A Picture Tells a Thousand Hashtags

My son, affectionately and respectfully known as Young Master Oliver, (said with an accent similar to Alfred, young Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and mentor) was born almost four years ago.

In the years and months leading up to his birth I was one of those people who swore he would never plaster my Facebook account with photos of my kids.

Then, no sooner than he was born I was, yep, plastering my Facebook with photos of my gorgeous child. At first it was as simple as sharing the images with friends and family who were too far away to see him in person. It was efficient. I was also jubilant in my pride.

My son beats my heart.

on one of our many trips to the Houston Zoo

As time went on posting about our day became a sort of public document of our adventures as father and son. I loved the idea of letting friends and family members come along as we played with our Lincoln Logs and in our sandbox and on our trips to the zoo, museum, and anywhere else life took us.

So too did I want to share my experiences as a father.

I began using my Instagram less for my music and songwriting endeavors and more for sharing these father and son moments. I began using hashtags like “FaceOfFatherhood,” “DadLife,” and “FatherandSon.”

In doing so things took on a slightly different tone.

It was no longer just about sharing life with immediate friends and family. Rather, it became a very public display of parenthood.

It became important for me to show anyone who cared to notice what fatherhood looked like for me. In a world where mothers are viewed as the primary parent shuttling kids to and from grocery stores, museums, pharmacies, doctors’ visits, and everything in between, I felt it essential to show that there is more to being a dad than lawn care, lazy Sundays drinking beer on the sofa, and bumbling around the house waiting for mom to save the day. This image that permeates sitcoms, animated shows, and film, I believe, is a huge disservice and an affront to engaged, competent fathers and the very notion of gender equality.

In my family I was the one with the BabyBjörn doing the groceries, vacuuming, laundry, getting my steps in at the zoo, and juggling a career while getting a master’ss degree, and running a household all with a toddler on my hip or top of head.


In taking such a public approach to parenting I found myself interacting with an entire community of likeminded dads and supportive moms who were also using social media to model healthy and enthusiastic parenting. Sometimes we shared smiles and laughter and other times frustration and tears because as most engaged parents know, for every one of the former there is at least one of the latter.

But as time has moved forward things have changed a bit. My phone stays in my pocket (or even in the next room) more than it used to. I find myself more dialed into what’s happening and enjoying my life and family from the inside rather than observing it all from than from the outside. I feel more inclined to fully experience and enjoy every moment than I am in documenting them.

I’ve also been writing less frequently in my personal journal and I’ve been wondering why this has been happening but I think I know why. I’m not spending as much time documenting my life. I’m not spending as much time writing about what kind of life I want. I’m actually living that life.

Don’t get me wrong, I still snap photos and quick videos when the moment calls, I still pull out my journal but it’s most definitely not as big a part of my day-to-day. It’s hard to take time out of my life when I’m enjoying every moment of it.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for filling my feed with their family photos because I truly enjoy it. I love seeing my friends share their kids’ graduation, prom, birthday, and anything else moments.

And rest assured, once the summer gets into full swing and we get back from the First Annual Benninghoff-Becerra Family Vacation: Cruise Edition there will be more than enough photos to go around.  

These days though, I’ve been so truly content to just live in the moment and enjoy our adventures as a family. I’m hardly living a life of isolation but there has certainly been less emphasis on sharing for the sake of any larger motivation.

Documenting every single giggle and groan just doesn’t seem as essential these days.

Enjoying them in the most intimate way possible does.

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

It’s ALWAYS and NEVER the same…EVERY TIME….LITERALLY!

Hyperbole, its use as a literary device and its examination as such, are as old as language. Even Jesus was known to utilize it more than a time or two.

As social media has (d?)evolved, as text speak has become entrenched in our collective vernacular it appears that we’ve reached a point where there may not be able to actually exaggerate anything any further than we do in any given moment.

Think for a moment…someone posts a relatively cute .gif to your Facebook page. It’s a toddler stumbling in the yard as dad struggles to balance his whatever in one hand and another child in the other only to save the toddler from sudden death by using his foot to balance the child before he fell on a paver stone….or whatever.

The comments start flowing. “OMG I’m DYING!” “LITERALLY the FUNNIEST THING EVER!”

Perhaps you’re in the parking lot at work. A coworker pulls into his space and his breaks squeal. Obviously he needs to have the pads replaced. Someone next to you says “Oh GOD. That’s the WORST SOUND EEEEVVVVERRR!!”

Hyperbole, and its effectiveness as tool to express the author’s or speaker’s intentions and meaning, hinge upon creativity, context, and perhaps most of all – restraint.

When your communications are riddled with exaggerations you run the risk of being seen as a “drama queen” or the boy who cried wolf.

Think about it. If every time you get a cold you feel like you’re “DYING!” and you’ve NEVER felt this bad EVER IN YOUR LIFE…until your allergies act up in a few weeks, how is everyone else supposed to react?

In relationship counseling one of the first things therapists say is for the couple to erase words like “ALWAYS” and “NEVER” from their vocabulary because really…does your wife ALWAYS “act that way”? Is your husband truly NEVER “good” to you?

The same is true in marketing or advertising. Just enough creative exaggeration and you attract audiences with your wit and savvy. Go overboard and you’re the monster truck rally on Sunday SUNDAY SUUUUNNNNDAY!!!!  

So that’s the lesson for today. Don’t be so quick to exaggerate when you’re trying to get your message across. Subtlety, particularly in an environment when hyperbole is the norm, can make your message more impactful. I won’t say you should NEVER use hyperbole though. You should ALWAYS know when to pull it out to make your message resonate with your audience. 😉

Until next time…

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

Changing the narrative

Yesterday, a really smart lady brought up the subject of “changing my narrative” and how necessary it is to reprogram my outlook on a couple things about my life.

It got me to thinking about this notion of controlling your narrative and being self-aware enough to know when you need to change it. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it but it’s the first time I’ve thought about it in such a specific way in a long time.

Our narratives are often dictated to us when we’re kids. Our parents, our schoolmates, teachers, bullies, the cool kids, the smart kids, the assistant principals, coaches, and everyone in between all have a hand in shaping our narrative. As times have progressed and society has become more aware, there’s been a lot of emphasis on The Media and how it can negatively frame our narratives related to issues like weight, “beauty,” and gender stereotypes.

As we get older there are other figures that help shape our narrative, sometimes for good, sometimes not. Our professors, coworkers, and supervisors feed us input that go into our narrative.

Then at some point it’s written. Our memories and experiences and the emotions attached to them become codified in our minds and hearts and our narrative is set. It becomes the story we tell ourselves and the story we tell about ourselves and for better or worse, it guides us and shapes how we navigate through life.

But our stories are every-changing. Our narrative doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s incumbent upon all individuals, and organizations, to be self-aware enough to identify those key moments that demand we take control of our narratives.

At some point we just can’t let ourselves be that kid who lived on the fringes of all the cool groups, desperate to be included. At some point we can’t let ourselves be the adult who is constantly chasing some nebulous definition of success.

Organizations face this challenge every day. Social media has proven to be a blade that truly cuts both ways as some companies are able to get their message out and engage their audiences with a personal and creative touch that pays dividends. Others have seen consumers take control of the narrative with viral shares of negative reviews and screen caps of poorly phrased statements by a social media manager who was in over the heads or having a particularly bad day. Once lost, control of the narrative can be difficult to regain.

Last year I had the pleasure of speaking to the corporate leadership of a oil well drilling services company that was struggling to survive the incredible drop in oil barrel prices. When drilling throughout the United States slowed down, and in many cases simply stopped, demand for their services ended. They wanted to take this as an opportunity to do a bit of a reset.

They wanted to lay the groundwork for the time when oil prices would rebound so that when the drilling resumed, they would be well positioned as the most recognizable, customer-oriented service provider in the industry.

They wanted to change the narrative. They did an incredible job redesigning their website, they made some key decisions related to how they approached their corporate partners and suppliers, and they hired a couple of incredibly talented people to help shape their marketing strategy and training programs. As oil prices have crept back up, they have begun to reap the rewards of their bold decision to take control of their narrative. They refused to let circumstances dictate who they were going to be.

Every day we decide whether or not we will own our narrative or if we will allow others to write out stories. Every day we have to decide whether or not we’re willing to finally put periods on sentences that have had question marks on them. Every day we have the opportunity to close the book on the story we’ve been writing for too many years and start crafting a new one.

Take that opportunity. Take that opportunity to tell your story, the way you want to tell it to everyone who needs to hear it….especially yourself.

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

Textspeak, emojis, and the (de?) evolution of communications in the modern world

The Oxford English Dictionary has roughly 170,000 entries for words in “current use” and another 47,000 or so for “obsolete” words. They estimate that there are roughly a quarter of a million words in the English.

Some estimates put the total number of words in all the languages around the world at somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million.

It’s important to note that such a figure is impossible to calculate with any accuracy so take those numbers as you will.

Now, think about your high school and university educations. Spelling tests and competitions, essays with minimum word counts, the good old days of using a thick thesaurus, SAT words, Melville, Shakespeare, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and all the emphasis placed on developing an extensive vocabulary.

Now think about how different things are in corporate America and journalism from academia. Many of us have had to spend years reprogramming ourselves in order to strip away unnecessary words and literary window dressing to our communications…especially given the rapid fire world we live in when we are assaulted with constant headlines, emails, tweets, text alerts, status updates, news briefs, and so on.

At some point, it becomes essential to get to the point as quickly as possible to allow all of us to move on to the next thing.

Whether we’re preparing an internal document regarding procedural changes or crafting a sales presentation or writing an article about a local news topic to be published in a newspaper, it’s about who, what, where, when, why, and how. Get to the point and get out. Don’t use a two-dollar word when a nickel will suffice.

Social media communications is a whole other situation. Tweets are, by design, limited to 140 characters. Texts are short and to the point because otherwise they get chopped up into multiple messages and upon delivery can be out of sequence.

Enter the emoji. Happy, said, angry, perplexed, high fives, love, hate…whatever your needs, there’s an emoji for you.

Many people rail against this perceived regression in the art of communication. The “Grammar Nazis” are always quick to pounce on any misstep and literary buffs (of whose ranks I consider myself to belong) often decry that with every emoji, every rap song, and every new trendy internet slang our beautiful language’s heart comes one beat closer to its death.

But is this really the case?

Shakespeare, despite the sheer scope and depth of his work also wrote, in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Nietzsche, another writer/philosopher respected for his masterful use of language, “high level” writing, and a favorite among aspiring intellects once said, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”

Pascal once wrote, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Perhaps FDR said it most succinctly when he gave his son advice on public speaking: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

So what does it mean when some of history’s greatest writers, many of whom are known for writing some of the heaviest, longest works in literature proclaim the importance of saying more with less?

I’ve seldom been accused of being too succinct. A lifetime of writing in academic and literary contexts and spending my professional career in a variety of communications roles has left me in a sort of limbo.

I want to write “well” and “fluidly” and even with a bit of “flair” but I also want to keep my audience’s attention.

What I’ve come to believe is that language is fluid. Our use of it is the same. Context is everything…and it’s more difficult to write with brevity than it is to write pages worth. (Take this blog as evidence.)

Sometimes we mistake brevity for lack of effort. Sometimes we say the same thing ten different ways when we could have stopped at the first. Sometimes we see a long article and assume it must be full of well-researched evidence and information while we dismiss a shorter, list-based piece for being lazy. (I’m guilty of both.)

I love a good read as much as the next book snob. There are times when I love to bathe myself in literary prose where each detail from the dust on a window sill to the scent of perfume in the air are painstakingly described, painting such a vivid picture that the dust tickles my allergies and the aroma dances beneath my nose.

Sometimes, though, I just want to know what the final score was last night or if we’re actually going to the movies at 2 pm or if we are putting it off until tomorrow.

Yes there are lazy writers and our world is populated by people who can scarcely string three words together without blasting us with “curse” words. (Curse words being their own means of communication that can be as artistically impactful as anything you’ll find on the SAT.) The internet often seems overtaken by click bait photo galleries masquerading as “news” or “information.”

But, I don’t think our language or communication skills are any more base or devolved than they were in the times that framed all those incredible works we study in classical literature classes…this concern is as timeless as the work of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and those I’ve mentioned above. It’s a worthy debate that shows quality writing is still valued.

We should all strive to be skilled and agile communicators who engage our audiences in whatever manner is most impactful in any given context or situation.

And don’t be so quick to dismiss that emoji, sometimes those little faces speak volumes. 😉

Till next time.

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

Digital tech with an analog soul

When I was a kid I had pencils, chalk, crayons, and paper. I rode a big wheel there were two knobs on the TV, one for UHF and the other for VHF…or just the “top” and “bottom.”

I listened to music on vinyl records and cassette tapes.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m old enough to remember a time before all of this…all of it.

I know, I’m dating myself but hang in there.

That said, I’m also young enough to have grown up as everything happened. I had Atari, then Nintendo, and now there’s an XBOX One in my living room…Cortana too but we aren’t on speaking terms. I get along much better with Alexa.

Though I fought it until the bitter end, I did give in and made room in my life for a CD player, then a portable one for the car that connected via an adapter inserted into the cassette deck.

Now…well I subscribe to Amazon Prime Music and Google Play.

My entire life has been lived with one foot in either world – the analog and the digital. I’ve never firmly committed to either, fighting the transition only to embrace it in the end.

Years ago, ever frustrated with the limitations, expense, and complications of analog recording in a home environment I broke down and invested in a digital recording system…something, like a CD player, I had sworn never to even consider.

So here I am…living in both worlds…enjoying and embracing all that the digital world bless me with but clinging to the analog spirit I grew up with.

The Beatles recorded on tape. Brian Wilson produced Pet Sounds on tape. George Orwell didn’t have Microsoft Word…he didn’t even have Word Perfect.

Yet…I have access to almost every song ever recorded simply by saying Alexa play… or OK Google!

There’s a lesson here though. There’s something important that I think should resonate with all of us…particularly those of us who work in communications.

It’s critical for us to engage our audiences using the most effective and modern channels. We must go where our audience is already waiting. If that means MySpace then MySpace. If they move to Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or wherever else…that’s where we go.

If it means using emojis or limiting our message to 140 characters, that’s what we have to do because part of being an effective communicator is delivering that message in a method that is well received and understood by the audience.

It doesn’t matter that you manufacture the best product, provide the best service, offer the best workplace. If you can’t get your message out in a way that is heard and appreciated, no one will know or care.

BUT….in our race to embrace the newest and fastest we must never lose sight of what connects us, what binds us…that analog soul.

We are analog beings living in a digital world.

The warmth, the grit, the rough-around-the-edges integrity that makes us each who we are should never be sacrificed at the alter of technology.

Rather, we should use technology to enhance and amplify our analog spirit.

We should let our analog souls and need for warm interaction determine how we utilize the tools that technology provides.

We’ve all seen the home buying shows…we’ve all been in restaurants with a “clean, modern feel.”

By and large, as a people, we leave those trends behind. Why? Because there’s a sterile, coldness to those sleek, gray, clean lines.

Only when that modern avocado and mahogany cabinet has been around the block does it become a cherished “mid-century modern” antique. Before it reached that ripe old age and revered title, well, it was just tacky.

The same is true with how we choose to communicate our messages.

Internally yes, sometimes an email blast is fine. Sometimes that’s all you need. Other times, maybe you should take the time to engage people one-on-one. Perhaps a printed letter in an envelope left at everyone’s desk is the right touch.

Externally, whether engaging prospective clients or a mass of would-be customers, think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, how you want it to be received, and then assess your strategy.

Maybe a mass email dump with addresses exported from Excel is just fine. Maybe though, maybe you should spend that extra time to look up the weather in each city of each client to whom you’re marketing your business. Maybe actually put pen to paper, maybe hand write the address on the envelope.

Almost all of us crave connection. Almost all of us notice when something is different.

When tailoring your message keep that in mind. Offer people more than a widget or a great deal. Offer them a connection.

Don’t reach out to them the same old way everyone else does.

Be different.

Be analog in a digital world.

Be Well and Kind,

Jason