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.

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.

Even Bozos Can Advertise

In the early days of Internet, before Norton and McAfee took over your systems, customers could enjoy a relatively ad-free browsing experience. Back then, the internet seemed like a new frontier that was laden with hope and promise. True, the connections were slower. But systems and software developers made things work.

Now that those days are long behind us, we can sit back on our virtual porch-swings and reminisce about the good old days. The days that are gone forever.

Today’s media landscape is shockingly different from how it was then. For instance, it is harder now to create and run your own website. The tools are less accessible and harder to use. The need for “middle men” has increased. Then, too, you have to reckon on search engines which are profit-driven and could make your site harder to find. The “relevant” results are usually more generic and less search-specific than you’d like, and getting yourself to the top of the charts can be an uphill battle.

Did I mention profit? When people actually read newspapers, the advertising could be ignored by simply skimming or flipping past them. Now, however, ads must be as obtrusive as possible to get the browser’s attention. Most webmasters are savvy to the fact that ads equal revenue. And so part of your browsing experience must now include being bombarded with advertising.

Remember that site you used to enjoy browsing a few years back? You’ll know that the administrator got greedy when you start seeing cluster ads. Popups are more annoying, but generate more money. So they become increasingly common. And ad-designers know how to hide the ‘close’ function, so that time spent trying to clear the page equates to time spent viewing (and potentially considering the merits or demerits of) the aforesaid ad.

What is even more galling is when site owners refuse to sufficiently screen ads before they are allowed to appear on their website. The news outlets are most at fault in this department. In attempting to read an article, you may not only have to close out one or two annoying popups. You will likely have to view a poorly-taken image of a booger on someone’s finger, with the caption “Clean Your Nose In 60 Seconds With This Amazing Trick.”

Whatever this tells us, one thing is clear. It doesn’t matter how bad you are at designing an ad, provided you meet the threshold requirements and cough up the green. I mean, even if your ad merely shows a glass of water on a table with the caption “Reduced Interest Mortgages Start Now,” you can make it in today’s media world without even faking it. That’s saying something.

This means that even bozos can advertise and make money with minimal talent and (what is more amazing) minimal effort. And if they can do it, you and I can do it too. What it really takes is advertising that grabs people’s attention. What it takes is an idea that may or may not work, but which is sufficiently backed by advertising on any high-traffic website. You will make it work. All you need is enough money to launch your project. And ad money well spent will soon beget profit money, as anyone with market-sense already knows.