The Lonely Chaos of the Digital Age and the Urgent Need for True Human Connection

Since I announced my new book several weeks ago, many people have reached out to ask me how my co-author (and daughter) Reiko and I came up with the idea for our new book Fanocracy: How to Turn Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans which releases on January 7, 2020.

“Don’t pee in the pool”

For generations, people dumped crap into the Hudson River. The river was so large and so swift that they assumed that the effluent wouldn’t come back to haunt them.

Of course, it did, killing the oyster beds and poisoning the public.

How big does a body of water have to be before we forget that we’re swimming in it? That it all comes around…

Why are we are okay at yelling at a stranger, but not our neighbor? We will abuse the department in the other building, but not down the hall…

It turns out that the pool/river/tub that we live in is far smaller than it seems. The culture of the place we work, the vibe of the community where we live. It’s all more connected than we realize.


Roads or buildings?

If you want to make a long-term impact, build the roads.

Stewart Brand points out that if you compare two maps of downtown Boston–from 1860 and 1960, for example–virtually every single building has been replaced. Gone.

But the roads? They haven’t changed a bit. The curbs and boundaries and connections are largely as they were. With the exception of a Big Dig, a Robert Moses or an earthquake, the roads last forever.

That’s because systems built around communication, transportation and connection need near-unanimous approval to change. Buildings, on the other hand, begin to morph as soon as the owner or tenant decides they need to.

When creating an organization, a technology or any kind of culture, the roads are worth far more than the buildings.

How do we do things around here?


Of course they’re wrong

It seems like our take on culture is that we’re right.

We shake hands properly, use a napkin properly, speak up at events properly and even greet one another on the street properly.

When I’m in a foreign city, I’m always amazed at how (friendly/offputting/aloof/intimate) everyone else is.

But of course, everyone else is right as well. They’re the home team, so they’re even more right than I am.

The conflict seems pretty obvious:

We can’t all be wrong, which means we can’t all be right, either.

Culture, by its very definition, isn’t the work of being right. It’s the work of being in sync.

Culture is people like us do things like this.

So sure, the way WE do this is ‘right’ if right means, ‘the way we do this.’ But there’s little room for absolutes. Culture abhors the absolute, it is based in the specific instead.

The next time you bump into a culture that you disagree with, perhaps it might be more useful to wonder about how it got that way, and would happen if we did it that way?

How long would it take us to go from, “this is wrong,” to, well, sure, “that’s how we do things around here”?


Surrounded by yes

It’s good news and bad news.

The web knows what you like and it’s working hard to surround you with reminders that you’re right.

This is good news because it can help an outsider feel more normal. If you have something you’re interested in, you’ll see more of it, news about it, affirmations… all of which will help you find the confidence to speak up and lead. Everywhere you look, you’ll see reminders that the world is actually just the way you hoped.

And this is bad news because it amplifies bad behavior. It normalizes behavior that successful cultures work hard to diminish. This reinforcement makes your bubble ever thicker and makes it easy to believe that in fact, the world does revolve around you.

Everyone doesn’t agree with you, the web just makes it feel that way.


The key part of new media

It’s the new part.

“How am I supposed to use this?” is the common question. You’re supposed to have a certain tone in your tweets, a certain format to your Facebook posts. You’re supposed to have comments on your blog and your YouTube videos should have a certain look, feel and length.

When MTV was the hitmaker of the music industry, it quickly became clear what a music video was supposed to look like.


Matching the vernacular is a fine starting point if you don’t want to spend time or energy questioning the form. But in fact, questioning the form, embracing the new part of the medium is precisely where forward motion happens.

Our new instagram account is pioneering minibooks and other non-traditional ways to use the medium. This blog hasn’t had comments in a long time. Trailblazers have run telethons, talk shows and other surprising formats on Facebook. I don’t use Twitter ‘properly’ but that’s okay. A podcast doesn’t have to have guests. In fact, it could be a minute long or eleven hours long.

The only right way is the way that helps you make the change you seek.

PS Here’s my favorite music video, done incorrectly of course. For inspiration, the best of Spike Jonze, breaking the rules of an older new media can be found here