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Millennial Entrepreneurs: Coming of Age Interpersonal Duality

Just over a decade ago, the launch and subsequent evolution of social behemoths like MySpace and Facebook changed the way we communicate, access information, and view the role of business and purpose in society. Now that social media is past the early adoption phase and is fully integrated into every day society, we’re beginning to see a paradigm shift as these Millennials (myself included) come of age into full blown “adulthood” in the social age. I’m not sure if this concept has been discussed at length, or if it even has a name, but I will be referring to it henceforth as interpersonal duality.

A Brief Background

Before the birth of modern-day social media, it was assumed that only highly educated people had access to quality information. When it came to business, only those that fought their way up the corporate ladder could run, let alone create, successful ventures — especially large Fortune 500 entities. The only approved societal path for a fresh-faced college graduate was to put in sweat equity at a large corporation until they could retire with their 401k’s and whatever the corporation was willing to give them with their departure into the abyss.

The elite Millennials like Mark Zuckerberg and Tom Anderson changed that perception. They showed that you didn’t have to have a college education to make the world a better place, and even more so, you didn’t need an MBA to create a successful company. The sentiment of the time was simple: we didn’t like the way the world was telling us to behave, so we changed it. Coding, technology, bootstrapping, and start-ups carved a path where Millennial kids, burdened with impending college debt and a disenfranchised view of the way corporations suck away your soul, found a more efficient path. Don’t like the way something is done? Do it differently. Go your own way.

And it worked.

I mirrored that sentiment, even in college. I was unwilling to accept that I would have to put in 5 years of wasted effort as an assistant when I knew I had more to offer the world today. After skipping my way to be Head Producer at a large music tech startup, I watched it suck the life out of me and everyone in it. It was then that I realized I wanted no part of the traditional work journey. At 22, I started my own company with the sole purpose of fulfilling my passion. I’ve never looked back. Most of my peers, especially friends from college and high school, have also gone on to build successful businesses with the same philosophical construct. Every single one of them (us?) was unwilling to accept a societal standard of rules that our parents and elders dictated to us. Our time here is short, so why waste it being inefficient?

Because of this philosophy, it’s now the people in tech under 35 that are making rockstar money and living lavish lives. In the meantime, rockstars and celebrities are trying desperately to hang on to what’s left of their notoriety by flaunting drama just to stay relevant in an over-saturated, content-driven market (thanks, TMZ). The ability to be heard thanks to social media and technology is infinite, yet the mountain to become (and stay) someone with true influence on the masses is now nearly impossible. We have become a society with access to limitless information at our fingertips, yet we use it to share pictures of cats, dogs, and viral entertainment. No one cares about the crisis in Libya, AIDS in Africa, or that tickets are now on sale for Justin Timberlake’s new tour (in fact, I didn’t even know he was on tour until he cancelled his MSG show last week! Proof in the pudding). The irony.

The rise of Interpersonal Duality

This background is all well and good, but it’s still not the point of this blog. Here’s the point:

10 years ago, services like MySpace and Facebook became popular because they were tools built by Millennials for Millennials to serve our angsty early 20s purposes. When Facebook was TheFacebook, it’s biggest draw (at least for me) was the fact that I could connect with my classmates. On a campus of 25,000+ students, that was invaluable to my social college experience. Even with MySpace or Xanga, social media was a way to personally express yourself in an environment where digital was the new kid on the block. You could write your passive aggressive blogs about your ex anonymously and feel like you were connecting with everyone on a bigger scale. It was like a canvas to a painter with no social repercussions.

Millennials used social media to connect emotionally to one another. That’s why it was built. That’s why it worked. Period.

But now that social media is so mainstream, people are beginning to recoil on the initial Millennial uses of social media. Today, if you go to jail for something, the media scours your Facebook and Twitter to make assumptions about your lifestyle and personal essence based on your posts. If you’re looking for a job, your potential employers scan your social media to see if you’re a partier, a threat, or if you’re as intelligent as you made yourself out to be on your resume. Social media’s cardinal rule of emotional expression is now the exact tool that gets used against you. This means that people are now more vague, or even worse, are avoiding using social media for what made it popular — connecting in an authentic manner. This is why teens are abandoning traditional social sites at alarming rates, opting for services like Snapchat that make their interactions a mere blip in existence before they’re completely forgotten (or so they think ;)).

So, as a Millennial, whose entire “awkward teen” life was centered around emo status updates and angsty blogs, how do you handle the transition into “adulthood”? It’s no longer appropriate for us to make status updates about the difficult parts of our lives (like divorces, deaths, or health problems) because it leaves you open and vulnerable to tarnishing your “public image”. But if you’ve spent your entire life getting used to connecting to other people in a digital world, how do you transition to connecting in real life? I’ve found it a lot harder than I thought I would.

As an example, I’ve been going through a lot of very intense family drama over the past six months. Of course, I posted a pretty vague status update a few months ago on my personal Facebook page (friends only) about the frustration I was feeling, only to be met with text messages and IMs from a client about how it was inappropriate, and that I need to always maintain my public image. I should never let anyone know that anything is ever wrong. Ever. To an extent, she’s not wrong. My mom taught me that as well, which is why connecting with people is harder for me than some in the first place. I care more about other people’s problems than my own because then I never have to be vulnerable, which is almost always easier. But is it? Is it really easier if you can never express who you really are with people?

Ultimately, is that the world I want to live in? Is it the world you want to live in? A world where social media can no longer be utilized to connect in a vague way while going through difficult things? Where does the line get drawn on what is publicly or privately acceptable, and what is not?

This is the true essence of the interpersonal duality dilemma, in my opinion.

I don’t think that there’s a right or a wrong answer, but it is an impending battle that I firmly believe will only get harder as social media and technology continues to inject itself into the every day, especially for Millennials and the generation below us. I’m already concerned with teenage kids who do not seem to know how to have real conversations because they’re only used to texting, but I’m also not sure how to fix it.

Either way, as humans, I don’t think we can give up our humanity or the need for connection. Will we begin to turn our back on technology to connect again with real people?Will we even be capable of doing so? Or are we destined to become robots with perfect lives on the surface while the inner turmoil slowly eats away at our souls.

And the bigger question: which is worse? The corporate soul sucker, or your inner-self soul sucker?

You decide. I’m out of answers. :)

Google+, Facebook, & The Future of Human Interaction

Iced Cranberry Chai

Iced Cranberry Chai from Silverlake Coffee Company

It’s a lazy Sunday here in Los Angeles. Most people are at the beach, wallowing in their margaritas, volleyball games, and sun tans. I, taking post as the effervescent entrepreneur, however, opted for the coffee shop to do work instead. Not surprisingly, the trip has led me to a few curious questions regarding our future as a society in this evolving ‘social networking’ world.

Upon arriving at said coffee shop, I meandered to the counter, surprised by how utterly packed the place was. There wasn’t a seat in the house, at least on the inside, and I was deathly afraid of having to sit outside in the unforgiving heat. While waiting for my delicious Iced Cranberry Chai, I peaked around at the clientele, and I began to notice a thought trend that followed me to my table outside:

It’s eerily quiet here. Almost every single person has a computer or an iPad, and if they are one of the rare folks that do not, they have their nose buried in a book (people still buy those?). There is no talking, no introductions, no smiles, no wandering eyes. It’s almost as if someone literally superglued their eyeballs to the screen (or paper) in front of them.

Are we so engrossed in our digital worlds, that we literally do not want to exist in the physical one around us? I’ve been in many discussions with friends about this, who can’t even make it through a lunch or dinner without picking up their smart phone for a text or email (we’re all guilty, don’t even try to fight it). But what do the growth (and death) of popular social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and the new Google+ show us about human interaction?

In case you don’t know or conveniently forgot, MySpace was the true beginning of social networking. In college, it was the only place for college bands to create a destination for themselves that didn’t cost you $10,000 (remember when a simple website cost that?), and was a great way for young college kids to find friends/dates. And then “The Facebook” came out. I was happily introduced by my geeky friends at Ivy League and Tech schools that were lucky enough to be part of the initial group of colleges allowed to join. Back then, it was something built by college students for college students, and it caught on like wildfire because of it.

(Author Note:  If you’d like to read more about the real evolution of Facebook, I highly suggest you check out David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect.” )

The caveat? Not only was it exclusive, unlike MySpace, but it was a way for you to list your classes, find your fellow classmates to study with, or to finally get an excuse to say hi to that cute boy you were to afraid to say hi to in person without the fear of rejection. It was an extension of everything that college stood for: socializing, parties, and education (sometimes). It was a way to extend your interactions with people you already knew, or to get access to the people you wanted to know. And what about MySpace? Well, they failed to innovate because they didn’t understand the human condition. People want to expand their world, and while meeting new people is cool–connecting with old friends or getting to know an acquaintance better is far cooler.

And as social networking has grown, so has the need to monetize it to make the VCs happy. There’s been a lot of debate on the appropriate way to go about this without offending the membership base. The reason Facebook’s advertising platform works is because it’s based on friend’s recommendation engines, on keywords you post about, and can be targeted to a specific demographic. MySpace, on the other hand, whores their advertising out to whoever will pay them more money, which is why they lost so many member numbers in the first place. You can’t alienate your audience, or they’ll leave you. That’s the lesson MySpace taught us.

Now, last week, Justin Timberlake put up some money to own a significant stake of MySpace. Can he turn it around? Perhaps, but perhaps not. I think that if he focuses on making it a destination for music instead of trying to make it compete with Facebook directly, he will be successful. And the reality is, he is an entertainer, he is a musician, and he knows the business of making things cool fairly well. Going back to the beginnings of Facebook, where it was a platform for college kids built by other college kids, the future looks bright for the Timberlake/MySpace creation. Justin Timberlake, however, also likes to sell out (have you seen his website lately? Try going there without an ad popping up in your face every five seconds, and I guarantee you won’t return again unless it’s for a damn good reason).

Regardless, this isn’t a battle between MySpace and Facebook anymore. It’s not even a battle between Google and Facebook. It’s the battle between our interactions, and their future. You want to know the reason why Goole+ has a chance at kicking Facebook’s proverbially ass? It already has users and products that are solutions to every aspect of a person’s life. Google Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Flickr, YouTube, Blogger. You name it, there’s a platform for you to use made by Google that you’ve already been use to for five to ten years. While Google+ certainly hasn’t worked out all of the kinks yet, nor has it even reached or perhaps even realized its own potential, given the right direction it could take over the way we do things entirely.

For instance, a dear friend of mine and I were “hanging out” in the “hang out” of Google+ yesterday. During our chat, I introduced him to one of my co-workers, and he, being a Microsoft employee, was jazzed that only 20 minutes earlier, he was also introduced to several new people through his other friends in various Hangouts. It was like being at a party without the awkwardness or the hangover in the morning. And these introductions were all from people he trusts.

(P.S.  If you don’t know what Google Hangout is, check out this video.  There’s also an interesting article about why Skype should fear Google Hangout, which is even more interesting considering Facebook just announced a partnership with Skype last week.)

So will Google+ kill Facebook? That depends. It depends on if Google is smart enough with the execution of its vision, if people really want the product, and if it makes things faster or easier. If Google were smart, though, they would find a way to integrate with Facebook. It’s funny that Mark Zuckerberg has the most friends on Google+, so maybe they’re already thinking in this direction. Regardless, it’d certainly make the takeover faster, and make the battle irrelevant. What would the world look like if Facebook and Google were partners? Frightening and exciting thought.

Regardless, though, this brings me back to the original musing that got me here in the first place. What do these things say about our future as a society, and about the way that we interact? Will we continue down this path of getting lost in our devices, or will we break free and remember what it feels to actually talk to one another. What about our children? They don’t even know a world where Facebook and cell phones don’t exist. Will they know how to have conversations with one another? We’ve already lost our handwriting, will we also lose our interpersonal skills?

Food for thought, what are yours?