The Next Question

I want to give you all a decent amount of heads-up on this one. Josh is returning to DC for the 4th. I believe he gets to town in time for Tuesday Night next week.

The Next Question

Person 1: What do you do?
Person 2: I wash windows.
Person 1: Cool.

… and that’s where it ends. People have become accustom to not asking the next question.

(This rant brought to via a conversation with Ken. Also, there is a person on the list that actually asks the next question. I misinterpretted his ability once, and for that misinterpretation I am sorry. In order for this rant to work right, you need to shelve the traditional ideas of sellers and customers. Abstract your idea of what is selling and what is buying. You’ll read what I mean in a sec.)

Consider a situation where you are purchasing something large like a car or a house. I know, personally, that you reach a certain point and you stop asking question because a) you don’t understand subject let alone the answer you are undoubtably going to get and b) you just don’t want to appear stupid or difficult.

I watch my customers do this exact thing.

Customer: Can this solve my problem?
Ian: Yes.
Customer: Cool.

The obvious next question is… well, there are too many of them to list.

The customer goes through this dance where they don’t ask the next question, which, by the way, would completely undermine everthing the seller has said, and the seller doesn’t say more than he needs to. Everyone understands the rules of this game. Almost everyone plays by these rules.

So why do we all play this game? Why do we not ask the next question? Sure, you don’t want to look dumb. You don’t want to be a hard-ass. But. But, get real, more often than not, the next question is the question is crucial one; it is the question that has to be asked.

Maybe I am approaching this wrong. Maybe we don’t ask the next question because we simulataneously know that the answer will destroy the other person’s agrument and we don’t want to hear them say it.

Parishoner: Will every one go to Heaven when they die?
Priest: Mostly. Except for people who take their own lives. And sinners. Sinner don’t go to Heaven. In fact, both of the later parties will roast in Hell.
Parishoner: Cool.

From the seller’s-side, we treat the customer who asks the next question as the hard-ass, the mean pariah sent to bust you up, the asshole. Seller’s know that the next question will blow them out of the water. It’s a dance; we all sell each other on everything, and in this exact way: You don’t ask, and I won’t tell.

So, do we want to change this arrangement? I think we do. The informed customer certainly wants to ask the next question, and more importantly, they don’t give a crap about appearing stupid or assholent. We all need to get the information that we need, regardless of the social implications, and that is exactly what this dance is, a social one. What of the sellers? Is it in their best interest to change the dance? Tougher to say. I think they do. Last week I talked about the successfull salesperson who shares IPD. I believe willingness to answer the next question is another factor of a good salesperson. The really good ones answer the next question before it gets asked, and this way they can control the answer and its impact.

Customers be strong; ask the next question. Sellers be ready for the next question, accomodate it.

Wanna buy a house?

So I jog from one gate to another in Denver on Saturday. I come screaming into gate B39 only to find a huge mass of people milling around. Obviously, something is very wrong as United hadn’t started boarding yet. Then I notice all the paramedics. And then I notice the guy on the ground. Some poor fella had a heart attack waiting in line to check in to my flight. There were two morbid comments made by people around me. One, “Imagine if he had checked in, boarded, we go in the air, and then he had a heart attack.” Good point. There is no where to land a 777 any place between Denver and Chicago, as far as I know. This guy would have been in really really bad shape by then. The second I made having seen the sign above the gate saying only center seats were available: “I guess he didn’t want a center seat.” Yeah, yeah, I know; I’m going to hell.

So pertaining to the subject line of the email, I have a real estate transaction for one of you. My neighbors downstairs are moving. (They are pregnant and wanted a bigger place, so they bought a town house a few blocks away.) At any rate, their place to totally rocks. It is the inverse of mine, for those of you who have seen it. (You walk in to their living room and then go downstairs to the bedrooms.) They are about to sell this apartment this weekend and wanted me to put the word out that their place, and their parking space, are for sale. I believe they are going to list it at around 320. Let me know immediately if you are interested.

Now onto what I really wanted to write about…

This privacy thing is still bugging me. Consider the following quote from Senator Frank Church (Meet the Press, August 1977):

“At the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency (the National Security Agency) and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

What is scary is not the fact that this quote is from 1977 and technology is immeasurably more advanced. What is scary is that this is a Senator talking. This is a man who is part of the elite, and he is deeply afraid. Afraid for himself. If there is no protection for a Senator, what do you and I have?

The simple fact is that you and I aren’t that interesting to the government. Sorry, but it is true. (By the way, if you have ever left the country, the NSA is within its rights to use its technology on you. If you have never left our soil, you are supposedly immuned.)

Shelving the government for a second, there are large corporations that have reams of data on each of us. But I am not concerned. Why? Because what they have is data, pure and simple.

There are two kinds of information about people. The first kind, which I will deem Personal Privacy Data (PPD), is the kind of stuff that the government, corporations, and telemarketers collect. It is data. Hair color. Shopping habits. Credit info. Boring, boring, boring. Sure, in total, that information is vitally important, but it is lifeless.

The second kind of information, which I will deem Intrapersonal Privacy Data (IPD), is the kind of information that you simply do not want anyone else to know unless you give it out. IPD is requisite for any sort of real relationship. It is our soft underbellies. It is deeply personal; information not about us, but information that actually comprises our identity.

The reason why I am not extremely concerned about ECHELON and friends is because it consumes PPD.

Which leads me to the real focus of this pieces: IPD. To be successful at anything, you must share IPD. Why do people fail at sales? Because they share PPD. “If you act now, I can get a special deal for you.” The bullshit salesman fails because all he or she relates in PPD. The really successful salespeople share IPD. They are honest. They truly share their customers pain. They share their own pain. Why do relationships fail? Because people do not trust one another enough to share their IPD. They don’t tell you why they really don’t like Los Angeles. They don’t let the other person see them when they are hurting. They aren’t willing to burden the other person in the relationship with their own problems, but in fact there is no burden at all.

I posit that there are two kinds of people: those who deal in PPD and those who deal in IPD. PPD people work in volume across a shallow level. Their bounds are formed with other people on a PPD level. These are acquaintances-makers. They compare data: car, incoming, who did their eyes. See Queen’s “Is This the World We Created” for more details.

IPD people work on a different level. They are slow to consider anyone a friend or partner because that status takes time to earn. They are more apt to make longer, but fewer bonds with other people.

Both PPD and IPD people have their strengths and weaknesses, which I won’t discuss here.

We live in a society that trades in PPD. I believe, and I could be totally off-base here, that Europe deals more in IPD. (Which quizzically explains the EU’s obsession with personal privacy, but I’m not sure how.)

No real point to this rant, just wanted to make you aware of PPD and IPD.

3 A’s in place of privacy

I just completed the best O.J. Simpson imitation. You remember O.J.? No, not the knife-wielding, Bronco-passenger. O.J., the lovable scamp that did ads for Hertz. I sprinted from one terminal in Chicago to another. Only to find the doors to my flight closed. I conned my way onto the jetway and onto the plane. My seat, first class thanks to an upgrade, was waiting. I was pretty impressed with my sprinting abilities. Even better, they held the plane as it backed-up to put my bag on; I watch ’em do it. It was the least that United could do for me after leaving an hour late from Boston.

I am reading The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford. It is an utterly captivating documentation of the National Security Agency. For the longest time I assumed that there was no way that the government could put together something like ECHELON, the system used to monitor all forms of communication all the time. In the midst of this book, not only am I confronted with proof that ECHELON, or some form of it, exists, but also that, yes, the government is that fucked up and the only reason that things work is because 10 times more money than is really required is thrown at every problem.

So ECHELON exists. So Amazon abused information it gathered via Alexis. So every frequent buyer card you have discloses your every purchase. (A member of this list has an interesting defense to the Giant card. He went shopping with a female acquaintance you needed tampons. He suggested use his Giant card and thus screw up the nice orderly stream of data that Giant had pilfered from him to date. You know, a typical guy’s typical purchase: pasta, beer, water, ground beef, tampons… one of these things is not like the other.)

People are so calm about this complete an utter lack of privacy. This has bothered me for a while. But, I think, I have unraveled the problem. The reason why, outside of a few squawkers and FTC lawyers (you know who you are), have been bitching about loss of privacy is because people actual don’t want their privacy. They have traded privacy for the three A’s: acceptance, approval, and acknowledgment.

It used to be that people flocked to organized religion. Why? Acceptance, approval, and acknowledgment. They wanted to be accepted into something bigger than themselves. They wanted approval to raise a brood of kids, beat up on people different than them, and sell flowers at the airport. They wanted to be acknowledge for doing this good deed or that act of charity.

Now, for the three A’s to really be meaningful they had to come from some large authoritarian source. I simply couldn’t turn to a friend and grant them the three A’s; I don’t have that kind of perceived authority.

But organized religion does. You are now valued parishioner.

The government does. You are now a valued citizen.

Corporations do. You are now a valued customer.

Why do you struggle so hard to get Premier status on United? Do you really get better service? Not really. I posit that you do that to get the three A’s from United. You are accepted into this “little” club. You receive approval and acknowledgment from them in the form of a little plastic card.

Why do you join a country club?

How does one live knowing full well that there is no such thing are personal privacy? Dunno exactly. I do know that if my privacy is going to be stolen / gifted away, I am going to get every perk I can from it. I think that this lack of personal privacy really shows how transient the outside world is. What I claim is mine is mostly an illusion of possession. I don’t own the work I do at work. I don’t own the right to personal privacy; I pay for it. And maybe that’s it. Maybe in the not to distant future, we will pay for privacy. We will pay for the right not to get reams of spam. We will pay for the right to skip through commercials on TV. We will pay for the ability to block banner ads. Maybe we can pay enough to watch all those extra copies of your credit report go up in smoke? I recently read a privacy note from Aetna; they do not purge themselves of your records if you charge your healthcare carrier. How much are you those records worth to you?

And you know the real pisser about this model of privacy? The “interesting” people are the ones paying for privacy. Corporation are far more interested in the business traveler than the occasional family that flies home to Duluth for a reunion. Amazon is more interested in the CEO who buys ten books every month that the person who occasionally buys a book from Oprah’s booklist. (Face it Tai Chi for Dummies isn’t that interesting.)

So what’s the Big Decision here? Start saving, consider faking your own death, and don’t act surprised when your various mailboxes (both electronic and real) are full of shit you just don’t care about.

Hell’s Half Acre

I was going to talk to you about my recent experiences with acupuncture. It was quite an experience. Especially for someone who hates needles.

But for some reason, I don’t feel that funny.

I just had beers with the girl who started the Bad Season. Jen P. is much better after the bad season. She is living with her boyfriend, who despite all accounts, does in fact exist. We were remembering the Bad Season and that she started it with her boyfriend. Jeez, that was two years ago. The scars are still fresh.

There is an island off the coast of Maine called Hell’s Half Acre. It has about six trees on it. A bunch of huge boulders. The tide, in fact, separates some of those rocks from the island itself. The island is, not surprisingly, a half acre big. Hell’s Half Acre is somewhere between Mount Desert Island and Isle au Haut. You need sea kayak to get there.

I slept on one of those boulders many years ago. It was cold, even in summer. Some of us slept on this rock. We raced satellites. It was so clear that we could pick from a number of satellites. You simply chose the one you figured would cross the sky first.

Late that night or early that morning, someone woke me up. I believe it was a girl named Lindsey. She told me it was cold. Seems like an obvious thing to say. They, the other people on the rock, were heading back to the tents.

I, however, was resolve to sleep on the rock. Cold and all. The sky was so large so clear that I don’t think I have ever seen anything to rival it. But the tide had nearly swallowed the rock. I was cold; it was true.

And so there I tried to sleep, alone and cold. But no matter how hard I tried to sleep, I couldn’t. I was cold. But more than that, I was alone and cold. I made a decision. I acquiesced sometime around three in the morning, hopped off the rock, trudged to my tent, collapsed on three other people, and slept.

This is, I believe, is the Season of Great Decisions. We can stop kidding now. We can stop pretending now. We have been in “the real world” for long enough. We know ourselves well enough. And now it is time for decisions. Do we stick to jobs we hate? Do with stay in places that are unhealthy to us? Do with stay with people who are unhealthy for us? Yes, my friends, this is the Season of Great Decisions.

I am on the road. It gives me time to think. Sometime clearly, and sometime not. I have made a few decisions, though not Great ones. It is stupid to have and not to share. That is decision one. We all are endowed with more than we know what to do with. This is not a measure of wealth but of heart. Share it.

There is another Great Decision that weighs upon me. I am thinking of stopping The List. Three years is a long time. Maybe I am just fishing for compliments. Maybe I am tired. Maybe I am weak. But do you, each and every one of you care to be a part of my rants? I am think that this forum might be better suited just on the website, or not at all. I want your input.

This season has been named; you have been warned.