change, experiencing, psychology, social connection, technology

How Social Media Tells Our Life Story — Whether We Like It Or Not

Last weekend, I attended a wedding. A number of guests were people to whom I haven’t spoken in months or even years, for no reason other than the fact that our daily lives don’t intersect. As I anticipated the reunion, I imagined a Romy and Michele-style experience in which conversations would begin with, “What have you been up to since 2010?”

And I was nervously excited about that.

But these conversations took an unexpected path. I was greeted with opening lines like, “You were all over the place this week!” and “What was that dinner you made?” or “I love that book you’re reading.”

They were knowing remarks, as if we had shared those experiences together. The tone was familiar, though not in the “it feels like no time has passed,” sort of way. My expectation of reunion-type conversation was grossly inaccurate.

Recent MomentsI shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was — these questions all stemmed from recent instagrams or blog articles I’ve shared. They were undeniable snapshots from current events in my life. Despite this obvious justification, something simply didn’t feel right about the conception of these conversations, and in the moment, I couldn’t understand why. For whatever reason, they weren’t topics I would have chosen to lead with. Still, the company — and the conversations in themselves — were delightful.

Sunday after the wedding, I returned to my apartment for the first time in a week. I passed my roommate on my way in.

“Hi! Was this weekend one of the weddings?” She asked.

“Yes! It was a great time.”

“And were you gone during the week too? I wasn’t sure.”

It sometimes happens that we don’t cross paths during the work week, even when we are both in town. When my roommate asked the question, the peculiar feeling I had with those wedding greetings suddenly returned.

“Yeah, I was in Ohio. I’ll tell you all about it, and I want to hear about your week too.”

How ironic that I had gone dark on this person who is deeply entrenched in my daily life, while those who follow from afar seemingly had not missed a beat. The difference between her and them? She doesn’t have instagram.

We can all agree and accept that social media presents a curated version of our life experiences. We know that there is more behind what we filter out. In fact, I see my social presence as a completely different entity from my living and breathing one. My real-life story intentionally has different chapters than the ones I share online. And people in my day-to-day world know that.

But for geographically and figuratively distant friends, what they see is the only — and entire — story.

This is what caught me off guard at the wedding.

It has me wondering whether social media is not just presenting a curated version of our life experiences, but also creating a curated version of our reality. The fleeting, caption-worthy moments we share for Likes are the ones people (setting aside close friends) know us for. They serve as a jumping-off point for our in-person conversation. It is what they ask about, and what we tell them about.

Whether they intend to or not, others write the story of our lives, and their perceptions of them, by what we share. And we do the same to them. We overlook the existence, let alone the significance, of people’s unshared moments.

In most cases, that’s where the real story lies.

While I initially struggled with this truism, I’ve decided that this is the status of social media. There’s nothing we can do about it, whether we like it or not. We can, however, remind ourselves that people have unshared stories. We can account for this by leaving blank pages in the life stories we craft for them. And we can encourage them to tell these stories, should they desire.

Monday evening, my roommate and I ate dinner together at home. We regaled one another with the goings-on in our lives, taking care to mention what we deemed meaningful. Perhaps what made the conversation most captivating was that none of it could be found in a caption. We established the filters of our stories. Not social media.

And that feeling of connection was anything but fleeting.

change, communication, emotions, psychology, real world, San Francisco, technology

Is Online Communication Making Us More Rude Offline?

Stephanie Tanner

Riding home on the metro a few weeks ago, I was one of many San Franciscan sardines commuting after a long day at work. As was to be expected with the abrupt stop-and-gos of the train and the complete lack of personal space, my fellow passengers and I accepted that things were going to get physical. I held a pole for balance while my other arm held an open book in front of my chest. My goal was to take up as little of the horizontal plane as possible.

A quarter of the way into my ride, our train came to a screeching halt between stops. We were thrown into each other then bounced away on impact. Returning from my bounce, I was met with the stern face of the man next to me. His eyes widened.

“Don’t! DO NOT step on my shoes again.”

I looked back at him and then the people around us. Unsure how to respond, I nodded my head and went back to my book. But I couldn’t pay attention to the words on the page. The man’s words had taken over my brain.

How could he possibly have thought I was doing it on purpose? I wondered. It happened onceWhat should I have said in response? 

It wasn’t as much what the man had said, but the way he had said it. It was raw. Rude. And left no room for response. It was as if he had yelled into a vacuum. Except, the vacuum was my face.

His statement may have been better suited for Twitter:

Tweet From Subway Scrooge

Suggested Tweet

Overcome with an irrational desire to reconcile our differences, I finally looked up from my book and back at him. “You realize I obviously wasn’t doing it intentionally,” I said as if we knew each other.

Now it was his turn not to respond. Without acknowledging my comment, he exited the train at the next stop.

The second he did, I looked at the people who had been around us. “Public transit is not the right choice if you’re concerned about people stepping on your shoes,” I said to no one in particular. The no ones chuckled.

At first, I attributed the man’s rudeness to workday stress or the psychology of big cities..

But since that evening, I’ve witnessed countless other examples of unquestionable rudeness in both intimate and large settings, cities, and situations. Time and again — at a church, on a plane, in an academic building, at a restaurant — people seemingly failed to recognize social cues or simply didn’t care that the strangers they encountered were actual people. They said and did things that were completely inappropriate for face-to-face interaction. They were volcanoes exploding with rudeness.

It hasn’t always been like this, has it?

There has been a large body of research to show that the internet leads to antisocial and rude behaviors by lowering our self-control and increasing anonymity.

But given my recent observations, I can’t help but wonder whether the internet is also making us more rude in person.

The same way we unapologetically send off an emotionally charged email, politically charged Facebook status, or sadistically charged Tweet, are we becoming more comfortable with sending off rude comments IRL? Is this miserable social media norm transforming into an offline social norm as well? In a recent national survey, 70% of people blamed technology for the spike in real-world disrespect.

Beyond my anecdotes, there are scientific reasons to believe that this might be the case.

In his expansive research on multi-tasking in tech, Stanford Professor Clifford Nass found that the brains of “high-tech jugglers” may be in trouble. “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Each time we communicate with real humans, we’re switching contexts, likely from something electronic. We’re turning our attention away from our email inbox, away from our Facebook feed, away from the text we’re writing in order to speak or listen to the person in front of us. Most of the time, we don’t turn our attention fully away. It’s a sad fact, but one we can’t ignore.

In our attempts to juggle online and offline communication, we might be bringing the antisocial rude behaviors of the internet into the real world. If we struggle to switch from one online task to another, what’s to say that we don’t struggle to switch from robotic internet communication to emotional real-life communication? Our 140-character lives are affecting our personal character.

While some may argue that rudeness is difficult to control online, there’s certainly something we can do about it offline.

How can we stop the rudeness?

twitter heartThere’s no place to report real people as offensive or block them altogether. However, we can be the ones to lead by example, to take it in stride, and to politely remind our rude community members that we too, are fellow humans. Unlike many of the other problems we face as a community, this is one we can rather easily and effectively solve.

We can consider our platforms and understand our environments before we dive in.

Put another way: Whether you’re communicating online or off, go for Likes.

birthdays, happiness, job search, no, psychology, rejection, technology

When it comes to rejection, no word is as good as “No.”

When was the last time someone called you to invite you to an event? A dinner date, a birthday party, a trip? When was the last time you called someone on the phone and invited them to something? I can’t remember a time in recent history.

My childhood was complete with telephone invitations — from asking my neighbor if he could come out to play or a friend if she could sleepover.

I am most reminded of these phone calls in August. After thoughtfully creating a list of names and phone numbers, I would call each of my friends to invite her to my birthday party. I still remember the short moments of nervous wonder while my friend went to ask her mom or dad if she could attend. She always returned with a “yes” or “no.”

There was no “maybe.” No “I’ll let you know.” And even if I didn’t like the response (“My mom said no,”) there was always an immediate answer.

Regardless of each answer, my birthday, and the party, would take place, and the happiest of days it would be.

I wasn’t the only one making and receiving phone call invitations during my childhood.

My mom made and received dinner invitation phone calls all the time. When she was on the answering side, she had split seconds in those moments after, “I’m calling to invite you to dinner on August 18th,” to determine whether or not our family would attend the dinner. Beyond determining four people’s availability, she also made other considerations like how tired my dad would be on a Friday evening or the fact that it was too close to my brother’s piano recital or my history test. Almost never did she respond with, “I’ll let you know,” and in those rare cases, it was assumed that she would follow up within twenty-four hours after family discussion. And she always did.

I don’t know when it happened, or maybe it was more gradual, but my sent and received phone call invitations were replaced by email, evites, and texts. But it’s not just the invitation method that has been replaced. The responses are different too.

The asynchronous nature of invitations makes it easy for us to let the invitation linger — for minutes, for hours, for days — especially when, despite being available, we kind of want to say “no.”

Maybe we’re interested in waiting to see (because these methods allow it) who else will be attending. Perhaps we want to do something but are holding out to see if a better option, a better person, presents itself.

All of this chalks up to the fact that we simply hate saying “no.” It’s such a mean, sad word. There’s something so airy about keeping our options open while remaining kind and cordial. By not saying “no,” we hope to save someone else’s emotions.

There is a definitive happiness in the indefinite.

Or is there?

Let’s step back and think about it from a different lens.

Imagine you submit your resume for a role at your dream job. Three weeks later, you still haven’t heard back. Well, it is a large company. It probably gets a huge volume of applications you tell yourself. I’ll wait a little longer. Three weeks later, still no word. Maybe they’re still getting their act together you justify. You start half-heartedly applying to other positions, but slowly. Murphy’s law, I’ll take another job and hear from Dream Company a day later.

Meanwhile, Dream Company has happily filled the role with some other qualified candidate who is already enjoying free meals and a compensated spa membership.

Imagine another scenario:

You and a young woman have gone on a few dates. You are madly in love. She is the one. One day, she tells you she is very busy but would love to meet up soon once things settle down. “Of course,” you say. You want to give your future wife her space!

You casually date other people while you wait, but never letting yourself care too much. This is a stop-gap. A few months go by. Feeling that things must be less busy, you reach out to your woman friend via text. She responds a few days later.

Totally. It HAS been a while. Would love to catch up sometime. 

Your heart leaps at the response, but you wish it would’ve been a bit more committal. Oh well. You persist. Friday night drinks?

Hm…I *might* be able to. Not sure.

She never follows up and you end up going to the bars Friday night with some friends. Coincidentally, she is at the same bar as you. In a corner, very cozy with another man.

Between technology and adulthood, we rarely get flat-out rejected these days. Employers don’t say no. Publishers don’t say no. Boys don’t say no. We just assume “No” from silence. And we don’t really assume “No” per se. We assume something more like, “Not now, maybe later.”

Without the pressure of a real-time required response, we can easily fall back on our very human desire to keep our options open.

But “options” don’t actually help us maintain light, airy happiness as we think they do.

My brother did joint birthday parties more graciously than I

In a study by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, participants were told to choose an art poster to keep. Thirty days later, those who had been told they could change their mind reported being less happy with their decision that those who were not given an option to exchange it. With the option to return it, these people weren’t fully behind their decision.

When we make a firm decision, our “psychological immune system” kicks in to help us justify why that was the right choice. This is the same system that helps our rejected social partners get past the emotional blow. But by leaving things uncertain and in flux, we prevent this rationalization from occurring, which brings us down and brings others down with us.

This limbo state is worse on our emotions than a “no.” This is the same for considering various job options, career paths, romantic partners, or really any other life choices.

Saying “no” is hard. Typing it is worse. But remember that in doing so, you and the person who received it will actually end up more satisfied than if you leave things in the air. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to be rude or mean. Your “no” can be cushioned, so long as it is not lost completely.

Going back to birthday parties, think of it this way: It is the best — the happiest — birthday present you can give to or receive from a person.

boys, coed, corporate America, education, gender inequality, girls, glass ceiling, lean in, priming, San Francisco, Sheryl Sandberg, silicon valley, soccer, Tahoe, technology, women

Phenomenal woman, that’s me. – Maya Angelou

Boy-cut Me

When I was three, my grandpa visited from India to see my newborn brother. Sharing grandparental attention was new to me; I handled it better on some days than others. On one of the dark days, my grandpa took (only) me on a San Francisco adventure. From pier to chocolate to bridge, I was a content grandpa-hog.

At my request, the tram was our selected mode of transportation (It had to be like Full House).

When we entered, a woman on the tram looked at me and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I had a boy-cut at the time, so her question wasn’t completely unsolicited. Attention-starved, I jumped at the opportunity to talk to this person who noticed me.

My brother’s birth taught me the difference between boy siblings and girl siblings, which to me, was the main difference between boys and girls. “I’m a girl, but I have a brother at home who’s a boy,” I told her.

That was the first time I expressed pride in my femininity. Today, I don’t know what that pride looks like.

A few weeks ago on the soccer field, an opponent and I elbowed as we fought over the ball. When the situation was no longer in his favor, my opponent looked at the ref then at me and yelled, “You can’t push me just because you’re a girl.” I backed off, but not before saying, “Hey, watch the gender references.” And I meant, “Treat me like one of the boys.”

While I was mostly angry by his loaded remark, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was elbowing harder than a male would have gotten away with. Did I think that I wouldn’t get called because I was a woman? Would I have been called if I was a man

Our co-ed soccer league requires three women from each team to be on the field at any given time. A precious commodity, a free-agent girl standing on the field will reliably be swooped up by a female-deficient team. This special attention for females makes it difficult not to wonder whether I would be as desirable a teammate if I weren’t a girl. If perhaps, my team’s men feel that a spot on the field is being wasted.

Two weekends ago, my company’s product development team had a retreat in Tahoe. The team consists of ~30 engineers, 4 product designers, and 5 product managers. The only females are product managers, of which I am one. When we were informed of the trip, the organizer emphasized that attendance was highly encouraged, and anyone who wasn’t planning to attend was to send him a personal note.

My stomach sank when I received the email about Tahoe. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to spend time with my team. My stomach sank because I don’t play snow sports — and have no interest in learning how. I worried what everyone would think when I said that I wasn’t going to ski or snowboard. They would probably think, “Classic girl. So fragile.”

I was nervous that my disinterest would shed additional negative attention of the fact that I am a woman and permanently affect people’s (people I lead!) perception of my strength. Strength both inside and outside the office. I wanted to be “one of the guys” just like I did on the soccer field. It was only once we were in Tahoe, when one of the product managers ended up going snowboarding and several of the men stayed back to hike and laze that I felt more comfortable.

My feminine issues about soccer and Tahoe were mostly in my head.

They were in my head because the conversation about corporate America’s gender gap is never-ending. From the glass ceiling to leaning in, the inequality between women and men in the workforce (and in other adult activities) is continually in the spotlight.

Feeling “disadvantaged” or worse ashamed of my sex is new to me. In fact not once during my academic career did I feel incapable of blowing something out of the water (a Calculus exam, a psychology thesis, an economics project) because I am female. Similarly, I never attributed any of my academic successes to my sex. I accredited innate (unisex) qualities like hard work and determination.

I met the gender gap when I started my professional career, in an industry where there reportedly isn’t a gender gap in salary.

In a review, a male manager provided a “likely” explanation for why others perceived me as “only strong” while he perceived me as “outstanding.” “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s hard for women to have an edge.” He provided no specific way for me to become more “edgy” (except perhaps a sex change?) and I left with the understanding that I would forever be disadvantaged in the category of edge.

Now, whenever I lead ineffectively, my gut reaction is that perhaps my “lack of edge” is to blame. Most of the time, there are countless (tangible) and more realistic reasons — I didn’t  communicate clearly, I didn’t involve the right people, I didn’t do my due diligence. Those explanations are not instinctual to me, though.

When I recount this story to people (friends, former managers, respected leaders, etc.), they typically point me to other women leaders I can emulate.

We lump “femininity” in with the problem and discuss the importance of leaning in.

Based on its implications in my own life, I hypothesize that the discussion of disadvantage, rather than the gender gap itself, is handicapping us women more. And there is psychological research to justify my hypothesis:

In 2012, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a study in which girls and boys were asked to complete a matching task. After the first round, some participants were told that the other group was better at the task (i.e., “boys are better at this game”), while others were told that a specific person was good at the task (i.e, “that girl is good at this game”).

In the second round, the scores of those who had been primed to believe that the other gender group was better at the task (i.e, girls who were told, “boys are better at this game”) dropped by 12%. Scores didn’t change for those who were told about an individual’s penchant for the game.

This tells me that as a young woman, my success is dependent on hearing about successful individuals and their strengths. Not what corporate women struggle with. Not what corporate males are good at.

Boy-cut Mindy
In an interview on feminism, Mindy Kaling once commented, “I often feel guilty pointing out behavior in other women that I don’t support. Like somehow, the moment I was pulled from my mother’s severed stomach, a pen was placed in my tiny balled fist and I signed a binding document that says, ‘I got your back, ladies.'”

Women are good and bad at things the same way men are good and bad at things. And that’s okay. A blanket statement covering a woman’s disadvantage in a specific situation is not always the answer — and may even harm other women who are more likely to succeed.

While the acknowledgement of glass ceilings and the search for more women requires acute attention and concerted action, maybe the message is being driven home in the wrong way, or in the wrong minds.

There needs to be a way to amplify the voice of women without amplifying the voice in women’s heads. 

Coed should really be coed. Young women should be encouraged to emulate leaders based on successful leadership qualities. Feedback for improvement should include truly actionable suggestions.

Let’s start a new movement. A movement to attribute successes — and failures — to changeable, tangible behaviors instead of sex. Sisters and brothers (who are boys), let’s bring the pride back.

Versions of this article are published on Medium and Women 2.0. The Medium version was referenced by Inc. Magazine in October 2014. 
academia, confidence, product management, psychology, real world, self-aggrandizement, soccer, teamwork, technology, validation

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” ― Phil Jackson

Senior year of high school, I received the Scholar-Athlete award. This essentially signifies that I played a varsity sport while maintaining impressive grades. Considering the academic rigor and athletic weakness of my high school at the time, the second requirement was a far more legitimate accomplishment. Regardless, the award provided self-validation for the ways in which I spent my time (studying and practicing soccer). Walking up to the podium to receive my award, I was beaming.In addition to these end-of-season award ceremonies, my coach always selected a “Player of the Game.” This person may not necessarily have scored goals, but instead she may have made strategic runs and passes, epitomized the drills we practiced, slid for good saves, or even led from the bench. Each individual felt her self-worth on the team; her time on the field was well-spent.

To focus on studying, I didn’t play soccer for the entirety of college. A minor side note is that I wouldn’t have been good enough for any sort of league, anyway.

Entering the real world, I slowly worked my way back onto the soccer field. After weeks of pickup games, I joined a recreational league in San Francisco last August. It quickly became clear that in this league, scoring goals, no matter how, was the only thing that mattered. Advanced moves like header-goals off corner kicks or fancy footwork were forgettable if they didn’t result in a goal. There was no coach selecting a “Player of the Game.” Instead, each person’s value was easily measured by goals, assists, and mess-ups.

I joined the league in order to get my mind off work every so often. The first several months passed by quickly, each game serving the initial purpose. Every Sunday, I suited up, ran around for sixty minutes, then went back to my life and work.

Since August, as a midfield and forward, I have yet to score a single goal. My team has won a league championship, but I haven’t scored a single goal.

During a game two weeks ago, this fact and its accompanying self-doubt, which have slowly been flying through the air over the last several months, finally came down to slap me in the face like a soccer ball. I missed easy passes, I shied away from headers and chest traps, and my shots were well, not on goal. I heard disappointed remarks like “Ro, you should be there,” from the sidelines. A teammate playing defense even asked me to switch so he could play midfield instead. “We just need to be faster up there,” he said matter-of-factly. Beating others to the ball was the only skill I thought I had, and now, that was in question too.”They probably would be better off playing one woman down,” I scolded myself as I moved back to defense. “Have you never played soccer before?”

I continued lecturing myself on the way home.

Why are you doing this? What is the point of spending so much time traveling to and from these games when you don’t add any value? You might as well put more time into doing better at work. Or on your writing. You like like a prize idiot running up and down the wings.

Once home, I threw my cleats into the deepest recesses of my closet and opened my laptop. I had work to do.

Around the time that I joined the soccer league, I hit a career rut. After three years as a product manager at both a large company and a startup, I didn’t feel like my role had any value. Over the years, I grappled with the urge to create something myself. Product managers didn’t really get to do that. Stemming from that external validation that comes from a good grade on a paper you’ve written, I wanted to build or design something that I could touch and feel and say, “Wow, I did this.” Something that someone else could touch and feel and say, “Wow, fantastic job.” Instead, I frequently found myself going head to head with my designer when she didn’t want me forcing my mockups on her or he didn’t want me making interaction decisions without him. I found myself being told “we” couldn’t build something a certain way, but unable to see for myself.

One evening, after an especially full day of writing JIRA tickets and scheduling meetings, I broke down.

Why are you doing this? You don’t even do anything. Why don’t you instead go learn to code or to design? Why are you even in tech? You are not innovating anything. You are not creating anything of value.

Months later, the grief has waned and it has dawned on me how much I have grown into my product management role — and how much it has grown on me. As I share my products directly with customers through demos and testing, I spend time deeply understanding their needs and thinking about how I can innovate to meet those needs. I take what I learn back to my engineering and design teams so we can come up with improvements. I facilitate conversations to prompt product decisions. It all culminates when I am forced to think about all the feature requests and product changes that come from other teams and leaders. It is up to me to make the decision that benefits my users and is in favor of my engineers’ and designers’ time and effort. Every time, it is up to me to defend my team. A happy team and happy customers — this is the purpose of my role.

Two weeks ago, as I got back to work after my horrific soccer performance, I was struck by the fact that soccer wasn’t really a way to get my mind off work. In some ways, the two are actually tightly intertwined.

Being a product manager is a lot like being a member of the soccer team. Balls are constantly coming flying at you, and you’ll unquestionably miss some. But with some practice, you’ll pick yourself up and get the next one. And somehow or another, you won’t miss the ones that count. Notably, you won’t always be the one making the game winning shot, but by simply being on the field — making a run, blocking an opponent, or trapping a pass — you help your team get closer to a goal.At the core of my twin breakdowns was the absence of that hollow but self-aggrandizing validation I once received through awards and grades. No longer spending hours practicing soccer and hearing my coach commend my improvement or studying like crazy for high honors, I lacked physical proof that my time and contributions were valuable to myself and my team. What I overlooked, however, is the most important fact about our adult, working world:

When one person on your team shoots and scores, the entire team wins. And she couldn’t have made it to the net if it weren’t for every single other person on the field.