Bad behavior gets a pass in today’s world of tech

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, August 14, 2017

No place to run, no place to hide.

Unless you live on Pluto, you cannot help but be immersed in, astounded by and connected to politics. Politics is not my normal beat, but what interests me at this point in history is the intersection of technology and the decline of morality.

How are they connected? The dark sub-text is how do you determine if the “prospective partners (or team members) in your startup” have tendencies that tilt towards bad behavior.

For some insights on that I have turned to Ms. Eden Collinsworth’s new book, “Behaving Badly.”

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” says a character in Noel Coward’s play, Blithe Spirit. Social media gives us nearly naked pictures (Anthony Weiner) along with videos of crime and punishment (Ferguson, Mo.). There are 6 billion active cellphones in the world, which means you are always on “Candid Camera.” The network is alive and you are living in it (whether you like it or not).

So knowing this, do we modify our behavior? No. Quite to the contrary, to some extent, we all become performers and in order to call attention to ourselves, we amp it up, we push the boundaries, we are in right up in your face (book). It is like we are all standing on the corner twirling one of those signs touting a real estate development. I am not sure that morality has declined, but I am pretty certain that modesty has.

The idea that you are your own brand is intriguing, but my own feeling is that one’s brand is not created by shouting and pointing at yourself. Rather, it is given to you, it is awarded, if you will, by virtue of your deeds, achievements and actions. The whole idea of being famous for being famous frankly makes me nuts. And in that regard, technology has allowed and even encouraged self-aggrandizement, based on nothing more than tweets, likes, Instagrams and blogs.

Collinsworth confesses to sparks between herself and her millennial son. Her thesis is that the younger generation seems more “morally flexible.” She says that her son’s generation and its attachment to honesty are more tenuous than 30 years ago. Her mother set standards and believed that there were rules to follow — rules that were inviolate. That is not the case today.

Morality is not fungible and a lie is a lie regardless of technology. I think it is fair to say that the idea of “fake news” is a totally new concept in American journalism. Anthony Scaramucci, who sounds like a capo from “The Sopranos,” is now swimming with the fishes.

It is always easier to see our own past with rose-colored glasses. One can legitimately argue that there was an equal amount of bad behavior 30 and 40 years ago. The difference is that the public was not as aware of it. Bad behavior was hidden, it was not reported, the public veneer of respectability was preserved. So to that end, technology has created transparency and that is a good thing. But once the genie is out of the bottle, there is little you can do to put it back. Case in point: body cameras on the police.

My own focus on entrepreneurship usually leads me back to millennials, and my own interaction with them this past week was eye-opening.

I was a judge at Trepcamp, a three-week boot camp designed to teach entrepreneurial competencies held at San Diego State University attended by 50 young Mexican men and women. At demo day, there were 10 presentations. The participants had been given hard problems to work on (health, food waste, obesity, agriculture, self-image etc.), and while none of the solutions were quite ready for prime time, what was impressive and moved me deeply was the focus and imagination that they exhibited. A shout-out to Bernie Schroeder for being the lead mentor for the program.

And while we are doing huzzahs, let’s give one to Mike Krenn and the San Diego Venture Group. SDVG had its summer social a couple weeks ago, and 250 would-bes and has-beens gathered at Scripps Seaside Forum. A great event. It is clear that we are beginning to find our voice and doing a little shouting back at Silicon Valley.

Rule No. 525:  The good old days– hah.

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