Free Speech vs. “Terms Of Use”

Everybody practices censorship on some level. Whether it’s self-censorship (a la keeping things professional) or just trying to get others to tone it down, we all know that a certain amount of censorship is needed when it comes to public interactions of any kind.

Of course, in many cases it’s better to just keep your mouth shut rather than offend sensibilities—if you have a tendency to do so. While most would agree that this is a “given,” a lot of companies and businesses are being proactive, and shutting your mouth for you. One can raise a hue and cry that such behavior is “unconstitutional.” And yet, it’s actually not.

In today’s social media landscape, “Terms of Use” map out the terrain. We have to keep in mind that many of these companies (e.g., Facebook and Google) have significant business interests overseas. Many of the shareholders of these companies are not American-based at all. So why would they care about your constitution?

Rather, they care more about protecting the integrity of their product. In a case like Facebook v. Joe Ranter (the wannabe political expert), the decision to delete his rant is often based on standards that transcend any national concern. In this context, “Terms of Use” become a nation unto themselves, with their own laws and regulations and ethics.

Frankly, I don’t use social media anymore. I feel it’s an unhealthy way to interact with one’s peers. Most of it is based on false advertisement anyway. But if you’re that concerned that Big Tech is censoring you, it’s still a free country. You have every right to stop using their services, delete your profile, and go your own way. But who does that?

The more we learn to get comfortable with a platform’s “Terms of Use,” the better we’ll behave. True, stepping on people’s toes is not the unforgivable sin that some make it out to be, but only a troll would do it again and again. And it is Big Tech’s mission to relegate trolls to the prehistoric era where they belong.

While proponents of unbridled free speech may balk at the restrictions placed upon them, it is impossible to deny that “Terms of Use” are helping to shape internet ethics and etiquette. This is a positive thing. As mother always said, if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say it at all.

After all, maybe “ranting” is not the best way to communicate with each other. In an environment where words are weighed and measured, thinking before speaking becomes necessary. Yes, you will have to actually consider what you say before you say it.

Some may have a different view. But I believe that, in time, the fuller benefits of a stern-but-motherly “censorship” must be felt by all, rather than merely its drawbacks. The silver lining is just starting to show.

Anaconda (Part 1) by Pheelan McPhalen

ANACONDA by Pheelan McPhelan.  

All rights reserved by author.

I.  A Note On Blueprint’s “Anaconda.”

Most people are aware that 2029 saw rapid developments in public policing software.  But is the public ready for all that it entails?  

Conservative right-wing groups have alleged that sites like “Anaconda” actually violate human and civil rights.  But Jeremy Fendhurst, CEO of Blueprint, claims otherwise.  “What we’re doing is promoting social responsibility.  If someone’s actions pose a potential risk, we are minimizing that risk by allowing others to report that individual anonymously, and in a safe environment.” 

 Others have claimed that it leads to abuse.  The site’s motto “We employ millions” has been cited as opportunistic and deceptive.  Gary A. Smith, senior researcher at the Hampton Institute For Social Justice Reform, reports that there is no way to assess the actual number of Anaconda users, since user data is protected from disclosure by the Safe Neighborhoods Act.  “However,” he says, “the public earnings data shows that 30-40% of users list Anaconda as their main source of income.”  Social health quarantining is also on a rise in major cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. 

 “Every time someone gets social health quarantined,” says Smith, “they are really getting arrested without any warrant.  You can’t constitutionally arrest someone without due process.”  The Supreme Court is set to consider the constitutionality of “preventive detainment” statutes later this month.  In Weller vs. United States, plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully arrested by social health agents after someone reported him as ‘high risk’ via the Anaconda website.  

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II.  Szopa College advertisement, as it appeared on “NewsLion.mag., archived on  June 19th, 2030:

“Become a social health evaluator in only 6 months!  Make up to $70,000 a year. PLE-8 vouchers accepted!”

After clicking on the “learn more” link at the bottom of the advertisement, reader is brought to a page containing the following statement: 

“How to make money in a faster [sic] growing field!  Social health evaluators and officers needed in your area.  At Szopa College (pronounced SHO-pah), we want you to be the best at what you can be.  Our 6-month curriculum is guaranteed to land you a good paying job as a social health evaluator.  Make decisions that are right for your community.    Enroll today.”

After clicking on the “enroll” link, a window pops up which prompts the visitor to enter a PLE-8 voucher code.  This code must be entered in order to continue to registration page.  At bottom-right portion of window, in minuscule text, is another link that says “I do not have a PLE-8 voucher.  Continue to enrollment.”  When the visitor clicks on this link, the page takes several seconds to load and then a white screen appears showing a cartoon image of a construction worker perplexedly rubbing his chin.  Underneath the image it says: “Yikes!  Something went wrong and your request could not be processed.  We’ll work overtime to fix this.  Please try again later.”

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III.  Excerpts of recent debate between Grant Gierson and Tony Pirella.  Debate was held at Sandpiper Church (ARO), Phoenix, AZ on June 7, 2029.

 Gierson is the founder and president of Take Back America, a Christian-based social justice organization.  Pirella, a college lecturer and author, earned his Ph.D in economics from Queens University, and has debated extensively in support of socially-preventive legislation.  His recent book is entitled: “If God’s A Myth, Who’s In Charge?”

Gierson: “We know what it all boils down to.  It’s how you educate people to view the world.  The construct of history tells us one thing.  The construct of present human needs tells us something else.  But there isn’t any real contradiction.  I can say ‘my think tank is bigger than your think tank.’ But that kind of dialogue never works.  Historically, both sides have built from the top down.  People need the facts to get a fully-informed view of society.  But they need a fully-informed view to assimilate the facts.  It is right here that Tony’s thesis breaks down.  He assumes that the public already have a paradigm for their opinions.  In reality, the paradigm, if it exists at all, is unformed, and in most cases, incoherent.  We have to build a foundation before we can start laying brickwork.”

Pirella: “The system—or foundation, rather—that Grant uses to defend Western Centrism, is a system he believes can still work today.  My opponent is trying to re-invent a failure, and that’s what we are arguing about tonight.  His ethical certainties are really a cause for concern, considering they gave rise to movements like Blue Haze.  These people claim to be cutting edge, but are using outdated software.  Actually, they’re repackaging older software and telling consumers it’s the 9.0 version.  It’s dangerous to sell expired software to the public.  It should be illegal. If Gierson wants to talk about integrity, let’s start right there.  We need to remember the thirteen innocent lives that were sacrificed because people holding his views were not socially quarantined when they should have been.”

Note: The entire debate can be downloaded by registered users at Christianethicscoalition.bru.

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IV.  In her sellout performance at Dolphin Casino in Las Vegas on 7/4/30, standup comedian Heidi Rolf had the following to say about the “ever-endangered right.”

“Detainment camps.. did anybody hear of such a thing?  It like, how the f— do you know if there are camps, when  you say the people that got detained never came back to tell their story??  How the f— does that work??  I wanna know what kind of crystal balls these people have.  The best part is when they say ‘now they’re coming to get me, so if anything happens tell my wife she can f— the pool guy, cuz I ain’t coming back! 

“I know Ima probably get booed for this.  But some of these people need to vanish, so that they shut the f— up!  Just cuz they no-zoned your home or required you get a health checkup every year.  Hey, who doesn’t want a checkup?  Single-payer health is getting you what you need, when it’s needed.  That’s why we voted for it!

“Folks, there’s no such thing as detainment camps.  They’re not on satellite, they are not visible anywhere.  And if you think you can break into a national forest and find it there, nestled among the trees, you deserve to f— disappear!”

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V.  The following article appeared on the Rusher Gazette website, August 8, 2030.

Local Man Arrested For Fraud.

James J. Wallis, 36, of Bent Ridge, was arrested Tuesday and charged with Falsification Of Digital Records, after authorities found that he used his computer and a mobile device to misrepresent his name and age on a dating app.  Authorities state they received a tip from Anaconda, which allowed them to trace the false profile back to the suspect.  Authorities may also charge Wallis with 3rd degree intent to commit sexual assault, since he allegedly sent nude pictures of himself to another app member without their consent.  Judge Roger H. Berinsky ordered Wallis held on a $200,000 bond.

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VI.  Excerpt from the 2035 bestselling book “The Shavon Era,” by Harry Schuler and Bert Meddick.  

“During Emu Shavon’s administration as POTUS, Environmental Zoning laws saw rapid development—so much so, that her detractors claimed she was stealing from the poor to give to the rich.  It would be truer to say she was stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  In actuality, though, the new laws were only keyed to appropriating what was necessary for the maintenance of global protocols. 

“Some argued that if capitalists could use eminent domain to seize private property for the benefit of the wealthy, environmentalists had every right to issue property directives meant to benefit all humanity.  If this required shutting down buildings that were unsafe due to public health or environmental reasons, the act was recognized by Shavon’s administration as part of ‘that greater good.’

“‘Just because you could burn wood in a fireplace a hundred years ago, doesn’t mean you can—or should—do it today,” she said in her March 13, 2029 address to Congress.  “In fact, we’re giving the American people something better than smoke-filled chimneys.  We’re about to bring fresh air and sunlight into the program as part of our long-term plan for America’s future.’

“While some argued that the fresh air was inaccessible due to burgeoning energy conservation laws, those who thought ahead knew better.  With the increased demolition of high-risk housing, and the wave of eco-friendly construction that followed, people began to see that Shavon’s vision was bigger than they had even guessed—almost larger than life.  History would prove them right.”

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VII.  Excerpt of transcript from the Todd Frankel Show, a popular conservative broadcast, which aired on September 9, 2030.

“Taxpayers want to know what’s happening, and they have a right to know.  Just be transparent!  You can’t keep people in the dark forever.  To say we have a gun crisis in our cities is an understatement.  But our politicians say there’s no way to identify or apprehend the criminals bringing them in?  There are reports of people getting arrested for no reason at all! But what about the criminals? Sites like Anaconda and Snooper are a real threat—but only to law abiding citizens.  The left can censor me for saying that, but it’s the truth. Public Law Enforcement can only work if we know who the criminals are.

 “We want to see the real bad guys arrested. And we want Christy DeVino to remember she was not elected by the people.  She needs to do something about the situation, or President Hamas should appoint someone else, immediately. America’s Long Hot Summer has lasted over a year.  We want a return to normal.  We want our country back.”

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VIII.  From Pastor Rick Kasobe’s 9/22/30 sermon entitled “Salt and Light,” preached at Lakeshore Church (ARO), San Diego.

“Our parents gave us values, but we can’t keep them to ourselves.  The church gives us values too.  But what do we do with them?  I can say if you’re rich, you probably need to let go of some of your wealth so you can help those in need.  I can say if you’re poor, you probably are not doing something right.  But how do I know what you’re doing?  I don’t.  But I can see who you are and what you’re about by how you act and how you interact.. and how you react.  Those are the fruits that identify us.

“We know more about faith now than we ever did in the past, due to breakthroughs in neuroscience.  But neuroscience doesn’t tell us what works and what doesn’t work.  The only way we can tell if something works is how we see it applied in society today.

  “How about being a good citizen?  Does your faith take it that far?  Even though you may be tithing; even though you may be going to church every week; even though you may be raising your kids in a Faith-Based home with Faith-Based values,—how does your life fit in with society at large?  You can’t just benefit yourself.  You have to benefit society.  That’s how you become salt and light.  

“It’s not asking what would Buddha do, or Confucius do, or what the Man would do.  It’s what a human being who cares about others would do.  That shows a true heart for God.  That’s why we’re here.  That’s what makes us who we are as People Of Faith.”

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IX.  From NewsLion.mag; article entitled “Princess Tiffany Calls Ed Phelps a ‘Sorry Wanker.’”  Archived on February 17, 2032.

“At a recent charity fundraising event in Morocco, Princess Tiffany had a few scathing remarks to make about Republican presidential nominee Ed Phelps.  The Princess, known for her outspoken and often caustic criticism of American politics, said:

‘He’s a sorry wanker and.. ya know, I feel a bit sorry for those who support him.  It’s like they’re trying to put a Cro-Magnon at the top of the f— food chain.  People like that say dangerous things, and we need to minimize public risk.’  

“When asked to expand on her remarks, the Princess declined further comment.  Tiffany, who married EBA star Levar Schultz in a highly publicized marriage last March, has been accused by detractors of ‘living it up’ while most of the world suffers economic unrest. 

“The Royal Family has also been accused of secretly funding public policing software.  The King has denied any involvement in this.  However, Jeremy Fendhurst, CEO of Blueprint, was recently spotted on Princess Tiffany’s super-yacht enjoying a suspiciously regal hospitality.”

How Social Media Killed Intelligent Dialogue

In an age long ago, when internet discussion forums were a dime a dozen, and before sites like Facebook and Twitter took off, you could actually find intelligent discussions on the internet. People would generally “network” by joining a discussion group that matched their interests, and take off from there.

Back then, the narcissism was of a very low calibre. You didn’t have to constantly sift through people’s vacation photos or re-postings from other sites to find relevant content. In those days, relevance was only a few clicks away. Granted, admins could often be jerks—as they still are today. But those jerks would at least give you a reason why they moderated your content.

Incidentally, even engine results were better, because they would let you actually find what you were looking for. Remember the “Cache” feature that Google used to have? The internet of 15-20 years ago may have had its limitations. But content was a lot more user-controlled than it is nowadays, when everything is managed by algorithms.

When social media took off around 2008-2009, the large discussion boards hunkered down and still did their thing nonchalantly. But by 2011 and 2012 they were in trouble. Intriguing user “walls” and ‘likeable’ photo galleries had replaced the pert avatars of the Yahoo chat era, and made them obsolescent.

At some point during the last decade, the public’s content preferences shifted from impersonal & data-based to opinion-based & personal. For users, the net result wasn’t entirely a bad thing. Now someone could have all of their interests consolidated under one big blue banner. And the discussion groups seemed a lot more dynamic. The limitations could be lived with because the benefits in other areas were greater.

But at that time, few who had lived through internet’s Golden Era could have reckoned on the toll that social media would ultimately take on content relevance. As things became more personalized, users insidiously lost their ability to customize content. This was effected chiefly through algorithms and the progressive streamlining of user controls and content settings.

The impossibility of locating that thing that you are looking for is now an accepted condition of the internet world in which we live, move, and breathe. But did it have to be? Users can still create content ad infinitum. But they can only manage content within very narrow parameters. The walls are closing in every day. As the interface gets more and more streamlined, users lose more control over data.

The worst factor of social media’s takeover of content, is that it cheapened the public’s definitions of “discussion.” It took everything from the Phil Donahue level to that of Jerry Springer. Sensationalism, emotionalism, name calling, and harmful stereotyping are now the norms within social media. Some of this is fueled by “press-driven” media. But a lot of it is fueled by how we approach information.

With the decline of the big, user-friendly, faceless, but well-regulated discussion boards, users have been re-programmed to approach data and discuss things only a certain way. Fact-checking is not done as much as it should be. Whereas thoughtful response is a relic of past ages. Knee-jerk reactionism is the preferred method; and the more spastically you react, the more your wheels will get greased.

Obviously, this defeats the whole purpose of social networking. But it is what it is. Social Media still has its selling points. But more users are becoming disenchanted with the environment in which they now find themselves. They sense that all is not as it should be. Not to even mention the selling of personal data, but REAL content is getting harder to come by. And REAL discussion is a thing of the past.

Where will it all end? We do not know. However, sometimes we long for old finger-tapping days of dialup delays and annoying McAfee updates. It was a time when people we spoke to were often usernames and handles. But it was also a time when content reigned supreme. It was a time when you had to think before you responded. Unfortunately, it was a time that is gone forever.

Green-Capping Today’s Energy For Tomorrow’s World

Many across the state of Texas are in a panic right now. Due to record cold temperatures and a blanket of snow which has kept everyone indoors, people are consuming more energy than normal. This has issued in a number of rolling blackouts across the state, resulting in consumer power losses of up to 45 minutes. And the estimated restoration times are getting longer. The electric companies have hinted that the supply of natural gas for power use is being restricted, and hence the blackouts. What they are really telling us, however, is that they are being green-capped.

No need to explore the inside mechanics of it all. We are not insiders, and don’t pretend to be. But we know the signs of the times when we see them. Basically, a green-cap is when an energy provider is unable or unwilling to meet the demand for energy due to ‘negative sanctions’ imposed on them by restrictive legislation, much of which is still evolving. The negative sanctions may include stiffer taxes, loss of incentives, and other economic penalties. But their function is to create an environment of financial risk should providers choose to ignore certain directives. It thus behooves companies to remain compliant.

It is clear that we are now entering the age of energy rationing: in particular that generated by fossil fuels. Anyone who uses too much of it will be bound to pay a penalty. As we replace fossil fuel energy with clean energy, we must expect a transition to take place. Green-capping is part of that transition. It resets expectations and weans us away from dependence on fossil fuels, so that we can extend the lifetime of our planet.

Whether it be right or wrong to impose energy rationing is a totally different discussion, and one on which I shall not venture an opinion. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is plain that it could ultimately hurt businesses, especially if green-capping becomes a common trend. Businesses unable to function because of energy green-caps will quickly gather their marbles and move operations elsewhere: most likely to a country that is more blasé regarding energy expenditure.

Granted, one uses just as much energy during a heat wave as one does during such record cold temps as we are going through now. But that’s just the point. If it’s happening now, then we can expect it to stick around for awhile, at least until existing energy sources are replaced with clean energy alternatives. For green-capping goes hand in hand with a green economy. If something is hurting our environment, it makes sense to impose restrictions on its use. So consider green-capping as the new kid on the block. You may not like his clothes, and maybe his hair is goofy. But he’s here to stay. You may as well stop and say hello.

The High Cost Of Social Media

Now that popular trends are starting to backlash against the big social media platforms, one begins to wonder where it all will end. I mean, it seems that social media, as we know it, is living on borrowed time. There is something to be said for the almost-outmoded concept of “consumer trust.” When your users start distrusting you, it’s time for an effort to bring them back to the fold. But will that happen?

Of course, the big guns of the social networking world know that retention is the key goal. And that means that they must keep their services free. Back in 2008-2009, when the has-been “Ning” platform took off, there was a huge wave of interest, and tens of thousands flocked over and began joining and launching “Ning social networks.” Facebook was just beginning to tap the market. Had Ning played it smart, one can only imagine where they would have been now. Instead, they got greedy, began charging for their services, and the platform quickly fizzled out.

Facebook and Twitter have kept it smart because they’ve kept it free. But think of what that has cost the consumer. With more and more invasive advertising, and constantly evolving “changes of terms” to the already-Draconian privacy policy, users are in for a very bumpy ride as social networking adjusts itself to shifts in public perception and increasing legislative review of their policies and practices. Besides the need to better sugarcoat what they are offering their users, there is a financial drain which must be counter-weighed. The cost of all this hoopla is skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the social media giants are doing their very best to make the user experience as unfriendly as possible, with ugly and confusing changes of layout, constantly juggling algorithms which hide content, and ads that seem to know exactly what you’ve been up when you’re not on their platform. But because of the innate vanity of us all, people refuse to close their accounts and move on. Well, I did. But I am an exception, and not the rule.

Judging by what is happening within the social networking jungle, one longs for an inhalation of clean mountain air; and one may well look wistfully back on the days of an ad-free, drama free internet, when users didn’t feel like they were being herded into an e-slaughterhouse for eventual disembowelment. True, the internet was slower back then. But was it really that much slower? There was less adware, less junkware, and less spyware, and social media was a mere dot on the horizon. But as it loomed larger, things changed for the worse.

Now there is a burgeoning cost that must be paid by you the consumer. How that cost will be levied is uncertain. But it won’t take long before you find out. We think that more aggressive advertising, and possibly subscription or “premium membership” services, will play a part. But the end result will be bad for the consumer. And it’s already bad enough.

Karma Vs. Sharpwa

As we aim to channel more positive energy into our lives, we are conscious of a phenomenon that is all-to-often overlooked by sages and savants.

Everyone knows about the concept of Karma, i.e., the boomerang effect of human behavior. Bad things happen to bad people, right? And good things happen to good people. Of course, that is not always the case. Job complained that often the wicked escape punishment while good folks suffer. This only teaches us that karma is imperfect in this world. To get the full effects of karma, one must enter the next life.

In this world, karma is often forestalled by an element that is hard to analyze, but surprisingly easy to identify: provided one looks closely enough.

A couple years ago, I was falling into a deep sleep after a hard day’s work. As I passed through that shadow-filled zone between consciousness and dreamland, I realized in a moment of time that SHARPWA would forestall karma in this life. I hastily rose and wrote it down on a piece of paper. The next morning, I began to articulate in my mind what exactly this meant.

SHARPWA is based on the rules of human attraction. Some people are really bad on a moral or ethical plane. But they don’t suffer a great deal in this life, because they have SHARPWA. People are attracted to them. Whether it be because they have money, social prestige, charisma, or what have you, the sharpwa energy will actually interfere with the karma energy that would normally overtake them.

As mentioned, sharpwa has no effect in the next life. So when someone dies, karma finally exacts its full toll on the individual. But sharpwa frustrates the effects of karma in this world. It is a known quantity, which makes it easier to prognosticate temporal outcomes for the individual.

Consider certain celebrities whom rumor would have it are really nasty individuals in real life. Because they have an excess of SHARPWA, they go on prospering. Of course, they may suffer depression, anxiety, and a host of mental demons. But this is natural, inasmuch as sharpwa has no real control over the spiritual realm. It affects the physical only.

Remember that boss you had that re-instituted the Inquisition? He got fired in the end, but it took quite a while, didn’t it? True, everyone disliked him–except for that handful of individuals that kissed up constantly in hopes of gaining his approval. The sharpwa was there, even though in a diluted frequency.

Having lots of admirers will generate sharpwa. Crowd-envy, to a certain extent, will also build one’s sharpwa energy. Envy is a powerful attractive force that is strong enough to load up your sharpwa. But it is negative in its value. Consider karma as the positive, and sharpwa as the negative. Karma is the very ideal of retributive justice. Sharpwa is the factor that plays skittles with it. They are opposite poles of a vast truth that enacts itself in the real world every day.

Of course, there is no real cheat for escaping karma. Ultimately, you will need to be decent person in order for good things to happen to you. But SHARPWA is an element that may help to give a person extra time for improvement. If you know you need to change for the better, you may rely on SHARPWA as a buffer while you get your act together. But the reliance mustn’t be abused.

Can SHARPWA be based on insincerity? In other words, can a person pretend to be something he/she is not, and generate sharpwa thereby? Manifestly, one can. But it is not recommended. Remember, lying is essentially bad. So good karma can only come by telling the truth. Keeping things real and truthful and positive is the key to generating good karma. Sharpwa is just something that people unconsciously use to get around the inevitable outcomes of our actions.

Why People Stay On Social Media

It can be arguably postulated that anything that acts in a mind-altering manner and ends in addiction can be classified as a drug. We tend to think of drugs as physical substances which are physically ingested. But few of us stop to consider the fact that a drug does not need to be material in nature. A drug is something that makes you feel good about yourself, but which ultimately creates a dependency which is hard to get rid of. Within certain limits, food can be a drug. Or religion. Or love. Or social media.

Social media is not essentially negative in nature. I mean, it is not a bad thing to connect with old classmates, see what your co-workers are doing, or share pictures of your latest excursion with a select group of people. It’s how social media comes to be used that makes it toxic.

The tendency to foster narcissism is always latent within the purlieus of social media. And that is definitely worrisome. I understand, of course, that people have ideas, opinions, and observations that they like to share with the rest of the world. This is a free country, right? But most of us feel, at some point or another, that it was wrong to give a platform to Joe Stupid. And that is exactly what social media does.

From the has-been hottie who lives vicariously through pictures of the past, to the nutball who endlessly posts political rants, there is something within social media that sets people slightly askew. Besides the addictive element, it more or less fosters exhibitionism. Even though that exhibitionism is of the ‘lite’ variety, and does not involve anything illicit, it reeks of the worst of high-school histrionics.

It encourages play-acting. Let’s face it. People don’t put their real selves forward on social media. They carefully tailor their public images to meet their ideal conceptions of themselves. That ideal may be far removed from reality. But who’s to know the truth? One never really gets to know who a person really is on social media, because SM encourages one to cherry-pick his/her best traits and hold them forth as a representation of who they actually are. The ranting may be real enough. But the avatar isn’t.

On sites like Facebook and Twitter, social competition is also rife. As games can be addictive, so we feel that the level of competitive interest engendered by social media contributes to dependency. It may be one thing to post pictures of your latest outing. It is another thing to make sure you are outdoing every one else. That takes a level of time-investment and energy that is a bit morbid (or at least misplaced) when one considers how make-believe social media really is.

Despite the fact that SM platforms are selling your personal information; despite the fact that they control what content you see and what you don’t; despite the fact that many spend untold hours each week sifting through social media while more important things get left undone: still so few refuse to delete their accounts and move to healthier, saner activities. The reason is pretty obvious. They are addicted.

The desire to be relevant is, of course, inherent in us all. We want to feel that we are not just a grain of sand in the midst of millions of grains of sand. We want to have a voice. We want to have a platform. We want to have lots of friends and feel their beaming approval with everything we do. But that isn’t how life really works, is it?

To a certain extent, all of us are selfish. All of us put ourselves first. We listen to others not so that we may hear, but so that we may respond. We don’t CARE what other people are saying. We just want to have OUR say. What we need to do is mortify our pride a little, and realize that we don’t always have to be saying something. We don’t always have to be on display. Sometimes it’s nicer to just sit in the bleachers and take notes. For that is how we learn the real nuances of life.

Humility can be an excellent trait to have, because it helps one get a real sense of perspective. Unfortunately, it’s not found on social media. The humble person on SM is really a non-entity, and may as well not exist at all. But in real life, the humble individual is often one who decided to take acting lesson first before hitting the stage. I mean, we all act. But we need to make sure that our acting is relevant and true-to-nature, so that our lives don’t play out like a B-movie.

But you say, “I can’t leave SM. That is where all my friends and family and co-workers and classmates are.” Well, it is admittedly difficult to leave it all behind. But addiction is always a hard thing to beat. The good news is that it can be done. Only when it’s done does one realize what a wise move it was weaning oneself off of the drug.

Price-Bluffing In an Uncertain Economy

One of the predictions made when Covid-19 took off and forced millions of Americans to work from home, was that the commercial real estate market would eventually tank out. Of course, the actual metrics are complex and difficult to analyze due to disparate geographical trends. There are other factors involved as well. But to most of us it seems pretty straightforward.

However, it is difficult to tell how hard commercial real estate has been affected because of all the price-bluffing involved. The term just reminded me that this is really the norm; and that to look for actual indicators of a coming “collapse,” one must dive deeper beneath the surface.

When I mention price-bluffing, I simply refer to the tendency of sellers to keep up the price of products and services, even during famine. This tendency is ingrained, and seems to have been taking place for thousands of years. It is standard procedure in the marketing world, where you make a profit by charging ten times what something is actually worth, and fool people into thinking they are paying actual market value.

Let’s take Ebay as an example. Collectibles have never been more out-of-reach for the average collector than they are now. I used to buy a lot of books on Ebay. But that was when they were reasonably priced. Since mid-2020, I have watched prices soar into the stratosphere. This likely has something to do with the economic losses experienced due to Covid-19. Due to costs of living, vendors simply cannot afford to sell their wares for any cheaper. We understand that. But who’s really buying? Again, real metrics are hard to come by.

A huge business like Ebay has to puff themselves a little. In order to attract sellers, they need to act like everything is “business as usual,” and that times are ripe for a good sale even though signs may indicate otherwise. Optimistic advertising can be re-assuring. But if optimism isn’t backed by realism, it paints a false picture of what is really happening out there. And people want to base their checking account balances on reality, not fairy tales.

Commercial real estate should be dirt cheap right now. But it isn’t. Companies are “holding out” in hopes that when things get back to normal, there will be a surge in demand for office space.

But we are living in a world where the very definition of “normal” has changed. At no point in the foreseeable future will the workplace be what it once was. Work-from-home re-adjusted everyone’s bearings and taught us how dynamic and resilient we really were. We enjoyed the freedom of not having a boss breathe down our necks every five minutes. Admittedly, we got spoiled in the process. A daily commute back to the office is not on most of our bucket lists right about now.

So why the price-bluffing? It just staves off the inevitable when we pretend that market values are still the same. We know they are not, and so does every one else.

Of course, the stalemate between seller and consumer may go on for a very long time. But eventually, someone will buckle. The big corporations want that someone to be the consumer. But is that really fair?

What hurts the economy more than anything, I think, is when companies refuse to adjust their prices to meet market fluctuations. Businesses can go on forever pretending that things are normal. They can keep prices sky high and assure us that if they went down, workers would lose jobs, the economy would bust, and we’d have to throw in the towel. But as consumers we should learn to identify price-bluffing when we see it. In times like these, we need to be thrifty in our spending.

Do yourself a favor. In 2021, only buy things at the prices you think they are actual worth. You know that Coca Cola isn’t worth $2.00 a bottle. So stop buying it. You also know that that recently-purchased pair of shoes isn’t worth $50. So nix it and don’t repeat. Rein in the spending and fight back at the price-bluffers. It’s your money and you are in charge. Show that you the consumer still control the marketplace.

How To Rescue Your Money From The E-Commerce Dragon

So you’ve just gone online and purchased that gadget you’ve had your eye on for months. But now you realize that you needed the one with the built-in accessory. Not a problem, right? You call the 1-800 number in hopes that the order can be updated. But you are told that it cannot. What’s more, you are also advised that canceling the order is not even an option, because there’s no way to do it.

Or you ordered some designer clothing. But when it showed up it didn’t quite fit as you had hoped. Now you must return it. After getting your return shipped back to the company, you patiently wait for the refund to be processed. A couple weeks later you are dismayed to find that your refund amount is considerably less than you expected due to a “restocking fee.”

Or perhaps you returned the product too late, and never got a refund at all. When you called customer service, you were brazenly told that you had received a “store credit” instead, and that you must be content with that.

If you’ve been around e-commerce for any amount of time, you’ll know that these are realistic scenarios. Although the play-out may differ slightly depending on whom or what company you are dealing with, one guiding principle must be kept in mind to make everything clear.

E-commerce isn’t about you the customer. It’s about the company. It is carefully structured to draw in as much profit as possible at minimal risk to the seller. By “risk,” I mean situations where the sale is lost due to order cancellations or returns. An online business’s goal is to get your money as efficiently at it can, and to keep it at all costs. They lay out the traps. Your function is to fall into them.

Most e-commerce platforms do not let CSR’s (Customer service reps) cancel orders. And if you’ve asked to speak to a manager, that probably won’t help either. The company’s finance or e-commerce department (closely related) typically sets the parameters as to whether or not an order can be canceled; what modifications (if any) can be made to an order already submitted; and what the forecast looks like for your credit card statement should you decide to return the product. Systems are generally set up so that orders cannot be canceled. And even when they can, there is often a ridiculously short time-window in which it can be done. So if you need an order nixed, you had better call immediately.

“Store credit” is just a fancy system set up to keep your money. I am aware of some sellers that will only give you 30 days from date of purchase to return a product. If it isn’t back at the warehouse within that time frame, or if the warehouse is slow in processing the return, you could end up with store credit instead of your money back. And most consumers already know enough about “restocking fees,” so there is no need to comment on that.

Is there a way to fight back and retrieve your money? There certainly are ways to break through the circle of enchantment cast by the e-commerce dragon. Some of them are more effective than others.

A BBB (Better Business Bureau) complaint is usually quite effective. However, the drawback is that it often takes more time than is feasible. After submitting your complaint, it can take upwards of 10 business days or longer (depending on the rate of response) to get any reply to your complaint, let alone a resolution. Keep in mind that the complaints are sent to the respondent by email. So if they are using a third-party organization to field their customer service communications, this could cause additional delays.

A faster way would be to reach out via public comment on the company’s Facebook or Twitter pages. I know that most companies will do everything they can to avoid adverse public-facing comments on their social media portals, because that is where customers go to get updates or leave feedback on a business’s product. Nuking their Facebook page with a few comments about how poor their product and service is, and warning others not to buy from them, will get you the fastest results. Most reps will try to get you into a private discussion once this happens. However, if you can talk it over via PM, the issue typically gets quickly resolved.

Making phone calls up the chain of command can also be fruitful. However, that requires some knowledge of the business’s organizational structure, which in most instances isn’t made public. I alluded to the fact that many companies use third-party e-commerce solutions firms to handle their customer service communications. So you likely won’t know whether you are dealing with an actual employee of the brand, or a hired gun. Nevertheless, if the issue escalates and you still get no resolution, you can ask to be put in touch with the company’s finance or legal department.

Disputing a credit card transaction should always be a last resort, and should only be done if all other avenues have failed. Generally speaking, if you have tried the above recommendations, you will not need to take it that far.

Granted, these are just a few ways you can beat e-commerce at its game. It is always better to settle things amicably if you can. But we know that there are times when we must go to war. Again, e-commerce is all about the company and its profits. It is driven by metrics. As businesses get increasingly predacious, quality of products and services suffer in the balance. Which is why it is important to insist on proper closure. This means satisfaction, or your money back. And when satisfaction fails, green is the color you ought to see the dragon cough up.

Why AI Isn’t Right Around The Corner

What started with maverick software developers has actually become, during the last few years, a growing reality. Software systems can now be implemented to function in lieu of humans. While this sounds great (or not) on its face, there are a few key reasons why AI—that is, Artificial Intelligence, won’t be taking over your job any time soon.

Well, maybe it already has. If you are a checkout clerk, you may have witnessed an exponential growth in customer self-service stations at your workplace in recent months. That is not what I am talking about. When I reference AI, I am specifically talking about phone interface systems which function on behalf of a user or a business.

Having made that clear, let’s take a look at some of the systems that are already out there. Google Duplex is perhaps the most well known, simply because it’s Google. In one video, Sundar Pichai gives a jaw-dropping demonstration of the system showing what it can do for customers and businesses.. although he seems to admit that some calls don’t go as planned.

In another demo available on YouTube, Gridspace shows us what they can do with AI technology to create a seamless customer experience. While we are prepared to stand and applaud at the way everything ties together, again it becomes obvious that the representations are a bit fanciful.

Of course, we know that demos are meant to sell product. We get that. You always put your best foot forward when you are showing a demo; and whatever problems or glitches may lie back of your system are usually not discussed at that initial stage of presentation.

But there are reasons why companies are still very hesitant in investing in these systems. And it’s not simply the high cost of implementation. If you are a B2B or B2C company, you know that contact between your company and its clients and/or customers is simply one phase of its day-to-day business paradigm. When we consider someone calling in to purchase a product or request a service, we must also reckon on things such as data capture and data entry. And that’s where AI runs into kinks.

Not to even speak of things like data security (that is a totally different discussion), we all know how essential it is for the information tendered by the end-user/requester to be accurately captured by a system which purports to replace a live user. The videos make it look so easy. But we suspect that developers are not telling the entire story.

If I have to provide information relative to a transaction, what guarantee is there that the information will be correctly captured? After all, it’s just me and a computer program, and no one else is watching. Siri still doesn’t understand me when I tell her to turn off my flashlight. Are we really there yet?

Also, have we fully fleshed out issues like data entry? It is one thing to accurately capture the information. But how exactly will the system transcribe that information to third party software systems so that it can be internalized? AI developers must face the fact that virtually every organization uses multiple software systems to record and store data. Will AI cooperate efficiently with those systems? If so, how??

Suppose that the B2C company is using Oracle to store information regarding customers’ orders, and Salesforce to store internal notes. Suppose there is yet another program needed for tracking loyalty points. Can the AI software access all these systems simultaneously, and do all that is needed in one phone session, without any IT hiccups? Remember, there may be calls holding.

Until software developers take it to the next level, human users will be needed to transcribe data, because systems are still unable to do all that a live user is accustomed to do. They can’t, and we know they can’t. Even in a hybrid environment which used only some AI, data would still need to be gathered from the actual calls themselves, if only for quality assurance purposes; i.e., to make sure that AI was doing its job correctly. Hence, you can keep your call centers busy. If I have to listen to the same call to get the information, I may as well just take the call.

One solution, of course, would be to build “all-in-one” systems developed not only to take calls, but capture and store data as well. That would obviate the difficulty of dealing with multiple programs, and bring everything related to the transaction under one banner. Due to the nature of things, there will always be some amount of human interaction needed, because problems occur. Systems fail, data must be retrieved, glitches must be worked out, and what have you. But comprehensive software systems would at least float AI out of the novelty phase and into the mainstream.

Naturally, the more complex a company’s business operations, the more distant are its prospects of accepting AI as an alternative solution to an ‘analog’ work environment. Will there be storm signals before actual implementation? Of course. From the business side of things, company policies and operations would probably have to streamline, if not simplify, in order to accommodate themselves to the software. Thus, you would likely see a ‘dumbing down’ of the organization’s internal processes preparatory to any wholesale (or retail) AI invasion.

The conclusion, then, is clear. AI is still a way away. It’s in the offing. But it’s not right around the corner. Andrew Yang is still ahead of his time. Despite all the hype, I believe that much of the AI talk equates to “The Martians are coming!”.. because, after all, when a company develops a software system, they need to get it out there. Their business is not to present a realistic, but an ideal, scenario. And that is where we must stop and bring the conversation back down to earth. While we, too, look forward to the revolutionary changes that AI will bring, we must admit that, currently, HAL is still somewhere in space.