Book Review: The End of Absence


Book Review: The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris

The line that got me in Michael Harris’ book “The End of Absence” was when he spoke about us being the only generation who would live in the before and after of the Internet and that we would know what it meant, how it felt, how we did things before there was this constant connection to everything, everyone, and all knowledge digitalized for our convenience and consumption. That statement is true and when I share it the person usually nods in agreement and then we both sigh in resignation.

The truth of that statement is not negative it only is. Just like the Internet is not negative. The ultimate question always comes down to not the technology itself but how that technology is used, by whom, and for what purpose. We are aware of the benefits – access to information, democratization of oppressed voices, collaboration for problem solving, etc. But the consequences have been surfacing as well – data breaches, identity theft, online rage, bullying leading to suicide, etc.

The book has a slow start but it becomes more engaging as it progresses through a series of explorations into how connected technologies (Internet, mobile, tablets, etc.) have affected society in general and us in specific. The chapters are not sequenced in a particular progression, but each one tackles a topic and most can be read as a stand-alone piece – Confession, Public Opinion, Authenticity, etc. Below I have listed a few highlights that I found interesting.


Chapter 3: Confession

How much [do] we all subvert our emotional lives into our technologies. (pg. 51)

We have all, in some way, become complicit in the massive broadcasting that online life invites. (pg. 52)

We’re led into deep intimacies with our gadgets precisely because our brains are imbued with a compulsion to socialize, to connect whenever possible, and connection is what our technologies are so good at offering. (pg. 54)

Yet, every time we use our technologies as a mediator for the chaotic elements of our lives, and every time we insist on managing our representation with a posted video or Facebook update, we change our relationship with those parts of our lives that we seek to control. (pg. 54)

This chapter discusses the impulse many have about documenting (some may call it “over sharing”) their lives online via social media platforms like Facebook. But even in that sharing we are seeing that some people also censor themselves and their posts as they consider how they may come across to others.


Chapter 4: Public Opinion

The real trouble with Wikipedia lies exactly where its strength lies; its democratic impulse. In an arena where everyone’s version of facts is equally valid, and the opinions of specialists become marginalized, corporate and politicized interests are potentially empowered. (pg. 75)

We get mob opinion instead of singular voices; crowdsourced culture. (pg. 88)

Eventually, the information you’re dealing with absolutely feels more personalized; it confirms your beliefs, your biases, your experiences. And it does this to the detriment of your personal evolution. Personalization – the glorification of your own tastes, your own opinion – can be deadly to real learning. No surprise content – no expansion. (pg. 91)

Others have also called the issue in this chapter “ametuarization” – meaning that it no longer matters what your expertise is (or the accuracy of what you say) just the reach of your social media platform. There was someone once who said “repeat a lie enough times and it becomes truth.” Do we know where we get our ideas? Are we critically analyzing our source or the agenda that the speaker may have in promoting a certain perspective? Digital literacy encompasses a series of important critical thinking skills – but are we (or our children) being taught them? The last concern Harris brings up in this chapter is the search customization of our queries. Google does not give the same results to everyone who puts in the same search term. Why? Because Google personalizes our results based on our preferences, prior searches, tidbits about our identities that it has picked up from our behavior online, etc.


Chapter 7: Memory

A person just feels smart when buttressing a phone conversation with Google-sourced knowledge and shooting it across the line as though it were innately understood. (pg. 142)

We constantly judge whether information will be available from an external source in the future, and if it will be, we are willing to forget. (pg. 142)

“Where” is prioritized and “what” is forgotten. (pg. 143)

We must remain plugged in to know what Google knows. (pg. 143)

Can you remember anyone’s phone number anymore? Do you need to – after all it’s in your phone. Lose your phone and for many, you may have lost your life – ways to connect to your family, friends, work colleagues; digital keys to open your car or your home; access to your financial accounts and online assets; the list goes on and on. We used to memorize things, now why bother if we can readily find it whenever we need to know it.

These are just a few of the statements that have stayed with me after reading this book. If you’ve read the book, share some of your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t read the book, this is highly recommended, but keep in mind the proof will be in the pudding – are you able to disconnect when you put the book down? Or even while you are reading it?


For more on this book:

Michael Harris Author Website:

The NY Times Review

Wall Street Journal Book Review

Washington Post Book Review:

Book Review: ROI: Return on Influence by Mark W Schaefer, 2012


Home page for ROI:

ROI = return on “investment,” return on “innovation,” return on “imagination,” return on “influence.”

“I” = me.

That “I” can stand for so many things – but in Mark Schaefer’s book, the focus is on influence as measured by social scoring and specifically as measure by, a website that measures a person’s social influence via an algorithm that takes into consideration a person’s online activity across a multitude of social networks and platforms.  Your score can range from 1 to 100, but according to Schaefer, if it’s below 50 you are not worth connecting with, receiving a post or Tweet from, or otherwise waste valuable time with.  Does this sound harsh? Superficial? Ridiculous? Discriminatory? (Oh yes, the legal angle finally appears).

This book consists of 180 pages justifying the existence of social scoring, trying to legitimize it as it claims Klout legitimizes the authority of individuals who throw out content “that is unsubstantiated by personal performance, authority, intellect, or experience” (pg. 74).  How does that balance with the ideas of transparency and authenticity that social media thought leaders pride themselves with as the underpinnings of what makes social media a more trustworthy source than the old media and websites?

Schaefer does have a whole chapter dedicated to the arguments against social scoring – including how the system can be gamed, how the system does not (and cannot) take the offline into account for the final score, how social media celebrities don’t acknowledge its validity, and how it is elitist.  In fact on the last page of the book Scheafer declares, “By definition, influence is elitist.  So by assigning numbers to people and stacking them up in order, the system institutionalizes a culture of haves and have-nots.”  So now discrimination is digital.

Does anyone remember the movie, GATTACA, about a dystopia where humans are engineered and “free-love” children are given the lowest paid jobs and marginalized from the moment of birth thanks to a simple blood test?  Paul Saarinen, Director of Digital Insights and Culture for Bolin Marketing commented in Schaefer’s book “What I would really love to see is a data mash-up between Klout and 23andMe, a company that does genetic testing for health, disease, and ancestry” (pg. 173).

I think about the children who have had Facebook profiles since before they were born.  Their parents have created a digital footprint for them months before they “exist” (meaning – are living) in the real world. In the future, will these children have a right to sue their parents for invasion of privacy, for ruining their lives, based on what their parents posted about them when they were minors and couldn’t speak up for themselves to stop them?

So going back to Paul’s vision – blood test gives me the genetic information as to whether you will be healthy or a drain on a company’s health insurance payments (or a society’s welfare system) + the social score gives me the digital information as to whether you are a valuable content producer in this society, and where does it stop before we justify the ending of a life (or a career, or an academy journey) before it has begun?

Sounds far-fetched?  Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout is quoted on page 174: “Every website should be able to be customized based on what I’m influential about and who I influence.  Klout becomes your personal VIP pass to the world.  Could you even use Klout as currency?” (emphasis added).  Add to that Schaefer’s contention that “Disney, Chevrolet, Nike, Revlon – nearly 3,000 companies are using Klout’s data in some form.”  (pg. 98)  What are they using the data for?  To reward certain influencers via perks, to determine whether to hire someone over another, to decide whether to respond to a customer complaint or not (only if the customer has a high enough Klout score), etc.  Scheafer also makes the comment that “this sorting keeps people in their place” (pg. 180).  And who is Klout to determine that place?

The Federal Trade Commission in 2011 issued a notice that it would prosecute individuals who list false credentials in their social media profiles under false advertising.  Should these scores not be held to that standard too and therefore is illegal in their concept? Are these scores not falsely misleading?  And if I hire you or purchase your product because of your high Klout score, and the product and/or you are defective, have I not been harmed to my detriment because of false advertising? Should Klout then be liable because I relied on its score?

PS – Klout claims it keeps its algorithm a secret so people don’t learn to game the system.  But it also means no one else can validate what Klout is doing.

I am part of a group that works diligently in the social media field – we have seen and been exposed to many who claim to be what they are not – social media experts.  Credentialing and degrees for social media professionals is a hot topic and continues to be debated because we continue to be served visualizations – graphic images – short cut numeric scores – as to an individuals’ value without any substantiating evidence that they are who they say they are or they know what they say they know.  Schaefer’s book and his accounts of Klout and other social scoring sites do not convince me that they get it right.  It convinces me that gaming these systems is “big business” and many “Klout coaches” will soon hang out their shingles.

I do not agree with the social scoring systems in place.  I can understand why business wants a short cut for cost-effective target marketing.  But I believe business is run by people – by us – by humans – and that as humans running business we need to maintain our humanity.  It is so easy to give it away – a little at a time – a score point at a time.

Scheafer claims that these discrepancies and discrimination with the social scoring systems will lead to revolution (pg. 180).  Unfortunately, revolutions are not always won by the deserving, regardless of your definition and the final score.


The opinions expressed in this book review are mine alone.  As you can see I felt passionate enough to write about it but know others may not feel the same.  You are welcome to participate in the conversation with your comments but keep them respectful and on topic.

Book Review: Social Media 101 by Chris Brogan, Wiley Publishers, 2010

Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) is the President of Human Business Works, an online education and community company for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs and is the author of Trust Agents as well as Social Media 101, the book we are reviewing today.  Chris has over 11 years of experience in the digital space of online marketing and blogs frequently about the intersection of social media and business.

Social Media 101 is a small book full of “tactics and tips to develop your business online.”  It consists of 87 short chapters, essays, or blogs, depending on your definition.  These are quick reads and perfect for when you have 5 extra minutes between meetings or projects and want to get a little education in your day.  Because of its structure it took me over 6 months to get through because I kept it by me picking it up and putting it down again and again.  I didn’t feel I had to sit and read through it at one shot and that felt refreshing.  I could take these in bites instead of having to down huge gulps of data and information in a limited period of time.  I think that is also the reason why so much more of that data and information actually stayed in my head.

A lot of the tips and advice that Mr. Brogan offers can be applied to many issues relating to running a business, leadership, and being human in this digital era.  His writing style is casual with an underlying humorous vibe (sometimes irreverent).  He reminds us of some very obvious things, but we need reminding – like comment on other blogs and learn to politely say no to recoup some of your most precious commodity – time.  But don’t fool yourself.  The lessons in this book work, and just in time for the holidays!

I’ve listed some highlights/excerpts below – but one of the most important from my perspective is the first one (can you see why?)

  • The project should be blessed at least once by legal.  (pg. 259)  (I would say more than once – but then again, I am an attorney)
  • Supercharge event experiences to improve leads.  (pg. 12)
  • Contribute to others’ projects and be useful.  (pg. 14)
  • Expert (someone in control) vs. adviser (someone in a relationship with a client) (pg. 38)
  • ROI = return on influence (pg. 41)
  • We should be able to make something happen by way of the media we create.  (pg. 42)
  • Social media enables: creativity, creation, communities of interest, and culture.  (pg. 44)
  • Two very important skills = curation and editing (pg. 49)
  • Make sure you are explicit about how you want to see your work used or shared by others.  (pg. 50)
  • Halo 3 and Tweetups are the new golf courses and country clubs.  (pg. 59)
  • Audio and video connect people much more powerfully than just the printed word.  (pg. 73)
  • Do your best to promote other people.  (pg. 102)
  • The purpose of meetings is to involve more than one person in informational alignment (pg. 143)
  • There’s what you take to be reality and then there’s what you make to be reality.  (pg. 148)
  • Definition of value: the ability to deliver and receive information, to help, and to further development (of networks, information, capabilities).  (pg. 159)
  • Connect.  Connect.  Connect.  Help people find each other.  Connect people with other people as often as you can.  (pg. 160)
  • Links are a very important piece of Internet currency.  They are the currency of attention.  (pg. 171)
  • Don’t try to be a one-note experience…Don’t whittle yourself down to a simple footnote.  Be complex, colorful and interesting.  (pg. 235)
  • What’s your willingness to experiment, take risks, and adjust your plans?  (pg. 255)
  • People want information.  People want simple.  People want connection.  (pg. 269-270)
  • Everything requires customization, depending on your industry, goals, and interests.  (pg. 288)
  • The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  (pg. 303)
  • Great things are erased quickly when you mess up.  (pg. 315)

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts about Brogan’s ideas?

Book Review: Getting Organized in the Google Era by Douglas C Merrill

The subtitle is “How to Stay Efficient, Productive (and Sane) in an Information-Saturated World” and is written by the former CIO of Google, “whose corporate mission is to organize the world’s information.” That is a tall task as each of us knows intimately the burden of information overload in our lives.  As we are inundated with information and data continuously through traditional and non-traditional media, including tv, radio, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, Facebook status posts, etc., how do we make sense of it all?

Douglas’s solution is stress reliving.  He wants us to understand that we can’t make sense of it ALL and that in fact, we don’t have to.  We need to use our skills for filtering information so we don’t overfill our heads with information that we can easily look up elsewhere.  And here is his key – “search is king.”

Douglas outlines a process that when we are confronted with information we need to make a choice – do we need to ignore it , do we store it somewhere for future retrieval, or do we encode it – remember it and put it in our long term memory?  The answer depends on the content and context of the information – what do we need it for? – and that answer comes from what is our goal, what are we trying to achieve?

So all that information that we can look-up needs to be put in a system that makes it easy for us to retrieve.  Douglas uses a Google arsenal of tools, not because he worked there, “but because they fit his work style.”  Tools like Gmail®, Google Calendar®, and Google Docs®.  But he also recognizes that other tools, not produced by Google can work almost as well – Dropbox, for one. And don’t forget bookmarks! He seems to be a die-hard MAC user and touts the benefits of iPad®, but he also owns a Kindle®.

Douglas dedicates a chapter to how to search and offers a breakdown of search terms that reminded me of SQL (structured query language) from my days as a network administrator.  The Boolean operators (and, or, +, -) make an appearance as well as some lesser known options but I like the “site” term that allows me to use Google to search a specific site without having to go there first.  And who knew that Google allows searches by text (466453) and also has a toll-free directory assistance line (800-466-4411). OK, maybe you did, but I didn’t until I read this book.

There are many nuggets of gold throughout the book, but I think the core message is that we need to accept that our work life and personal life are integrated through these social tools and that’s ok.  We don’t need to work 9-5 to get our work done (and we usually don’t). We can work 2 – 11.  Depends on our clients and our work.  We can dedicate a few moments on the weekend for work tasks in exchange for a few moments on personal items during the workday, so we don’t feel stressed or resentful.

There is much more in here as Douglas uses personal tragedy to showcase the limitations of our minds under stress.  He talks about being prepared and how the Cloud will help us have information when and where we need it so that we are prepared.

This book is a good read for the tidbits it offers but also for the perspective of how digital and social tools are changing our work and world and how we can navigate the information overload better.

How do you stay organized in this digital world – or it disorganization the new black? Is “search” the king for you as it is for Douglas? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

For more information on Douglas go to: