Archive for December, 2011

Connecting Through Texting


I entered a new stage of aunting this Christmas. I moved from face-to-face to screen-to-screen interaction.

Before this Christmas I could count on unfettered play time with my youngest nephews, ages 9 and 11. As of December 25, 2011, I compete with the digital devices connected to their little heads by little white ear buds.

Before this Christmas Jack and Andy met me at the door with hugs and an invitation to play a board game.

Andy: “Want to play Monopoly?”

Jack: “Or Life?”

Then, after properties were bought or families and careers were made one of the boys would ask: “Can I play with your phone?”

“Sure,” I would reply, knowing that part of my coolness, if I had any at all, was tied to my willingness to hand over my phone. Access to Angry Birds for continued hugs at the door always sounded like a good deal to me.

The apps on my iPhone look like I have a split personality. The Boomer aged woman is evidenced by the Flashlight app used in dimly lit restaurants, the Evernote app for digital reminders and the Tip and Split app for easy dinner bill reconciliation when out with friends. The Crash4Cash, Fast & Furious, Talking Carl, Crazy Candle, Zippo Lighter, Smack Talk and Doodle Jump apps strongly suggest I have a little boy hidden inside. But I don’t have a split personality. I just have nephews.

Things started to change in 2010 when the nephews’ mother received an iPad for Christmas. Mom’s gift quickly became family property and access to my iPhone lost some of its novelty and most of its cache. When one of the boys was flinging angry birds at helmeted pigs it meant the other was crashing cars on my phone and both boys were lost to me for as long as they could borrow someone’s device.

Then this year, Christmas 2011, both Jack and Andy received anytime access to the world of games and music on individual iPod touches. Quicker than one could say, “Can I buy this song?” they downloaded apps and retreated into earphone isolation only returning to the family fold when tapped on the shoulder by an older relative.

Dad: “Jack, turn down the volume. If I can hear it it’s too loud.”

Mom: “Andy. Andy. Andy. Come to the table and eat now.
Aunt Julie: “Want to put together your LEGO set?” They had received a LEGO Architecture kit of the Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater house. Both my husband and I really wanted to start building it.

Jack: “Not now, I just want to listen to some music.”

Andy: “Maybe in a minute.”

They didn’t need an aunt to help them enjoy their favorite Christmas gifts this year. They didn’t need me to insert batteries, assemble racetracks or conduct science projects. Building blocks? They could wait.

I taught them how to play Angry Birds on their mom’s iPad so I shouldn’t have been upset that they had moved on to being a Fruit Ninja on their own devices. But I was – a bit – because a bit of innocence and togetherness had been put aside for the next shiny object.

And then a new connection developed. A text connect.

December 25, 2011, 10:20 – 10:30 PM. Andy was at his house and my husband and I were at another brother’s home, where we were spending the night.

Andy: “Did you go to Dick and Deans”

Julie: “Yes, you were opening presents with your grandparents and cousins. See you tomorrow for more fun playing with your gifts.”

Andy: “We can build the falling water”

Julie: “Yes, and maybe a movie.”

Andy: “Totally”

Julie: “So we should all go to sleep now! Super body crusher hug goodnight!”

December 26, 2011, 10:41AM. I text Andy before coming over to his house.

Julie: “We’ll be over soon.

Andy: “Got it”

Julie: “Still want to build Lego/go to movie?”

Andy: “Yeah!” (Self-taken photo attached to text)

Julie: “Great picture!”

11:04 AM

Andy: “When are u guys coming over, watch time”

Julie: “Be there by noon.”

9:54 PM – 10:21 PM. That evening, my husband and I are driving through Indiana to Chicago.

Andy: “Hi Julie how is the trip going”

Julie: “Great. Almost home. How was family movie night?”

Andy: “It was really good but sadly we didn’t use the new popcorn maker”

Julie: “Next time. Is the Lego house still together?”

December 27, 2011, 10:23 AM. The following day I’m in Chicago and Andy in Ohio.

Andy: “Yes, the Lego house is still together but not for long.”

Julie: “Well it has to go sometime. Paul sure had fun with your gift!”

Andy: “Did he?”

Julie: “Yes. Hope it was okay he put the house together.”

Andy: “It was fine”

Julie: “How do you feel today?”

12:21 PM

Andy: “Better I’m going to a movie with my friend Mason”

Julie: “Which movie?”

3:56 PM

Andy: “Sherlock Holmes 2”

6:02 PM

Julie: “Was it good?”

Andy: “Yea”

Andy and I don’t talk much between visits. He doesn’t really like the phone. When his Mom makes him say hi when I call our conversations are short. His text messages were short too but he initiated them. And kept them going.

I’m not sure how long our text relationship will last but if this new screen in his life brings him a little bit closer to me when we are apart I think I can handle it taking him away from me a bit when we are together.

Looking for Clout with a Capital K





Her lack of Klout dealt a heavy blow to her self-esteem. “I feel depressed,” the twenty-something social media marketer and private-life blogger said. “My score should be higher.”

My heart ached for this young woman. Low Klout in a Klout obsessed world is no good. A Klout score is quantitative support for one’s qualitative state of being a go-to guy or gal. An expert. An influential. A VIP – literally. Event organizers use Klout scores to put together invitation lists to fashion shows and charity events. It has been suggested that a high Klout score on a resume indicates someone’s social media savvy and might open doors to a new job.

Clout has always mattered. Visions of the cool kids cafeteria table and mean girls with perfect curls come to mind. Cliques have self-defined clout. It was just a matter of time for clout to move online, for clout to become Klout, an online popularity rating. Another number to watch.

Numbers dog us from the minute we’re born. The Apgar score measures our newborn health. The ACT or SAT broadcasts our cognitive skills to college admissions officers. When the numbers stop the letter grades take over. Performance reviews grade us above, below or at expectations.
But who needs another number to live by. I have enough benchmarks to benchmark off of, thank you. I have my chronological age and my “real age” determined by my lifestyle and genetics. My real weight and my driver’s license weight.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that real earnings are falling or stagnant, not that I needed to anyone to tell me the obvious. Investment projections sit stalled on the launching pad. The value of my home? Let’s not talk about it.

So while I guess having clout is better than having no clout just like being popular is probably better than being unpopular – at least it was in high school and in one of my early jobs when having lunch with the boss was a sure sign of good things to come – I don’t want to play the popularity game anymore.

My online friends are real friends or at least someone I met once with whom I don’t mind sharing a mundane daily event – “gluten free pancakes today, not so bad,” or exciting news – “published!” I link in with people I know. Really. If I don’t know you the invitation sits in pending purgatory.

At this point you might be ready to say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire. You have a blog and it’s connected to your online networks. You love it if someone “likes” something you write or shares it with their friends.” Oh – maybe that’s my conscious speaking.

Yes, the above is true. Guilty as charged. But I much prefer increasing my reach organically versus strategically building my Klout score. For if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that if someone doesn’t want me eating at his table, then maybe it’s a table I don’t want to be eating at either. Or maybe I’m just not ready for that table. Or it’s his loss, not mine. Believe me, I’ve learned many things about this popularity game.

So, to the young woman with Klout score induced depression I suggest taking a deep breath and then getting back to doing what comes naturally. Reach out and respond to others. Share interesting ideas. Link. Friend. Like. Tweet like a bird. Yelp like a dog. Digg it or don’t. Just don’t push it. Real clout and influence will come when the time is right and not a minute too soon or too late.

Hail to Purple Hail to White 

Hail to Thee Northwestern 

The last lines of Northwestern University’s Alma Mater sprang from my lips. I had just witnessed 96       master’s degree candidates in the Medill School’s Integrated Marketing Communications program walk across the stage. A handshake with the Dean certified them as professionals and alumni at the same time. With caps perched on heads, tassels swinging and gowns flowing – purple for them and black for me – we left the auditorium with advice and wishes for the future.

Getting dressed at home, prior to the procession, I discovered that my rental cap was too small. No amount of bobby pins could secure it. One head bob too many or even so slight would topple it to the floor.  What to do? Luckily I remembered that my Mother’s college mortarboard sat in my dresser drawer. Evidently when she graduated from college graduates purchased their cap.

I found Mom’s cap in her closet after she died. It didn’t seem right to give or throw it away.  She graduated top of her class from The College of St. Mary of the Springs (now Ohio Dominican University) in Columbus, Ohio in 1940. She went on to teach elementary school until she had children. She used to make us – my siblings and I  – complete reading and math workbooks during summer vacations and had a black board in the basement for impromptu lessons.  Mom was all about learning.

Mom’s cap was a perfect fit.  I put it straight on top of my head, not tilted, just like Mom insisted a graduation cap should be worn.

“Do not wear it on the back of your head,” she would say. “I don’t care if you think it’s unattractive or crushing your hair, this is the way it is suppose to be,” she would add, adjusting my headgear and causing any one in earshot to check theirs.  I wore a cap and gown for the first time during kindergarten graduation and even then Mom made sure I wore it “regulation” style.



I found myself repeating my Mother’s words to the young graduates.

“It’s meant to be worn flat. Really it looks better that way,” I said in a friendly yet knowing tone.  “Lose the bobby pins and stand up straight and tall. It won’t fall off.”

We marched to the stage to the untraditional and rousing tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This set the tone for a friendly and upbeat series of speeches. A student representative talked about teamwork, resiliency and an obligation to others. The keynote speaker, Shekar Swamy, a global advertising professional and faculty member, gave his five tips for winning in life, two of which I can remember right now, not that they all weren’t worth remembering, just because these two stuck with me.

He encouraged the students to always have an account balance of goodwill. To him this means building a reservoir of friendship and always looking to give more than you receive because when you find yourself in trouble, which he assured the class they would because that’s life, this account balance will come to your assistance.

He encouraged them to take a stake and to not be wishy-washy. This means that one should have a point of view and be prepared to support it. Don’t just blow the way the wind blows. Which make sense, for without an opinion or point of view, you’re left thoughtless on a windless day. Without a point of view you must depend on others for movement.

I didn’t have to attend this event on a 13 degree Saturday morning in December but I wanted to. Partly because of the pomp and circumstance even if the song wasn’t played. Partly to fully participate in a new role – adjunct faculty – at my former university.  And mostly to tailgate on all the possibility and future momentum present in the minds and lives of my students.  With my cap set squarely on my head, I felt squarely ready to go out and conquer the world…again.


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