You've all seen the sordid headlines by now—there's nothing useful I can add. LA Clippers' basketball team owner Donald Sterling made disgraceful racist remarks, and now the team's market value is plummeting and the NBA and others are scrambling for a way to rescue their failing brand.
But let's look at the big picture for a minute – the WTF moment. As we've discussed here so many times before, WTF doesn't mean What The F**k any more than it means Whiskey Tango Foxtrot or Wow, That's Foul. What WTF means is Where's The Future? In other words, what's going on here that we can learn and benefit from?
Simply learning that racism is ugly is something we all should have picked up on a long time ago. And finding out that billionaire bigots say things that make the rest of us cringe isn't news either. What is interesting is the knowledge that this is not going to be the first of these disgusting occurrences we're going to watch play out on the public screen. No, Sterling's descent into infamy is just an early harbinger of things to come.
Blustering bullies and bigotry have always been a bad combination. But in the good old days (read pre-smartphones and social media sites) most blowhards could shoot their mouths off without much chance of getting caught. After all, few people would be stupid enough to act badly when a camera or recording device was around (except of course for Gary Hart who sacrificed his run at the U.S. presidency after a photo of model Donna Rice sitting on his lap was printed by The National Enquirer).
Today, however, everyone's listening to what you say and do. And it's not just the NSA. Sterling was outed by his very own girlfriend who allegedly recorded his racist outburst and then anonymously posted it online. It's one thing to have to be wary of the government and corporate espionage. Now your misdeeds are just as likely to be shared with the world by your friends and loved ones.
Yes, the ready availability of digital recording equipment is one important part of the equation. But it's just the tool that makes the crime possible. There's something else even more to blame for the outburst of “private” conversations and activities we're about to be subjected to.
The images and recordings we're talking about are going to be uploaded to social media sites such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, among others. But it's not just the availability of these sites that incites usage. Instead, it's an entire generation that has grown up without a traditional sense of privacy. Because today's most ardent social media users have grown up online, where things don't actually exist unless they're posted—and liked—online, moving private conversations and activities into the public is going to become more and more common.
Whether or not this virtual transparency is ultimately good or bad for society is something that will be discussed by technologists, ethicists, historians, and more for a long time to come. But what is clear is that we're going to see a lot more digital train wrecks before bad behavior catches up to the potential for its distribution and promotion.
It used to be that public figures—like actors and politicians—were subject to the intrusions of paparazzi because the belief was that by putting themselves in the public eye celebrities gave up some of their right to privacy. And it can be argued that by owning a professional sports team, Donald Sterling also gave up his right to and expectation of privacy. But now, every person you talk to or walk in front of has the technological means to publish your words and deeds while lacking the discernment to know the difference between the public and private sector. Citerazi – citizen paparazzi – are all around you and you engage with them at your potential peril.
The universal learning – which we all need to accept, prepare for and maybe even exploit – is that there are no longer public and private worlds. Those quaint notions have collided and will never be torn apart. What this means is that people in business—not just in the public eye—need to change their SOP, ASAP.
When social media became commonplace, the rule of thumb was to avoid a public post of anything you wouldn't want your mother to read. Today, it would be more prudent to say that you shouldn't even utter something you wouldn't want your mom to know. After all, if you say it there's a very good chance she'll hear it.
Some very good news (or my shameless bid for self-promotion)
My TEDx talk, Forget Mindfulness, Try Nevermindfulness, was chosen as TED's Editors' Pick Of The Week. This is a pretty big deal because my talk was chosen from over 40,000 speeches and is featured on their home page.
I'd love for you to watch it (CLICK HERE). And then I'd love for you to share it on your different social media sites and ask all your friends to watch it. I'm eager to see how many people I can get to view it and your help making it go viral would be truly appreciated. Here's the link if you'd like to share: buff.ly/1fA72kv. Thank you.