Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Measure of Success

A while ago I posted about the overwhelming interest in things like the number of followers, and how this interest could be counterproductive if it got in the way of our basic psychological need for authenticity.

To paraphrase a Hootsuite tweet: It's not about the number of followers, but the quality of the followers.

It seems to me that the real value of integrity is that we get to serve people who need our help, our vision, our experience and way of seeing things - not somebody else's. We are none of us the exact statistical average of a person, so what use is it to pitch to that person?

I was particularly inspired by the interview with Salma Hayek about one of the movies she was involved in producing.

My favourite quote? 'I don't like your boxes, and I am bored with your boxes!' Say it loud! I'm bored too!

I realize that there is some irony to my previous post. Given that I am, after all, on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Udemy (not to mention here), it is clear that I am interested in how to improve my outreach and content. But I am happy to say that in the months since that post, I feel more solidly anchored to my vision.

As much as I think it is important to do things 'right' (a lot of marketing is basic have-a-good-product-and-let-people-know-about-it-in-an-appealing-way, which just seems logical), I also think that too much focus on getting people to 'like'  your work is a bad idea. You are doing it for you, to be who you are, whether other people like it or not should be used as feedback or not used at all, but should never be the goal of the work.

So, without kissing all aspects of marketing goodbye, we should probably be using what we know in that field to promote things we need, rather than promoting needs for things (that we don't need).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

On Courage: Why Fight When We're Destined To Fail

There's a big problem in the world.

Actually, there are several. Between climate change, ethnic and religious quarrels, wars, terrorism, not to mention the admittedly more petty but seemingly no less intractable problems of the day to day (cough *malware* cough), it's easy to get discouraged.

I was working with a high school student the other day who is studying energy territories in geography (a topic which the curriculum emphasises a good deal more now than when I was in school, it seems). We got to talking about fossil fuels, pollution and renewables, and at some point he said to me: "I'm a pessimist. This all looks pretty hopeless."


What did he say beyond what many of us feel when we look at the problem of climate change? It's so huge, so intractable, and most of us have enough to do getting through the day without fighting against an upcoming climate-pocalypse. So why bother?

Defeatism has become a normal part of our culture. A way of life. Cynicism, and its close cousin skepticism, are blankets we use to throw over our real insecurities: that we haven't been clever enough to come up with a solution.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And it doesn't mean we should allow the younger generations not to try. Or hope. Sometimes, you are going to lose a fight. Fine. But some fights are worth fighting regardless. We have to fight for our right to hope, we have to fight for our right to love, we have to fight for our right to live well, and we have to fight for a miracle. We have to try and hope and try again to come up with solutions to intractable problems because maybe, maybe we'll find one. We have to live everyday and not let others live them for us because they are OUR days. And we have a right to them.

We need more HARD WORK, instead of defeatism. More HOPE, instead of cynicism. Skepticism should be reserved for the beliefs that are dangeous to our health and happiness, not applied to the dreams that keep us alive.

As individuals, maybe we can't change everything, and maybe we are insignificant. But in my life I matter, and in your life, you matter. And we'll both feel a lot better at the end of them if we can say: "I did everything I could do."

Fight till the last second. Hope till the last moment. Be brave and let your children hear you speak of hope. Because we need it, and so do they.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Following and Followers and the Integrity of an Internet Identity

A terrible thing has happened to me; I have discovered Twitter Analytics.

I used to be so free... but now? Now it's all numbers of retweets and engagement...

There's nothing like validation, as I've discussed previously on this blog, and really there isn't. It feels good when lots of people like your work, and there's nothing like the satisfaction of sharing something that means something to you with other people, and finding that it means something to them too. But, as a blogger, tweeter, instagrammer (sp?) or anyone else with an online identity (so... just about everyone) we have to wonder whether our focus is really in the right place when it's on creating lots of followers/likes/engagement/etc.

Maybe I just don't get it. (I don't.) But I have a blog, twitter account, facebook account, youtube channel and I am an online instructor. Views/likes/follows matter to me. But though obsessive stats checking may have happened one or twice (daily) (hourly) in the past, I don't think it has ever helped me create better content.

The social media marketers of the world seem to believe that you can learn what people like and give them more of that. (Well at least that explains this latest Hobbit movie.) But there's a big danger here: it's easy to confuse popular content with good content. For example, I am quite sure I would get a lot more views on my blog and my youtube channel if featured more explosions, or cars. But that would not make my content any better. And it certainly would not make me more satisfied with my internet identity or of what I put "out there" into the world.

Now keep your knickers on! I'm not bashing  popular - I think popularity is often a good indicator of quality. However, I don't think that correlation is a simple one. Let me explain: I believe popularity is a good indicator of quality over time. In other words, quality correlates really well with enduring popularity. But in the short term? Maybe yes, and maybe no. I'm not sure.

Let's be serious for one moment. According to Ryan and Deci (2000), humans have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy means the right to self-determination; I see it a lot as the right to be authentically oneself. Relatedness means friends, community, other people; I see it as love in all it's wonderful forms. And competence means a feeling of being good at something; I see it a lot as the feeling of being an effective agent in the world (or at least in one small part of it). Yes, these three needs cuddle up close to each other and overlap, just as thirst and hunger might.

The question that I think we have to be asking ourselves is: how well do our creations, be they online content, writing, art, research, or other, feed these needs? As a content producer, you should be authentic, you should feel autonomous about what you produce (i.e., you are writing/creating content that is meaningful to you). The idea of relatedness means that we are trying to somehow, somewhere, on some level relate to others (i.e., sharing it should be rewarding from the sense of connection it brings). And the idea of competence means that you should feel like what you create is darn good (i.e., kind of like I feel about what I have to say on this blog).

This is a big topic, and there's a lot to say. Stay tuned for more, next week.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Effective Academic Writing: When is it appropriate to use jargon in academic writing?

One of the most common complaints students have when they write is that it is not clear to them when to use jargon. Some teachers state up front "NO JARGON", which leaves many of us puzzled as to what in particular to avoid. But most often, there is simply no guidance. Check out the short video below for some insight.

In short, you can use jargon when you know that you are using it right, and when - basically - you just can't do without it.

A lot of academic writing boils down to doing your best within the constraints you are given. In the case of the use of jargon, this is especially true.

Check out the video for more!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Effective Academic Writing: Word Choice

One of the most important things to keep in mind when trying to write a compelling academic paper is to use the right words for the right occasion. This post aims to help you understand what the right word for the right occasion is.

You want to make sure that your reader understands what you are trying to say. As such, you are trying to be as clear as possible in as few words as possible. This is the real point of an extensive vocabulary. Advanced vocabulary allows you to be accurate, while remaining maximally communicative and concise. The bonus is that advanced vocabulary also makes you sound smart and confers a certain "academic tone" to your paper.

Occasionally, people try to skip straight to the "sounding smart" and "academic tone" part, without paying enough attention to the accuracy, clarity, and communication parts of this game.


The best way to ensure that you paper receives optimal consideration is by it having a good internal logic, a nice presentation, and accurate vocabulary. As such, try to avoid using vocabulary you are unfamiliar with in order to make your paper look better. Using big words in the wrong way never makes you look good...

Take home message: Academic tone comes from using a polite register and appropriate vocabulary.

Check out the video below for some more insight!