Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why I Quit As a Travel Writer for Indiana

Today, I resigned as a travel writer for VisitIndiana.com, the website owned by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (IOTD), because of the passage and signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I've been a travel writer for the State of Indiana for six years, a role I have loved, as it has taken me around to different parts of the state I had never seen, and I've met some outstanding people.

But after Governor Pence signed SB101 into law today, I decided that I did not want to be a part of the Indiana state government any further, even as a small-time contractor. (Update: I want to clarify that I was only a part-time contract writer for the agency, and not a full-time employee. I still have a job — I own my own business.)

I've loved being a part of VisitIndiana, and all the opportunities it's afforded me. I've made some wonderful friends, like Kendal Miller of Switzerland County Tourism, Laura Libs of Visit Evansville, and Patricia Rettig of Beef & Boards Theatre (the woman who made me appreciate musical theatre).

Entering Vevay, Indiana in Switzerland County. I never get tired of this view.

I've visited parts of the state I would have otherwise never seen, like the Heartland Historic Baseball Trail, the haunted Story Inn in Story, Indiana, and Wolf Park in Tippecanoe County.

And I remember the chaos of the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale in Fort Wayne, watching the Evansville Otters baseball team, and the very first trip I ever took, visiting Pokagon State Park and the toboggan run.

HART's Shakespeare On The Canal - The Tempest, 2014

I can't say enough nice things about the IOTD and their hard-working staff. I've become friends with several of them, and would sometimes lend my social media expertise on occasion, because I support what they do.

They do excellent work in the face of continual budget cuts, and I'm proud of the (very) small part I've played there.

If you ever want to meet a government agency filled with entrepreneurial thinkers, this is it.

I love my state, and its people, history, and traditions. As corny as it is, I even liked last year's tourism slogan, "Honest to Goodness," because I believed in what it meant.

The Lafayette Farmers Market in the Fall.

Even now, I believe Indiana is a good place, with good people who have good hearts.

But, at least today, I don't feel right in inviting people to visit us.

Not when some of them are less welcome. Not when there's a chance they'll be told they're not wanted. I can't ask them to come here, so I quit.

I'll still be a cheerleader for our state and tell everyone about the wonderful places and people in it. But I'll be doing it on this blog, on my own time. Not for a government who thinks so poorly of some of its citizens that it legalizes discrimination against them.

For those of you who read my work, supported my efforts, and made it possible for me to travel my home state and report on what I found, thank you very much. Thank you for six of the most interesting and most exciting years I've spent here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eschew Convoluted Phraseology

It's a sad day when business jargon creeps into everyday conversation.

I don't mean the conversations between two marketing professionals who say things like "we need to recontextualize our best-of-breed deliverables."

(Yes, they really talk like that. They're not right in the head.)

I mean sad, like when business-speak enters normal conversations between real people you hoped were untainted. Like the disappointment you feel when a loved one has been bitten by a zombie and is slowly changing.

I was at my eye doctor's the other day when one of the staff said she had to "partner with" a coworker about my new glasses.

At first, I didn't know what she meant. In my own job, I often "partner with" other businesses. We'll work together for a particular client or project, functioning as equal partners for a few weeks or months.

But that wasn't the case here. She meant something else, but I wasn't sure what that was. Then she said it again.

And again and again and again.

At first, I thought it might just be a little quirk, like she misspoke. But I heard it a sixth, seventh, and teeth-grinding eighth time.

"I just need to partner with David about your glasses."

She meant "talk to."

As in "I just need to talk to David about your glasses."

As in, "I hate the English language, and I want to watch it die as I slip the knife in."

She said "partner" like it was somehow more proper than actually "talking." Like she and David would exchange ideas through finger-to-brain contact like a couple of Vulcan optometrists.

It's bad enough when people use "dialog" as a verb, which I already hate. That would have almost been preferable in this case.

"I need to dialog with David about your glasses."

No, I take it back. As soon as I wrote that, I threw up a little bit. It's not better.

I heard "dialog" a lot back in the 90s. It was a favorite of educators and therapists, because it somehow signified that what they were doing was more significant than a mere chat.

"I'd like to dialog with you about the upcoming conference."

But if "partner" is replacing "dialog," that's only going to make things worse. And make me grind my teeth more.

Cops and law firms have partners. A business can "partner" with another business, which is a way of working together without formally joining, like a merger.

It doesn't mean to have a quick chat, as in "my wife and I are going to partner about our weekend plans."

The purpose of language is to communicate ideas simply and easily. We should be clear and direct with our language. Rather than (ever) say things like "partner" or "dialog," we should say "talk to" or "speak with."

Can you think of any simpler words than "talk" or "speak?"

Of course not. Because there aren't any. They're simple, one-syllable, four- and five-letter words that mean to have conversations.

Except people like to sound smarter and more official in certain situations. I heard this constantly when I worked in state government. Government people love to sound official, and will use the biggest words they can find, whether they use them correctly or not.

It's a growing epidemic, as normal people are doing it as well. Not to show off, but because they suffer from "cop talk."

Cop talk is that annoying style of writing police officers use to sound all important and official when writing their reports.

Cop talkers use passive voice. Excuse me, passive voice is used by cop talkers.

They say "myself," when they mean "me" or "I." "Bring the coffee to David and myself."

And they try to use extra big words, whether they mean what you think they mean or not.

There's something both amusing and sad about police reports. Sometimes when I read cop statements and government reports, I wonder if I'm being punked. But no, they're completely real.
"Male victim Johnson returned to his aforementioned residence and observed that the frontmost point of entry of the domicile was unsecured and appeared to have suffered a series of bludgeoning blows with the lower extremity of a human person."

Translation: "Mr. Johnson came home and found his front door kicked in."

If you want to communicate clearly, just follow this one rule: if there's a shorter, easier word to the one you're thinking about, use it. If it's longer and more complicated, skip it.

Or as I prefer to express to other individuals, eschew convoluted phraseology.
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Electronic Emotions and Plugged-In Pals

We've become such an open society that it's difficult to have private moments and thoughts. Thanks to social media, we share our lives and tragedies online, when all we really want to do is vent, unload, and cry privately.

We've taught ourselves that personal issues and dirty laundry need to be aired online, for everyone to see. We've developed a weird voyeuristic/exhibitionist relationship with each other.

Are we becoming eager to post bad news on Facebook and Twitter, or do we do it reluctantly? Are we so lonely for human emotions and support that we turn to our online friends for it? Or do we really get emotional relief by sharing our private lives in so public a setting?

Divorce, break ups, loss of friendships, loss of loved ones. They all get aired on social media, so others can see and react.

We live in public. We live out loud.

In many ways, we all want privacy. We don't want people knowing our business. But at the same time, so many people are in pain, they just want someone to tell them everything will be okay.

I'm actually fairly private in what I share. I don't share a lot of my personal life, because I just don't want people knowing about it.

I'm fully aware of the irony of my situation.

I'm a humor columnist; I'm supposed to write about my life and observations. I'm a social media professional; I get paid to help other people to live out loud. And I'm a book author; I write social media books that tell people to share their personal and professional lives online.

I just hate doing it myself.

I'm happy to share personal victories or accomplishments. I take photos of friends and family, and post them to Twitter and Facebook. But I rarely take selfies. Partly because I think they're self-aggrandizing, but mostly because I hate the word "selfie."

For the most part, people are generally supportive of each other online. We all offer the appropriate comments online when someone shares bad news. But our empathy is becoming automatic and rote.

If we can text, tweet, or Facebook a message, we'll do it. I've lost count of the number of times I've posted a simple "Happy birthday!" on Facebook on someone's special day.

Instead, I've taken to writing and calling my closest friends so I don't take the easy way out.

A few years ago, my mother got annoyed with me because I didn't write "Happy birthday" on her Facebook page. I had called her and sent her a gift, but it bothered her that I hadn't written on her wall.

I explained that I thought an electronic message was too impersonal and cold for my own mother on her birthday, and that the personal touch would be more heartfelt.

"How do you think it looks when only two of my three children write on my wall for my birthday?" she asked.

"You only have 12 Facebook friends. I don't think anyone noticed," I said.

No one is really surprised that I wasn't my mother's favorite.

I worry that electronic communication is making us all lazy. We look for a way to avoid physical human contact, and instead look for the easiest method that requires the least commitment.

Recently, after my mother died, I received a letter from an insurance company saying I could take advantage of their grief counseling services and resources. Curious, I typed in the needlessly long web address to see what they offered.

Rather than finding a list of area psychologists and counselors who offered their services, I found a short, generic invitation to call one of their trained grief counselors on the phone.

You get psychic readings on the phone, you don't process the death of a loved one with someone you can't even see. Besides, can you imagine how many cell minutes that will chew up?

Best of all, they didn't include a phone number on that particular web page. So if you actually wanted to call their grief counselor hotline — which was "available 24/7," because hipster slang is sooo comforting — you had to poke around on their website to find it.

I don't want to name this particular insurance company, but it rhymes with "You know who sucks at grief counseling? MetLife."

To their credit, they did offer more than Telephone-a-Therapist services. You could also download PDF articles on dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because nothing is as warm and comforting as an electronic document you can read on your cell phone on the toilet.

"I feel very sad today. I think I'll download a PDF and go poop."

While I'm normally very gung ho about social media and all the great things it can do for us, I don't want to forget the joys and benefits of spending time with real people face-to-face, talking about real issues, hearing their voices, and seeing their expressions.

And when they start to bug me, I can go on Facebook and make veiled passive-aggressive statements about certain people who shouldn't eat garlic fries at lunch.


Photo credit: Ewen Roberts (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, March 06, 2015

Will You Survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

It's the least likely of scenarios. Impossible, really. We'll never actually have one. But everyone seems to be excited about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.

When exactly did zombies become a thing?

I remember watching Dawn of the Dead when I was in high school, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. It was about a horde of zombies that had trapped a band of humans in a mall, but the Hot Sam stand was closed, so the zombies were forced to eat the people.

Or something like that. I covered my eyes with my hands for most of it.

I've never enjoyed monsters, zombies, vampires, or anything supernatural and undead that might try to kill me.

Which is why I hate that zombies are all the rage right now. The only people I know who shamble slowly, mouths agape, and groaning that they need brains are those who drive under the speed limit in the left lane.

For as long as I can remember, zombies have always been part of entertainment, but it's only in the last few years, with movies like World War Z and TV shows like Walking Dead, that zombies have shambled their way into our national consciousness.

Several years before that, it was teenage sparkle vampires who had captured the interest of America's teens and 20-somethings. And their moms.

Good news, the werewolves nearly defeated the vampires during the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob presidential campaign.

Bad news, the vampires fought back and eliminated the werewolves.

Good news, the zombies have eliminated the teenage sparkle vampires.

Bad news, the zombies don't appear to be leaving.

It's getting so bad, there's even an online tool to determine how long it will take for a zombie outbreak to cover your part of the world.

The Washington Post recently published an article about a zombie apocalypse computer model, created by statistician Alex Alemi, that can determine how long a zombie virus outbreak would take to spread.

Alemi determined that, depending on where you lived, you could go for weeks, months, or even years, before a zombie outbreak reached you. If you live in a large city, like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, chances are you'll be dead — well, undead — within a week.

But if you lived in remote areas, like central Nevada or the Rocky Mountains, you could ride out the apocalypse for years, since it's not like zombies can hop a Greyhound bus.

So, if you want to avoid the zombie apocalypse, consider moving to a remote part of the country that's only serviceable by state highways and county roads.

If the idea of being chased by thousands of rotting flesh bags seems fun, you can visit Alemi's website (http://mattbierbaum.github.io/zombies-usa/) to see how long it would take the outbreak to reach your own town.

Fun fact: According to Alemi's model, if the outbreak began in Indianapolis, it would take seven full days to reach Chicago and Nashville, Tenn.

So, sleep well on that little tidbit.

But if that doesn't placate your fears (it certainly didn't help mine), a 2010 article on Cracked.com took a more serious, if cynical look, at why a zombie apocalypse would fail miserably.

Because if there's anyone who can outwit a statistician, it's a smartass satirist with plenty of time on their hands.

For one thing, says Cracked, zombies will not survive any place that has flies and bugs that normally eat dead flesh. If the zombie apocalypse happened in the middle of summer, it would be over in three or four days.

Zombies also can't handle the heat (think "bloating") or cold (think "freezer burn"). They don't know how to follow roads, so they would be blocked by natural barriers, like canyons, mountains, rapids, and cliffs, which they can't see at night. If you want to escape a zombie outbreak, just live on a mountain or an island.

Preferably a tropical island with cable and wifi. And a well-stocked bar. And a giant freezer filled with steaks. This thing will take a couple of months, so we might as well enjoy ourselves.

Finally, the Pew Research Center estimates there are anywhere between 270 million to 310 million guns in the U.S. Once the apocalypse began, we could literally crush the first zombies under the weigh of all the guns, without firing a single shot.

But my guess is everyone with a pop gun is going to want a piece of that action, so the zombies will die from severe lead poisoning.

In short, says Cracked, the worst thing that can happen to a zombie is that it's only food source is also its top predator. It would be like if we tried hunting sharks with a butter knife.

But if the zombie apocalypse ever does come, I'm throwing in the the pirate ninjas.

I just don't know how I'm going to sneak around with a peg leg and an eyepatch.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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