Pick Your Poison: Bain Capital, Freddie Mac or a certain “Stimulus Package”

•January 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Wow. What an exciting year we have ahead of us! Election years in the US are tense, unpredictable and… excruciating. I already can’t wait for it to be over.

How funny is it that, even though we all grow weary of mudslinging and attack ads, the biggest impact on poll data comes in the form of those damaging little 30 second slots? And how sad is it that, even though each election cycle we clamor for a more genteel campaign, the candidates who attempt to abide by this wish are the first to be dragged down and waste little time in joining the rest of the predators in going for the jugular?

I have been following the rise and fall of each of the Republican candidates for the office of President over the last year with interest, and, although I do not particularly favor any one candidate over another, I’m tired of watching each of the front runners be torn apart in the media and by other candidates. It’s easy to see that the field is being narrowed down by the perceived negatives of the candidates without much regard for the relevance of these issues, or the positives attached to each candidate, but to what end? Is it impossible for voters in America to make a decision about politicians that doesn’t hinge upon past mistakes, indiscretions or evolving their position on an issue?  It’s sure starting to seem that way.

I understand the importance of examining a politician’s history, experience and record. I even understand the hard questioning of candidates’ past decisions, retractions, and changed opinions, but politicians are the only people I know of who are demonized for evolving their position on subjects based upon new evidence or even the mood of the country. A candidate is supposed to represent the will of the people in office, but if his or her position changes on a subject over a period of 10 years, they are labeled a “flip flopper” that can’t be trusted because they have changed their mind on occasion. Am I the only one who thinks flexibility is a good quality for a politician to have? I want my public officials to be strong, but I also want them to respond to the will of the people as it evolves.

One of the major failures of President Obama is his unapologetic adherence to his idealism even though the country has moved away from the campaign promises and back to reality. Now that the hopey-changey rose colored glasses have fallen away, there’s a pretty colorful shiner forming where the country has been repeatedly punched in the face by frivolous and foolhardy pet projects which has taken our national debt from about $6 Trillion in August of 2002 to $15 Trillion now. Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has signed into law legislation which has increased the national debt at a rate of $4.2 Billion dollars… a DAY. The single most important thing for our country in the 2012 election is reversing this ridiculous and reckless course of action and restoring fiscal sanity. All other issues MUST take a backseat to this.

Since this is the case, I find it exceedingly depressing that the Republican field has degenerated into teenage girls, pulling hair and throwing bitch slaps at each other even before the left gets a chance to jump in. No one really knows where the outpouring of information about Herman Cain’s past indiscretions started from, or if any of it is even true, but many of the top tier candidates gloated as Cain announced the suspension of his campaign at the end of November. Now, I know that marital fidelity and the possession of a “moral compass” are important factors for many voters. Indeed, some of the tawdry details we hear of politicians exploits are enough to turn the stomach. However, in general, I don’t believe that these exploits prevent a person from being able to make sound business and political decisions and ought to be disregarded. I don’t care that Newt has been married three times, nor do I care whether Herman Cain hit on women that worked for him. The only thing that is important is whether they can do the job that is stopping the Titanic course we are on. I think both of these men could have.

Even more tragically, two frontrunners are being dragged through the wringer on the charges of being successful in business. How is it even fathomable that the party which calls itself conservative is actually chiding two of its members for making lots of money? Isn’t it enough that Occupy Wall Street demonizes successful people for making money when they have none? There’s a part of me that identifies with the people of the Occupy movement. Many of them are recent graduates struggling to find jobs in this tough economic climate, as I am. My views on corporations and “rich people” diverge from theirs pretty sharply however. I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s ok to penalize someone for their success, which is also why I can’t fault either Newt or Mitt for their business decisions.

As far as those matters go, I would have to say that Newt is definitely the more culpable of the pair, considering the payments his firm received came from a company which was not solvent and ultimately bailed out by the taxpayers. However, he says that his consulting company advised Freddie Mac against the current path they were taking and that he did not lobby during his time advising them. I don’t think we’ll ever know the whole truth of it, but I have to take Mr. Gingrich at his word, since it is what we have right now. On the other hand, Mr. Romney led a company called Bain Capital which made him a rich(er) man while creating and sometimes destroying jobs. Bain & Co. is a world renowned consulting firm, known for problem solving and out of the box thinking. It stands to reason that Bain Capital is the financial arm of the company which invests in companies that come to it for help.  To my knowledge, in a free market, companies that provide a service or product that is useful, convenient and affordable generally do well and can get even bigger with an extra influx of cash or creative thinking… a la Staples. Companies whose product or service is not useful, convenient or affordable and cannot find a way to make it so, generally disappear, along with the jobs that were resting in them even if cash is fed into them at a monumental rate… a la Solyndra.

To say that Mitt Romney indiscriminately destroys jobs is a flat out lie. The company that he headed exists to determine where good investments are and pursue them. Sometimes the indicators are not very obvious at the off and only after a company is acquired does it become apparent there is no way to save it. That’s when companies are shut down and jobs are lost. It’s not personal, it’s business… really. Sometimes jobs can be retained by incorporating elements of those companies into other companies in the portfolio, sometimes not. It’s not personal… it’s business. Mr. Romney’s company was extremely successful at identifying the good investments and making them profitable. What floors me is that ANY “conservative” candidate could possibly fault someone for being excellent at their job and making their company profitable. Disgusting really. If neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want American companies and American people to be successful, who ARE they rooting for? A case could be made for socialism in the matter of the former, in the latter, I think it’s really just that the right is afraid to celebrate individual success in this political climate. Ironic, isn’t it? We tell our children they are individuals, capable of achieving anything and that in this country you can make your own fortune. Then when one does haul off and make a fortune, we tell them not to be too happy with themselves and keep it hush hush in case other people are jealous and upset that they didn’t do it themselves. Talk about mixed messages.

In any case, I find these faults that the media and the candidates keep bringing up about each other to be a lot of hot air that takes away time from them talking about something with substance. Are there things about these candidates that I don’t support? Absolutely. I don’t like that Newt decided it was a good idea to be a turncoat and make a commercial with Nancy Pelosi about global warming. I don’t like that Ron Paul thinks it would be ok for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I don’t like that Mitt STILL won’t admit that Romneycare was a mistake, even for a state. I don’t like that I can’t look at Jon Huntsman without  thinking of Billy Bob Thornton in Love Actually… yes, the point where he creepily hits on a Natalie that is dressed up to look like a Monica Lewinsky wannabe. However, if they can take care of business, they’d have my vote for this go around…ok, maybe not Jon Huntsman (shiver).

Now, voters, prepare for this because this news flash may be earth shattering; there is NO perfect candidate. Stop whining or swearing that you’ll never vote for such and such and deal with it. These are not perfect candidates, but they are the candidates we have. Instead of tearing them down one by one or falling into the trap of judging a person by what the media says about them, think for yourselves. Choose the one quality that is most important in our next president. For me it is someone who will put our financial house in order. All other things are secondary. They are considerations, of course, but if our country collapses because of financial instability, no number of social programs or amount of money spent on foreign policy is going to save us.

Free Market teaches “Evil” Corporation a Lesson

•February 13, 2011 • 1 Comment

There are many people that will try to tell you that Walmart is the incarnation of all that is evil due to its staunch stand against unions, towering dominance over other general department stores and ringing the death knoll of Main Street businesses all across small town America. Being reticent on the role of government with regard to regulating what private business can and cannot do to eliminate competitors, I will at least say that I enjoy window shopping downtown and do lament the loss of the small businesses which give character to the small communities which dot the country in regular 15-20 mile intervals. That being said, Walmart has figured out how to provide value, convenience and selection to the customer more successfully than any other retail store has been able to do. That is, until recently.

Project Impact was intended to make Walmart more inviting and comfortable to shop at. Updating an ancient company logo, making aisles wider and shorter to provide more light in the store, reducing clutter and product lines while playing with price points during the recession to trick customers into spending more: what part of this plan would not work? Aspects of the plan have worked: my hometown store is less cluttered and looks more streamlined. But it appears that the objectives of the strategy are at odds with each other, and with Walmart’s customers. The aspiration to provide a cleaner shopping experience was accomplished by removing thousands of products.

An AP article entitled Walmart, humbled king of retail, plots rebound sheds light on the power of the consumer to drive large business strategy and shows how even Walmart is not above bending to the will of the customer. The manifestation of Project Impact alienated Walmart’s most loyal fan base: customers looking for rock bottom prices and choices. Now when a customer walks into Walmart wanting to buy a blender, instead of five choices at different price points and with alternative features, they are met with only two choices: a low price-low end product which is of questionable quality and more than likely less than aesthetically pleasing, and a high price product which has some, but not all, the features a customer might want. There’s very little middle ground, which is the space I (and most people I know) occupy more often than not. By removing the middle ground, Walmart has lost business in several ways.

First, if I am looking to buy a blender (coincidentally, I am not… it’s just an example), I have an idea of what I want already. If I go to Walmart and nothing even remotely matches what I’m looking for, I’ll go to Target, or Kmart, or whatever. If I go to Walmart and the only blender they have is a $10 plastic nameless piece with an on/off switch, they have lost my business. If the second blender they have is a $65 Oster BlendMax with 14 speeds, a second container, and interchangeable color options, they have still lost my business.

Secondly, many consumers can often be convinced to “level up” on purchases when several options are placed on the shelf before them. Imagine you enter Target to buy a blender. They have the $10 store brand and the $65 Oster, but you are really looking to spend about $30. Well, for $30, there is a nice blender that will take care of your every need, but for only $10 more you could have a GLASS container which is more durable and doesn’t ever discolor. You may just spring for that $40 blender when if only the other two had been available, you would have bought neither. Now imagine that happening to half of the products in a store as large as Walmart, and imagine it happening a few million times across the country. For the company that built its brand on low price and options, removing one of the fundamental tenets of the business should have been seen as ominous from the beginning.

No matter, they still have the lowest prices, right? Wrong. As discussed in the article, Walmart started relying on the old “bring ’em in” marketing techniques that everyone else uses to get people in the door. Ridiculously low “rollbacks” on five products advertised in the paper or on television, and sneaky increases of a few cents to a few dollars on 75 percent of the other products in the store. The only problem with this was the executives picked precisely the wrong moment to do it. In the midst of the Great Recession, consumers are tallying their purchases and following prices more closely than ever, and they aren’t stupid enough to miss this tactic. The question is, if a low price, high choice model has made you the number one general retailer in the United States during the high-rolling “good times”, whose idea was it to adopt the business model of the competitors you dominated during the tough times? Where was the logic in this?

The “convenience” factor has also been compromised as a result of the decision to implement Project Impact. If I am going to go through the hassle of parking a few football fields away from a store front in the dead of winter, then deal with everyone else and their brothers during my shopping expedition, and still face the possibility that the behemoth maze I am walking into is not going to carry exactly what I am looking for, you can bet that I am going to choose to shop at a smaller, possibly more expensive grocery store, drug store, and clothing retailer. I won’t even care if I have to go to all three of them on the same day as long as I can park in the same zip code as the store, walk through the store quickly to identify whether they have what I need or not, and get out without having to take my chances with either a grumpy cashier or self checkout malfunction at one of the 25 lanes. Additionally, should I happen to remember that I forgot to pick up something in the first aisle of the store, it won’t take me 10 minutes just to walk back there to pick it up.

These are the hassles that consumers have proven weary of. Does this mean that evil genius of retail Walmart is going to finally fall? No, of course not. They will adapt, most likely shore up their reserves and revert to their original business model. They will regain much of their “lost” business. However, it is possible that this sojourn away from their original premises will provide consumers with the lasting impetus to visit other stores more often and perhaps even first. Perhaps this lapse in judgment on the part of Walmart executives will prove to be the saving grace of a few, though not all, small town businesses (and kudos to those businesses that can develop a way to exploit Walmart’s current weakness in its marketing!). In the end, I believe that this temporary error in Walmart’s history is one of the best things to happen in recent years to prove the viability of the free market once again.

Finally, I would never begrudge Walmart their due profits, but this story does have a way cutting down the appeal of unchecked greed. Congratulations consumers, rejoice in your own power to choose and to choose which businesses are successful.

Just added…

•December 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

…a guestbook!

Please be sure to let me know you’ve stopped by!

A call to arms…and austerity

•December 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This week, the president of my undergraduate university published this article in the Boston Globe. Citing the recent student disturbances in England as evidence that federal funding for higher education should be increased and giving Australia as a model, President Aoun, whom I met in 2009 and respect for trying to make Northeastern an even-better institution than it was when he came, purports that we need to fill our nation with college graduates at any cost to the public.

At the risk of stating a potentially controversial and extremely unpopular opinion, I believe this to be misguided and morally wrong. Please understand…  

 

1.       We need to reduce the number of University Students.

Our public leaders have fashioned an illusionary world where a college degree is meant to be a symbol of prosperity for anyone that holds it. There was a time where once this may have been true, but this is very simply no longer the case. We are living in a time where obtaining a degree is not a guarantee of anything: it’s virtually a crapshoot. There are plenty of people that do not hold degrees who have managed to make millionaires of themselves, plenty more that earn an honest, decent living after having learned their trade through apprenticeship, and many degree holders that have done nothing of import with their lives and who do not earn enough to support themselves or a family.

However, we still encourage our graduating high school seniors to ‘go to college, get a good job.’ The extent that this is national rhetoric can be witnessed by the fact that parents bend over backwards to get their children into prestigious preschools 15 years before their child has any motive to be thinking of college. We are at a point in history where most graduating high school students do end up going to a university. Many don’t cut it, and promptly drop out within a semester or two (at a staggering loss to taxpayers), but many more than ever before stick it out, stringing weeks of studying together by looking forward to weekends of drunken parties, sports events, or simple relaxation. After 4 or 5 (or 6) years, more students than ever before make it though; they walk across a stage and are presented a diploma identical to everyone else’s, regardless of their personal achievement. They then walk out the doors to the job market, with the same qualifications as everyone else and the same bleak prospects of being able to “stand out.”

A university degree has traditionally been presented as an attainment of “higher” learning. How exactly can college continue being called Higher Education if everyone is participating in it? There was a time where the requirement of public education was null. Then grade school was made a constitutional right. Then high school was added (again… the reference to the “higher” acquisition of knowledge in an institution we have come to accept as an American right). Now, regardless of your aptitude or previous record of academic success, you have the right to a university education. Even worse, those people blessed with alternative talents—working with their hands, mechanical ability, exceptional people skills exemplified in empathy—who choose not to pursue a university education for whatever reason are looked upon with shame in a hostile climate. The first and most-oft asked question of a high school senior (“And where are you going to college…?”) becomes an embarrassing, awkward moment for the student that replies, “Oh… nowhere” even if they have perfectly valid and useful talents to offer society which don’t require another degree.

Furthermore, the proliferation of superfluous degrees in “soft” sciences, which were once respected and important fields (Psychology, Sociology, Journalism, Women’s Studies…need I go on?) has made most degrees worthless. There was a time when psychology was understood by a few, thus the opinion of those few was more valuable. When the multitude understand something, expertise becomes worthless. Is a college degree not also meant to symbolize expertise? We, as a nation, are paying out the nose for worthless expertise.

The answer is less students, not more.  

 

2.       Even Federal Financial aid should be based more upon worthiness than “need.”

In the last two decades, children have been raised with a peculiar ‘entitlement’ mentality, which I am ashamed to admit that I, myself, have not completely eluded. Part of the entitlement our younger generations feel is the right to a university education, partially or wholly funded by someone other than themselves. This right is a fiction. It does not exist.

I do not mean to say that aid, scholarships, grants and other subsidies are bad institutions. What I mean to say is that federal financial aid should be directed at exceptional students that demonstrate potential and persistence who would otherwise be unable to obtain financial security at a minimum level. Subsidized loans, grants and scholarships do not need to cease to exist, they only need to be directed at students that are judged to be the best risk. Perhaps the government (ie. We the People) ought to employ a few actuarial scientists to determine students that are better investments. A private company does not invest heavily in unproven prospects before they have assessed their own risk, yet each year our federal government pumps money into an inflated university system to support students that believe it is their right to such investment, even if not deserved, and each year, our country’s collective investment loses MILLIONS.

The answer is targeted financial aid, not more.

 

3.   Universities must begin considering austerity measures.

No one could accuse universities of being frugal. Budgets (and deficits) have exploded in the last few decades as colleges race to staff full PR and Marketing departments, host conferences, and throw money away on non-essential activities in the name of creating a public presence and Brand Recognition.

Competition between universities is generally a good thing; it ought to keep academic departments accountable and always striving for higher standards. However, when competition degenerates into which school has the larger football stadium, flashier student housing and most trendy coffee houses on campus, we lose sight of the reason which one goes to university: to be educated. In an effort to boost enrollment and attract more students, campuses nationwide are spending money that could be put into labs, professor salaries, or essential technology on frivolous, flashing neon signs that shout “Come here!” Please refer to my first point to understand my feelings on the matter of higher enrollments.

Additionally, universities shell out millions and millions each year to attract big-name conferences and speakers. While it is true that events such as these do also bring in an amount of money, generally this is nominal when compared with the money spent marketing the events. While the University of Oxford is no beacon of conservation itself, it is interesting to note that world leaders and respected scholars give papers and lectures in tiny two-to-eight-hundred year old classrooms, conference rooms, and occasionally small lecture halls. Rarely are there grand pretenses (other than those that already come with residing in this arcane social anomaly), fanfares, welcoming throngs of adoring public, and pricey amenities offered in full view of the skint students’ own vows of austerity.

The answer is less showboating and lower tuition, not more.

It is time to challenge our universities in the US to make do with less. Cut budgets, slash PR, reduce overhead… I dare you. Or, if you cannot, raise tuition. Go ahead… test what the market will bear. We have not broken yet, but a bubble much larger than housing is nearly ready to burst and when it does, not only will the students bear the brunt of it, your precious institutions of learning may not survive it either.

Remove inessential staff, tighten your belts… the rest of the country has already done this in the last two years, but higher education has believed itself impervious to the howling of the economic winds. It is not.

Spend less on office supplies: reduce, reuse, recycle. Think smaller and better, not bigger and less personal.

I challenge you… pick a team of Northeastern’s bright business majors and MBA candidates to sit down and take a look at your budget—all of it, nothing hidden—let them decide, as students, what is essential to their quality education for which they pay a premium. You are, no doubt, aware of the recent inconvenient attention Northeastern received when it was discovered that an undergraduate student had begun a website to help her pay down her $200k debt after 5 years at NEU. If not, you may visit the article here, and her page here. I graduated with over $120,000 in student loans because when I, a magna cum laude graduate, asked what I could do to deserve more financial aid, was told that I “could always take out more private loans.” This is a choice I made, and I accept that. I will pay for it for the rest of my life, but please don’t make this the legacy of my beloved Alma Mater.

So, President Aoun, I challenge you… make my undergraduate university proud and make it better: for students. And I challenge you to do this without appealing to the “guilt culture” of the nation by warning against higher education spending cuts. Do this by joining the rest of our hurting country in taking stock of that which is truly needed to educate and eradicating the rest. Do this by strategically, ruthlessly cutting down expenses: students, staff and superfluities included.

The answer is less, not more.

TSA, or, Try (the) Shame Approach

•November 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Travel is always a pain in the butt. Now with your poor customer service, excessive lines and mediocre but overpriced vittles, you also have the option to allow a TSA agent to either look up yours or touch it.

With the introduction of Body Scanners in US airports en masse (at over 70 airports) this holiday season, some travelers are going to get a more personal experience with the TSA than they could have ever hoped for. Many people are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of these “virtual strip search” machines and a grassroots campaign has begun on the internet to boycott the devices in a National Opt-Out Day on November 24th (ie. the busiest travel day in the entire year).

The ramifications of a staged event such as National Opt-Out Day will be interesting to follow in the coming months as we see news clips following it which will report the brevity of the situation with as much consistency as crowd estimates for a rally on the National Mall (see the estimates from different networks for Glenn Beck’s rally before the Midterm elections).  The TSA will play down any and all instances of travelers Opting-In to the protest, while the “organizers” will most certainly blow everything so far out of proportion that even a stern word from a TSA agent will be purported as beating down a government subversive roughly equivalent to the interrogation which Natalie Portman’s character endured in “prison” in V for Vendetta. I almost feel bad for the agents who’ll be required to select innocent civilians for this extra screening at random. Almost.

I’ve been a frequent traveler for about 6 years now and I’ve watched the regulations and rules get worse. And do you know what is even worse than they are? The inconsistency with which the “safety measures” are enforced. At a small airport, I can walk through security with my Doc Martins on no problem; at another, I’m required to remove even my flimsy flip flop sandals that are barely half an inch thick. In England, I must remove even my umbrella from my carry-on luggage as if it is merely a matter of confirming that the long metallic object lying within my bag could not be used as a battering ram. One time—post liquid explosive threat—I actually got through security (accidentally) without removing a 16oz bottle of liquid from my bag. Gasp.

For the most part, this is not a huge problem, as I know myself and I know that the reason I’m getting on a plane is to get home in 4 hours rather than the 24 it would take me to drive cross-country, or in 8 hours rather than taking a 2 week marine voyage across the Atlantic. However, the TSA agents don’t know that about me: hence the rationale behind the random application of Body Scanning technology. Despite the best intentions and reassurances of the Agency which tells the public that the images garnered from this technology are only seen by specially trained agents and are immediately removed and destroyed once you pass through security, I trust the government’s word on this matter about the same amount as I did that our president would bring us “change we could believe in.” Even if the intention to destroy such images is there, just like temporary files on a computer, a trace of the image will linger and could possibly allow the right (or wrong, for that matter) person to access and restore the images.

I sympathize with the TSA’s efforts at public safety, I really do. But even before National Opt-Out Day was an (un)official stand-up-to-big-brother event, I had already decided months ago that this invasive scan was something that I would refuse if selected. There must be other ways to protect our airways that are more in line with public interest and modesty. Air Israel doesn’t have this problem because every passenger is interviewed extensively before they are allowed to board a plane.  This might be a good starting point for the US and since we are also required to use government issued IDs each time we fly, shouldn’t it be easy enough to determine whether a certain flight falls within “normal” parameters for the profile of an established traveler? This profiling is already somewhat in use with the No Fly list and last-minute reservation flagging (where a person who books a flight less than a week or two before it departs is flagged for extra screening at the security checkpoint), why can’t it be rejigged to make flying for ordinary citizens just trying to make it home for Thanksgiving simple and less painful?

If you are traveling on November 24th this year, you may notice that security takes more time than usual, but you should already have expected this because it is the busiest travel day of the year. The TSA has warned that even a few passengers choosing to Opt-Out can wreak havoc on their efficiency (I know, I also thought ‘What efficiency?’ when I read that) and cause major delays for everyone. This appears to me to be an attempt to discourage people from standing up for their dignity, but it also will ring true a bit: it WILL take longer for you to get through if you Opt-Out and it may delay other passengers as well. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of Body Scanners, do not let the poo-pooing of the TSA agents bully you into it. Remember the agents’ job is to promote public safety and you are part of that public. Remind them politely that they are hired to protect you yourself, and you feel that includes protecting your privacy.

You may have to endure the annoyance of the agents and possibly even other passengers, but with all the poking and prodding you already have to put up with when you are packed into a metal tube like a sardine for 2 and a half hours and the 3 year old behind you is kicking your chair and screaming the entire time, you’ll most likely feel harassed by the time you reach your destination anyway. No need to compound the injury.

For my part, I’m glad I flew today. Good luck brave ones!

Facebook and the new world order

•October 28, 2010 • 4 Comments

Am I the only one that thinks the world has gone a little crazy for allowing Facebook to literally rule our lives?

Now, I love to surf the Book, play Family Feud, and connect with old high school buddies or new just-met-you-at-a-college-party aquaintences as much as the next person, but I stop short of having a virtual farm which requires my attention 24 hours a day, heeding my “friends” who choose to rage against my personal beliefs and/or attributes, and giving credence to the hourly relationship status updates of some of my more relationship-challenged contacts. I choose to ignore a great deal of the newsfeed on my homepage, and a great deal more of the hatred spewing groups and yeah, I often ignore the “save the whales” and “defeat breast cancer” causes as well. It isn’t that I think they are bad or insignificant causes, it’s just that I don’t need another post on my wall from each and every one of them.

At our current state of interconnectedness, it’s no wonder that the walls of privacy and human decency are crumbling down around us. We complain that telemarketers can infiltrate our phone lines, yet we post them on facebook every time we get a new number, and yes, data mining applications will find and exploit them. I have to say that there are probably more sinister threats out there, but it is still disconcerting nonetheless. Yet, we have no right to complain about it because we’ve volunteered the same information to millions of strangers.

Not only are the walls of privacy crumbling, so too is our sense of propriety. This article describes a group of teachers that have been disciplined in some way or another for “misusing” facebook: Teachers, students and Facebook, a toxic mix. (Thanks to Nichole for the link) Several NY teachers are fired for licentious comments on student pages. OK, fair enough. It’s probably a bit inappropriate to friend a student, much less comment on “sexy” pictures. But read on.

You’ll notice that there are also teachers that have been suspended and reprimanded for things which don’t directly involve communication with students. Some of the things may be distasteful (posing with a stripper, posting pictures of yourself obviously inebriated), but they are not necessarily illegal, nor do they deserve to be rectified by official punishments.

Additionally, why is it that potential employers get to use our facebook pages to make judgements about us before we’ve even met? Don’t you think it’s utterly mad that my personal life should not be my own? As long as I perform on the job, why is what I do on my own time not out of my employer’s jurisdiction? I have my LinkedIn profile which I encourage employers to look at, but I firmly believe that my Facebook profile is separate… distinct…personal.

Part of the frustration with Facebook stems from its humble beginnings as a college based social network. When I joined the FB, many of my friends couldn’t because their schools hadn’t been added yet. Glad as I am that their schools were eventually added, it is disappointing that the makers of Facebook were lured into the money which could be made from advertizing and expanding the brand… first to high school children, then the world. The sad truth is that the exclusivity of a college-based network set Facebook apart from MySpace, and made it more appealing– to all sorts of people.

Until the worldwide expansion, it was MySpace that was home to the bullies, the sexual predators, and the miscreants. For those of us that enjoyed the Facebook that was… the demise of MySpace also became the downfall of Facebook. When the doors of social networkhood were thrown open to the world, the safe, quiet, studious campus-like environment of the Facebook platform which allowed former friends to stay connected across miles on the web became just that… a web on which to be caught in any manner of damaging situations.

Now not a day goes by that I’m not bombarded with a terrifying, maddening, or saddening news story about someone who lost their job/didn’t get hired, was kidnapped and abused, or who has taken their own life because of the influence of Facebook. What started as an excellent one-stop source for networking has degenerated into an all-consuming time suck that has literally started to climb off our computer screens and into our daily lives in horrifying ways. The ubiquity of The Social Network has even been immortalized in film now… only 6 years after it was created. It took the Harry Potter series 8 before it got it’s big Silver Screen moment in 2001.

The only difference is that Harry Potter isn’t real. Isn’t it time that we accept that about our Facebook profiles as well? I don’t advocate Facebook abstinence… Enjoy the use of this wonderful new technology that we have called social media, but stop short of allowing it to become a dictator and a tyrant. A very wise lady once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor was right, of course, and this applies to all forms of Facebook abuse and spying. I feel the need for a cheesy-80’s inspirational song like “We are the World” to bring us out of the recesses of the dark corners of the internet and into the wonderful light of real life.

No crops died in the time it took to write this post.

Emerging from youth into adulthood

•September 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Last week, a friend sent me an email with a subject line which said “What do you think of this?” Inside was the link to a New York Times article which details the “problem” of the adult child in society today and one psychology professor’s quest to term the 20’s as a specific life stage called “emerging adulthood.”

What is it about 20-somethings? becomes a polemic lamenting the belated attainment of adulthood by America’s young adults by lamely attempting to uphold the traditional “5 milestone” index as the absolute indication of maturity. The five milestones that lead to adulthood according to this definition are: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.

If we adhere to the antiquated definition of adulthood which the writer wants us to, then the fact that it’s taking longer to get there is definitely true, and there are many explanations:

1) The “village to raise a child” mentality: when it takes a village (or society) to raise a child, that child is going to be dependent upon it much longer than a parent who eventually grows weary of financially supporting their adult-aged child.

2) Baby boomers are doing a really good job of being supportive of their children in compensation for some of the support they missed as children. So much so, that their children have actually found it more beneficial to live off mom and dad indefinitely, and since “everybody is doing it,” no one feels ashamed about it.

3) Conflicting information: every day a new study is published about why its good to cut the purse strings. And every day another study is published about why adult children need support in this tough financial climate. Well, if children don’t really know what they are supposed to do, how are they to be expected to grow up?

4) The baby boomer generation is so large that it’s effectively holding jobs which would normally have gone to the next generation because they are still in their prime and not at retiring age.

5) There are no new jobs being created and the government is doing all it can to ensure that people are entirely dependent upon their “generosity.”  Plus, now more than ever, smart people are deciding that it’s better to wait to have families until they are financially stable, which is happening ever later because there are no jobs!

6) The definition of adulthood hardly applies to what adulthood should be considered as at this stage in history. Adulthood is a maturity level, not a milestone. It can be agreed that many 20-somethings haven’t met a required maturity level yet, but as one that has, I resent being told that I’m not an adult because I’ve been forced to move home with my parents after finishing my degree. Most adult children don’t want to do this (although there are some that do…) so it’s hardly fair to hold it against adult children if such a situation is an economic strongarm and not a voluntary choice. That doesn’t indicate an absence of maturity.

7) (and my favorite) EVERYONE and their brother is going to college now! College effectively puts off starting ‘adulthood’ by 4, and increasingly 5 or more, years. It used to be that a small percentage of the populace did this, the rest finished (high) school, started their jobs, married and had children, up to 5 years earlier than young adults are now.  Now, since everyone is pushing off the ‘launch’ by 5 years, it appears as if it is taking longer for children to reach adulthood, when really this has been the same situation for people getting a degree from the beginning of university education.

However, if the “milestone” standard can’t be counted upon, perhaps “emerging adulthood,” as a phase, explains away the challenges facing today’s young adults. The author of the article, Robin Marantz Henig, draws similarities between Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s theory on this new life phase and the discovery of “adolescence” at the turn of the 20th century, citing cultural changes as the reason for this phase to be exhibited at this point in time. These cultural changes include a perceived need for more education to get a good paying job, fewer entry-level positions even after getting a bachelor’s degree, acceptance of premarital sex reducing a rush to enter into marriage, and greater career options coupled with better fertility treatments leading women to bear children later than ever.

The characteristics of emerging adulthood sound exactly the same as those of adolescence: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, a feeling of being “in-between,” but sprinkled with a sense of the possibilities that lie ahead. Henig reminds the reader how social institutions were forced to adapt education, health care, and laws to accommodate the  new idea of adolescence in the early 20th century, and suggests that we be prepared for the same to happen for young adults.

Is it entirely necessary for us to begin considering the ways in which we can “protect” young adults with more laws? My understanding is that many laws produced with a specific (and often arbitrary) target age only compound the problems that already exist. Isn’t it awful that a child of 8 might be expected to work in a factory at the turn of the century? Child labor laws to the rescue! But now, how do farmers that depend on the labor of their children manage? Well, lets write a new law! Come to think of it, why exactly does the IRS consider me a dependent of my parents until I reach the age of 25 when it comes to FAFSA, but for my taxes, if it serves their purposes, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to claim myself independent since I pay my own tuition, rent, utilities, credit cards, car bills, etc.? And why are car rental companies allowed to discriminate against me before I wreck their vehicles, simply because I’m under that magical age of 25? I have 8 years of driving experience, own my own car, and have never caused a collision myself. Why should my record not speak for itself?

The argument is that companies (and our government) cannot “afford” to review each case on an individual basis. If this is indeed the case, how does the government decide who in the emerging adulthood phase needs protection or correction, since not everyone exhibits the signs of the phase to begin with? In the last quarter of the 20th century, and especially in the last decade, the hazards of overprotection and too much support have been exemplified by the so-called “helicopter parents” that won’t let their children break an arm, lest they should ever feel pain, or know the sting of defeat. Society has gone so far as to stop keeping score of children’s baseball games in the name of ensuring self-esteem for all participants regardless of talent, ability, or plain hard work.

This brings me back to the young 20-something that Arnett refers to as the classic “Generation X Slacker.” The theory of the emerging adult life phase, as it is postulated, states that at this time in life, one is more self-focused (read: self-centered) than at any other point in their lives. Take that Carl Jung: we don’t develop Superegos until 30 in the 21st century apparently. I’d love to see him telling a group of Peace Corps members, a single parent, or an athlete that they are too self-focused to be true adults. According to Arnett, the young adult of today wants, nay, needs to get by on minimum effort and state help.

Arnett also references a historical precedent which foreshadowed the arrival of a new life phase in the guise of the 60s. However, he claims that the rebelliousness and alienation which young adults of the free love decade are known for is an indication of the “unique moment” in history that has never been replicated before or since. While not being exactly sure what factors must exist to constitute such a “unique moment,” it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that 2010, with its Great Recession, overabundance of overeducated young people, and turbulent political climate, might be considered one such moment. If the young adults of the 60s were able to somehow forge through into the groovy 70s without special consideration, is it really unfair to expect young adults of the TwentyTeens to take their experiences and learn from them without new laws and extra government “protection?”

Isn’t it sort of time to say enough protection; I’m an adult, let me live, so that I can learn?

Don’t tread on me. Or my 20-something friends. Only answer me this: are you hiring?