What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

I got my first cell phone in 1991 when I went to work for Northwest Airlines. It was about the size of a half-thick brick with a semi-flexible antenna that doubled its length. It was also about half brick weight and was good for one thing only - analog voice communications - but only when in range of the then-spotty cell network and only if you were close to its charging stand since the battery life was measured in minutes. It was insecure, low-fidelity, prone to dropped calls and it was a godsend to me.

Over the ensuing 27 (!) years, I've probably owned at least 30 phones. I've owned the aforementioned bricks, candy bars, flips, sliders and more. I've owned Motorola, LG, Nokia, Samsung and - for the last decade - Apple. They've gotten smaller, bigger, flatter, thicker, lighter, heavier, gone from monochrome to grayscale to 16-bit color to billions of colors.

And along the way the functionality of what my phone can do has grown. With just my phone, I can do my job, entertain myself, read my email, browse the internet, manage my finances, deposit checks, control the lights in my house, open and close my garage door, change the channel on my TV. I can read a book, watch a movie, order groceries, check the security camera on my front door, identify the stars and track satellites in orbit. I can take broadcast-quality photos and videos, live-stream events from almost anywhere on Earth, play a limitless library of music, check the weather, track a plane, buy a ticket or a car and more.

All this has happened in less than half of my lifetime. And, unlike other eras, when godlike powers were available to only a tiny elite, cell phone technology is widely available. It's so common, in fact, that we take it for granted that we can do all of these things from pretty much everywhere.

Amazing.

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What’s Changed…And What Hasn’t

Anyone who's checked out my Tweets, Facebook or LinkedIn feeds knows that I was both dumbfounded and disappointed by the election results. I still don't have a definitive answer as to why so many of my fellow citizens saw the race - and the candidates - so differently than me. I don't believe those who claim it's a tidal wave of racism, misogyny and xenophobia, that it was fake news, Jim Comey, Russian hacking and the useful idiocy of Wikileaks, the weakness of Secretary Clinton as a candidate or a failed turnout operation...but I think all of those factors played a role in the outcome. I do think many of us - including me - underestimated the depth of anger and unhappiness in the electorate, the belief that "this isn't working" for individuals, families and communities. I know I also grossly underestimated how many of those voters felt strongly enough about the need for change to see a better choice in Mr. Trump or to conclude, "At least it'll be something different."

There's a lot of gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair and clothes about what the election signifies for the practice of communications. Does Mr. Trump's success - despite his documented lack of truthfulness and accuracy - suggest that facts and words no longer matter? Is consistency overrated, transparency no longer desired? Do people want leaders who tell them what they want to hear instead of what's really going on?

I persist in believing that the answers to these questions are all "No." I believe people - whether they are employees, shareholders, customers, neighbors or another stakeholder - want what they've always wanted in terms of communications:

  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Information

These qualities are particularly important when the topic under discussion is people's lives, jobs, families, communities. Honest, empathic, accurate communications lets people understand how a situation affects them, what their options are and why something is happening. We want these sorts of communications from our employers, from our elected officials, from our regulators, from powerful corporate interests and from upstart activists standing in the streets.

This standard, by the way, leaves plenty of space for advocacy and principled disagreement. I believe our society really does subscribe to the notion - popularized by Senator Daniel Moynihan - that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.

But, honest communications are effective only if those on the receiving end know the difference between honest communications and those that fall short of that standard. That means all of us need to do a better job in being informed consumers of communications. We need to check, double check and maybe check again sources, data and motivations. We need to ask questions. We need to get out of our information bubbles and to listen to other points of view.

Interestingly, those responsibilities have become tougher - and more important - in the Internet era. What was once heralded as the great leveler in terms of access to information, audiences and knowledge has also become the single greatest delivery system for misinformation ever invented. The long-term view suggests that we'll adapt to this new world and develop better immune systems, but the short-term view is decidedly more mixed.

May you live in interesting times.

 

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Where’s My Jetpack?

And my flying car?  How about strong artificial intelligence and our home atomic pile?  Meals in a pill? Robots?

And don't even get me started about faster-than-light travel or commercialized space travel across the solar system.

The fact is that despite all of the really cool things technology has brought us, it still falls short in many ways with what was imagined in the 1950s and '60s.  As a kid who grew up reading Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke, I'm sorely disappointed that none of the things that seemed around the corner in my youth have come to pass.

What advances are you still waiting/hoping for?

- Austin

 

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“Thank you, Chief Justice Roberts”

Come January 20, 2013 I expect Barack Obama to be sworn in for his second term. After Chief Justice Roberts administers the oath of office, it's likely he and the President will shake hands. At that moment, I expect the President to pull the Chief Justice close so that he can speak directly and privately to him:

"Thank you."

Chief Justice Robert's vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) all but ensures that President Obama will be re-elected come November. For many undecideds, the Supremes' stamp of approval legitimizes the law and - with it - Obama's administration. That approval, coupled with the lingering lack of enthusiasm for Willard Mitt Romney, will be enough to ovecome even the millions and millions of dollars that the conservative super PACs are raising and threatening to spend. It won't be a walk, but it won't be a nailbiter either.

Expect to see the following: 1) widening gaps in swing state polls of likely voters and 2) super PACs withholding expenditures (even while they continue to raise money by promising to beat Obama).

Yes, I know it's a long way to November and anything can happen. That said, barring an unexpected event, the general landscape of this election is set. And, I think, it's over.

What do you think?

- Austin

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“Who’s Your Daddy Now?”

I don't know why but ever since I saw Mr. & Mrs. Smith, I've loved that line.

Other great lines from movies:

What's yours?

- Austin

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