Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Female Role Models AND Communicators of 2014

As the year wraps up, we are rich with pop-culture rankings including Vanity Fair’s 10 Sexiest Captain Hooks, Paste Magazine’s The 15 Best Monkeys and an annual favorite the Top 10 Worst Celebrity Role Models, which includes the likes of Rhianna, Miley Cyrus, and the Kardashians and their trend-setting ability to put appearance, money, promiscuity, and ego above substance, smarts, charity and accomplishment.

Turns out, these same celebrity role models have a powerful impact on the way young girls and women speak; the way we present ourselves to the world.  And, as has been my 2014 mantra, we need to empower girls and women to find their own authentic voice; to…like, umm, you know…. stop hedging, using fillers, and speak with confidence and conviction.

So, for this 2014 wrap up, I thought it was time to offer our girls a “best of” with 10 impressive female role models who also happen to be articulate, clever and inspiring.   

I want to grow up to be just like all of them.

1). Tina Fey.

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty which is: who cares?

Comedian, actress, writer, producer and dedicated mom Tina Fey was not only the third female winner of the Mark Twain award in 2010, but also the youngest ever.  In her 2011 bestseller “Bossy Pants,” she nails it with her, “A Mother’s Prayer for her Child,” offering hilarious and well-heeled wisdom on raising a daughter.  She is a formidable presenter, and will again be with her sidekick Amy Poehler (another of my picks) leading the ceremony at this year’s Golden Globes.   

Friday, December 19, 2014

Insta-Fame or Insta-Shame: The Instagram Game

* This story was contributed by Amanda H. Cronin, my own Digital Daughter.

Illustration by Koosje Koene

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my camera roll when I came upon a photo that I had taken about a year ago. I was supposed to be doing my homework, but it was #throwbackthursday so I simply needed to post something. Seven minutes had passed and I was still cropping, brightening, and saturating the image to look vivid and professional. By the time I hit the “share” button (after spending a minute or so coming up with a clever caption and location), I had spent fifteen minutes posting a picture on Instagram. And I was proud of it.

Do you have an Instagram account? Odds are, yes  and you are one
of the 75 million people that use the app daily. According to recent stories from CBS News,, and TIME Magazine, Instagram is the most popular form of social media and is gaining popularity every day. There are myriad reasons for its wild success, but there’s one clear frontrunner: the connection users feel to others. 

Insta-Fame or Insta-Shame: The Instagram Game

* This story was contributed by Amanda H. Cronin, my own Digital Daughter.

Illustration by Koosje Koene

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my camera roll when I came upon a photo that I had taken about a year ago. I was supposed to be doing my homework, but it was #throwbackthursday so I simply needed to post something. Seven minutes had passed and I was still cropping, brightening, and saturating the image to look vivid and professional. By the time I hit the “share” button (after spending a minute or so coming up with a clever caption and location), I had spent fifteen minutes posting a picture on Instagram. And I was proud of it.

Do you have an Instagram account? Odds are, yes and you are one of the 75 million people that use the app daily. According to recent stories from CBS News,, and TIME Magazine, Instagram is the most popular form of social media and is gaining popularity every day. There are myriad reasons for its wild success, but there’s one clear frontrunner: the connection users feel to others. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Posting “Like a Girl” – P.L.E.A.S.Z. Think Twice

Run like a girl.  Talk like a girl.  Throw like a girl.  Post like a girl?

The pro-female advertising movement that has been attempting to empower us with ads like Pantene’s “Don’t Be Sorry, Be Strong and Shine,” Always’ “Run Like a Girl Campaign,” and Goldieblox's “You are Beauty, and Beauty is Perfection,” got me thinking…(as did CNN Digital’s Kelly Wallace great piece on girl empowerment ads in which I was happily quoted.)

How do our gender roles play out when we ourselves control the medium – or the app as it may be?  Is there any real stereotype to what girls tend to post on their social channels?   And with that, what would it mean to “post like a girl”?  

It seems that girls are biologically wired for social media.  We are more expressive (just look at our frequent use of emoji’s J  ) and willing to share and reveal more about our personal lives.  But with our Instagram and Facebook addictions, are we posting images that portray us being less than empowered, or just too self-involved?  (Note to self… maybe I shouldn’t I have posted that pic of me snuggling with my new puppy?) 

Just as I was mulling this over, Natashe Hinde of the Huffington Post wrote a story exploring what guys think we pose like on Instagram. Natashe was inspired by a social experiment conducted by Witty + Pretty's Ashley Hesseltine where she asked guys to replicate girls’ most common Instagram poses.  The results: “The I’ve Just had a Pedi,” "Fashion Blogger” (#fblogger), "The #OOTD (outfit of the day), "The Gym Selfie," and "The 'Girls' Night Out' Shot.”  The guys do look ridiculous.  But, I guess that is the point.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Staying Relevant - The Best American Hashtags 2014

It was a frigid November evening, but my digital daughter, Amanda, and I were wrapped in a blanket of storytelling at New York City’s Symphony Space. 

Hosted by Matthew Love of Selected Shorts, it was a night to celebrate “The Best American Short Stories 2014,” with selections by Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Jennifer Egan.  Egan offered insights into this edition’s common themes – despair, hope through the support of others, wild animals – along with her own list of prerequisites for inclusion, most notably an ability to engage the reader in surprise and current truths. I closed my eyes and escaped into worlds created by Lauren Groff and T.C. Boyle – and performed by actors Amy Ryan and Dylan Baker, respectively.  

(Golden rule: You are never too old to be read a story.)

Matthew Love was all wit.  As part of his commentary, he riffed off of what other, more modern-day writing collections, might look like.  He postulated that in our short-take society we might want to see, “The Best American Paragraphs,”  “The Best American Sentences,” or even “The Best American Tweets” – adding that maybe they would be pamphlets instead of tomes.   I thought I could contribute another trilogy, “The Best American Hashtags,” “The Best American Emoji Sentences,” “The Best American Selfies.”  I bet they would sell (attention any agents out there wanting to get it on this, l’m #allears).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The “100 Club” – More “Likes” Equals More Popularity Points

Your daughter comes home from school declaring that she wants to be part of the “100 Club.”  You are thrilled as you think she is talking about her academic aspirations, but after further discussion you discover that she is instead anxious about her popularity on Facebook/Instagram, and desperate to ALWAYS get at least 100 “likes” on her posts.  You...

a) Admire her goal at achieving popularity on social networks.
b) Decide that you too would like to be part of the “100 club” and ask if there are adult members?
c) Sit her down and talk to her about the fleeting, meaninglessness of popularity in general, and on Facebook/Instagram in particular.
d) Get rid of her Facebook/Instagram accounts.

Another conundrum faced by our digital daughters. 

As girls enter their tweens and teens, friends become the end-all, be-all of social life.  And, when you put smartphones - and the social networking channels that ride on their backs – in the mix, you enable a powerful, sometimes insidious, level of social phenomena.  Yes, social networks are great when they facilitate new connections, a sense of community and empowerment, but the angst that can ensue when it comes to a post with a mortifying lack of “likes” and that awful feeling of being left out, can turn a girl inside out.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How Do You Raise a Digital Daughter?

Photo Credit: Babycakes Romero
Here’s a multiple-choice question:

You throw a birthday party for your nine-year-old daughter, with a magician and a balloon-animal twister.  All the girls show up, but all they want to do is text and play on their cell phones.  You…

a. Are relieved that you wont have to entertain a bunch of noisy kids.
b.  Are appalled!  Who buys their nine-year-old a cell phone?
c. Get creative and have them play “hot potato” with their cell phones.
d.  Take away their cell phones and force them to be social and have fun.  This is a birthday party, right?   

A few years ago, I found the pervasiveness of young kids toting cell phones to be both surprising and alarming.  So much so, that I included this question in my Cosmo-like unscientific quiz on parenting and living in the suburbs and titled it “Conundrums in Absurdia.”  

Fast-forward a few years to when my daughter was 11. She was invited to a Halloween party that promised a toilet-paper-wrapped mummy contest, and pin-the-wings on the bat.  Instead, the 30 some-odd party girls divided up into cliques and collected in corners around the house gazing intently at their slide-texting cell phones.   My cell-phone-less daughter came home sad and bewildered…so much for Halloween and so much for parental party involvement.

Waiting until she was 13 to buy her a cell phone was a decision my husband and I thought reasonable. But she soon found herself left out of private jokes, spontaneous ice skating at the local rink and the latest on who was “dating” whom.  She was left out and we were to blame. Or maybe we were to thank?

Social pressure, particularly for a tween/teenager, is difficult and tricky.  Although my husband and I did not want to cave to the mounting pressure, we ultimately agreed to look into a “starter” cell phone. But, was there a cell phone version of training wheels?  We shopped around and found a basic text-enable phone with a wireless plan that offered “parental limits,” allowing the input of your child’s top 10 contacts – mom, dad, grandparents, siblings – and a even room for a few “besties.”  That Chanukah we surprised our daughter with her very own cell phone. Her reaction was to let out a joyful scream, fall off the sofa, and then onto the floor in ecstasy.

Today, my daughter is 15, and like her peers she sports a $500 iPhone.  The iPhone is her constant companion, her umbilical cord, feeding her the necessary socialization to survive in our always on, short-take, selfie-loving society.  

How do you raise a digital daughter?

It's a new conundrum we are all facing together.  Unlike boys, girls are so much more socially aware of outside influences.  Girls tend to be more social, more connected and they care more about fitting in. That’s why they read teen and fashion magazines and blogs. That’s why their smartphones never leave their sides. And that’s why they text-constantly, are obsessed with Instagram and Facebook “likes,” take hundreds of photos, and have group chats with their friends – a.k.a. online cliques.

But, like all obsessions, it needs to be kept in check.  According to Larry Rosen, professor and international expert in the Psychology of Technology,  “…by choosing to not miss out on their virtual social world they are missing out on their real social world right in front of their face.”

The rise of social media makes me sentimental for the good old days of being yelled at by our parents to get off our always-tangled corded telephone.  Remember The Brady Bunch episode when a huge phone bill prompts Mike to have a pay telephone installed to teach the kids a lesson in financial responsibility?  What do they say?  The more things change, the more they stay the same? 

Award-winning media theorist, author, documentarian, correspondent for PBS Frontline’s “Generation Like” and coiner of the terms, “digital native” and “screenagers” Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book, “PresentShock, When Everything Happens Now,” opens with the following scene:

“She’s at a bar on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but she seems oblivious to the boys and the music.   Instead of engaging with those around her, she’s scrolling through text messages on her phone, from friends at other parties across town. She needs to know if the event she is at is the event to be at, or whether something better is happening at that very moment, somewhere else.”

This is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at its best – and worst.   And increasingly, we are all guilty.  Rushkoff calls this the new “now.” We all need to step back and help each other and our daughters wisely navigate through this new reality.  Our daughters may be digital natives, but they still need our guidance and our perspective.

As a 25-plus-year communications professional, I have thrilled at riding the crashing waves of Internet culture.  I have been fortunate to be part of seminal technology milestones that have impacted consumers and how we communicate: AT&T’s launch of the first video phone, IBM’s launch of the Internet, Sierra Online’s launch of an online gaming network, id Software’s QUAKE, the multi-player gaming phenomenon and House Party’s experience-driven social networking platform. But it wasn’t until I had my own kids that I recognized the profound changes these new technologies are having on our digital natives.

Kids today are growing up EVEN FASTER - at Internet speed and nobody gave us a guidebook.   

There is no doubt that our new communications tools and the social media channels that ride on their backs are influencing the way we all socialize and communicate – girls and boys alike.   But for our girls, our daughters who are growing up in a still male-dominated society, and who are often more harshly judged, it is even more profound and impactful.

We need to empower our girls to find their own authentic voice and not rely on trendy Internet slang (LOL!) or emojis J to make their feelings known; to pick up their bowed heads from that hypnotic screen and be comfortable in their own skins; to learn how to speak articulately and with confidence; to stop posing like their favorite celebrity icon; to look a person in the eye; to shake a hand and make a physical connection. 

Mostly, we need to teach them to be present in the new “now” and enjoy each precious moment. 

As for the answer to the upfront multiple-choice question, I would go with d.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Texting in the Supermarket, and Other Horror Stories

It seems that every time I talk to my opinionated (and brilliant) mother these days, she laments that our Internet culture and pervasive use of smartphones are changing human kind for the worse.  “Even in the supermarket people are texting!” she says.  “Can’t they choose their Greek yogurt or find the perfect avocado without sending a text?”

With Halloween looming, a blog on the doomsayers of social media’s affect on communications seemed apt.

Jason Feiffer of Fast Company’s piece on fear mongering and the Internet explores how people worry that the “Web is making us mad” and “Google is making us stupid.”  He says, “The doomsayers' tale has a power that makes Silicon Valley's little startup narratives seem quaint and self-centered. Their message is powerfully frightening: Technology isn't just changing how we do things; it's changing us.”

Feiffer, however, is on the other side of this narrative.  He posits that although change can be scary, our brains are built for it and we will persevere albeit changed, but unharmed. 

At my recent “Say it Like You Mean it!” panel presentation (out today on YouTube for all to enjoy!) we discussed similar concerns. One audience member asked about the Internet culture shift and its affect on our millennial generation’s approach to communication.  Another asked whether eloquent communications skills are still valued and necessary (a question I recently explored in my blog, “Is Our Food For Thought Fast Food?”)

No doubt, we are living through a sociolinguistic transformation brought on by the ubiquitous Internet.  Not just a media culture shift (radio, TV, computer, iPhone), but also an Internet culture shift where the majority of us are web-connected, speak in text, and use hash tags and smiley faces to communicate.  And our millennials, our digital natives, are the experts at putting all of these new communications tools into practice.

But is our use of these new digital communications practices to the detriment of our brains?  Does the dystopian view have a foothold in the idea that we are compromising our abilities to communicate both orally and in the written word? 

As a communications consultant who worked with IBM on the launch of the Internet, AT&T on the first video-phone and Sierra Online on the first intimate online conversations and games, I personally find this all fascinating.  The intersection of communications and social media is a big piece of why this blog exists.   

I turned back to my mother…

“All in moderation,” she said.  And I think these words of wisdom hold especially true here.  

Put away your smartphone and take the risk of choosing the finest avocado from the supermarket pile without “phoning a friend.” But surely keep your camera-equipped smartphone handy and your Instagram app at-the-ready as you wander the pumpkin patch. 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Is Our Food for Thought Fast Food?

Ken Burns’ recent documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” had my ears perked up, the eloquence of Teddy, FDR and Eleanor’s words washing over me. They spoke with such fluency and sophistication that I wondered: Has the very nature of our communications transformed, degraded and become overtly casual and conversational?  And with that, do we all still value a refined and eloquently delivered speech?  Or, is it just not our style any more?

The 21st century has brought with it new verbal fashion trends and our Kardashian-infested culture and social media channels are no doubt influencing the way we communicate.  Although our abbreviated text talk (BTW, OMG, GR8) and the 140-character limited tweet are convenient and quick (like fast food) these new forms have surely contributed to reducing the attention span of most Americans – and perhaps even the desire to dedicate time to a carefully composed oratory. But do we still value a great communicator?

At my recent “Say it Like You Mean it” panel presentation similar questions were put to me by both a reporter and an audience member. I thought I would dig deeper and sought out New York Times author of “On Language” and presidential speech writer William Safire’s tome “Lend Me YourEars: Great Speeches in History,” for inspiration and explanation.

 Although Safire’s book offers great commentary and speeches by everyone from George Washington to Mark Twain to FDR, I found a great commencement speech from the author himself.  In 1978 Safire spoke at Syracuse University, his alma mater, on “The Decline of the Written Word.” 

Safire begins by talking about how he has not heard a great speech come out of the White House in a long time. He says that the speechwriters claim concern about flowery speeches and that “high-flown rhetoric is not their man’s style.”  Safire believes there must be a more profound reason and that the reluctance is more about taking the time to write out a set speech. He says that we have become a “short-take society” (this observation made way before the advent of texting, hash tagging and Twitter!). 

Safire goes on to predict “phonevision” and to lament the fact that we are “relying more and more on commercial poets and cartoonists to express our thoughts.” He is keenly concerned that we seem to be talking more and writing less and he offers four steps to “The Salvation of the Written Language.”   

Ultimately, Safire does come away hopeful for the future of the written word – and the great speech. He says, “If a speaker will take the time to prepare, we are prepared to pay in the coin of our attention."    

We don’t need to go back to the personal, thoughtful letter delivered via snail mail to know intuitively that people are writing less. But in our new world of smartphones and digital communications, we need not degenerate from articulate prose to verbal slang, the “like, ya know syndrome,” and to talking in text.  

I do see hope that we all - including our digital natives – still value the eloquent speech – and it lies in a three-letter acronym…

Fast-forward 36 years from Safire’s commencement speech and consider the speaking phenomenon known as TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) – the non-profit devoted to “Ideas worth spreading.”  TED Talks are all about compelling storytelling – no sales pitches or power point slides allowed.  Available to all, TED Talks are bringing back the eloquent speech, teaching us about great composition and compelling us all to be better listeners.  Tune in and you can hear top researchers, deep thinkers, authors and experts in their field regale you with new insights on an assortment of topics, from Dan Gilbert’s TheSurprising Science of Happiness to David Gallo’s Underwater Astonishments. 

As a family, we love listening to the TED Radio Hour on long car rides.  And, my 15-year-old daughter – an enthusiastic digital native with two blogs of her own as well as a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account - listens to TED Talks on the school bus and while doing homework. 

Safire said, “I believe we can arrest the decline of the written word, thereby achieving a renaissance of clarity.”  I believe too!  And, I know if he were still alive, he would see the genius in TED Talks and find plenty of fodder to pump his fist, particularly in this constantly changing world of digital communications with its Internet slang, text talk, emojis and hashtags.  

And I know we would all be thrilled to lend him our ears.