A House Divided

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”—Abraham Lincoln.

I was thinking of Lincoln last week as I watched news coverage of the historic House vote on impeachment.

As member after member rose and went on record for or against, we saw the stark and dark divisions in our country laid bare for all to see. Of course, it was nothing new. We see it every single day and have seen it for years.

And I thought of Lincoln. And whether our better angels have departed for good.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham reminds us that we have been through worse and have always come back and for sure we have. But I have this nagging feeling that somehow what we’re seeing is different.

And I thought of Lincoln.

I went to the Internet to re-read his “House Divided” speech. I hadn’t read it in decades, since I was in school.

The House Divided Speech was delivered on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after Lincoln had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate.

The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the seat, held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

At the time, even Lincoln’s friends regarded his speech as too radical for the occasion.

But when you read it, you can’t help but feel that it is tame by today’s standards. The language is almost poetic, the writing is outstanding and while he argues passionately against slavery it is devoid of personal attacks. Instead it is full of ideas and optimism.

It concludes with the following line: “We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.”

It is vintage Lincoln, acknowledging the high stakes and the possibility of failure, but ultimately ending on an optimistic note.

I don’t see that optimism today. That belief that things are going to get better, that problems are going to be solved and divisions will be repaired.

Not on the international stage where a teenager chastises the world’s leaders for doing nothing to save the environment and not on the national stage where we see a constant barrage of attacks, lies and accusations. Even locally, we see a ton of negativity especially on social media which can be a cesspool.

In such a world, is there a place for our better angels to make a stand?
Are people willing to put the world, nation and their own community ahead of their tribe?

What will it take for good people to rise up and say enough is enough?
Do we sit idly by as standards and rules that seemed to work for so long get obliterated?

Or will we continue to bicker and watch the heat and anger rise and take us to ever more dangerous places?

It’s a fundamental choice to make, but the path to something better is not clear.

As a hyperlocal blog, I invite you to cruise some local Facebook pages and see what you find.

It seems like almost every post that has to do with local government attracts a large share of cynicism and snark.

Pebb Capital, a fine firm with a deep track record of success in real estate, ponies up a whopping $40 million to buy the Sundy House and the first comment you see is a cynical prediction that the historic structures will be bulldozed and the historic neighborhood trashed. Followed by comments such as “Delray is shot,” no longer charming or in the least appealing. Really? Is that true?

Should we be concerned about historic properties? Of course. But there doesn’t seem to be any trust in the process or in the officials responsible for enforcing the city’s codes and land development rules.

In reality, with Pebb Capital in town, we will actually see the long-awaited investment promised. We won’t ever see 10 story buildings downtown and if you want to see real traffic try navigating Glades Road after 4 p.m.

To be sure, there is plenty to be concerned about in Delray and I have written extensively on those topics. I will note that you only spend time on the things you care about. So when we see columns on instability at City Hall, poor leadership, a lack of long term thinking, incivility, the lack of talent attracted to public service and rising rents downtown it’s not coming from a nasty place but from a love of this community and a desire to see it thrive and be a happy place. I hope the other comments I referenced on Facebook come from that place too. Sometimes I have my doubts.

While fixing the national scene may be a bridge too far, we can always start at home.

Groups like WiseTribe offer a great template for building community.

Another suggestion is to go back to the old playbook.

Delray made significant strides beginning in the late 80s when the city began to offer a slew of ways for citizens to get engaged. From citizen police academies and resident academies to visioning charrettes and neighborhood dinners, there was a concerted effort to find, recruit and bring citizens to the public square so they could work together and building a better city.

It worked.

As important as those initiatives were, they may be even more important today. We cannot let social media be the only or even the primary way for citizens to engage. For sure, there is a place for Facebook. But it is a poor replacement for face to face meetings and social media does not provide a meaningful way to facilitate important conversations.

It’s hard to demonize someone sitting across a table from you, but very easy to do so on Facebook, especially since the platform allows for the use of fake identities.

Sometimes the old fashioned ways are best; face to face conversations still have a place in our hyper connected world. If we lose the ability to relate to our neighbors we will lose the common ground that builds community and with it our sense of belonging.

 

Many Soulful Miles

Yulia at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park.

“Never underestimate your dreams. If there is a will, there is a way to get anything you want in life.” –Yulia

 

Did you ever want to chuck it all?
Start fresh.

Pick up and go.

Are you intrigued by adventure?

Do you admire the risk takers, the ‘go for it’ segment of our society who just seem to know how to live, really live?

I think it’s a feeling many if not most of us have experienced and while we may fantasize or even dip our toes into something different, the ties that bind tend to keep us in our place.

Not so for my friend Yulia Konovnitsyna.

She’s on a grand adventure as I write this. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Because an adventure implies a beginning, a middle and an end. My friend Yulia has changed her life and has adopted a new way of living.  I’m living vicariously through her travels with her dog Milo across our great country.

I’m having a great time doing so. Even if sometimes her posts stir a longing deep in my soul for change and transformation.

The Grand Tetons, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park and many, many stops along the way.

Yulia shares her photos and thoughts on social media—and they are sensational. She is a digital marketing entrepreneur and somehow she is managing to grow her business, serve her clients and live a life of adventure.

She’s sharing under the name “Many Soulful Miles” and I find that moniker fitting. Yulia is a soulful person and very much an old soul.

While she’s young in age, she positively oozes wisdom.

I started to hear about her a few years back through my friend Karen Granger, then the president of the Delray Chamber of Commerce.
“You’ve got to meet Yulia,” Karen would gush. “She’s amazing.”
Knowing Karen’s keen sense of people and her ability to spot talent I was intrigued.

So Yulia and I met at The Coffee District and I was very impressed.

My three passions are community, entrepreneurship and leadership—and Yulia ticked all three boxes. She was building a community through Creative Mornings Palm Beach,  she was clearly a leader of that movement and she was an entrepreneur with an inspiring immigration story.

We became friends. She asked me to speak to Creative Mornings (which was an honor and a thrill) and I was happy when she announced that she was hitting the road with her adorable dog Milo.

I look forward to her posts—the photos and videos are magnificent. But it’s the occasional long form posts that I relish. Her thoughts on travel, on work, solitude, narcissism, friendship, self-reliance and the beauty of the places she visits are just wonderful. Soulful too…and we all need a little more soul these days.

As I stare down my 55th birthday in a few weeks, chances are I will never quite replicate what Yulia is doing but who knows? Maybe, just maybe Diane and I will steal away with our rescue dogs for an adventure. But right now, it’s August and I’m still trying to plan a vacation.

I have a strong hunch that this is more than an adventure for Yulia. She may have found a way to live her best life, yet another reason to admire her.

Who knows where the road will lead? Nobody really does. But if you make them soulful miles, well then maybe, just maybe you’ll discover the answers to a lot of life’s mysteries.

 

 

Alone Again, Naturally?

There’s a loneliness epidemic in America.

That’s the conclusion made by Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, citing a recent study by health insurer Cigna which says most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships.

Wow.

Stop and think about that. Here’s another showstopper from the survey:

“Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out.” Thirteen percent of Americans say that zero people know them well. The survey, which charts social isolation using a common measure known as the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, shows that loneliness is worse in each successive generation.”

At first, the survey feels counterintuitive. In the age of social media, where we are able to access “friends” 24/7 regardless of location via Facebook, Instagram and other platforms it would seem we would feel more connected than ever.

But 2018 was the year in which we finally stopped long enough to truly consider social media’s impact on our lives and society. Maybe instead of making us closer, it is driving wedges based on our political beliefs. Maybe instead of deepening friendships it has made them hollow—as we share only the best part of our lives in an endless search for “likes” and “retweets.”

I suspect I’m like most people in that I have mixed feelings about social media. I enjoy being able to stay in touch– even nominally– with old friends, classmates, teachers, co-workers and relatives who live far away. But I’ve seen cyber bullying, real “fake news” and manipulation as well. I’ve seen the worst aspects of social media take a toll on relationships and actually prevent people from speaking their minds or participating in civic life for fear of being trolled.

So when you look at the full spectrum, you can see where loneliness can take root.

And it’s not just social media—it’s media in general. Talk radio, cable TV and some print publications peddle an “us” versus “them” narrative which serves to put us in silos where we only interact with people who agree with us.

I find myself avoiding conversations unless I know where people are relative to politics. It seems we are locked into our own set of facts, which ought to alarm everyone because it’s hard to find compromise or consensus if you can’t even agree on objective facts.

All of this leads to a sense of isolation and I guess loneliness. I have my tribe, you have yours and there’s a sense that we share a house that’s divided and we all know (or do we?) what Lincoln said about a house divided.

Brooks and others who have written about this subject also lament the changing nature of work—where the “gig” economy replaces the camaraderie of the office where relationships evolve over years of working side by side. It’s hard to build friendships when you’re driving an Uber or hopping from gig to gig.

Too many Americans don’t feel “rooted” in community these days, according to the research.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska recently wrote a book about this subject. In “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” Senator Sasse writes about “thick” communities, places that where people have real histories and deep relationships with each other. He describes the feeling as a “hometown gym on a Friday night.”

I’ve heard variations of that sentiment over the years regarding Delray. People would say they go downtown and no longer see anyone they know.

I had a colleague on the city commission years ago who used to say that the difference between Delray and Boca was simple: if you asked someone from Delray where they lived they’d answer “Delray.” But if you asked someone from Boca, they’d give their neighborhood such as “Woodfield” or “The Polo Club.”
I don’t know that to be true or not, but it’s an interesting thought.

When your downtown once lacked vibrancy, you actually take pride when you visit and see a crowd of strangers. Hey, at least there’s a crowd. But now I can see what people mean when they long for the days of going downtown and bumping into friends and neighbors.

I am a firm believer in community building—it’s important. It’s vital and if it is missing you end up a lonely place.

In the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, Delray Beach became an All America City and a different place because the number one mission of civic leaders was to build community.

There was an active effort to help neighborhoods form associations. There was an active effort to involve youth in activities such as the Youth Council. There was a huge amount of resources devoted to “community policing”, visioning, recruiting people for advisory boards and creating a large volunteer pool for our police and fire departments, non-profits, schools etc. There were town hall meetings, charrettes and roundtable discussions.

I think it made a difference.

I think it built friendships and civic capacity. It may have eased a sense of loneliness and isolation too.

Special events—which became so controversial and maligned—also played a role. It seems like everyone went to First Night on New Year’s Eve and Art and Jazz on the Avenue was something you just had to attend because as you strolled the avenue you’d see a lot of people you knew and cared about.

Today, there are some really good groups trying to build community: Wise Tribe, Community Greening, Old School Square, the Historical Society, the Beach Property Owners Association to name just a few.

In his New York Times op-ed, Brooks reaches out to Senator Sasse because he’s moving to a new state and he fears being isolated and rootless. Here’s the advice he gets. It something I hope we all heed.

“(Sasse) told me I had it all wrong — that moving back home and going to the gym on Friday aren’t actually the point; rather, the trick is “learning how to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live.” In other words, being a member of a community isn’t about whether I have a Fremont (Sasse’s hometown). It isn’t about how I feel about any place I have lived, nor about my fear of isolation in a new city. It is about the neighbor I choose to be in the community I wind up calling my home.

 

And there lies the challenge to each of us in a country suffering from loneliness and ripped apart by political opportunists seeking to capitalize on that isolation. Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.”

 

 

Art Endures: So Does Social Infrastructure

The legendary Paul Simon is on a farewell tour. He visited South Florida for a final show at BB&T.

I’m at an age where my childhood heroes are— how can I be delicate– terming out so to speak.

It seems like every concert I attend these days is part of a “farewell tour” and I have some anxiety every time I hit the “obituary” link on my New York Times app.

Yet, I feel compelled to visit the link because I don’t want to miss the passing of people who meant something to me along the way.

Recent weeks have been especially difficult: we’ve lost Burt Reynolds, the wonderful Neil Simon, Aretha Franklin, John McCain and character actor Bill Daily—Major Healy on “I Dream of Jeanie” which was on every day in my house when my sister and I were growing up. In ways large and small, these people played roles in our culture and therefore our lives.

Politics are important, but politicians come and they go. They may leave a wake—policies may benefit  and they can certainly harm– but the cycles keep coming. But culture endures.

We attended the “farewell tour” for Paul Simon last weekend when it rolled into the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

He played new music and some songs that were 50 years old. They all sounded good, but the older songs still resonated, they were still relevant and they still rang true.

The final song of the night was “American Tune” which was written in 1973. The song is as meaningful today as it was 45 years ago.

“Still when I think of the road we’re traveling on I wonder what’s gone wrong. I can’t help it I wonder what’s gone wrong”.

In introducing the song, Mr. Simon spoke briefly, but his few words spoke volumes.

“Strange times,” he said drily. “Don’t give up.”

We won’t.

I know every generation thinks they have cornered the market on musical genius, but I think the Baby Boomers really did.

We grew up amidst an explosion of musical talent and their music has invaded our pores and informed our thoughts and views of life.

Don’t believe me?

Then consider: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, U2, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Byrds, CCR, The Band, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Neil Young, Smokey Robinson, Dylan, The Dead, Elton John, Billy Joel, the Allman Brothers, The Kinks, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Earth Wind & Fire, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon and on and on she goes.

Oh I like new music too and seek it out regularly. But our golden age will be hard to match. The world has changed, there is no longer any water cooler, no multi-format radio stations that everyone listens to—we are tethered to our devices and our Spotify song lists. We have convenience and music on demand, but we have lost that common experience. Nobody is home at Graceland anymore.

We all knew what happened when “me and Julio” went down to the school yard and we surely knew what it was like to listen to “Dazed and Confused” while drinking warm beer with friends on a hot summer night. We have traded Budweiser with our buddies for earbuds and solitude. And it makes me a little sad and more than a little nostalgic….

Then, over the weekend, I read about a new term: “social infrastructure.”

I love it.

The author lamented the loss of “social infrastructure” in our cities—places like libraries, places like Old School Square and Patch Reef Park—“palaces for the people” is what the author Eric Klinenberg calls them. I love that phrase.

We ought to start thinking of our public spaces that way. It may be more important now than ever to tend to the commons before they go away and we physically meld with our cellphones and social media platforms. A new study released this week says that teenagers prefer to relate to their friends on their devices rather than in person. Think about that…it’s disturbing.

Regardless, this is a ramble. And I appreciate you reading this far.

From Major Healy to Old School Square we’ve covered some ground…but this drift was anticipated by the likes of Paul Simon when he sang (way back in 1967):

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Jolting Joe has left and gone away.”

Yes, he has.

I will miss this amazing array of talent we have enjoyed–as one by one they fade away. But their music…their sublime and transcendent music… will surely endure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TroubleBrewing

Seems mighty tempting at times.

There’s a growing sentiment that tech companies are spiraling out of control these days.
There’s even a hashtag expressing the sentiment: #techlash.

Facebook is being questioned around the world for its role in sowing electoral discontent and losing control of  its user’s personal data. As a result, its stock has tumbled this week.
Twitter has been assailed for bullying and misogyny and Google and YouTube have had to answer questions about questionable search results and ads from less than savory groups populating it’s platforms.
It’s enough to make you want to live off the grid like my old commission teammate and dear friend Bob Costin.

At way over 6 feet tall we called Bob the “high commissioner” and often joked that he violated Delray’s strict height limits.
Bob was a wonderful commissioner with a terrific sense of humor but he and the Internet weren’t acquainted.

He didn’t have email, didn’t read documents online and if you wanted to talk to him you had to do it the old fashioned way: call him or visit his table at the old Green Owl.
He was there most mornings by 10 a.m.
Ahh..the good old days.
But my point is during my time in office 2000-07, if you wanted to vent you had to email, call or make an appointment.

Prior commissions—pre email—would eagerly await snail mail from their neighbors; so if you wanted to opine you had to write a letter, find an envelope, buy a stamp and look up an address before you could put your thoughts in front your mayor or commissioner.

Today, we have Facebook and other social media platforms where a robust debate rages 24-7 and city politics are a hot topic.

There’s no filter. No fact checkers. No obligation at all to be civil– short of threatening bodily harm which may get you booted—eventually.
It’s changed the game.

As  a result, lots of people don’t want to subject themselves to the abuse, bullying, misinformation and vitriol shelled out by a wide variety of charmers and so they don’t participate in local politics.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have rarely if ever visited most local Facebook pages devoted to Delray politics and recently opted out of one page I was a “member” of. I won’t judge those who indulge, I just don’t want to.

If the platforms featured intelligent debate, I might feel differently.

But what I saw during the recent election cycle was something less than intelligent or interesting.

What did I see?  Anger, division, polarization, innuendo, lies, attacks, hatred.
We should be better than this.
We need to be better than this.
Truth be told, I saw some kindness too. But the ratio of mean to nice is not even close.
And so I’m out.

I will continue to enjoy Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In for other things such as sharing pictures of my dogs and birds, promoting local causes and businesses that I like, reading and sharing interesting articles and staying in touch with old friends, favorite teachers and distant relatives.

As for my old friend Bob Costin: he called me in the days leading up to the election blissfully unaware of the toxicity on the Internet.
He’s still not online. He still doesn’t have email.

And he still uses his favorite line when asked why: “my modem is down” before breaking into a laugh I’ve grown to love and cherish.
But despite Bob’s conscious decision to keep his modem on ice, he’s very much rooted in modern life. He’s up on the news (through newspapers), embraces change and is always fun and interesting to talk to.
He was a progressive commissioner back in the day, open to new ideas and had a few of his own as well.

He told me no candidate contacted him before the election. He wasn’t complaining just stating a fact.

But I thought to myself ‘what a shame’ because Bob has so much to share.
And it made me think that at least locally, we ought to make an effort to connect face to face.

We used to have town hall meetings, charettes, neighborhood dinners, community visioning sessions, citizen goal setting workshops and even roasts.
These are the things that build community.

This is why efforts such as WiseTribe, Creative Mornings, Old School Square, Chambers of Commerce, festivals, green markets and pet parades are so important.
It’s harder to demonize someone standing in front of you. It’s easy to do so online.

And if you can’t demonize someone you may find that there is common ground amidst the very real differences. Or at the very least, we may realize that those differences are heartfelt and honest –rooted in beliefs  sincerely held.

Social media has its place. But when it starts to erode community and humanity, count me out.
I think I will stick to pictures of my dogs sleeping and videos of my birds singing.
It feels a whole lot safer this way.

Something Has Changed

Jason Aldean covers Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down.” Neither will we.

Two musicians have been on my mind since the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Jason Aldean was on stage at a Country Music Festival when the carnage began and issued a heartfelt statement in the aftermath. His words have stuck with me: “Something has changed in this country and in this world lately that is scary to see.”

Indeed.

Tom Petty passed away while we were trying to process the Vegas shooting. He was 66. Mr. Petty meant a lot to me and to music fans of my generation and beyond. In reading through some of his interviews, I saw a quote that also made me think.

Petty gave an interview to USA Today upon the release of what would be his last album, 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye”, a record he said was about “what’s happened to the human that’s lost his humanity.”

Petty went on to say: “I’m not extremely political. I just look at what makes sense to me. I would think we’d be in the streets demanding that our children be safe in schools. I see friendships end over politics. I’ve never seen so much anger. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. In a two-party system, ideas are argued and you compromise. You’re not supposed to stop the process.”

Mind you, this was 2014. Things have gotten a lot angrier and nastier in the past three years haven’t they?

We see violence all over the world—people brutalized in Myanmar, blown up in Britain and France, girls kidnapped in Nigeria, cartel violence destroying cities in Mexico—the list goes on and on. And we see violence and unspeakable acts here as well.

But something else is afoot.

Something else is happening.

It’s a lack of civility. A lack of respect for common decency. An inability to see other points of view.

We live in a divisive society and taken to its extremes we become tribal and if you are not in my tribe you must be stupid, evil, bad—or somehow less human.

But Jason Aldean’s full statement called on us to remember that we are all human—and we are all Americans, even if we disagree—maybe especially because we disagree. Isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

Democracy is loud and messy at times, but Lincoln and others reminded us to be mindful of our better angels. We sometimes lose track of those angels and we lash out.

We see it on cable news, online, in our nation’s capital, in Tallahassee and right here at home in our city halls.

We can blame it on social media. We can blame it on #fakenews. We can blame it on Trump. We can blame it on Hillary.

But the buck stops with us.

I write down quotes that make me think. I got this one from the former CEO of Office Depot. Bruce Nelson and I used to meet here and there when he was running the show at their old Delray headquarters out on Congress Avenue. Mr. Nelson once said to me: “You stand for what you tolerate.”

It’s an interesting quote isn’t it?

So why do we tolerate nastiness, bullying, incivility and lack of results?

Why do we wait for the knight on the white horse to arrive and save the day, when we have the power to bring about positive change?

Something has changed.

We are tolerating too much nonsense.

Our leaders work for us—why are we afraid of them?

If we want to see a just world, a gentler, and safer place why do we tolerate nonsense?

If we want to solve problems, why don’t we?

 

 

Finding the Signal in the Noise

It can get noisy out there.

It can get noisy out there.

Like many things, social media has its pluses and minuses.

I suspect I’m like many when I say I enjoy Facebook for the convenience of being able to stay in touch with a wide variety of friends and family that I wouldn’t have been able to without the ease of social media.

From former work colleagues and classmates to neighbors and far flung family, Facebook enables me to catch glimpses of their lives and to share snippets of mine (mostly dog pics). It makes me feel at least nominally connected to people I care about but in all honesty would never have time to call, take to lunch or visit. (It also enabled me to discover a fantastic song called “Debris” by the Faces, thanks to music guru Steve Martel).

But there’s also a dark side to social media—where trolls, cyber bullies, rumors and outright lies thrive.

On balance, I’ll take the bad because I think the upside and potential of social media far outweighs the negative.

The good, bad and ugly of social media is being debated loudly these days in the wake of the strangest and most divisive election most of us have ever seen. I assiduously avoid national politics on my Facebook page but many of my friends on both sides of the gaping divide had a field day this cycle.

I watched in real time long standing relationships blow up over posts and comments and it saddened me.

I suspect a few Thanksgiving celebrations may have different rosters as a result of social media posts.

And it’s not just national elections that get us overheated. Local politics is also rife with anger and recrimination.

I keep an eye on this page in Boca that can get lively. I’ll shield the names to protect the innocent, but this was an exchange last week regarding a luxury hotel coming to town.

It follows a typical pattern.

Someone expresses happiness that a project is coming.

Someone else quickly replies that the project stinks, will ruin the city forever and create traffic jams.

The person, who was happy a second ago, replies that his neighbor should move if they don’t like what’s happening. This is a pattern and usually it’s not a polite: “why don’t you consider a locale where you might find bliss” suggestion; nope it’s typically a variation of “shut up and move if you don’t like it.”

And now we are off to the races: fighting words like whining, greed and moron are exchanged and we descend from there until it finally burns out only to be rekindled when someone else joins in and expresses an opinion about how things “used to be” or the need for one thing or another. It’s exhausting and I’m not sure what it all adds up to.

Did we learn something?

Did we solve anything?

I think there’s some value in expression, but this kind of stuff hardly qualifies as dialogue.

I just finished an interesting book: “I’m right and you’re an Idiot” which explains why people get dug in and offers some insights into how to bridge divides and achieve some measure of civility and compromise.

One giant takeaway is that “facts” hardly matter—oh sure some people will change their mind if presented with evidence, but many won’t regardless of how much you throw at them. People do respond to stories and emotion, but typically once they adopt a narrative and a world view it’s hard to budge them. Social media only amplifies that human trait.

I think social media is an amazing tool for a public official or anyone in a leadership position. I think if you are in office you should be using social media to connect to constituents and to explain your positions and also solicit input. But it is NOT a substitute for face to face human interaction and real life interaction.

A lot is lost online—we’ve all been burned by email, text messages and social media posts—because we can’t see body language or ask for clarification like we can when we are face to face.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve seen families fight and friends “defriend” and “block” each other.

Social media platforms have had an odd response to this difficult and complex environment.

Twitter has suspended accounts and has been blasted for doing so. The service says it is ridding the platform of hate speech; those who have been booted are crying censorship.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued that “false news” (like the Pope endorsing Trump which was shared, liked and cited thousands of times) didn’t have an impact—in the next breath he’s selling advertising on his site because of its ability to influence decisions. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. And yes, Facebook ads work. I can personally attest because I have sold a few books with Facebook ads and we have sold a bunch of hot sauce and beverages by promoting our brands on the site. Like it or not, Facebook is our water cooler these days. It matters.

I would just caution that we don’t limit all of our interactions to social media—there’s still room for meet ups, coffee with friends, group discussions etc. With augmented and virtual reality coming fast, we better leave room for face to face old-fashioned conversation.

We may not ever agree on whether a Mandarin Hotel is the right thing—but it’s not as easy to call someone a moron when he or she is sitting right in front of you.

 

 

 

 

The Return of Print? Perhaps

Print promotes concentration and allows for an immersive experience.

Print promotes concentration and allows for an immersive experience.

I’m a print guy.

Oh, I love the Internet, have a blog, enjoy Facebook, know how to tweet and read the New York Times on my smartphone. But I still love books, real books. And I still love print newspapers and read two a day and the Times in print every Sunday.

So I was thrilled to see a terrific column by Colin W. Sargent, editor and publisher of Portland Magazine this month extolling the many virtues of print.

I subscribe to Portland Magazine and eagerly await its arrival every month. I fell in love with Maine two years ago during a birthday trip to the state and especially enjoyed spending time in Portland, a great, walkable little city with amazing restaurants, a vibrant art scene, live music, festivals and a picturesque waterfront.

This month, Sargent wrote about the many benefits of print, citing research done by cognitive literature scholar Susanne Reichl of the University of Vienna who says when we read we actually lose ourselves while reading books, magazines and print newspapers. Good writing transports us and in a world full of noise, our minds can use the escape.

Sargent writes that when he reads he gets swept up in the stories and descriptions and that he becomes more “fully human” and that’s why we will always have a need for print material because the digital experience is just not quite the same thing.

“Pop-ups, streaming, email alerts and other interruptions can’t help but prevent us from reaching deepest into the reading experience,” he writes. “The internet may be irreplaceable, but so is real reading with a real book or magazine.”

Naomi Baron who has studied the difference between online reading and reading print materials says her research clearly shows that readers pay more attention and retain more information when reading print.

Students multi-task three times as much when reading online than when they read hard copy and therefore don’t connect emotionally to digital material, she says.

Sargent’s prediction: a print comeback is coming soon to give us relief from the cacophony of the internet.

His advice: “buy all the print newspapers you can right now, because they are on the eve of a renaissance.”

Well, we did. (shamless plug: Delray Newspaper, Boca Newspaper) So I sure hope he’s right.

No less a sage than Warren Buffett is also bullish on local newspapers and magazines. He doesn’t believe in regional papers, but small papers that serve their markets well have some life left in them, says the Oracle of Omaha.

So maybe our desire to connect emotionally with the written word; our need to concentrate and move away from the screen (for just a little while) and our need to avoid pop-ups, texts and email notifications will give newspapers, books (I wrote one of those too) and magazines (go Atlantic Ave) a bright future.

I sure hope so.

 

 

 

I Miss the Water Cooler

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Often, I find myself sitting at meetings when someone will say the following.

“Can we get any press on this?”

“This is awesome, people ought to know about it.”

As an old newspaper guy who has dabbled in public relations, I really sympathize with the desire to spread the news.  There used to be a community water cooler, but sadly it is gone.

That does not mean that content is gone, or that news is no longer being made, it just means that the outlets have changed or gone away, the audience is fragmented (drinking from a wide array of water coolers) or tuned out completely.

It wasn’t always like this.

I have absolutely no beef with change or with technology; wouldn’t matter if I did, but I generally embrace both. I like social media, can’t imagine life without the Internet and love that I can read the New York Times on my phone at lunch.

But I also miss community journalism and feel that somehow we have been diminished as locals when the water cooler went away.

Pre-Internet and for a few years after Google,  if you lived in Boca Raton or Delray Beach you could keep up with the local news by reading the Monday-Thursday Papers, the Sun-Sentinel, The Boca News and the Palm Beach Post. There was also Boca Magazine, The Beachcomber, Native Sun and a few other local magazines that seemed to come and go.

When I served on the City Commission from 2000-07, we were regularly covered by three daily newspapers and sometimes four (the Miami Herald) if something big was happening. We were also covered by a few weeklies.

The coverage was abundant. If you wanted to stay informed, you could easily do so.

When I moved here in 1987, I took a job at the old Monday-Thursday Papers which was one of the largest chains of community newspapers in the country and the largest in the southeast. We had papers from Jupiter to Miami with the Delray and Boca Papers printed twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.

It was a great job if you like to work hard and make little money; which was fine when you are in your 20s and looking for adventure. I wrote between 5-7 stories a week, with a set of news briefs and a police blotter. This was done in the days when you had to go to the Police Department and ask for the blotter and sift through reports looking for interesting or noteworthy crimes. Today, it’s all online as are the backup materials for City Commission meetings, Planning Board meetings etc.

I liked to get out of the office and frankly we had no choice—our City Editor a grizzled veteran named Tom Sawyer –(yes his real name) would bark at us if we were hanging around the newsroom after deadline.

“Nothing newsworthy is happening here,” he would remind his young charges. “News doesn’t come in here and find you, you have to find it.” And so we did.

We sat at the counters at Ken’s and Hazel’s, visited barber shops, talked up HOA presidents and rode with cops and detectives and cultivated sources at City Hall.

We covered the news and also prided ourselves on doing what they call “enterprise” reporting, covering trends, writing features, doing investigatory pieces and in-depth journalism.

Much to my wife’s chagrin, I still have lots and lots of those old newspapers sitting in boxes in my garage. Sometimes, if I’m bored or nostalgic, I’ll pull a few out and they never cease to amaze me.

Details you forget, stories that were big at the time that were soon forgotten (Jacobson’s anyone?) and quotes from people who have long left the scene and were once so important and influential.

It’s great fun to read and its local history too.

The papers were pretty good back then. The Boca News had Darcie Lunsford and Wayne Tompkins and Skip Sheffield and Vin Mannix and they were all great reporters. We had Larry Kahn, Debbie Stern, John Dichtl, Stacey Trapani, Eva Fellows, Judy Vik, Kate Confare and Jim Baker writing sports. They were great writers and smart people too.

On Friday nights, we would meet at Dirty Moe’s in Boca and tell war stories from the week that was…what politician hung up on us, what well-known name we saw in a police report, what the local gadflies said at that week’s Council meeting.

Darcie and I used to sit in the back row at Delray City Hall and fantasize about Darcie running for mayor someday.  I would be her campaign manager.

We would look at all the faces of the old mayors that lined that walls of City Hall- the décor dated even back then -and tried and imagine Darcie’s portrait up there.

But Darcie was smart. She went on to marry a high ranking Delray police officer and began covering the real estate beat for the South Florida Business Journal before going into the field herself.

We used to compete back then, but we were friendly. I used to go to dinner with the Sentinel and Post reporters at the old Delray Mall before commission meetings. We would be upset if we were scooped, but we were friends too.

I think civic life was different back then. Citizens seemed more informed. The space devoted to local news was larger and people read what you wrote.

More people voted back in those days too and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When you are informed you vote. When you don’t know what’s going on, local elections can pass you by. And that’s a shame.

Here’s an example, in 1990 over 10,000 voters (41.5 percent of registered voters) went to the polls in Delray to elect a new mayor (Tom Lynch) and two city commissioners. Delray was a lot smaller town 25 years ago so 10,000 voters is an astonishing figure.

Can you name the Delray candidate who received the most votes in history?

Betcha can’t, but if you guessed David Randolph you’d be correct. Mr. Randolph got 7,720 votes in ’90.

In March 2015, about 16 percent of the city’s voters showed up, or 6,944 people. The winning mayoral candidate earned 3,703 votes, less than half what commission candidates polled in 1990 and about 2,000 votes less than Mayor Lynch received in a heated three way race.

I think the water cooler has something to do with that.

Sure, there are some local publications out there, but the dailies have really retrenched, the Monday Thursday Papers (which used to be on everybody’s lawn) are long gone and the monthlies are just not frequent enough.

The irony is…even with technology there is a bigger need and niche today than ever.

To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel “where have you gone Boca News? A community turns its lonely eyes to you.”