The week between Christmas and New Year's has become one of my favorite times of the year. I'm off work with nothing really to do but eat and read. I guess the only downside is that no one creates new content during this week, so I'm either watching movies on the T.V. (I think we've watched like ten in the past few days) or scouring the interwebs for interesting things to read. One of my go-to sources over the past couple of years has been the social news website reddit. I daily view the site to discover what's popular on the internet. While some of the content is inappropriate, it still provides the easiest means to gauge public perception (I used to frequent reddit's rival digg.com, but the owners sold out to advertisers and their readership summarily plummeted). Users on reddit submit articles, and then people post their comments. The articles range plain silly to political, but there's always something there I can use at a later date. Yesterday on reddit, however, I witnessed what I view to be a perfect summation on how technology has transformed our world.
I'll attempt to retell the story sans geekiness: A small company manufactures a special kind of video game controller that disabled kids can use. As few inventors have the business savvy to distribute their product, the guy who made this controller outsourced his marketing to a third party. They took preorders on the controllers before Christmas, but were having problems getting the manufactured product shipped in from China. One of the guys who ordered the controller emailed the marketing company about the shipping delay and the guy who responded was thoroughly unprofessional in his responses. The marketing guy tried bullying the customer, name-dropped some people and, when an actual gaming website became involved, escalated the insults which were eventually all published online (click here to track through the exchange).
Within hours, an internet witch hunt had commenced. And within 24 hours, the guy had become a pariah. He's sought out other major gaming websites to tell his side of the story but in all likely-hood, when a potential client or company Googles him, this incident will define him as long as he lives.
I find all of this fascinating. On Monday morning, this guy woke up without a care in the world. By Tuesday night, he was known by millions around the world for being a first-class jerk. And there's likely little he can do to change things. At the very least, we can learn something from this tale.
1. We leave a digital trail. I recently read the following remark online: "[On] Facebook I feel as if I have to reserve myself, I hate to think twice before I post something. But on tumblr I feel as if I can post whatever without thinking twice." I'm not sure if this person thinks there's multiple internets where some things are more private than others, but the reality is whatever you post is there forever. Since I've had this blog for seven years now, I've always been mindful of this. Even an email could come back to haunt you.
As a result, we need to be incredibly judicial about what we say digitally. Another of the things I accomplished on vacation was switching over to Facebook's new timeline feature. It makes it easier than ever to look at what I've posted online over the past five years. I can fully understand why some people find this scary; you might be embarrassed now by things posted in the days of your youth. But it's there regardless. So think before you hit "send" or "post." It could save your future.
By the way, one of this marketer's typos has now become an internet meme. So when you read, "I wwebsite as on the internet," it's in reference to this story. I guess another lesson is that proofreading never hurts.
2. How you treat the least of these is important. The marketer's rudness towards the customer In the email exchange is what started this avalanche. And he maintained this posture when talking to a major video game webmaster, treating him like crap. This marketer had internally designated people into two camps: those that matter and those that don't. Here he severely miscalculated because, in the era of the world wide web, the powerless can easily muster an army. Even bullies hate to see someone getting bullied (well, at least by someone else), so people rally to the cause of justice. Again, the way this blew up on the web has the potential to frighten people but I'm actually encouraged. You should always treat people with the dignity and respect, as if the world is watching; in today's culture, they very well could be.
3. Culture is moving faster than ever. This isn't directly related to this story but needs to be stated. I wrote this post after explaining this story to my wife. How hilarious is it that I spent a couple of minutes talking about an email argument between two men over a video game controller? This episode won't shape world events, but it's relevant now. And such is the quick pace of culture in today's world.
Attention spans will continue to shrink as we move on to the next big news item or band or trend. It will be impossible to have the universal relevance that helped shape popular culture in the 20th century. So if you're attempting to reach out to people with your idea or product, you have to continually reapproach what you're doing; what you tried fifteen minutes ago is already dated. This will make it even more difficult for those concretely linked to certain methodologies. The future belongs to the fluid.
In short, be nice to people. Your future may depend on it.