Monthly Archives: December 2008

Meeting Twitter Friends IRL

Social Networking in My Life

I have recently had the rewarding experience of meeting a few people IRL (in-real-life) that I had only previously “known” through Twitter and the Interwebs.

This experience caused me to think back to how social-networking has changed the way I meet people.

Upon reflection, I realized that I have been “social networking” on the Internet for a really long time. When I was in high-school (in the mid-nineties!), I spent time in the “metaphysics” chat-room on AOL because I had briefly been exposed to Philosophy, and for some reason my football buddies weren’t that interested in chatting about it.

As time has progressed and my life has included time spent living in Texas, on both Coasts, in the Midwest, in England and now in Boston, I have accumulated a group of people that I can connect with on most topics…

Twitter is Different

But now thanks to Twitter, I have the ability to meet new people around the world and interact with them on a variety of topics, primarily around technology, but I also to get to “know” them in a way that wasn’t possible back in the AOL days.

Watching people’s Twitter-streams flow by is almost like listening to a series of radio-stations featuring the contents and interests of a couple hundred interesting people all around the world. By briefly tuning into these streams, I get a glimpse into their thoughts, experiences, and passions, and I start to develop a picture of who they are.

Especially for those who are more active participants, I feel a sense of ambient intimacy with them as we react to the various different shared and unique experiences we talk about on Twitter.

Why Meeting IRL Can Be Awkward

Whenever we take this stream of communications and collapse it into a traditional social setting, I must admit that it is a little unsettling at first.

I think part of the reason is that because of Twitter we have put the cart before the horse.

Ordinarily, when you first “meet” someone, you make judgments about them based on a brief introduction…maybe you judge them by how they look, what clothes they are wearing, how clever they are, etc.

You get to know them gradually over time, and maybe after a month or so you can figure out what kind of music they like, what their temperament is like on a Sunday afternoon, and how they feel about relationships.

But thanks to the Interwebs and Twitter, I have been “meeting” people that I already “know” on a more extensive level than some of my acquaintances from work and school.

Twitter Is Making Me More Open-minded

Probably the coolest thing about this experience is that my IRL interactions have become more open-minded as a result.

People I might have previously excluded from my interactions based on some immature judgmental part of my nature, I now embrace.

As a result, I think my horizons have been broadened, and hopefully that means I will have more extensive, exciting and interesting relationships. Creating the possibility of meeting people from different walks of life and backgrounds has a ton of upside.

Living A Public Life Is Hard

Even though Twitter creates the upside of meeting new people, it is not always easy being so public and open with your interactions. The whole experience of living a public and open life on Twitter and on this blog has changed my life in many ways.

From potential employers to potential friends, people now have much more fodder with which to form their initial judgments about me and my personality.

Hopefully, with more nuanced data we can come to more nuanced conclusions. I think we should, and I am optimistic that we will.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to meeting more of you Tweeps IRL sometime soon.

Rules of Nature

The Eye of The Storm

Have you ever been in a hurricane? I have, and one of the strangest things about it is the phenomenon that happens right in the middle of the worst of the storm – the eye.

You can walk outside and literally see the stars and the branches lying askew all around you…the air feels eerie and a sense of anticipation for what is left to come fills the air.

I can’t help but think we are witnessing a similar occurrence in the markets over the last couple of weeks.

Every now and again, I will glance at the screen and see the Dow up a few hundred points, followed by an irrational headline like: “Market Rises on Hope for Shorter Recession” or some such nonsense.

But, we all know that we are only partially through the natural consequences of what we have witnessed already.

Rules of Nature

For those of you who have been reading Paranoid Bull for awhile, you probably are tired of the “shoe-to-drop” metaphor, or before that the “trainwreck in slow motion” ones, so I’ll go for another one.

We are witnessing something like the end of an Ice Age. There has been a fundamental shift in the temperature of the environment which was previously calm and unrealistically muted to risk. The molecules and atoms moved more slowly at the lower temperatures, and the over-confidence of false-statisticians suggested that this temporary cold-chill was indicative of the indefinite future.

However, as we see in the weather, one of the few things that can be certain about the future is that it will look different than the present. Also like the weather, most systems in the world move through a wide variety of states: cold, medium, hot…slow, fast, zooming.

Right now our system has gone from cold to hot, from an appearance of risk mitigation to a reality of correlated, levered and volatile risks.

As the temperature rises and glaciers melt, this has an impact throughout the ecosystem: entire landscapes are transformed as water rushes with such velocity that it crushes anything in its wake.

And once the melt has begun, there is no going back.

The People Factor

The problem with our financial system is that unlike the natural order of a post-glacial natural ecosystem, our world is inhabited by human beings who are smart enough to have some semblance of an understanding of the world, but not smart enough to recognize their own limitations.

In addition, they are driven by passions and irrationalities that cause them to build cities on piles of snow…because if it hasn’t melted yet, it won’t.

These quirks of humanity also cause us to run with the crowd, and as the chaos of the system has emerged over the last couple of months, the emotional side of human behavior – especially that of fear – has set in.

People don’t know what to do, what to expect, which direction to run, and they surely don’t know what the landscape will look like once the ice has finally completely thawed.

As a result, we are caught in a state of fits and starts, with each pundit and pseudo-intellect looking over his or her shoulder at the next quasi-intelligent one wondering what the other one is thinking.

Keep Running

In this game of chicken, however, the one who stops running first will likely be caught in the flood.

I wish there was better news, and given the stars in the sky, one can almost believe that we are through the storm.

However, don’t forget that the patterns of nature are much more powerful than any we could hypothesize…and I haven’t heard of a one-sided hurricane or a partially melted glacier yet.

But Play

But don’t run in fear. Run because it is exhilarating, and enjoy the scenery and lightness in your step as you go.

A friend of mine recently highlighted the importance of ‘play’ in life…and I think even in moments like these, while we are reacting to a change in the landscape, we can find these rose-colored lenses in all that we do.

I for one am going to try, as I stop to catch my breath before the next leg of the marathon.

In The Air

Flying Is Inspiring
For whatever reason when I find myself on a plane far above nowhere, I feel like the creative impulses become more uninhibited.

It might simply be the fact that sitting in one place for so long allows the kind of self-reflection necessary for creativity, but I think instead it has something to do with the unfettered reality of being in the air – literally off the ground.

Going through the process of trying to figure out my first post-grad-school career move in the midst of the biggest market downturn in a generation has been a very intense process to date.

Even though failure is a necessary part of life and an even more understandable part of such trying times, having desired outcomes eliminated by others is never fun.

That this happens both in our personal relationships and in our careers is not a surprise – both are simply the interface of our hopes and expressions of commitment and the outside world.

Challenges Show True Colors
An interesting phenomena in the current environment is that peoples’ true character is being shown, for better or for worse.

Arguably an opportunistically minded employer should see today as a great time to find talent – even those with the most options are having this opportunity set constrained by the reality of a market downturn.

However, instead, many of these previously-shrewd types are hunkering for cover like the rest of the masses.

This might mark capitulation, but instead I think it highlights the danger of a human-driven economy: it is driven by psychology as much as any “reality of the matter”.

What I mean is that today even the even-keeled in the crowd have become part of the collective pessimism that is currently gripping our markets and economy.

That it has become the status quo is reflected in the experiences of my fellow graduates of Harvard Business and Law Schools, who arguably have a unique snapshot into the corporate psychology across our economy as we are welcomed into organizations for interviews, meetings and other gatherings.

The mood across these organizations is one of fear-of-failure at worst to wait-and-see for most.

Entrepreneurs Remain Optimistic
Thankfully, this is not a uniform experience, and unsurprisingly it is the entrepreneur-set that retains the most optimism. I have spoken to a number of venture capitalists as well as aspiring and current entrepreneurs over the last several months, and the outlook for this group remains upbeat.

Sure there is a sense of “cash-preservation” typified by the now infamous “Sequoia book” on the economy; however, this group also recognizes that there are likely an infinite number of problems waiting to be solved and a lot of really smart and creative people out there solving them.

This sense of innovation and optimism is what our nation thrives on, and it is what will ultimately inspire and drive the rest of the crowd out of the shadows and back into the eye-squinting light.

Social media, communications technologies, renewable energy, biotechnology, music, film…all of these areas continue to feature brilliant minds doing wicked-cool stuff.

Innovation Needed: Personal Finance
One area where innovation has only moderately occurred is in the area of personal financial management. Sites like help people to manage their personal finances, but as too-many people are experiencing the current state of financial advisors is inadequate.

I think there is room for someone to create a service to help moderate-income people manage their personal finances and retirement accounts. With the out-flux of talent from the failed financial-services industry, a would-be entrepreneur has a legion of people to help with execution.

The cool thing about our country is that someone will solve this problem. And they will be another entrepreneur in a series of creative folks who have helped built our country and its ever-persistent economy. (Update: I met a guy from MIT last night who is working on a very similar idea…beautiful thing).

The plane is banking left and my batteries are low…until next time, be careful of the continuing-to-fall shoes and try to keep an eye on the sun.