October 27, 2009

When Thought Becomes Reality

Posted in Best practices, Courts and social media, Employee issues, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Web 2.0 tagged , , at 1:10 pm by bizlawblog

The first post on this new blog, Social Lies and Fundamental Shift, seemed to proclaim we were experiencing a fundamental shift from the “information Web” to the “social Web.” The inference was that this was significant in some fashion. I guess that depends upon how you look at things, literally.

Some of us are old enough to remember spending hours in the library looking up information in books and periodicals. That may be a fading image, since an increasing number of studies, such as one by Publishers Communication Group, E-books in 2008; Are librarians and publishers on the same page?, indicate librarians are now more seriously considering the return on investment  from e-books and other electronic media vs. traditional print media, when preparing their budgets in these financially troubled times. It would seem the title tells the story. There are certainly many stories in the news about long-standing publication giants, who are folding their tents as readership and revenues sink.

One other side of the shift seems to be in the area of instant experts on use of social media as a business tool. I can’t recall any profession, including Web optimization experts, growing as quickly as the number of self-proclaimed social Web experts. Perhaps this is because of my own foray into this area. They say, “if you want to shoot a moose, you have to go where the moose are.”

Frankly, I seem to be surrounded by moose, but can’t remember how I got here. Social media experts seem to surround me wherever I go. No matter what I search for online, I run into “experts” in this area.

One of the things, which has drawn me into the realm of social media, is the number of my business start-up clients who are using social media tools, such as facebook, as a major part of their business plan.  A year ago, this was not true. There may have been a few who mentioned it in passing, but these days, a substantial percentage of start-up clients seem to be counting on their ability to market their business to a large group with little outbound cash flow, using facebook and other social media.

I’ve been practicing law long enough to remember the era when many clients came to me thinking that successfully registering a “cool” domain name was a business plan. Granted, that was before most of our current cyber squatting laws, and well before the tech bubble burst. To my chagrin, some of the clients who had been subjected to my lectures about the usefulness of a real business plan, actually made substantial sums of money just by getting a particular domain name registered sans business plan. They were few and far between, and for the most part, their “fame” was fleeting. This was clearly not a sustainable competitive advantage for them, even if they managed to cash in to some extent.

Although the results are far from certain, there can clearly be some merit for retailers and others, using social media channels to market their businesses. I’ve even started recommending it myself, if my clients don’t bring it up. The information on how to do this is easily available and simple to follow, as indicated by Mark Ijlal’s handy article, How To Set Up A Custom Landing Page For Your Business Facebook Fan Page.

Of more interest to me in writing this blog, is what happens when use of social media becomes embedded in business operations. It seems inevitable this will happen, at least until the next paradigm shift. Michael Specht offers a fair argument for this in his article, Social Media In the Workplace:

Remember your employees are using these tools even if you don’t realise it. They have it at home, on their phones everywhere.

Add to this that the workplace is changing. Those crazy Gen Y’s will make up 42% of the workforce by 2020, let’s not even begin to think about to (sic) ones behind.

My understanding of part of what the “experts” predict will happen, as Web 3.0 replaces Web 2.0, is that the current borders between what one thinks and what happens will start to blur. In other words, thought starts to become reality. Is this science fiction, or simply the natural progression of the current path we’re on?

One of my favorite science fiction works is Forbidden Planet. This 1956 movie by Fred Wilcox takes place in the 23rd century and starred Leslie Nielson decades before his appearances in the Naked Gun and Scary Movie series. The plot of Forbidden Planet involves rescue of an archeological team from a distant planet, where the highly advanced, native Krell population had mysteriously died out in a single night. At the risk of spoiling the movie if you’ve not seen it, the Krell developed a huge machine, which was able to turn their thoughts into material objects. Unfortunately for the Krell, one of these turned out to be a monster from the id, later conjured up by the subconscious activity of one of the stars of the movie.

The stars of the movie experimented with a training “toy,” apparently designed by the Krell to help improve their mental focus. Not necessarily coincidentally, I just saw a version of this toy in a catalog yesterday, although the reference was to a Star Wars Jedi training device. What this brings to mind, aside from science fiction authors “borrowing” ideas from each other, is a book by another science fiction star, William Shatner, I’m Working on That : A Trek From Science Fiction to Science Fact.

Shatner’s book points out the cyclical relationship between science fiction authors and science. Many authors study emerging technologies and philosophies about “what’s out there,” in order to come up with ideas or make their fiction more believable. On the other hand, some scientists and entrepreneurs seem to be able to cash in on science fiction by making the “fiction” a reality. The “communicator” device used in the Star Trek series on TV, which made Shatner famous, seemed to morph into our cell phones. Shatner recounts a number of other current “every day” devices, which can attribute their origins to his TV program.

I’m old enough to remember a time when my secretary used a typewriter. I’m also old enough to remember a time when I didn’t know how to use a computer and was actually afraid to try to learn, yet here I am blogging away with no visible means of support (a danger for much of the Web 2.0 generation without an alternate stream of income). In my case, the reference, fortunately, is to the lack of need for any support staff to type this, something not possible for me a decade or so ago in those ancient “pre-Web 1.0” days.

I started learning how to use a computer after reading an article in the local paper, which talked about a major law firm in the area buying hundreds of computers and “forcing” everyone to become familiar with how to use them. The inducement for the lawyers was that they had to start filling out their time slips “online,” whatever that meant, or they didn’t get paid. I understood getting paid, and if they were doing it, I wanted to do it too!

A few years ago, if we wanted to record something important, like a legal document, we had to type it, or find somebody who could. My worst grade in high school was in typing class, which was an “elective” course my mother thought I should take. What a pain. I was a horrible typist, and when I passed the bar exam and hung my “shingle,” my secretary was the only one creating the final version of important written communications. Granted, I might create and edit, but she was the only one capable of working the magic needed to produce a final version fit for publication.

Then came machines that could “remember” what we had typed, so this information could be stored and used again without retyping it. This turned into document assembly and database mining, as well as many other “advanced” techniques. We became more productive overnight.

Within a relatively short time, some smart folks came up with the idea of turning speech into text. At this point one hardly had to “think” at all to turn thoughts into words, not necessarily a good thing. Typing was more deliberate, but speech recognition programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking, allowed our thoughts to roam as we drove to court or a business meeting. Shortly upon this technology maturing to the point of usefulness, we could use it to send e-mail and other communications using voice recognition. We not only became more productive, we became more prolific, once again, not necessarily a good thing.

The impact of our thoughts, including the physical trail they left, was growing rather than shrinking. The number of our “published” thoughts was also increasing at a tremendous rate. This, however, appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Web 3.0 promises to make such “gadgets” universal and “seamless,” to borrow an overused term. One must admit there has been a major paradigm shift, from trying to get one’s secretary in to type or retype a letter a decade ago, to the current use of self-posting blogging tools and ability to twitter to the world from anywhere in the world. Web 3.0 promises to make this available to everyone in a fashion they won’t even notice, and it is happening before our eyes and behind our backs.

Now, when getting ready for a meeting or to conduct voir dire of a potential jury, I am “required,” as Nicole Black points out in her article, Can Lawyers Afford to Ignore Social Media?, to spend some time investigating the background of those whose faces I’ll be seeing in a few minutes. What they will tell me is one thing, but I now have a rapidly increasing ability to determine what is on their mind, even if they don’t realize it themselves. While they interact in a business meeting, or respond to questions from a trial lawyer about potentially disqualifying prejudices against a party in litigation, the person on the other side of the table has an opportunity to look into their facebook or LinkedIn profile, to discover what really interests them.

Sina Odugbemi’s article, The Assumptions of the Social Media Community, seems to cast some doubt on the extent to which this shift from the Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 world will impact us.

We get told that new social media tools will destroy all others, life will change beyond recognition, mass media is ‘legacy media’, about to go the way of mastodons.

Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation – an amazing digital migrant who has gone native to a brilliant degree – summed up some of the questionable assumptions of the social media community thus:

  1. Everyone has access to new media. (And we know that is not true, especially in developing countries.)
  2. Everyone has goodwill and will not harm others.(We know that is not true because some pretty bad people use new media to pursue evil ends.)
  3. Everyone can correct each other. (We know that is not true because education levels vary, ignorance persists on the Web, information access varies etc.)
  4. Everything is transparent. (We know that is not true because manipulation goes on, identities get hidden, advertisers make bloggers support products without owning up to being paid and so on. See “Truth in Advertising, Offline or Online”.)

The point, of course, is not to knock social media, but to suggest that all the mechanisms that shape the public sphere need cool analysis in order to manage inevitable complexities. Every new technology throws up ethical and governance challenges, and these need to be frankly acknowledged and managed.

The cool analysis seems to me to be the key, and, hopefully, part of the mission of this blog. As we focus on the minutiae, in order to conduct this analysis, it also seems apparent that we must try to detect the larger impact. For starters, twittering and texting teens will become the leaders of our Fortune 100 companies in the not too distant future. Interpersonal skills have transformed for both the better and the worse, in my humble opinion, due advances in technology. Communications are clearly much more rapid and far-reaching. Did I mention this is not always a good thing?

The ability to use and abuse these tools grows more powerful at a tremendous rate. Who has not pushed “send” on an e-mail that was not finished, or perhaps contained something we wished we could take back? Who has not accidentally overlooked someone who accidentally received a private or even confidential electronic communication, simply because the sender forgot they were “CCed” on the e-mail?

Lawyers are trained to be the most sensitive people on this planet, to the accidental or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, yet the stories grow about even these guardians of confidentiality breaching the walls. What hope do we then have that our employees, and perhaps our CEOs will be able to keep the genie in the bottle, or at least direct this new power better than the Krell of science fiction lore? Watch the movie and you might see our future.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.



  1. […] out my reference to William Shatner’s book in the last post on this blog; […]

  2. This is a GREAT article! A must read.

    I remember the days of using the Thomas Register for procurement sourcing; the early ’90’s. Now, I don;t even have to search for technology providers–nor for experts on how to be found by customers and providers. …Just join LinkedIn, FB, Twitter or what have you, and one is suddenly (and sometimes regrettably) connected or only one degree away from everyone else.

    One of my favorite excerpts from this article is:”..I seem to be surrounded by moose, but can’t remember how I got here…”


  3. Kurt Maddox said,

    I found this moose because Drew shared the link with me on Linkedin. I know Drew from reconnecting with his business partner on Facebook and Linkedin after not seeing him for several years. Now, we meet regularly to discuss various business ideas and, to discuss how to leverage social media as an integral piece of their business model. Now, I’m going to send this link by email to my wife, who is a first year law student working in the court system. Oh, and I’m one of those self-anointed social media experts who just recently began offering to help organizations figure out their social media strategy. Within a couple of months, I’m nearly fully allocated to that pursuit even though I’m very open with my clients and prospects that I’m nothing more than an smart guy who knows enough about social media to steer them through the basics. I also just started setting up my first Twitter “list” right after getting my Google Voice set-up. In many ways, my life feels very much like I live it aboard the Star Trek Enterprise. Twit me up, Scotty!

    Great article!

    • bizlawblog said,


      Thanks for your comments.

      Last Friday, I met with a new client who was starting a business (my “day job”). We went over the basics and then started to touch on the marketing plan. I asked if his plan included any “social networking” or other forms of viral marketing, either as a lead-in to the start-up, or to try to build market anticipation for his products.

      When I mentioned social marketing, his eyes lit up and he said “do you know anything about that? I need that” He next asked if I knew any “experts” in that field, having just spent several weeks trying to find a real Web developer with the ability to develop a relatively large and sophisticated Web site. I went through some of what I described in this blog post.

      There are certainly relatively huge opportunities for real “experts” in the social networking field and, at the same time, just as big an opportunity for business owners who are unsophisticated in their knowledge of social media but hungry for it to be taken in by scam artists who really don’t know what they are doing.

      To me, this is largely an extension of the “everybody is a Web expert” era we’ve been going through for the last decade. Seems like every PR and marketing firm added SEO to their meta tags and declared themselves to be the leading Web optimization firm in the region, even if they really didn’t have a clue. I’m afraid the social networking “expert” era is just unfolding, but unfolding into a field which is continuously morphing into new forms at nearly the rate Captain Kirk’s tribbles grew in the storage areas of his “Enterprise.”

      • Kurt Maddox said,

        Very good points — I guess we need to develop Caveat Emptor 2.0! However, I believe it’s worth pointing out that this is just sort of how new fields of expertise work — an area of opportunity that previously didn’t exist emerges in an unproven arena sparking an influx of players into a market which sorts itself out over time. Let’s not lose sight that the folks who eventually become “proven experts” have to start somewhere. So long as a person says, “Listen, this is what I can help you do and this is what we’ll need to figure out together…” then I think that’s the right prescription. Also, “experts-in-training” are willing to step into these emerging fields using a much different compensation model than, let’s say, a standard billing rate of $X per hour. I’d say more than a few attorneys will take cases today in areas where they know little-to-nothing about the area of law applicable to the case. The question is all in how that conversation goes with the client. The client may very well trust the general competence and integrity of the attorney to move forward knowing the attorney isn’t an expert — but is willing to become enough of an expert to be an effective advocate for the client in this particular case. If so, that attorney emerges on the back-end of the process as something much closer to an “expert” than before and the market has gained another competent competitor. How expertise emerges in new fields is a rich study, for sure, and in an interesting way, faux experts are an unavoidable part of the process.

      • bizlawblog said,

        I think you are absolutely right. Lawyers like Abraham Lincoln became “expert” lawyers by “reading the law” and working in a law office. There was no certification program on the order of what we have in this country now, with a bar exam typically divided into one segment for national certification plus a state-based familiarity segment for local jurisdictional expertise.

        I actually started, to some extent, on the reading the law program, when I was admitted to law school, but had to defer my enrollment due to a stint in the military. I went to Yale’s book store and bought a few Yale Law School books on torts, criminal law, and civil procedure, and read them during the period I was in the military, just so I could try to get my mind accustomed to thinking like a lawyer. When I entered law school, I took a job with the local prosecutor’s office, and got much of the rest of what I learned during my informal educational period leading up to the formal bar exam after graduating from law school.

        The social media era has dropped in on us like some of the folks Captain Kirk dealt with on Star Trek. At the risk of over working that theme, the newer version of the series and the recent movie addition comes to mind, where the human race is really first starting to explore beyond their traditional earth-bound existence. There were no real experts. Essentially everything was an experiment and performing any mundane task had the risk of turning into an adventure.

        Social networking expertise seems to be something like that. We have discovered we can navigate in and around some parts of it without getting hurt too badly. It is intriguing and we want to know more. We must start to figure out the boundaries of what it can do for us and to us, and we’re currently not too sure of either. We don’t have a handy supply of well-seasoned expert guides to call upon yet, but we do have some folks who are gaining experience day-by-day. Some have and will prove better than others, so much of what consumers must do is vet the experts based upon what they have done.

        I feel another blog post coming on.

        Thanks for your comments.

  4. […] is available in the comments to the original post. The first comment related to my post here, When Thought Becomes Reality. In particular, the comment mentioned this passage, which seemed to “tickle” the […]

  5. […] media “experts” in a couple of posts on this blog. I first mentioned the topic in When Thought Becomes Reality. Because of some interesting comments on that post, I followed up in slightly more depth in Is […]

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