The story of Death in Tehran

Every year I decide on three words that I will focus on as my goals for the New Year. My three words for 2015 were charity, creativity and insight. This blog post is about my focus on insight.

Each day I spend about 10 – 14 hours on the internet. This means that this year I’ve easily spent around 2,100 hours staring at a screen of some sort. Without referring to research, this is not healthy for the mind.

It’s time to revaluate, and without being too personal in this blog post, change how I am living my life. Why? Because my current internet-based existence is far too woven into my professional and personal life – discovering they both have a distinction is important.

Passivity leads to a kind of intellectual apathy; leaving the mind lethargic as it swallows short form internet based content, most of which designed to influence or evoke response. A healthy body is akin to a nourished mind. Primary school teachers know this about their pupils, but it’s now something I’m discovering about my own life.

There is a time and place for social media, but it must be balanced with physical and mental fitness.

I recently came across the story called Death in Tehran: 

A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.

It’s possible to read many messages from this story but the one I take away is this; sometimes our actions, or lack of action, have absolutely no bearing on the outcome we desire. Even when a situation seems dire, we tend to automatically assume the worst, when actually the polar opposite may be true. To add credence to these words, some of you may recognise this story as told by Viktor Frankl in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, a psychologist who survived the holocaust (one tough guy).

In today’s society, which Frankl draws parallels up to the 90’s, our search for meaning is largely based on achieving success – when this is really an outcome from finding a meaning in life. When the servant escaped death, he instead secured his fate. You could say he should have stayed in the garden (following ‘his meaning’ rather than running for success).

I’m not a believer in hard determinism, our actions have outcomes. I know through better health and a balance of internet based activities, I’m discovering that meaning again. It will take time and it’s all positive – my mind and body already feels fresher.

When I worked for competitor of infidelity website Ashley Madison

She dripped of sin, blonde hair waving behind her as she headed for the meeting room. The adulterous heiress; marketing manager for a dating website that specialises in infidelity. I sat opposite her, as a student on work experience, and found it difficult to believe that this young woman could be considered ethically responsible for tempting men and women across the country to cheat on their partners. How could she be so happy? Seem so content with life? As a PR student one of the main questions asked by lecturers in class was, “Would you work for an oil company?” I knew in that meeting room that this blonde lady was my oil company, the oil company of breaking relationships, dismantling love, for profit.

Then there was me, contractually obliged to give her advice that would tempt even more men and women to give up on love. The agency I was gaining experience at was measuring the results of their campaigns well. In the last month we had driven 5,000 new user registrations to the debaucherous site – just how many relationship breakdowns did that account for? To me they were just numbers. That was my shield to hide me from the ugly ethical truth. Today I would be more vocal, protest and refuse to work on the account – at the time I was on paid work experience. I suppose it was a utilitarian argument; the greatest good was furthering my career.

I would also tell myself that surely the dating site couldn’t be held completely accountable for a relationship breakup? Something in a couple’s personal life must have happened first. That register button is just a button, no voodoo, click or leave it. Now that I’m 25 years old and surrounded by friends who have made the leap to marriage my view is less laissez-faire.

To some the internet is just a ‘hive mind’ of opinions. Others see the internet as a valuable collective resource that could enhance humanity. I believe in both of those things to an extent, but mostly the internet is data. When running digital marketing campaigns, I see ones and zeroes, behaviour flow paths that are typical of certain website structures. Psychology and code dictate 90% of online behaviours. The trick to running a successful social media campaign is knowing the data you’re analysing are real people.

If you want to help somebody cheat on their partner, make sure you are serving advertisements on the correct pornographic websites. Keep showing these images and videos multiple times to tempt a click. Contextualise social media updates to appear next to the correct arousing accounts. Redirect people without their input to registration pages. Let people use false identities and validate them using payment details. It’s the dark side of the internet and it will never go away.

That’s until a website becomes too big and a community gets unruly. It’s highly likely that one of the hackers who infiltrated the online cheating site Ashley Madison worked for the company; at least that’s what The Guardian is saying. They are holding the company to intellectual data ransom due to a disagreement with a line in their policy. Having what I would call an ‘informed ethical judgement’, having worked for a competitor of Ashley Madison, I hope the data does get leaked. It’s this side of the internet that only ruins the value of our lives and makes me doubt the internet can be a force of good in the world.

Why I’m never getting involved with online dating again

Can I just start this post by saying the whole thing was just one big mistake? It was never really meant to be a date. I was just being kind. I never thought that this girl would actually want to meet up in real life – our conversations were never with expectations. It just happened. This wasn’t Plenty of Fish, nor Tinder; Bebo was the offending social site. Way back in 2004 when the site was still functioning as a semi-decent social network, before Facebook was open to the public. At the time I was quite religious, sharing ill-informed views about UK news. It was before anything about PR or digital marketing had entered my mind. Although I was a keen programmer who ran several gaming related websites. Little did I know that this knowledge would serve well as a fulltime paid career in the future. I was just fooling around with websites and code.

It attracted the attention of one girl. Naturally one thing led to another; Bebo to MSN Messenger (remember that?). She clearly had confidence issues, that was certain. You know the type; searching for flattering comments at every conversational turn. I was happy, but hesitant to oblige. To me she was another username, another internet user – the thought of her being an actual person seemed nonsensical. This isn’t meant in a weird misogynistic way. I genuinely did not keep in mind that she was a real human. Imagine my surprise when she wanted to meet up locally, in Sutton. Over my school years a large part of my education was about not trusting strangers. “Don’t get in people’s cars”, “Don’t accept strange gifts, especially food or drink”, or “If you do meet, always do it in a public place”; so this is exactly what I did. If I met this strange internet based girl in Sutton high street then surely this would save me from being murdered? That’s how my brain worked anyway.

So we met and she was kind, but sadly there was no connection and regretted meeting in real life immediately. What had I done?! What was the point? I don’t even find this person attractive. Still, make the most of it and I tried. Then she asked me surprisingly innocently “So, when would you like to have sex? My place is close”. My blood ran cold. I had to GET OUT. It got worse. She started asking about baby names and families. People often blame the internet for being an unintelligent hive mind of stupidity. At this very moment I realised that this was just one very stupid, possibly mentally unstable, mind. The internet can be a very good mask for hiding who we really are. I made an excuse to leave which she bought – it had been an hour or so.

Heading back to the bus stop using the shortest route available, going through the graveyard. It was at this point a gang of around eight guys, most on BMX bikes, surrounded us. Whatever the lead guy was on – it wasn’t legal, he wanted a fight. Continuing to walk, moving faster. That’s when I felt it. A hammer was thrown straight at me. By lucky chance the handle only hit the square of my back, just a couple of inches short from the back of my head.

In hindsight, being found dead in a graveyard having met a stranger on the internet for an accidental date wouldn’t have been the most suitable of deaths. The guys really wanted to fight – kept following, egging on, provoking. Even then I had a fairly thick skin and I knew a fight was not the answer. Mostly because 8 on 1 isn’t fair. Even if it was 1 on 1 I would probably lose. My skill was doing internet wizardry, not fistycuffs. Eventually we got away, heading back to the high street as fast as my tiny little 2004 legs would carry me.

I never met that strange girl from Bebo ever again. This happened a long time ago, when I was 14 years old. That’s enough though. Never will I do internet dating again.

If you’re interested then Bebo is now back! After the site started shedding users after AOL’s $850 million takeover in 2008, the original owners bought back the site for $1 million in 2013.

Markets are Conversations

Confidential document

Markets are conversations and they are talking about your brand whether you like it or not. You may have your own brand message. An agreed tone of voice. But unless you’re able to have open and honest conversations with your customers, partners or employees; your competitors may get a step ahead of you.

In a few years the company you work for or represent will just be a corporate structure that allows humans to work together. For that company to have its own tone of voice will seem so dated, so fabricated, for it to be warranted as a bad mask. Behind which real humans socialise and work hard to deliver a product or service.

Organisations are fuelled by the relationships between people and the information that they manage. Both of which have been broken down by social media. Information flows freely in and out of your company without your control. Employees on LinkedIn, in private online communities and through the information they carry with them on their phone pose risks.

Your organisation is porous and journalists are no longer your public or trade information gatekeepers – your news is already out there. Being analysed by a community that’s bigger than you and sways more influence than any newspaper circulation.

The truth is, you can’t control anything about your marketing, only cleverly manage it – the organic ever-changing online environment is king. Public relations no longer speaks to the public and as an organisation you should be scared of your market. Especially if you’re not taking part in online conversations – just what are you spending money on? Conversations are the market.

All of your inflated self-important jargon that you throw around; what’s any of that got to do with me and my life? My true alliance is to my friends and family, business is only part of my life. You really need me and if I’m treated like a target market, I won’t speak to you.

All this money you spend on advertising… why? It’s only sharing ideals with me that I don’t have an interest in meeting. I’m not interested in buying your product unless we can talk about it. Oh, and I’m not going to find you. You find me. I won’t wait – oh look, a competitor.

To be honest – your image is a little tense. Lighten up, stop taking yourself so seriously, enjoy online conversations. Act like you would in a social situation – it’s the only way to do business effectively. Those who are brave enough to try it will win the online race.

Your industry has changed. It’s been disrupted by digital. How long before you’ll need to review your business model? Give it two years.

Despite being published in 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto has never been more relevant. True, bits need updating – you’ll be amazed how many organisations still don’t understand the social shift taking place.