "Wicked Easy" WOM techniques. What are you waiting for?
  • NACHRI's 501(c)6 sister advocacy organization, N.A.C.H., got a nice profile in National Journal, focusing on remembering the needs of kids in health care reform.
  • Why "Dirty Dancing" is the best girl movie ever. RIP, Patrick Swayze. You're one of the reasons I learned to dance, and you will be fondly remembered.
  • ReadWriteWeb's Top 5 web trends of 2009 (don't these things usually come out at the end of the year?).
  • Seth Godin dings nonprofits for lacking innovation in social media, and Cause Wired fires right back. Personally, I think Godin is right that many nps are change-averse, but I think he overstates his case and ignores the fact that many FOR profits are change-averse too. I totally agree with his final point: "The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear." But I would expand that to fear of ANYTHING. Be bold. Take risks.
  • Still savoring Julia Child's My Life in France.
  • Still plugging through Groundswell during my lunch hours. I think I may have read this book too late, as so much of it feels like review.
  • Like football? Check out Chicks in the Huddle this week - me (the Eagles chick) and the Saints chick throwdown over Sunday's matchup.

15 September 2009

Always the Last to Know - ReadTwit

Having trouble keeping track of all the interesting links that come into your Twitter feed? Having trouble figuring out which ones MIGHT be interesting (and which are NSFW) from all those shortened URLs? Sick of clicking on the same, albeit good, link 27 times because of the RTs? ReadTwit can hook you up - links are de-duped, expanded, and scraped into your existing RSS feed.

14 September 2009

ISO Chief Commuity Officer

I've been pondering the idea of where social media does/should live in the organization lately.

Pizza Hut, as we all know, had decided that an intern would fit the bill for them just fine - and (according to Idealware) they're not the only ones (although Social Media Answers does NOT recommend the practice).

A lot of associations seem to be operating in the middle management space (as a matter of fact, Maddie Grant has an article coming out soon for Associations Now in which she'll be interviewing a few of these folks).

And Maggie McGary references Jim Durbin in wondering if social media manager = career suicide. I quote: "A social media doer is not a position with career advancement." (She's also expressed misgivings about this before.)

I think we're focusing on the wrong level. I think associations in particular given our role in creating and supporting community in our professions/industries need to elevate our thinking on this topic. I think sssociations need a C-suite executive - a Chief Community Officer - to take charge of all community building initiatives. This is too important and too central to what we're supposed to be all about to leave it to some $10/hour intern or to a middle manager who doesn't have much actual power or authority.

So what would a Chief Community Officer look like and do?
  • A CCO would need to know both old and new media and how they relate to, compete with, and support each other. Engagement requires both.
  • A CCO would need to be a visionary, strategic thinker, because, as Groundswell documents, the best uses of new media are those that see the potential inherent in the technologies and platforms to support whole new kinds of participation.
  • A CCO would need to be able to identify clear goals that may not have a direct financial measure, be able to discern what data is relevant to track, and understand how to measure and report it to assess the success of the interaction of old and new media efforts.
  • A CCO would need to be conversant in the technologies and geeky enough to find "this stuff" interesting and useful enough to stay up to date.
  • A CCO would need to be someone who can talk to everyone, sit at all the relevant tables, and muster the troops, because this involves all departments in an organization.
So what do you think? Have I lost my mind? What did I miss?

11 September 2009

Friday Top 5

I'll be out of town (part of) this weekend, but if you won't and you need something to help chase away your end of summer blues - Top 5 Things to Do Around DC this weekend:
  1. Opera in the outfield - Saturday night the Washington National Opera will simulcast Barber of Seville for FREE at Nats Park.
  2. Wine, cheese, and chocolate tasting -Saturday afternoon, the Bean Creative crew is hosting a benefit for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Chinatown.
  3. DC Shorts Film Festival - 6th annual short film fest kicked off last night, but there are still plenty of films to enjoy through the weekend and into next week.
  4. The weather Saturday and Sunday is supposed to be great - partly sunny and upper 70s. Get outside and enjoy your local farmer's market, the National Mall, or one of DC's fantastic multi-use trails.
  5. Jazz in the Sculpture Garden - there's still time to hit the FINAL free performance of the 2009 season, featuring jazz pianist Robert Redd and the US Navy Commodores.
And if all else fails, get yourself to your favorite sports bar on Sunday (or to my living room) to watch the first Sunday of the 2009 NFL Season!

10 September 2009

Going to the Twestival

And I CAN take you!

Not doing anything tonight? Join a bunch of cool tweeps at Midtown LOFT for a fun tweetup benefiting Miriam's Kitchen. $20 ($10 if you participated in Gov 2.0) gets you access to interesting people, food & bev, and that warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing something to support a good cause.

For more info, check out the DC Twestival site.

09 September 2009

What I'm Reading

  • ReadWriteWeb reviews the new TweetDeck and finds much to love. When can I download this again?
  • The manuals for my cool new tablet PC (office use - I'm still loving on my Mac Air at home). I'm totally impressed at how quickly it's learning my handwriting, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, seeing as half the time I can't read my handwriting.
  • Acronym weighs in on the (possible) death of the membership model. What do you think? Membership model: dying or not. Discuss.
  • JNott on knowing the right thing to do versus doing the right thing (and why we often seem to get them confused).
  • My Life in France by Julia Child. Really makes you wish you had known Paul & Julia Child - they seem like wonderful people.
  • LOTS of football blogs. The 2009 season starts tomorrow, yo! Sometimes I wonder how I survive the February - September period every year.
Edited 9/9 at 4:23 pm to add: Also check out 24 Hours in the ER, a recent piece from USA Today (ye gods! I'm recommending reading NewsLite!) for an interesting take on some of the issues surrounding health care reform.

08 September 2009

Great quote for a rainy Tuesday

“Don’t let your imagination and enthusiasm be dampened by organizational politics or institutional caution.”

This is from a white paper on guerrilla social media strategy by Colin McKay (shout out to Mads for the link), but I think it's applicable FAR outside social media strategy. Every organization has institutional resistance to change. EVERY organization. In some places, it's greater than in others. But every organization has at least one person who fears change. And most have a LOT more than one. If you are the change agent in your organization (and the fact that you're reading this means there's a better than average chance you are), don't let the forces of "we have always done it that way" steal your thunder.

So Fellow Change Agents, how to you keep your spark in the face of "no"?

04 September 2009

Friday Top 5

The end of summer is a bittersweet time for most of us, so let's concentrate on the sweet for a minute. Top 5 Good Things about the End of Summer:
  1. Nice cool nights = "good sleeping weather" (one of my mom's favorite phrases)
  2. Life in DC picks back up after the sleepy August recess period (bad part is the return of traffic - good part is the return of interesting stuff like the Oyster Riot and local theater seasons)
  3. Annual pilgrimage to Charlottesville to visit grad school friends
  4. Getting to switch to my cool weather wardrobe just as I'm getting bored of my hot weather wardrobe
  5. Football season starts!
Here's hoping you have a great holiday weekend and return to work refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges that await you this fall!

03 September 2009

Tire Swing

02 September 2009

What I'm Reading

  • The new issue of Technology Review that just showed up - it's the annual TR35 issue, about innovators under 35, which always both blows me away and makes me feel like a big slacker.
  • Still plugging through Groundswell, and really proud of the fact that I had figured out everything they recommend for wiki success on my own :)
  • The amazing N.A.C.H side-by-side comparison of the health care reform bills. It is, sadly, member restricted, but if you really want to review it, drop me an email at ewengel at yahoo dot com, and I'll see what I can do for you.
  • The awesomesauce that is Snow Leopard. Can't wait to get it on my Mac, yo!
  • Jared's reflections on his recent trip to Barcelona, and how Americans are starved for - and starve each other of - affection.
  • The Hourglass Blog on "Generation Jones." Hm - between narcissistic flower child, "Generation Jones," and cynical loner, I'm going with cynical loner. But maybe that's just me.
  • 10 Reasons I'm NOT Following You on Twitter (don't be that guy) and 10 Reasons I AM Following You on Twitter (do be this guy). Thanks to Mads for the links.
  • Jamie summarizes his first year as CEO and, as usual, it's both pithy and wise.
  • And I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I think the worst moment in the entire series has to be when Dobby's killed.

01 September 2009

"I don't care about your personal brand."

I've been sitting on this quote from Aaron Brazell (@technosailor) since BlogPotomac back in June.

A few thoughts about branding:

NACHRI is currently going through a major branding initiative - consultants, fonts, colors, phrases, brand book, the whole nine yards. But, as Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff remind us:
Marketers tell us they define and manage brands. Some spend millions, or hundreds of millions, of dollars on advertising. They carefully extend brand names, putting Scope on a tube of toothpaste to see what happens. We bought this brand, they say. We spent on it. We own it.


Your brand is whatever the customers say it is.
Groundswell, p. 78

Which of course leaves me with a lot of questions about branding consultants, the number one being: Are they even providing a useful service? If they're helping an organization IDENTIFY what their constituents think about the organization, great. If they're helping an organization figure out what they can do to help their constituents think better of them, great. If they're trying to tell you what your brand should be, um, not great. I came into the process here too late to be able to tell which one our consultants did, but I sure hope it's option 1 or 2.

But the larger point is that I think "brand" is too constructed a concept for people. A company has a brand. A person has a reputation. And it's the sum total of who you are. Ever seen those Facebook pages that show NO personality? Guaranteed that's someone who's decided anything other than 100% professional information is bad for his "brand." You know what else is bad for your "brand"? Coming across as a cardboard cut-out.

Furthermore, in an era where we're all trying to become stars in the social media firmament, personal brand starts to eclipse corporate brand. Not to name names, but there's a car company that rhymes with Mord that has a socmed star on staff. What happens if/when he leaves? Whose "brand" suffers? I'm just guessing, but probably Mord's.

I'm not sure what the answer is, so I suggest you read Maddie on it here, here, or here, and then tell me what you think.

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