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Transitions in the Modern World

Twice a year I experience a feeling of intrinsic transition: January, the new year, and September, the new school year. This year, September came early with my book’s release just before my daughter started back at school in late August, and suddenly I was thrust into another set of transitions at work and at home. Meanwhile, my husband was in the midst of interviewing with companies to change jobs, I was asked to join another startup advisory board, and I realized I needed to incorporate a new company to expand my digital media projects and investing. Many of my Silicon Valley dreams were beginning to come true – all at once.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I had this many major balls in the air. I’m inherently a busy person with varying interests and activities, but usually there are one or two big things going on plus numerous little things. This time was different. It’s all exciting, but at one point after our Silicon Valley launch event for my book, I was asked to list my affiliation for an upcoming event and I drew a complete blank. Since I wear so many hats, I didn’t know which one to choose.

I paused, sat back and realized that I had no easy way of conveying all of my transitions to the people around me. By living our lives through chunks of social media, we have both the benefit of being able to share important announcements about our lives and the challenge of how to express the multiple facets of who we are as people. 140 characters often won’t do the trick.

So as I was in the midst of signing contracts, filing paperwork and scheduling events, I decided to pause momentarily to attempt to make some sense of it all. How do we depict the depth of our experiences in the modern world? And does it matter?

Now that it’s January, another time of transition for many people, I’ve taken another step back to observe and contemplate this topic. As a techno-sociologist of digital life,  I have observed that people tackle these problems in various ways. On the technical / publishing side, some create signatures in e-mail with all of their various titles: “Chair of this, Author of that, Founder of the other,” they list multiple affiliations in LinkedIn, or they create the smallest possible laundry list on Twitter to identify all of their affiliations and designations. Or sometimes they just punt on trying to explain it all and write a pithy one-liner, sending people to look at their websites instead, where more detailed bios or lists are available. I think any of these can be effective. But that’s just details.

Somewhere therein lies meaning, and that’s why we get into these endless discussions about branding. I always hated the term ‘brand’ because it reminded me of the physical act of branding animals, which never seemed to be an act of kindness. When I was asked recently how I knew I was a brand and my name was a brand, I drew a complete blank. Even though I knew the answer, it still made me uncomfortable to think of myself that way. Because in reality, we have ideas, visions, missions, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, actions we take to some end. Isn’t that what we really want to convey? The essence of who we are? I’d like to think so — at least on some level.

I think as much as we want to believe in this life that it’s just our family and close friendships that make a difference, it’s more than that. Many studies on what people want to express at the end of their lives shows that most people want to leave some sort of a mark. So I believe it goes back to that – how do you want to make a mark? How do you want to be known when you’re gone? Maybe it’s a vain question when all is said and done, but we all want to work hard for a reason. That’s why the transitions are hard. That’s why they’re meaningful. At some point, we really do want to make a difference. When we make these transitions, it’s for a reason, toward some end, with some end goal in mind.

I don’t have one life mission, but I do aim to educate people about a variety of topics and to get them thinking, particularly about topics at the intersection of technology, media, and society: our lives and our world. So whether the transitions we go through are surface-logistical like creating business entities or deeply fundamental like deciding to spend more time dedicated to important causes, they often come with great meaning. I think our tools for conveying these transitions in our digital world still could use some fine-tuning.