Easy To Be Hard – Easy To Say No

logo-PEN America

As I wrap up the semester, I think back on the work related to globalization and ethics, and I can’t help but connect it to a song from the musical “Hair.” In case you hadn’t heard, PEN American Center found itself in some controversy over the decision to award Charlie Hebdo, the French publication at the heart of a tragedy in January 2015, with an award for courageous freedom of speech. A piece describing the response can be found at The New York Times.

Now, let me emphatically condemn violence before I launch into my response. In reading an article on ethics among communication professionals during my classes, I had to frame this in the way that I, someone in the field of communication, would have to view all sides. The loss of any life can have tremendous emotion and meaning for those experiencing the loss, and no one should ever have to face that kind of loss. Yet, as we in America continue to see the discord sown by embedded acts of hate, and the lives lost among citizens and those tasked with protecting the public, perhaps we should be even more aware of the impact of words. Put another way, when someone is constantly abused, disrespected, and neglected from the conversation, sparking controversy can only edge the situation to a potentially destructive response.

Looking at the cartoon that Charlie Hebdo published, I cannot deny someone the right to express their perspective, but I am well within my rights to decide whether or not I find the content meaningful to me, or whether in this case, I see how much hurt such a depiction could cause. The thing that troubles me is that many people forget that it is the one who receives a message who is allowed to interpret their own meaning, and in the case of such a depiction, to be upset at the disrespectful depiction of someone’s religion. Again, violent responses don’t solve matters, but PEN American Center awarding the publishers, an act perhaps to honor the fallen, takes a tone-deaf response to the many people who were marginalized and disrespected by media in such a cartoon. As other authors wrote in protest, this action crosses from protecting the right to free speech into an area of promoting inflammatory speech. Last time I checked, we have enough trouble with internet trolls and bullies, why should we congratulate people for sparking controversy when we need people to start respectful conversations?

Now, if you know anything about the musical “Hair,” there is a song called “Easy to be Hard” that hauntingly embodies this situation, much as the culture experienced when the show was written. The words that spoke to me are as follows:

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend

Taking up the ethical mantle of a communication professional, my heart goes to the fallen just as much as the people who every day face a society at odds with their faith, possibly even their existence. It’s so easy to be hard, or to be cold, taking on religion with claims of free speech, but we cannot forget that words have power. I still recall the mantra of “Time, Place, and Manner” each time I write or speak because meaning is not something affixed in stone, but a dynamic and changing force that constantly shapes our lives. Sometimes growth requires stirring the pot, but productive change comes when people try to make a collaborative process, not one based on inciting responses.

In agreement with the writers who protested, we can still honor the lives of those we’ve lost, but if we want to truly honor and elevate the world, we can’t do it by praising work that may perpetuate the dysfunctional conflict.

What do you think of the awards?  Where should we draw the line for expression and respect? Share your thoughts.

How to Help: What They Need Vs. What You Think They Need

helping hand 1

If you’ve ever been asked for assistance, how do you approach your response. Are you the type that looks at the person asking and immediately diagnoses what is needed and begins working to make it happen. Are you the kind of person that needs step-by-step instructions to accomplish the goal for the asker? These questions play a major part in how Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR is implemented in areas around the world. In many cases there are items lost in translation, but the large challenge in a globalized world is the bring a balance between what the company can provide and what the local population needs.

Explaining the issues in greater detail, the problem that is happening involves lacking communication, or rather a collaborative process to fully engage all parties in examining what is possible and what is needed. As companies decide to go into an area and provide assistance, the trend appears to show companies spending more time and energy doing things that are within their own needs and abilities or mission rather than providing what the locals have requested. This can be a problem in a globalized world because depending on the situation, the cultural contexts of the donor group may not balance well with the local civilians. In this case, where a company may see themselves as being helpful, the needs of the locals and their culture/perspectives get overshadowed by the benefactor organization. I also found this interesting article which covers some of the related issues and myths surrounding CSR from CSRwire.

In readings for class, the trend in the CSR process starts when a corporation or donor decides to leverage some assistance. Before starting, if the work is intended to help solely for the purpose of being a good CSR entity, then there may be a better chance that the company will listen to the local needs. However, if the true intentions from the donor entity are meant to cover up a previous issue or just to promote its own brand identity, there may be less of a chance for success. Once the discussions for implementation happen, there can be significant pull from both sides in trying to direct the action plan. In the cases where donor companies sought a collaborative process, there was usually a balanced implementation toward the needs of the civilians and the needs of the company. Yet, because of the collaborative process, the result was a kind of hybrid of both sides, neither culture taking control and finding a sort of global medium or world standard. In other cases, while the balance of power in earlier decisions had been with the company, other success stories hinged on allowing more autonomy for those “on-the-ground” in applying the action strategies.

So, what does this mean for Millennials in a globalized world? Going back to the beginning, before you ask someone if they need help, or really in any endeavor you may face, it is good to get all of the perspectives you can. With information, you may then apply available resources, check for adherence to ethical and moral codes, and then follow to implementation to make sure that the input is having the desired beneficial effect. It may not be the first thought that comes to mind when thinking of helping, providing gifts, or CSR, but such efforts can be a way of exerting power and control. As we move into a continually dynamic world among cultures, we need to find common ground but not destroy the qualities of individual cultures. Millennials appear to have more diversity than previous cohorts, but it will be a challenge to ensure that the needs of all involved are weighed in resulting action plans. Helping others is likely how our species has survived as long as we have, but we need to make sure that the help is not just to satisfy personal perceptions, but truly help those in need.

Share your thoughts on Corporate Social Responsibility. Who do you feel benefits, the companies, the recipients, or both?

Can You Hear Me Now? Connecting Teams Worldwide


Millennials likely remember the various versions of the mobile phone provider that would have an actor walk around asking “Can you hear me now?” but the question takes on new resonance as corporations spread their reach around the globe. Reflecting on class readings, I found an article on Forbes that spoke to some of the larger concerns we face in connecting teams in a globalized world.

Breaking this down into some of the main issues, we first must understand that teams that gather in one location still have issues that may arise even without the added cultural or geographic considerations. Some issues that teams face include managing output while addressing the team abilities to meet and collaborate or coordinate their talents. Sometimes interpersonal challenges or hierarchical concerns also impact the chances of productive output. As much as I hate to say this, tech person that I believe myself to be, many times the tools that we use to get our work done can be a hindrance such as when we have to look for the one special adapter to link up with a projector or other system. Even company and team culture on a local level can have implications toward group success, but failure to address some of these localized issues can lead to even larger issues when expanding the teams across cultures and the globe.

As mentioned in some of the local issues that teams face, technology becomes an even larger factor than before. This can be broken into sub-issues that involve access to technology, reliability of the technology, and aptitude with the technology platforms. There is also the major concern over time shifts/time zones when using a global team and sometimes that creates tensions in getting everyone to meet. Add to this that some countries have non-standardized time measurements, so it can be a greater challenge to ensure everyone meets at the appropriate time. Factoring the social components, global teams require training to address the cultural norms of the team locations, as well as integrating the culture and practices of the organization. The diversity of experience can be a great asset to a large corporation, but without sensitivity to differences, and respectful focus on productive actions, any team, local or global may suffer.

Taking a different perspective, Millennials may have a smoother transition into the global workforce, but not for the reason one might expect. Yes, there are extensive qualifications in diversity among Millennials, but as we move into new stages of world commerce and the job market, people are not as likely to be in the same job for many years. Referred by the moniker of the “Gig Economy,” Millennials may find themselves constantly forming teams, creating outputs, and dissolving teams when the tasks are complete. In a “straight out of central casting” scenario, employers can quickly scan for desirable traits and talents, hire the individuals necessary, and have less costs associated with long-term, open-ended hiring as was once the norm. While this may have some benefits for the bottom line, and Millennials have had to be adaptable in so many other ways, this could cause challenges in maintaining effective working ties and relationships. This is not always the case, but to quote the song, “sometimes you really want to go where everybody knows your name.” Building collaborations and communication, and growing them successfully over time to improve yields requires focus on relationships just as much as the bottom lines.

For my own opinion, I’d like to see a world where what we call difference or culture today could be considered more like a flavor quality than something which can become divisive. By bringing all kinds of perspectives and flavors together creates a richness of experience that is very much needed. Continuing the flavor metaphor, and perhaps cooking, I think there is also something to be said for keeping flavors together and allowing them to interact over time and create even more interesting and complex flavors.

Share your experiences working in the gig economy. How do you think global teams will impact your job future?

Steak with a Side of Ethics

Puzzle Plate

Just when we think it’s safe to sit down to dinner, you may find yourself facing an ethical dilemma. Though available resources have always varied between the groups holding power and groups without power, the advance of our globalized world has had a major impact on perceptions of the problem and finding a means of addressing it in an ethical manner.

Millennials may recall the work of Bill Nye “The Science Guy” on local PBS affiliates as he worked his way around a biological food web of species tied together with string. The more he worked within it, the more the food web became entangled and some species were cut out in the process. This was a no-so-subtle representation of the issue we face having a world of individuals, yet all connected in the same need for resources, particularly food and water.

While doing work for a graduate course, I came across a paper by Lopez-Gunn, De Stefano, and Llamas (2012) that explores the ethical dilemma of attempting to create the balance of food and water security in a globalized world. The focus of the paper described the inherent ecological issues in addition to the socio-politcal forces that often play a part in resource management. While Lopez-Gunn et al. (2012) also provided recommendations for resource management that could bring balance to current situations, the challenges of two forms of ethical problems, the first being a “wicked” problem with disparate perspectives in conflict, and the second problem of engagement and support around a mutually understood and agreed issue.

Considering the challenges of developing standards that work around the world we also face the issues of a risk society (both external and manufactured) when trying to deal ethically. Two other stories that caught my attention from the AP and National Geographic, respectively deal with more issues that we need to address. Each has importance to the ethical narrative, but we must find ways of communicating our common needs that balances the respect for all individuals. The challenge as we forge ahead will be in sharing information effectively, allowing  for better resource management.

As a communicator at heart, I don’t believe this issue is an intractable one, but it will take time for everyone to adapt. We are all here on a world that feels as though it is shrinking, and as we get closer to our neighbors, we will ultimately be judged by the way we can work together, or there will be no one left to judge anything.

As a Millennial, how do you see yourself in the ethical issues of resource management? How can you communicate a path moving forward?

Money Makes the World Go Round


I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing Cabaret last week, starring Alan Cumming in the role that has become a trademark for him. What prompted this post involves some readings on economic theories in globalization and the popular song “Money” which takes place in the second act. Essentially, the saying holds true, but I find there are some ethical concerns if we consider the world Millennials may wish to create and how globalization plays a part.

[Spoiler Alert Next Paragraph – Cabaret the musical]

So, turning to readings from my class, I dove into the world system theory whereby nations are divided into core, peripheral, and semi-peripheral nations. This kind of situation funnels all the power to the core nations through the avenues of commerce as well as the maintenance of power systems by available resources and political (read “force”) capabilities. In the musical, the repeating refrain of “money makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round” can make the audience forget what that money is actually going to support. In the story, the lead narrator is given a suitcase to deliver on behalf of whom we later learn to be the Nazis. I interpret this as having a great metaphor for the unseen connections of power and how money flows in the global system.

Reading into additional articles, I came across this great post on Mother Jones about companies that have switched their tax allegiance. Essentially, companies that started in the United States, or companies that had done tremendous business with the United States started seeking ways of getting around the tax systems. This almost seems to skirt the notion of core countries in favor of core companies, but any way you look at it, I interpret this kind of move as being somewhat parasitic. If we look at mosquitoes, no matter how much benefit they have in feeding other creatures, the itching and potential transmission of disease seem just like a company that took its time getting strong in the United States and then sought a tax shelter overseas. Feeding off the strength of a larger country, or company, may make sense to people intent on nothing other than riches, but it really hurts the global system by restricting the flow of capital to be held by these firms. It’s almost as bad as Standard Oil from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The challenge of the globalized world is that there are so many new places to exploit for money that companies are seeking every available option. However, the more money that is drawn from the public and then held in the reserves of the large corporations the less power exists for citizens to enact changes or express themselves. In a better global system, while there could be room to make money and celebrate the individual’s accomplishment, there would need to be more balance in the allotment of wealth across nations. As the world diversifies, people need to understand that true power doesn’t come from hoarding power or finances, but from being in a position to influence the flow of power or resources. By ensuring everyone has a strong baseline of resources and prosperity, companies could improve their sales and leverage power in ways that don’t require holding onto massive stockpiles of wealth. Adding to this, there is a sense of patriotism in staying close to the country of origin, but one day soon, we may need to see ourselves on a world scale.

In closing, I am reminded of a quote that I will paraphrase: It is a large double standard when those who hoard stuff or pets are labeled as crazy, and then we take people who have a ravenous obsession with money and put them on the cover of “Forbes.”

How do you see the larger economic system? Can money keep the world going round? Continue the conversation.

Sentient Programs Will Make Life Orderly

Tech Brain


How many times have you wished for a device that could handle the mundane tasks of life so that you could have more free time to do the stuff that you’d want to do? Yes, well necessity (or a desire for free time) might be the mother of invention, but the next leap in modern mundane management (say that three times fast) may be here, and her name is Amy.

For those of you who saw the movie Her, it’s nothing that fancy yet, however, the company X.ai (pronounced X-dot-A-I) has been making strides and I first heard about it from WNYC’s New Tech City. The promise of the new intelligent program is that all your daily scheduling for work can be handled by software. Even more alluring is the ease of use by just CC’ing the system’s email address and Amy will take care of it all, balancing the back and forth until a time is selected and putting it into your calendar. The question now is how will people respond to Amy Ingram (yes, her initials are A.I.)?

Taking a tangent, much of this work relates to Alan Turing’s work during WWII.  This takes what is really a computational problem and coding so many potential answers and experiences that the machine will be able to assess all situations and respond appropriately. Theoretically, humans aren’t necessarily superior to these machines and programs, we’ve just had much more time to evolve our thinking and processes. What was deemed the unbreakable Enigma in the 1940s really just required more computational prowess than a human brain could process in the limited window that a particular code was active. Amy’s coded experience is guided by information processing around known patterns in scheduling and as it has stayed somewhat consistent, has much less randomness than we’d expect. However, Turing’s test for whether a user was human or a computer would get a run for its money as people have begun responding to Amy with “Thank you” and other polite interactions that we’d generally associate with human to human interactions. The programmers have begun adapting to this and we may soon be at a point where if you weren’t aware of her origins, you might assume Amy was a real person.

As communicators with tech savvy, Millennials may see this as a great step forward. Think of how much time can be saved if you don’t have to message back and forth over multiple days and track multiple message strings to make sure you have the correct data. The larger thought is that this might have a dampening effect on the perception of human superiority. If we can create machines that mimic and plan for every eventuality, and learn from us in the way that we have evolved and learned over the years, it may open up deeper philosophical questions on the human experience.

Think AI will make life easier? Are we giving up too much to machines? Share your thoughts

The Network We Need

lightning icon


I can say with 99.99% certainty that if you are reading this, you may have a need for a new network, but it may not be a network service provider that you would normally consider. I’m not referring to ISPs for the fastest download connections, but rather the grid that brings you energy to power your laptop, tablet, or other mobile device. For such a technologically centered society, we rely on a tenuous network of wires to make sure all our energy needs are met. If we are to advance, we may need to consider some alternative networks and evaluate what makes an effective network for a vital utility.

After reading another article on the subject of smart grids from TechCrunch, I recall the necessity for a better system each time the lights flicker or go out for extended periods. We’re only two years on from a devastating hit during Hurricane Sandy, but I recall outages of all sizes, including in 2003 when the Eastern seaboard of Canada and the US went out because a tree limb overloaded a line. The strength of a network, as in a chain, is only as strong as the weakest link, and we need to consider how to add redundancies for increased effectiveness in a crisis. Some of the recommendations from this article include very sensible steps, but may not go far enough to cover what we need. Renewable energy and smart meters are only part of the solution as the network infrastructure must be responsive to unplanned events.

In the next stage of networked grids, a homeowner will have a multi-stage system to keep the lights on. Renewable energy collection from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal sources will come into a home and power all needed consumption during normal operation. Smart meters will also direct the electricity to other areas around the local grid as demand rises and falls. One challenge today is that if there is an outage, solar panels and other energy collection sources shut down to prevent overloads and shock hazards. If there is excess energy, a future grid might benefit from enhanced battery capacities or other energy storage such as stored potential energy such as producing hydrogen through electrolysis. If one pocket of users goes down, a resilient network will be able to maintain itself while repairs are made to the smaller affected area much like today’s holiday lights with one burnt out bulb no longer affecting the entire string of lights.

From a technology perspective, as well as a communication or Millennial perspective, the need for and benefits of this system would work to bridge the gaps in the system. We may not see ourselves as constantly connected in a wider system, but it helps get a focus on the bigger picture. If I can make sure I have power, and my neighbors are safe in an outage, then my neighborhood is protected from a potential crisis. Technology of all kinds, especially social media, makes us feel we are in control and able to reach anyone. However, if that system goes down, we don’t have the redundancies to see us through a crisis. By building in redundancies now and helping connect us with others in our society, it may serve to keep the lights on as well as grow the world community we wish to have.

Share your thoughts on interconnected grids and communication. How do you share the power?

Image Is Everything

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and related phrases may be going out of vogue as a new app tries to change the market and change the way we think about communication and engagement. The app, Looksery, takes video chatting to a new level by promising a way to create a personal avatar that you can adjust to change physical characteristics. Do you want a different eye color? Care to slim your bone structure? Have a blemish that just won’t go away? The app may help change certain physical features for the moment, but there are far reaching concerns amid the promise of self design.

Some Millennials, and the cohort that followed us, have spent so much time growing up with screen time that they seem to lag behind others in their communication competencies and ease of face to face contact.  This does not mean we can’t communicate, but the various skills and cues one uses in face to face conversations in person are unique to that kind of contact as online phrases and meaning are unique to digital life. Adding one more way to curate our personal image would not be a negative thing save for the lack of focus on interpersonal communication and engaging with others.

This app reminds me of an episode of The Jetsons. Jane (the wife/mother) gets a phone call from a friend, but because this cartoon takes place in the future, it’s a video call rather than a standard telephone. During the conversation, each participant speaks to the other while holding up a mask as they did not have time earlier to apply makeup or style their hair. A comedic moment occurs as one of the masks falls, but it says something of our society when we are so afraid of showing our frailties, blemishes, or true self. The concern that this app will be that next step of concealing our true selves may be unfounded, but we should remain mindful of the possibility. The digital advances which connect us so easily, have widened the gaps in our real connections, and we must find ways to both protect and share our true selves with our desired contacts. Image may be important, but we should focus on the relationship connection over appearances that fade and change with time.


Are you anxious to change your video persona? Share your thoughts and continue the conversation.

My Wallet is Ringing


Exhibit 1: Analog Wallet

Apple’s announcement and release of ApplePay on last Monday may have far reaching repercussions for digital commerce, but will it deliver everything that it promises?

Comparing two stories on the matter from TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal, there are many  pros and more than a few cons for the technology. If Millennials have learned nothing else, we appear to have a healthy understanding that we can’t believe everything we see and hear unless we investigate. We could also speak from experience on how once unknown technology is now ubiquitous and we can’t go more than (insert length of time) until we need to use it again. Apple’s goal with the new release is to make analog wallets obsolete while payments and card information can be carried on a central device already in our pockets. In support of this technology, centralization has been a key to human ability in communication and increased productivity. Without a centralized nervous system, for example, the signals we receive from the world might not reach the system administrator (the brain) in a timely way to promote the health and safety of the individual. The centralized wallet, phone, computer, calendar, music player, etc. is the next progression of our interface with the wider world, but what is the cost of this efficiency?

I remember my first cell phone. It was a brick. I didn’t even have the simple “Snake” game, but it fulfilled the purpose of its design. I would upgrade phones through the years, but it wasn’t until my first networked smartphone that I began to have the feeling of “missing something” if I walked out of my house without it. The “fear of missing out” that we describe these days, was more an issue that I felt I lacked access to a necessary tool for today’s society. Now if we combine a wallet with our phone, how will that affect our feeling of participation in the larger society? People who feel “naked” without their phone, may be literally locked out from controlling their lives if something should happen to their hardware. Society has made us cybernetic creatures and losing access to the network could be as debilitating as losing an appendage or one of our senses.

I’ll take the optimistic road and say that there is value in this convergence, but I don’t know if ApplePay will usher in the next leap. I lean towards humanity on the spectrum of technological determinism, and we need to remember that technology is fallible too. Our abilities to communicate, purchase, and  engage will continue to converge, but as Millennials (and all generations) we need to remember the strengths of previous practices to grow productively, and not fear potential future disruptions.

What are your thoughts on digital wallets? Share your thoughts and continue the conversation.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s…



Drones! It was bound to happen eventually, and for my part, I am still working through my feelings on the subject. There are so many ways in which humans communicate, that those of us in the media world should have anticipated this development and try to create ways of dealing with the new technology. For background on the topic, check out this article from Ars Technica on the FAA’s recent allowance of 6 Hollywood studios the rights for regulated drone filming.

Now, dear readers, I’m sure quite a few of you are reading this and thinking, “Why bring this up now? Aren’t drones in use already?” and “What does this have to do with Millennials?”

Yes, drones have been in use for certain industries for a few years now, but most of those instances were localized and the FAA here in the US has needed some time to work through the tangled web of issues surrounding this new technology. Even the film industry is no stranger to drones as location filming of action sequences and other prominent scenes (e.g. the James Bond film Skyfall had scenes in Istanbul) has taken place in other countries. The challenge now is the scope of the use comparing, for instance, a real estate developer, film studios, and even law enforcement. Each industry, and many others, can benefit from the change of perspective, but our society has yet to develop organized guidelines for use governing, personal, business, and law enforcement applications.

As this takes time to work out, Millennials are poised to gain in the new job markets created by drone use. All those hours playing video games will likely help flight operations, not to mention our comfort with cameras. However, this new technological step crosses many boundaries, some physical, and others societal. We’d like to believe that everyone within a society can recognize and respect boundaries, but drones which permit an operator to cross over a physical boundary, (e.g. walls, rivers, etc.) to film property, endangered wildlife, or people, is just a further crossing of that societal boundary.  It would be very challenging (if not impossible) to monitor the use of drones around the country, and we need to have laws that ensure the protections of privacy and safety for those who may be within the camera’s filed of focus. We have laws against unlawful searches, as well as against invasion of privacy that must catch up with the technology.

A harmonious future would allow the use of this new platform for cameras, local deliveries, even safety monitoring of weather or natural phenomena while respecting the rights of individuals captured in the memory files. If Google earth can map the globe and create features which protect the general public, there must be ways of legislating and innovating to ensure appropriate use of drones. While new tech can cause problems, I think we should be mindful that every new advance comes with a responsibility of power. We can choose to act positively or negatively, and each choice will shape the world we inherit. I for one can’t wait to see what new stories we can tell in film and television with a new perspective.


How do you see drones affecting our lives and culture? Share your thoughts and comment here.