The Conditioners: When Technology Starts Dictating “Morality”

In The Abolition of Man, C. S.  Lewis refers to the “Conditioners.”  By invoking this term,  he is defining people who have some degree of power in various organizations who use subtle techniques to get others,  those they consider “lesser” than themselves (usually in intelligence) , to do what they want them to do.   We might call them subtle “mind-bullies”.  He writes in The Abolition of Man that  “the Conditioners,” [are] men “who have stepped outside the Tao [natural law that is common to all cultures]  and into the void [where they can make other men subject to them, viewing them as ] not men at all; they are artifacts” (p. 37). – C.S. Lewis – from The Abolition of Man

Today I came across some startling news affecting the social media community of the small business world and small non-profit on both Tech Crunch and Brian Carter’s site.   Facebook is making a change – not startling news.  But what they are dictating that users can and can not do is startling, if you get past the subtlety of it and see it for what it is.

I posted about it on my own Facebook wall and I’m going to include it here where – hopefully – it will remain for serious future consideration as we watch the ongoing subtle “conditioning”:

‘Well, it looks like Facebook is following the same defection Google has from its former “Don’t be evil” mission statement. It appears that for businesses and orgs using Facebook Fan pages, the point of bringing your web page to Facebook is now gone (No more Fangates). Its now about bringing Facebook (the like box) to your Website. So its more about Facebook branding you rather than you branding Facebook now. And its about forcing owners to buy Facebook Ads.

“Covers may not display calls to action or references to Facebook features such as “Like this Page”, purchase or pricing info such as “40% off” or “Download at our website”, or contact information such as web address. Rajaram says “brandshave been very positive [about the restrictions] because they don’t want to be seen as overly promotional — it’s a turnoff. Pick a visually stunning, high-resolution image that will delight or intrigue visitors and make them want to scroll down to your updates.” (Tech Crunch)

Bottom line: We all know businesses sell. That’s the point of their existence. But Facebook is now going to tell you HOW to do it and enforce that you do so that you can appear to be more “moral” about it. If that doesn’t sound like conditioning, I don’t know what does.

I would like to ask Rajarum: Which brands have been positive over these changes? I wasn’t asked. People I know who run small orgs, small non-profits  and small businesses on Facebook weren’t asked. Because every trade eMag I read, including Mashable, has posted articles indicating the stats as overwhelmingly against Facebook Timeline in regards to Profiles. That would indicate that pushing Timeline to Fan Pages would not be a good idea.’

I had an immediate response to my wall post from a small business owner on Facebook and this is what she had to say:

This hasn’t been the first time this issue of subtle conditioning from orgs like Facebook and Google has been broadcast over the ether…and I doubt it will be the last.  Only a few days ago, another article appeared in connection, this particular time, with Facebook Timelines regarding how one is to post on Facebook if one wants to increase the odds of getting a job.  These are not digital rantings from singular folk with an “axe to grind”.  This is an example of advice from a respected trade in technology.  But notice the subtle conditioning again.

I wrote about that and some responses I got to my comments on a Friend’s wall on Facebook in another blog where I will be dealing with why this subtle conditioning of how we think and perceive what is moral and what isn’t is happening and how you can recognize it.

Technology is a very useful thing.  It makes a lot of the jobs and activities we do a bit easier and faster.  But as will all things, it can be used for good…or for evil.  And when its the latter, the worst kind of use is the subtle kind.  Because you don’t usually see the damage until you are hip deep in it.

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The Anatomy of a Meme: What Goes Viral?

“Making things go viral on the Internet is an elusive art…” according to an article run on Tech Crunch in August of 2010.  I would still have to agree with that.  I’d even use the term “magic” for attempting to make something go viral without incorporating what John Peretti suggests are the 5 Rules For How To Make Things Go Viral.   With the release a few months back of Facebook’s “Insights” more and more netizens are aware of a new definition of what gets our attention: “virality” – Facebook posts that go “viral” with some percentage of that being quantified.

So what makes something go viral?  What is it that grabs our attention AND gets our friends’ attention (Reed’s Law or the Social Media Effect) as well?  The something is a meme and how it propagates so quickly on the Internet I think is best understood by qualifying what kind of things make a meme go viral.  What is the anatomy of a meme?

Having a client drive me to give a clearer definition of this “elusive art” and talking that over with a friend who suggested the title of this article after looking at my categories, I decided to write this post.  And as I promised, attribution for the title idea goes to my friend and fellow geek, Jeremy Hodges, former graphic artist now evangelist living deep in the heart of TX.

So without further ado and much hope that these insights will prove helpful in your understanding of what goes viral, here is my list.

Things that go viral (true viral memes) fall somewhere under these categories:

  • the unexpected (ex: great but unexpected performances from previous unknowns like Susan Boyle at 48 and (then) frumpy (and what’s wrong with that, I ask?!) singing like a Broadway star in a jaw-dropping performance. Ted Williams, the homeless man with the “Million dollar voice” was another “unexpected” )
  • the super hilarious (slapstick and the uber-cute, political parodies, etc. Ex: Medieval Help Desk  )
  • rubber-neck accidents and atrocities (ex: the little chinese girl  who gets run over  twice and is passed by 18 people who do nothing to help her. This is a category where a news story gets run by several different content producers which defines it as viral)
  • anything in the OMG category: horrendously bad singers and performances, famous people trying to get attention doing the outrageous, the disgusting etc. Ex: Chris Crocker’s ‘Leave Britany Alone‘  Disclaimer: Vulgar language)
  • the RickRoll effect: self-explanatory (google it)
  • the educationally mind-blowing (ex: the ever-popular and once prophetic “Shift Happens” More recently, the Known Universe)
  • the “gifted” ( can be great but not necessarily great ( perceived as great is often good enough)  – the latest releases from pop and rock stars come under this one)
Some I have not listed here because they come under the category of  Peretti’s “Big Seed Marketing” (Rule #3).   These would include movie campaigns and the like that are paid for.
What makes a meme go truly viral?  With the above categories in mind, maybe you can grab that elusive quality!

New BuddyPress Plugin: Better Membership Directories

Telegistic today reported on the new BuddyPress plugin being developed for the  CUNY Academic Commons.  This is exciting news for educators who are building and developing self-sustainable LMS apart from what their universities provide through what used to be called Global Learning Systems (GLS) such as OnCourse, BlackBoard and Angel.   It’s also a boon to  those who believe in the democratized education movement and see  BuddyPress along with ScholarPress as coming a long way in filling the customization gap that instructors need.

The new BuddyPress plugin is only in Beta right now so its not recommended for general public use just yet.

I’ll be discussing more of the newer ScholarPress/BuddyPress goodies  and what you can do with them to deliver a customized course experience in an upcoming post.

The GMail Man and More From Two Gmail Users Just Trying To Understand

This morning my friend, Alex Conner,  a programmer at nFrame in Indianapolis,  sent me a link to the Mashable article about the Gmail Man.  I wondered for just a moment why I was getting this link first thing in the morning, well, first thing in my morning which begins a bit later than I’d like.  But then our background on the subject hit me: our ongoing conversation about switching  from GoogleApps to Microsoft 365.   A lot of people I know have been having the same conversation in light of a number of sub rosa activities being implemented by Google against certain groups they don’t like.  It does get people a little nervous and thinking a little bit more about their future with Google.  Especially in light of Google’s recent Gmail intervention campaign.

Alex and I have quite a philosophical history when discussing the state of tech and current tech news.  Out of those conversations comes some great blog fodder, which both of us being so busy, we often let slip into the ether.   And I thought the the Gmail Man would be no exception.   This time, though, I decided not to let that happen and share some of the narrative of our conversation with you.

The line that really grabbed me, I told him, was this: “Maybe Google had it coming, particularly after its own recent snarky video offering a Gmail Intervention.”  It’s a pretty definitive take on the situation.  I didn’t see the video myself  but I was pretty much turned off about the arrogance of the campaign on face value.  I’m thinking to myself:  Right. Like I’m going to help you, Google,  get people onto a product that you may turn off and discontinue without warning at any time. As an IT Director, this doesn’t sound like a good plan to win clients and influence people to me.

I have always been appalled, I told Alex, -which I reminded him from our past discussions – about the way the hi-tech community in general conducts business.  It’s never been good and it comes back to bite you….eventually.  It broke the standard consumer/business model that most people knew and had a history with.  People didn’t like buying licenses for software at ungodly prices for something that was perceived as a thin CD (those are the things you get music on right?) packaged strategically in a big empty box to make it look substantial and not get real live support for it.   You add  on to that the constant updates that ‘shoved the chicken around the plate’ for special interest users but often frustrated the main consumer and even a respectable group of developers.  Then guess what?  The bite came as web services and SaaS came and undercut a lot of that market. There are other examples, too numerous to to mention,  that followed.  I then reminded him of yet another evidence of the same troubles in tech land with the article he had previously sent: “Now the tech market will take a further hit based on your article from Tech Republic the other day.”

Yes,  there is a growing awareness that its not all that pretty and slick behind the keyboard anymore.  You had an industry that was predicated on constant and sudden changes that strangely thought it could conversely create longevity for its core.  I said in conclusion: ” I think they’re all drinking some kool-aid out there in Google land.  Because its obvious they don’t “get it”.  They are not the end of the trail.   They can’t start enacting draconian changes irrespective of the trust they’ve engendered and not get some pushback from the public.  Some one else (Microsoft 365 maybe even)  will come up with a different idea that the disgruntled masses will see as better (It may even be better).   But the point is that they (the masses) will change.  Capitalism and The Abolition of Man will see to that.”

Alex’s response was: “Yep.”

We both laughed.  I wondered at that moment, like the people in The Gmail Man, if Google were reading our email.

“Hey, Google, you out there?  Read this and weep.  And stop being evil!”

We both laughed again.  I had to say that because it was Google who told us long ago  in their unofficial corporate motto:  “Don’t be evil” .

So what happened?

I’m not sure of the details.  Life is so complicated anymore.  But I am reminded as I watch videos like  “Google intervention” and “The Gmail Man” that Malcolm Muggeridege was right: “There is no new news.  Just old news happening to new people.”

Will we pay attention this time and learn from it?

ADDENDUM 8/7/2011

Last night TechCrunch released a story titled,  With Google, There Will Be Bad Blood, a riff off the Daniel Day-Lewis film “There Will Be Blood“.    As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of the blog post I had just written, “The Gmail Man”.   As usual, Alex and I were sharing links fast and technically curious on this one, too.  I share below our comments (with his permission, thanks friend!):

Alex:  “Increasingly, Google is trying to do everything. And they have the arrogance to think that they can. And it’s pissing people off.”

Yep.

Me: Yeah. Didn’t know if you saw “There Will Be Blood” and remembered Daniel Planiview’s straw-sucking speech at the end.

If they (Google)  had just concentrated on making their UC top notch it wouldn’t have been such a blood bath. But its like they can’t focus on any one thing (or don’t want to). I could understand the ‘can’t focus ‘because there is so much talent within. You can’t blame a man or an organization for the depth and breadth of its talent. But its this driven push to copy others rather than get out in front that defines to others the “evil” that has fired the ire of their competitors and a growing number of their users.

Alex: Yeah; if Google was really trying to do what they say with releasing technologies like Android and the like the would have incubated separate startups. Instead, Android is saddled with being a great Google product instead of a great Mobile product. It goes on and on.

Yes it does…

Hamming It Up With Grandpa: Where My Interest in Technology and Music Started and How I Miss Him

I used to wonder where I got my interest in technology and music and writing. But I didn’t have too look to far to know from which direction the answer came. The writing comes from my Aunt Faris, but that’s a subject for another day. It was from her brother, my Grandpa Eddy that I got interested in technology and music.

He used to work on his Ham radio up in the attic of the house on Wildwood while I would sit patiently in the corner so as not to interrupt him from this magical conversation across the airwaves. I was buried deep in old books that belonged to my aunt and my mom when they were little girls. So we usually didn’t speak and most times no one spoke back from those big black boxes with the tubes exposed that he had built himself from spare parts. But every once in awhile, in-between the static and the occasional “CQ, CQ”, I would hear him say, the magic would happen. There would be a voice from far away. Then he would put me up on his lap and let me speak into that amazing chrome grilled upright microphone. Later, with pride in his voice, he would tell me we were speaking to someone clear across the country. That was just magic to me then. When my brother and I stayed overnight, I couldn’t wait to go up and listen in. But then other things happened in my life: school, band, summer music camp, friends, and soon Grandpa and the little attic at the top of the stairs on Wildwood faded into the static of history. Now when I sit and muse on those times, I realize just how much I miss him.

He was a dark man. So dark they used to call him an Hawaiian. And yet when he was five years old he had long blond hair like the Buster Brown boy. His father was a railroad man and he was killed when my grandpa was five, caught between two cars coupling on the tracks. I often wonder what that really did to Grandpa on the inside. I’ll never know. People in our modern day seem less tough, unable to see a thing through these days. But my grandpa was a steady man and took care of his family by going to work every day at the Chrysler plant as an Inspector. It meant so much to the family that most of them have never bought another make.

He gave all his pay checks to my grandmother because he knew she’d take better care of them. He took a big, black pitched-roof lunchbox, the kind where the thermos fits in the top, to work and brought it home everyday and laid it on the top of the refrigerator in Grandma’s kitchen just as soon as he got in the door. Then he was off to his recliner and some wrestling on TV, adding his wicked-fun commentary on all the commercials in-between.

Yes, Grandpa had his wild side, too. He used to play drums they say for the strippers at some dives in downtown Indianapolis and also for small gigs at the Indiana Roof Ballroom for a few dollars. When he was retired he got a banjo for his birthday to remind him of those days and he would often sit out under the elm tree at Wildwood and pick a few chords as he chewed on an old toothpick and stared intensely into the fret board, squeaking his fingertips across the strings.

You see, Grandpa smoked for most of his life, Camels, until the doctor told him they’d kill him one day. Then he came straight away home and gave his last pack to my grandmother and told her to get rid of them for him. It was the last day he ever smoked. After that he took up the toothpick habit. He “smoked” toothpicks like a 3 pack-a-day man. He used to tell the joke on himself that he was going to die of Dutch Elm’s disease.

I can see him almost right now walking out into the cold midnight air reaching into the sleeve of his suit coat, one sleeve half on one arm and the other empty sleeve hanging in the air while he put a toothpick from the restaurant we had just eaten at into his mouth and begin to chew on it. Odd, how a child codifies the gesticulations and movements of an adult and somehow years later emulates them in programmed homage. I know whenever I pick up a toothpick, my memory banks look up the data and send back the request so that I know just how its supposed to be chewed on.

Sometimes, when I get to missing him a bit, I watch the end of The Shawshank Redemption where Red gets out of prison and walks through the gates of Shawshank with that suit on, that rumpled brown suit hanging on that tall, lanky body. The tie is pulled away from the neck for comfort and the brown fedora brim is creased sideways like a sailor’s cap and set back on his head as if he’d been out after church service too long on a warm day and the clothes were ready to get back on the hanger. I want to run up beside him and grab that arm and hang on him as I used to do. Just to feel the magic of his presence. Morgan Freeman reminds me a lot of my grandfather with his slow, laconic ways and ambling gate. Eddy Myers was a slow man, too. A slow man with a mischievous sense of humor almost like a five year old little boy who was still looking to tease his older sister but he just had too many chores to get done. I sure do miss him.

Wordbooker: Promote your entire website on Facebook

Recently I was assigned the task of promoting our yearly signature event: FHL Week.  It’s an entire week of ‘Backyard Missions’ outreach to the neighborhoods and people of the city of Indianapolis and its outlying areas.   Anything from cleaning gas stations bathrooms to light construction renovation is offered to businesses and private dwellings alike.  Project ideas are generated by area church leaders and supported by FHL International, Inc. (Faith, Hope and Love International) beginning around April and May and in July everything is ready to go to kick off the spontaneity of outreach that follows during FHL Week  in July.

FHL is a very mobile organization.  We podcast, vodcast and gather pictures about our work in real time and then post them to our various social media.  On a daily basis that can be a lot of work without some automation, during FHL Week its almost next to impossible to keep with the flow of incoming posts that have to be edited before being posted to the web site.  With Facebook we have both our president’s  profile page plus our org’s “fan” page.  Having a tool that can post to both simultaneously or to either is a godsend.  That’s where WordBooker comes in.

Wordbooker is a social media tool that allows you to do simultaneous auto-postings to two Facebook pages and updates those pages when ever they are edited.   It’s an extremely robust application that allows a great deal of control at the poster level.  The settings page is huge and can be a little intimidating to the novice user because it allows for a great deal of customization and over-ride but Wordbooker provides some helpful documentation and they have a Facebook Fan page of their own where you can report any issues.  One thing to remember is the settings are a little tricky at first.  Incorrect settings can cause you to double post and you’ll want to avoid this by making sure the republish settings are correctly configured for your needs.

Author’s Note: As of this posting , Facebook, is having some problems on their end and have been reporting since Thursday (9/2/2010) that the API was experiencing Key errors and today WordBooker reports that there is trouble with sessions expiring without warning.  Indeed, I had to reconnect to Facebook only moments ago on the WordBooker settings page.  Happily, everything is back to normal and Wordbooker is publishing!

VaultPress: No Hassle Online BackUp For Your WordPress Blog

It’s been some studying for a final, a project proposal done, container gardening, house cleaning, social media management, other WordPress blogging, school starting, and some web site maintenance (also WordPress) in between the time of my last post and now.   In all that busyness, there are a few things that I tend to forget.   Backing up files is one of the easiest things to forget and but one of the things you should never forget. All that hard work online could be easily lost.

You could DIY with your hosting provider, but why take on one more hassle when your “To-Do” list is piling up?

There’s a relatively new service out there that claims to do the trick (more on that in a moment) called VaultPress.  Matt Mullenweg announced it back in March.  Since that time, VaultPress has established itself on Twitter, its own blog, and been heralded by TechCrunch.   VaultPress is brought to you by the makers of WordPress and designed especially for WordPress blogs and sites.  But right now its still in Beta so you have to get a golden ticket and its one neat sign-up form.

They have an intriguing video intro and a testimonial page, but the reason I got interested is that a twitter friend who is the CEO of a very large publishing company and who blogs frequently posted this tweet:

Well, ok then!  An endorsement just like they advertised.  I guess I better sign-up.