Do you bring your social network into the voting booth or church pew with you?

When I first became active on social networking sites, I decided to never tweet about politics or post a status update about religion. These are two areas which are off limits in my personal playbook.

In this day and age where everyone has a soap box and a forum upon which to share their opinions with others, I see many people, however, who openly voice their voting decisions, their views on controversial political issues, their prayers, and their love of, or disbelief in, God. For right or wrong, knowing this information makes me feel closer--or more distant--from these people. Although opposites attract, I believe more fully in "birds of a feather flock together" and, yes, if you share my opinion on any of these issues, I will most likely feel a closer connection to you.

When we discover we have a common belief system with someone, it usually does create a bond of sorts. Will this make Joe more likely to want to hire Sally as a consultant because she's in support of SB101 like he is? (I made up that Senate bill, so don't look it up.) If Joe sees Sally say she's in support of same sex marriage and he isn't, will Joe be more likely to hire Sam (who either has the same opinion as Joe or has not publicly announced an opinion at all)? Do social networking sites open up a whole Pandora's Box when it comes to our private lives and very personal beliefs?

As for me, if I see someone share something political or religious that I agree with, I may, and have on occasion, sent a private message to them saying that it's nice to know they're a kindred spirit. I did this twice today, which actually gave me the idea for this post. And, although I respect everyone's right to share what they please and cast no judgment on their decision to do so, I still choose to censor myself on certain topics.

In person, I do enjoy a spirited discussion on evolution versus creation or any number of controversial or provocative topics. However, in person, my comments have context. In person, I choose who hears what I say and who I engage with. On social networking sites, I may be throwing out my opinion to thousands of strangers.

It used to be that it was completely inappropriate to ask someone who they voted for, and to do so was considered ignorant. I suppose, I'm still a bit old school in keeping certain aspects of my life private. Am I alone in this? Do you want to see how I've filled out my sample ballot or know who I do or don't worship?

Is there room in the voting booth for me and my entire social network?

Death to the Butt Dialer

Every Saturday morning while I'm still nestled in bed, the Butt Dialer calls. Yesterday, in an effort to curb a killer headache, I laid down to take a nap. The Butt Dialer knew. He called me five times in 60 minutes. The Butt Dialer always knows when I'm sleeping and I want him or her to take a long walk off a short pier.

You know who I'm talking about. The person who puts their cell phone in their back pocket and accidentally dials someone from their phone book. It's unintentional, but as they shift or sit, their butt cheek hits dial and send. The Butt Dialer never just calls me once, they call four or five times in an hour. On Saturdays, they call when I'm in my peak REM sleep. There isn't anyone on the line per se, but I can hear them walk. I recognize the sound of pant legs rubbing together and I occasionally hear garbled noises in the background.

The number they're calling me at is a landline and I don't have caller ID. I've tried to *69 them, but I receive a recording that that option won't work on that number. I've tried to block them, but my phone company won't let me block a cell number. The Butt Dialer is harassing me relentlessly and they don't even know it.

Yesterday, I thought I had my first clue. The faint sound of a baby crying. I only know one person with an infant, so I quickly sent a tweet to ask if he could check his phone to see if he might have accidentally called me five times. He responded and said no. Back to square one.

Now, I don't think the call is emanating from a purse; I can hear too much ambient noise. I'm almost positive the phone resides in a back pocket and has an intimate relationship with this person's butt check. I don't know if I'm the unlucky recipient of these calls because my first and last names begin with an "A" and I come up first in their phone book, but I suspect that might be the case.

If you have my number and you read this post, I implore you to check your phone to see if you're calling me. It's usually bright and early on Saturday mornings, but this week I got bonus Wednesday aggravation. I've come to cringe when my phone rings, knowing that this is just the first of a thread of calls from the dreaded Butt Dialer.

As a point of responsible electronics ownership, I hope this post serves as a reminder to use the lock feature on your cell phone. It's there for just this reason. It will preserve your minutes and prevent you from accidentally harassing your friends and making them miserable.

Have your own Butt Dialer horror story or solution? I'm all ears.

Dare to not fit in

You're at your "steady" job today, buried deep in work. Pushing papers, answering to "The Man", and repeatedly checking the clock to see if 5:00 has rolled around. You know who you are.

Want something different? Something better? Check out this oldie, but goodie, from Apple. It might give you the inspiration you need to be better, to do better, and to change the world and your life. Remember, fitting in is highly over-rated.

Nothing tastes better than FREE food

These days, it seems more and more food joints are trying to entice customers with free food. This week in Southern California, Chick-Fil-A is offering a different, free, snack for five consecutive days. Tomorrow, Jack-in-the-Box will offer free fries. Today, tax day, even more eateries are offering free edibles. This year alone, IHOP, Starbucks, Denny's, Ben & Jerry's, and many others have offered free food to hungry patrons.

So, if you try something for free and you like it (and, heck, doesn't everything taste better when it's free?), will you come back in the future and pay for it? Will that freebie create enough goodwill to increase your loyalty to that business all together? As for myself, I have to say yes (although, my encounter at Baskin-Robbins is a stellar example of how not to do freebies).

So, what say you, oh hungry compadres? Is the free food craze a smart move for restaurants?

News Junkie Heaven

If you're a news junkie and can't read enough, you have got to bookmark the Today's Front Pages section of Newseum. It features more than 800 newspapers and you can sort by region to make your reading easier.

Yes, you could visit the websites of all these papers, but this great service from Newseum collects all the "printed" news for you (and, of course, the content on the front page of a newspaper frequently varies from the homepage of a website, so you can see the paper just as it appeared on news racks). You can even break down your search to select front pages from North America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and more!

Do you love your daily dose of news? If so, this is a news junkie's dream come true!

I am a consumer, hear me roar

Not too long ago, I wrote about My Starbucks Idea. A Web 2.0 version of the old-fashioned suggestion box. If you like the concept of submitting your ideas and having peers vote on them, and if you're a fan (or critic!) of Dell computer products, you should like IdeaStorm just as much.

Submit your suggestion on how Dell can improve its customer experience or product catalog, encourage your friends to vote for your idea, vote on other ideas you like, and see if your suggestion gets put into action. So far, more than 13,000 ideas have been submitted, and more than 400 have been implemented.

Dell has also expanded on the concept by creating Storm Sessions. Essentially, it's timed and targeted crowdsourcing. Dell will share a current business challenge and ask the community for input (more in the video below).

Companies can learn so much from its customers, so why not take an active role in enhancing your own user experience? Whether it's coffee or computers, it's the consumer who knows best.

I hate the word "followers"

I've seen way too many tweets that say, "My followers are great!" or "Eager to meet my followers at XYZ conference." I hate these tweets. I hate them a lot.

Interestingly, these aren't from celebs who really do have fans following their every move. I'm talking about regular people. Joe from Milwaukee, Sarah from Portland, Roger from Baton Rouge. People who somehow get an inflated sense of ego from social media.

To me, Twitter is all about connecting with people. The thought leaders in social media get that Twitter is a community and the best way to utilize the platform is to form relationships. Now, if you believe that (which I do), aren't we all equal? If I meet you, and we follow each other, why am I meeting one of my followers? Aren't we just peers connecting with one another?

I guess my issue is that the word "followers" is much too self indulgent. It implies that you are worshipping me, but I'm not worshipping you. That's wrong and that's not what social media is about.

I refrain from using the "F" word. I think it's contrary to what the platform is meant to be. Personally, I'd like to see it wiped out and replaced with the word "connections". After all, aren't we all using these sites to meet other people, learn from them, share our knowledge, and enhance our sense of community? Or, is our real intent to feed our bloated egos and fool ourselves into thinking our "followers" are hanging on our every word?

I never thought I'd quote Mother Teresa on my blog, but these words seem to fit the occasion perfectly: "I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things."

Now, let's start connecting.

Product placement meets Bridezilla

This weekend, my girlfriends and I enjoyed a good, old-fashioned night of chick flicks. One of the films on the playbill was Bride Wars, starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. The premise is two best friends get married on the same day and battle each other for guests, entertainment, and all the other wedding necessities (bear with me, gentleman, the girl talk is almost over). Kate's character spends an entire scene mooning over a Vera Wang dress and there is much talk about how crucial the gown is to ensure the wedding is perfect. Enter product placement.

Now, it's not uncommon in the least to have a product receive such obvious attention in a film. What is unusual, however, was the Vera Wang bonus feature on the DVD.

"The Perfect White Dress" selection is a seven-minute piece on the history and prestige of the Vera Wang empire. We learn how Vera started out creating wedding gowns, then went on to designer couture for celebrities, and has now added housewares to her inventory. It doesn't have a 1-800 number at the bottom of the screen, but aside from that it is a infomercial through and through.

I watch a lot of films on DVD and this is the first time I've seen a product from a movie get its own bonus feature. Movie studios pay millions of dollars to get a film onto the silver screen, and having product placement seep over onto the DVD extras is a really smart way to secure additional monies. The advertiser gets to build on the exposure already given in the movie, and the consumer can choose whether or not to consume this extra bit of advertising. Win-win, right?

Although I'm not a fan of product placement, I really like this new approach. I suspect this is just the beginning of a shift in how products are shared with audiences. Oh, and by the way, I used a Kensington keyboard to write this post. If you like how my words look, you can learn more about Kensington products HERE (sorry, I couldn't resist!).
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