What is the point of social media?

March 14, 2019

Or: What happened to good old conversation?

Perhaps you will find this a weird question but I have been wondering about this for quite some time. A couple of recent experiences bring me to write about this. What I did was to ask simple questions on postings from food companies on LinkedIn. One was from a US potato company claiming that “children’s palettes are becoming more adventurous” meaning that children are more inclined nowadays to try exotic flavours. So far so good. I just asked if the word should be palettes or palate, knowing well that the latter is the right spelling. They never replied nor even corrected the spelling error. That surely spelled quality to me… Another disappointing attempt to interaction was my asking a large US retailer what they charge for a delivery under a posting showing their new driverless vehicle delivery to consumers. I did not think that it would be a particularly challenging question since it is rather normal that potential customers ask for a quote. I get that all the time and that is the most normal thing in the world when you run a business. I did not get any reply but noticed some time later that their original posting had been removed and a new “immaculate” posting appeared. So, of course, if you want to treat me like that, I have no other choice than to rewrite the same question in the comment section of the new post. Finally someone –who is no employee of the retailer by the way- answered and told me $6 per delivery. I replied to him by saying thank you, because I have manners.

To me, social media seems to be just a one-way communication tool. Some would go as far as to call it narcissistic. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. As such, I do not see anything wrong about businesses telling their story and showing off a bit. If you want to sell, it is good to get out there and advertise. The problem is when there is no reply or just a standard reply, the kind you can sniff from further away than butterflies spot a mate because it is a clinical and impersonal message, almost like a robot just carries out what it programmed to do.

We live in a world where never ever before, there have been such amazing possibilities to connect and interact and yet, it seems to create mostly addictive bubble behaviour. It is almost like smart phones has become a combination of safety blanket, umbilical cord and excuse to ignore the other people around. I like to interact because I think that is what humans are supposed to do when they want to do something together. Unfortunately, I find it a lot more difficult than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Personally, I like LinkedIn. It helps me follow people, many of them have become good friends, and to know about their whereabouts and professional activities. I exchange messages with them once in a while to keep the connection literally alive and my experience is that my contacts and I always feel great about that. What I do not like on LinkedIn is getting requests to connect from people who do not know me and do not really care about me, either. The first thing I do is to send a message asking them to tell me about them and to get to know each other before I decide to actually complete the connection process. You probably guessed it; I hardly ever get a reaction and/or the slightest response. If someone wants me to connect, they’d better show a bit of interest and invest a few minutes of their lives. It is clear that the purpose of such requests is for the other party to look important by being in the league of 500+ contacts, not to mention those claiming to know millions of people. Yeah, I would like to ask them to name all of them by name. I do not have 500+ contacts on my profile but you can bet that I know them all. What is the point of having contacts you do not know and do not even try to get to know if you do not interact? Do you really think that anyone of them will care for you and help you? I think not, simply because those who play that game are just as self-centered as you.

I used to be on Twitter but I end up leaving. All I could see were people doing self-promotion and totally ignoring any interaction. The number of users that would follow me and unfollow me simply because I would follow them was ridiculous. I follow people when they have something interesting for me. If not, and I do not see any chance of that changing, I just do not want to overload my tweet feed with stuff of no use to me.  It is not that there is no interaction on social media. Of course, there is some but I do not find that it provides enough of that for me to spend time on those platforms and the quality of it is, well, variable. Instead of dialogue, what I see a lot are monologues that go parallel along each other, a bit like traffic separated by a median. This is particular true when it is about pro-this and anti-that communicating, and food and agriculture have quite a bit of those. The tribes clearly do not want to come to the negotiation table. They preach to the choir, which is great because nobody disagrees. Since there is no dislike button (great for social media platforms businesses but less so for honesty and integrity), they never have to know about those disagreeing, which is safe, especially since it seems that one of the characteristics of social media users is fragile ego and thin skin, you know the kind full of bottled anger and so much bile their skin turn orange. The logic of the tribes is that if you disagree with them, you not only have to be wrong, but you are evil and they hate you.

A few weeks ago, I was on a website looking for a recipe for spaghetti squash (delicious stuff by the way) and as I scrolled down the page, I got in the comment section and oh boy! Someone who was asking a simple question about whether you could bake the squash whole instead of cutting it in half, got insulted as he apparently his question proved he was an idiot to some. Then others defended him and the whole thread turned into a forum filled with mostly profanities and very little culinary advice. That is one of the problems I find with social media. The mob instinct and even lynching behaviour pops up really quickly because it is so easy to do it safely behind a computer and hiding behind an alias or being anonymous. And all it takes is as benign as a spaghetti squash recipe! It is a bit worrying.

Technology offers great possibilities but as I always say and have written in a number of occasions on this blog, it is only worth what the users make of it. I believe it is possible to discuss differences without immediately feeling threatened or under attack. Other people have the right to have their own opinions. But I also believe that a conversation, even about controversial topics must remain civil. Only bullies think that being polite is a sign of weakness. If you find them, ask them what happened to some of the bullies in my old school yard then they thought I was a polite kid. Similarly, I could tell you about some of the exchanges I have had online with anti-GMO bullies as well as pro-GMO bullies who could not stand to hear an objective take on the subject. I guess the Jiu-Jitsuka in me came up and the conversations ended up really quickly with the bullies being put back in their places in less than a sentence each time.

I have not mentioned Facebook yet, simply because I did not like their questionnaire before opening an account. I found they were way too curious. You will not find me on there and frankly, I see so much similar behaviours on Facebook as I see on the other social media. I can use my time better.

Perhaps, all those flaws are just teething problems and it will sort it itself out on the long-run. In the meantime, I will stick to my interest of good-old fashioned conversation. There is always something to learn from a good conversation. The flip side of that coin is that you will not learn if you do not engage in conversation. And how can you grow without learning? Just like you will not get to win the Olympic gold by refusing to do competition, suffer, lose and cry once in a while, being challenged and pushed back is what helps you improve and outperform others. It builds character and makes you a better person. And this is not just true for sports; it is true in all aspects of life, professionally as well as personally. I am always in for interaction when it is to make things better in a positive and constructive manner. You know where to find me (hint: contact page), that is if you wish.

© 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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What exit for Brexit?

March 8, 2019

As the deadline looms, nothing is clear about what will be next for Brexit. At this stage, it is everyone’s guess, and I do not have a crystal ball. However, one can make a number of statements about what is already obvious.

First of all, I suspect that everyone would agree that the current situation is a mess and a mess is never a good basis to build something on it. The adage that the failure of preparation is the preparation of failure has probably hardly ever been more relevant than in the case of Brexit.

Another obvious fact is that hardly anyone in the UK had thought of the entire process and about the consequences of a victory of Brexit at the referendum. The current situation is now different in the sense that there have been two years of real discussions about what Brexit actually means. One can wonder whether voting in a referendum without knowledge of what the result may mean is not very conducive for a strong future. Yet, this referendum, just like most other referendums, has been organized without providing thorough understanding of the consequences to voters. Democracy maybe the best system in spite the fact that it is not perfect, a democracy will not be strong if it rests on ignorance and bias, but that is another story. Another aspect that deserves some serious thinking about referendums that mean a rupture is that majority should be a proper majority to enforce the result of the vote. There are many systems. Some choose the absolute majority as a valid number. For some decisions, a majority of two-thirds is required. What is the right number? Well, considering the many times people argue that those elected do not represent the people because of low voter turnout that makes them elected by a minority of the total number of eligible voters, while being elected at a majority of votes actually put in the ballot, it is not that much of a silly question. The very least should be that a drastic rupture with the status quo should not pass unless at least 50% plus one of the total eligible voters would be a fairer absolute majority. Brexit did not get the votes of 50% plus one of all eligible British voters. Only a minority of the people decided for it, and not based on solid knowledge of the matter, either. Considering the mess that resulted from this, would it be illegitimate or unreasonable to want to reconsider the result of the referendum?

The British Parliament is struggling with this, and does not seem to find a workable solution. The EU is not faring all that much better. Clearly, on both sides, many would really like more time, but the political game in the public eye also forces them to take more rigid stances. Yes, I guess theatre improvisation is not an easy art to perform.

What do I think will happen? It is difficult to say but I believe that both sides will try to buy some time to either find a workable agreement and/or to get the public accustomed to the idea that it may not be wise to proceed with Brexit and find an honorable way out of the mess, probably through opinion polls and possibly another referendum, which this time will happen with voters being much better aware of what Brexit means. After all, the number of searches on Internet about consequences of Brexit peaked after the referendum, which clearly showed that voters went to the polls ignorant and started to educate themselves only after the facts.

What do I think should happen? All of what I have written above. A good first step would be to acknowledge publicly all the mistakes made in the entire process, without trying to point fingers at anyone because, frankly, everyone has contributed in some way to this mess. The second thing would be to acknowledge that it is only a minority of the people who voted for Brexit and start a conversation of what an absolute majority parameter would be for decision with such consequences. And finally, unless a workable agreement can be found within reasonable timelines, just put Brexit on hold and start a national debate with no particular deadline. Instead, it would be more productive to have a thorough reflection, both in the UK and in the EU, about the role and the functioning of the union to meet all the future concerns of the European and British people, in order to build a strong region that will become the leader the world needs, because even though the EU has many shortcomings and flaws, the current and potential alternatives are worse.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – the Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Food wasted is money wasted

March 7, 2019

For a change, here is something slightly different than my previous posts. I believe it is an eye opener, though. I have published this article on a new blog that I have started recently, and that I would like to introduce here. The blog is still in the beta phase but shows a strong start. Its name is The Sensible Gourmet. It is more focused on good food, as I like to prepare it at home, sensible nutrition and home economics. My purpose is to show that anyone can make great healthy meals worth of a good French restaurants for just a few dollars. I believe that sooner or later, there will be interesting synergies between both websites. Without further ado, here is the article:

Since it has been making headlines in the mainstream media for some time, you must have heard about it. It is estimated that about a third of all food produced in the world is not eaten and wasted. Recently, I was reading that Canadian households throw about half the food they buy in the garbage. This is bad economics. Here are simple figures to make my point.

You might remember the campaign a few years ago about the challenge of making $5 meals. Those were the days of the Great Recession of 2008 when some people discovered that economy is not always up and economic hardship made them realign their priorities. But time goes by and with economic recovery, being money-savvy has become boring again and who does still care about the $5 meal challenge today? You can see in the text of my Gallery page that all the great dishes I photographed cost even (much) less than $5, so not much of a challenge if you actually can cook and have a good sense of money. So, I will take $5 for a meal per person and with two meals a day that will be $10 per day per person.

Over a year that is $10 x 365 days = $3,650 dollar in food per person

Let’s take the world average of a third of food wasted: $3,650/3 = 1,217 dollars thrown away in the garbage per person per year.

If you take a household of two persons, that is $2,434 wasted per year. For a household of four, that is $4,868 per year. In the shameful case of the Canadian average of 50% (apparently, American and Australian households do not do much differently than the Canadians), these numbers become respectively $3,650 and $7,300 per household per year.

Another way of looking at the impact on household budget is to take the share of the food budget in the entire household budget. In Western countries, food represents roughly 10% of the household budget. Then, it is easy to see that 50% food waste represents 5% of the household income, and a third would represent 3.3% of the income.

Just as in my previous article about cooking in which I presented a calculation of how much money cooking can save you, you can see how much money you can save by not wasting food. That is free money that you can use to pay your mortgage or anything else useful to make your life better now or for the future.

These two examples, cooking at home and not wasting food, save literally thousands and thousands of dollars per year to your household, and the amazing thing is that this is YOUR money. You can make it work for you or join the legions of people struggling financially because of poor sense of home economics. This is easy money to keep on your bank account. All it takes to save this money is just some sense of organization in the kitchen and a bit of discipline.

After reading the article about the poor Canadian performance (I live in Canada), I did my own estimate of how much food I throw away, and I got to a figure less than 1%! Next to that, I compost all food scraps and I use the compost in my garden where I grow my own produce, which also saves me money and it is all produce free from any chemical whatsoever!

And when it comes to food waste, there is of course the issue of waste at the level of restaurants and retailers. Don’t hold your breath too much. I have heard about this problem for about 50 years and it clearly has not improved all that much despite the active communication campaigns when the issue makes the media headlines. I recently read that the US retailers Kroger and Walmart were re-evaluating their “ugly produce” concepts as they notice that consumers prefer to pick the pretty ones, which sounds like they might give it up. So much for social and environmental responsibility that we always hear so much about. When it comes to the $$$, then it is a different tune. There is a reason why there are different quality grades and why people make the choices they make. It is called market and price. It is also about knowledge and perception. it is also about store ownership. I can tell you this: when I was a kid, I used to go with my father on the market. We made sure that we would never throw anything away and that all our products would be sold by the end of the day. It required sensible planning and also the proper commercial thinking, which sometimes included to adjust the pricing on slow days. Money always talks to customers. it also talks to business owners. Trust me when it is your money that is in the business, you look at it quite differently than when it is someone else’s.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.