One of the downsides of being a technology “expert” is the constant travel from show to show as I meet with vendor executives and corporate IT managers to keep on top of the latest trends, offerings, and use cases in social, analytics, mobility, and the cloud. It means a lot of time away from doing hands-on work and away from my chosen developer and line of business technology user communities.
But even so, I’ve never quite gotten over the miracle of air travel. The photo for this blog is a picture of Jetblue 777 to Las Vegas while flying over Milwaukee, with Chicago out in the distance. And all you see are lights upon lights upon lights. For all of the crazy things that we do as humans, we are the species that literally lights up the earth. (My alma mater, Amherst College, would be proud as our motto is “Terras Irradient”, which literally means to light up the earth.)
To create these concentrations of light, which are readily visible from space, takes immense amounts of power, miles and miles of transmission cables and wiring, and thousands, if not millions, of hours of manpower to take care of these oceans of lights. We take it for granted every night that we see a streetlamp go on or work extra hours in our offices and homes, but up here at 34,789 feet, you start to see the scope of just how immense this network of light can be.
And that’s just what you when you look down. When you look up, you can see something even more amazing on clear nights. The stars are just a bit brighter up here and each little pinprick of light typically represents a star larger and brighter than the sun that has traveled for hundreds or thousands of years just to get to us in that very moment. The power needed to make that little spot of light is greater than exists in our entire solar system, yet all we see is a tiny twinkle that we might miss from night to night if we blink or never look up.
Looking up and looking down, I think of two different phenomena that we don’t always take advantage of as social creatures. In looking down, it is easy to just think of the light that we see outside our own doors and to ignore the infrastructure that makes this all possible. Instead of just trying to think of how to make our own individual lights brighter, think about the big picture: how do our lights get there and how are they connected? And how do we bring our individual lights come together? That is when our light burns brightest; when we take advantage of the power of being together and learn the specific characteristics of what strengthens networks and when we make sure that these networks stay together,
And in looking up, stars are so powerful that they help in unexpected ways. It’s highly unlikely that these stars were designed expressly to provide directional guidance for the lifeforms on a plant thousands of light-years away, but when you burn brightly enough and seek to inspire, you can affect other people in unexpected ways. From my perspective, this is the value of fame. Fame for its own sake is, frankly, pretty meaningless. It is only when fame is used to inspire, guide, and change the world that fame really becomes useful. Likewise, it’s easy to get carried away in yet another Like or another retweet, but social fame only means something if it helps people out. Getting 1,000 retweets for acting like a drunken fool may be entertaining, but it doesn’t make you a star with enduring value. We as a “social” society get caught up in the ephemeral nature of social shares rather than providing meaningful insight, especially in the social marketing world. But in today’s day and age, marketing is fundamentally about educating, not about going viral.
So, as you think about how to make a difference, think about looking down and looking up. Build networks and provide guidance and inspiration. Light up the earth and be a star. By keeping those simple thoughts in mind, you can avoid the pitfalls of this increasingly connected world we live in, stay grounded, and use technology to help others.
Look up, look down, and be social.