PPPPicking Friends, Not Neighbors - Four P's Episode 157

ROAD TRIP! With summer on the horizon, and COVID on the run, my son and I have just started talking about, and planning, a summer road trip for the week he has off in between regular camp and golf camp. Where to go? What to see? Who to visit?

We had initially discussed a cross-country (partial) baseball stadiums jaunt, and we were able to map a route between NY and CHI with a different game in a different city each night, with less than 250 miles of driving per day. But that felt ambitious. So inspired by his fourth grade history curriculum and Revolutionary War fascination, it’s up to New England we will be heading in late July. If you’ve got any must-see spots or suggestions along the way (you know, in case anything has changed since I was last in Boston 18 months ago), please feel free to share! In exchange for your road trip tips for keeping a 10-year old boy engaged, enjoy these Four P’s!

  1. Feeling Neighborly

  2. Hacks for Making Friends

  3. Snap Chatter

  4. Fast Track to Fascism

Something Personal: Feeling Neighborly

Some of you reading this have made the leap. Others have stayed put. But ever since we moved out from New York City to the suburbs nearly eight years ago, we've loved so many things about our community. We've made great friends, we've joined a local pool/golf club, our kids have had great teachers, we rallied (successfully) to get kids back in school during COVID, and actively campaigned (also successfully) for our friends' Board of Education run.

The only complaint, besides commuting challenges, has been one nasty neighbor who lived directly across the street. I have too many stories to share here, but take my word for it that she is a terrible person. Fortunately, we've had GREAT neighbors overall. There was some initial turnover within the first year or two of our arrival, with older families and empty-nest couples selling to young families with children around the same age as ours, but things really settled down over the past five years. With the exception of ongoing issues between this woman and both older and newer neighbors, alike, up and down our street.

So imagine our excitement when we saw her house listed for sale earlier this year! As prospective buyers came to look, that anticipation built. Then, it happened. We watched excitedly from the window as the movers packed up the truck. We counted down the days to the closing. Other neighbors blared "Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead" from the Wizard of Oz as her car drove away. And in celebration of her finally moving away this past weekend, we even had a mini block party the night she left town. We've met the new homeowners, a young couple who will also be starting a family, and feel quite fortunate for this final upgrade.

Of course, let's just hope that others on our street don't secretly feel this way about us.

Something Practical: Hacks for Making Friends

Published earlier this year, Human Hacking has been on my "list" to check out for the past few months. Written as a guide to the art of "ethical social engineering," it outlines the same tools of psychology and influence deployed by security hackers and demonstrates how to boost social interactions in daily life. Authors Christopher Hadnagy and Seth Schulman cover a range of tips on how to adjust your natural communication tendencies to steer encounters to your advantage, with practical tools on how to influence others using empathy and compassion. Here are a few key takeaways and lessons from the book:

  • Set out to exert influence on people with their best interests in mind. When you apply social engineering ethically, it enables others to feel happier about themselves by giving you what you want. It’s a win-win situation. Keep the human hacking code of ethics in mind, which asks that you pledge to “leave others better off for having met you” in every interaction. Employ these tactics with compassion, not for the sake of manipulation.

  • Before you can influence others, you have to be able to hack yourself. The authors recommend an old favorite tool of mine learned a decade ago in my early 360i days: DISC divides people into four distinct “types”: Dominants (me!) are usually confident and results-oriented; Influencers tend to be enthusiastic collaborators; Sincere types are often calm and supportive; and Conscientious types are primarily organized and factual. Knowing roughly where you fall is especially helpful for identifying points at which your primary communication tendencies work to your disadvantage. Then once you have a grasp on your own tendencies, you can make DISC assessments of other important people in your life.

  • Create effective pretexts to skew conversations to your advantage. Don't put a calendar invite on someone's calendar without giving them some idea what it's about. Don't tell someone you "need to talk" and giving no other information. "Pretexting" involves considering others’ needs to create an advantageous context for the encounter. There is a seven-step framework that’s easy to remember with an easy acronym, but some basic common sense and situational awareness will make the entire thing a lot easier.

  • Build rapport with others and motivate them to agree to your request. Since most social situations have natural time constraints, it’s important to learn how to build rapport quickly in the course of a first encounter. Establishing rapport is powerful because it involves the release of oxytocin, a hormone that researchers link to experiences of trust and generosity. A good place to start building rapport is by offering personal information about yourself.

  • Elicitation is a specific form of influence in which you prompt people to divulge what they might otherwise keep secret. It simply requires you to divulge information strategically to motivate your subject to reveal new information that you want.

  • Learning to read and display nonverbal cues can tip the balance of communication in your favor. When you’re conversing with people, it’s helpful to keep track of whether or not they’re feeling comfortable with the situation as you go along by cluing in to nonverbal cues immediately, as they provide valuable information that can boost your rapport-building efforts. Whether it’s a stranger or someone you know well, watch the person for twenty to thirty seconds if possible. This is just long enough to pick up on key signals, but not so long that it becomes awkward.

  • Boost listening skills by posing reflective questions. This works by repeating the last three or four words someone says and posing them as a question. Not only will this keep someone talking about the topic, but challenging yourself to pose reflective questions will help you build a habit of listening more actively in conversation.

Something Professional: Snap Chatter

It's been awhile since I've talked about Snapchat, now more corporately known as Snap, but it's not because I haven't been thinking about it lately. A lot. Snap hosted its Partner Summit last week and (disclaimer) I am also a Snap shareholder... one of the few social media/tech platform stocks in my portfolio.

Spotlight was introduced late last year, and it's been wildly successful. It is a dedicated tab in the Snapchat app (the last tab on the right) for promoting short viral videos from the Snapchat community, much like TikTok. But Spotlight video doesn't have a comments section, and other users aren't able to see the display name unless you are 18 and older and have a public profile. Spotlight has gained significant traction and now has over 125 million monthly average users despite being launched just six months ago. The number of viewers who watch over 10 minutes per day grew 70% just from January to March.

With all the success, Snapchat is also adding new tools to better support creators. Story Studio is a new app where creators can make professional-quality content and share directly to Snapchat. The company is also introducing Story replies, in which fans can respond to creator content, converse with them, and even give Gifts, a new monetization feature for both Snap and the creators. The strong creator support should result in even better content, attracting more and more viewership to Spotlight.

I'll admit that I've never been a huge fan of the Snapchat UI/UX. It was the first app that made me feel old, like I was missing something. I've told them this a few times, and they've both ignored some of my stupidity and listened to the beneficial suggestions. That's the mark of a good company. A few updates:

  • Connected Lenses, allowing friends to interact on the same lens in real time (Augmented Reality is one of SNAP’s biggest long-term opportunities, and these upgrades are betting on AR technology as a larger future of the Snapchat experience).

  • Games and Minis are cool social experiences, easy to use and quite compared to other social media players. Ads and tokens allow partners to generate revenue through Games. Minis are a great feature for ecommerce partners, and with 200MM+ users over the past two years, Snap is making Games and Minis a more crucial part of the app by giving them a more prominent placement, one swipe down from the main Camera screen.

  • Screenshop gives shopping recommendations when a user scans an outfit, or recipe recommendations when a user scans ingredients.

  • Different camera shortcut suggestions, which suggest different camera modes, lenses, sound tracks, and more based on what the user scans.

  • Launch of Lens Studio 4.0, adding new advanced tools for Lens creation.

  • Moving the Scan button, which searches Lenses, to the forefront by adding new functionality to the main Camera screen.

  • Adding more categories of intelligence, like fashion and food.

Snap is one of, if not THE more innovative digital platform. The creativity and features of the product are unique, fun, and user-friendly. The future of Snapchat's growth requires expansion and adoption beyond its core user base, and we're seeing increased penetration with older demographics. As we've seen with TikTok, this trend can be a windfall for growth and monetization. Google has long been mentioned as a potential buyer of Twitter, and now we're hearing them mentioned in the same conversations with Snap... which would certainly make many of us forget that Google+ ever existed.

Something Political: Fast Track to Fascism

Despite my best efforts to avoid them, I occasionally stumble across a thread of comments, tweets, posts, or replies in response to the news du jour from right wing faithful. The limited exposure helps keep my anxiety levels (somewhat) lower, but even those consistent tropes and themes on the far, extreme end of rationality can set me off.

What's more surprising is that the division is increasingly occurring along financial and intellectual lines. Working classes are increasingly turning to fascism as a way out of the trap of globalism and modernity. This used to be a reliable political and social base for the left (or the middle), but increasingly, they are becoming more conservative, moving to, and voting, harder to the right.

But not just conservative, in any ordinary sense. Ultra conservative. Gone are the days of pragmatic cost-cutting and lower taxes at the core of conservative ideology. Now we have completely malicious, ideological, corrupt fanaticism. The working class once opposed this. Now they embrace it.

Bill Bishop's post in “The Daily Yonder” back in December had a visual that shows this quite clearly, with respect to higher education:

Trumpism and Brexitism are manifestations of these trends, moored in xenophobia, bigotry, rage, resentment, disinformation, lies, and outright stupidity. And that, in turn, has given way to the breathtaking corruption, sleaze, incompetence, and venality of Republican party leaders. You’d think the working class would be upset by this, but it's not the case. The factory worker or farmer who voted for Trump is going broke, can’t support his family — and still doesn’t grasp that Trump's lies (and Big Lie) made him the “mark.” The aspiring professional who years to move into the middle class, yet who now has to pay for education, retirement, healthcare, and so on, keeps on voting ever more conservative.

Biden’s victory in November was equated to support from the working class, but data shows that's not where his victory came from. At least not in any unified way. Biden was put in office by a multitude of minorities from diverse backgrounds: Asians, Black people, most Latinos here. The poorer Americans are, the more likely they are to vote Republican, against their own self-interest. The fractured, white working class has moved to become more fanatically conservative. Instead of having public healthcare, education, retirement, a higher minimum wage, conservative mantra espouses private ownership. Prices rose astronomically as a result.

The average American lives and dies in perpetual debt. This was the way that the Weimar Republic turned into a Nazi state. Germany couldn’t repay its debts, a massive depression set in, the average person’s life fell apart — and they turned to fascism. The Nazis blamed the woes of the average German on minorities. Republicans are now doing the same thing: giving people who are breaking down (mentally, socially, culturally, economically, spiritually): a scapegoat. Under Trump, the white working class responded in an explosion of fanatical adoration, which allowed Trump to build a cult. He’s used that cult of personality and the working class’s undying devotion to him to purge the Republican Party of anyone that stands in the way.

Enter the next stage of the cycle of collapse, which is going to hit the working class hardest. They have made their choice, and that choice is for xenophobia, rage, ugliness, stupidity, hate. Give them someone to hate, and it seems, they will reward you by turning a blind eye to everything else: Their own lives falling apart. Their own exploitation and ruin. Their own dehumanization and commodification as mere disposable cogs in a machine of profit.

A modern society cannot function when a working class’s only political, social, and cultural priority is to have someone to hate. To blame for their woes. A working class whose only care in the world anymore is slaking its thirst for hate cannot be the linchpin of a functioning society. Because it will not demand a working social contract, economies in which gains are fairly shared, cultures in which lives have inherent worth and dignity, and it’s not just money that matters. Progressives believe in progress, so when when working-class modernity stalls, regress sets in. Modernity rewinds. It goes backwards in time, reverting back to the hateful patterns of our past. The lines are drawn, but the question is... can they be un-drawn?

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