We’re all awkward dorks. The Internet didn’t create us. The Internet didn’t create mean people either. Or people who troll comment boards. These people are everywhere, and they’ve been among us since the origination of time. There was That Caveman who stuck his finger in your mammoth rib and said, “Thag, you gonna eat that?”
In 1981, I was a huge dork. I had huge hair. An afro, actually. I picked it too, with a Goody hair pick that stuck out of my back pocket. I wore parachute pants. I liked Rapper’s Delight, but I liked Rush and Windham Hill records, too.
In 1981, the Sony Walkman had just been invented. Man, we all wanted one. Every-one. Some did get one, some didn’t. I never did. I did get a boom box though, and to this day it was the best ambient recording device I’ve ever owned. I used to record my friend Aaron and me writing funk tunes on his synthesizers and MOOG. I wrote one called Tuna Tapioca. It was hot.
You see, I was a pretty big dork. But I didn’t have anyone to tell about it. I just was. Those tunes I wrote were never uploaded to YouTube. There was no Chocolate Rain for me.
If I had had YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat, I would have shared everything with everyone, including my parents, I’m sure. Oh, and my parents’ friends. Eventually, all of my friends would do the same, and the world would come to believe that all of us kids were just a bunch of narcissistic bimbos just wanting to be the next Shaun Cassidy. Or Bo Derek. Or Lou Ferrigno.
But we weren’t any of that. We were just kids. And so are the kids today. They’re giant dorks, giant balls of goo that have no idea who they are yet, who make dumb mistakes, who tease each other, and bully. They’re 13 years old. They’re no more narcissistic than you were, and you can’t blame them for using the technology we invented. We made demo tapes; they upload to YouTube. We would have died for YouTube.
And what about us adults? What examples are we? We hound the message boards of our newspaper web sites spewing hatred and intolerance. All. Day. Long. Actually, “we” don’t. “They” do. The dirtbags. The assholes. The racists. And the fearful. The Internet didn’t invent these people, these trolls. They’ve always been there. In 1981, they hung out in their garages with a few buddies, cracking beers, and hating on people. They were isolated.
You see, the Internet didn’t do any of this. The Internet just amplified it. As citizens, it is absolutely critical that we recognize this fact or else we’ll simply give up. Or worse, we’ll decide to amp up our own biases and resentments. World War III will be a war of comment threads. Our inner 13 year olds will take over. How’s that going to work for you?
What does this have to do with business, you ask? Nothing and everything, of course. For ages on the Internet (like, the last five years), organizations stayed clear of social engagement because — and I quote — “what if people say bad things about us?” Well, what if? Unlike 1981, sentiment — both positive and negative — can go somewhere. Whether or not you participate, the Internet doesn’t go away. But if you do decide to become a “social business” — be prepared. There are dorks. Everywhere.
And there are supremely amazing people as well. I would highly recommend you give them a voice or else they’ll be drowned out, and you’ll want to give up. Increasingly, I believe it is our responsibility, not only as brands but as citizens, to celebrate the great, the amazing, the real, true stories of our fragile human existence. This is what advocacy is all about. You have to have incredible mental fortitude, (and some really, really good measurement software) to persist through the noise, to keep an even keel about you to realize that, in the end, life is pretty amazing.
This world is full of dorks, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, music nerds, and jerks. Life will go on. Technology didn’t create these people. But it is your job to have a steady head and keep all of this in perspective. So when the CEO barges into your office and spouts off about some asshat who just said a really mean thing on the Internet about him or her or your brand, it’s just one guy, on the Internet, being an asshat.
(Dork / shutterstock)