The World’s Social-Sphere: Making Money and Creating Community

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FlickrCentral Pool, Uploaded by striatic q
FlickrCentral Pool, Uploaded by striatic q

This week was an emotional roller coaster, vividly demonstrating the speed and impact of social media, email and internet communications. Most of the time, the goings on in my external world are but a backdrop. We sort our priorities mentally, create to-do lists, and go about our business. We drive to work, write a blog, attend a Meet Up, research a company. shop, converse with friends, check FaceBook, text our spouse, walk the dogs, eat dinner, do the chores, go to bed and repeat.

Exhibit One

The ongoing Market Basket (”MB”) drama, which hopefully will be resolved by the time this blog is published, has upended everyone in its served markets. The Company is the preferred grocer, and market share leader throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Over the past few years, the Company has expanded aggressively, building big footprint stores that are part cafeteria and take-out, part big box store, part Whole Foods and part grocer, almost always with the lowest prices in town. Sometimes beat in pricing by Walmart, but not always. Market Basket has been particularly savvy in how It’s chosen to market, with dramatic pricing differences on certain point products. My husband claims there is a $2 spread between Market Basket and Hannaford for the same brand of Creme Fraiche: $2.69 vs. $4-plus. That sort of pricing differential adds up in a large grocery cart in the space of a week. Which makes the recent dramatic drop in Market Basket business, that coincided with the Demoulas feud, all the more impressive.

When cousins Arthur T [Demoulas] was fired, and Arthus S’s slate was installed, management and workers walked, backed by the actions of the customers. MB’s massive parking lots were literally empty. I’ve seen lots of strikes, but never one where virtually all the stakeholders were aligned against current management. There has never been anything this dramatic, on this massive a scale that I can recount. Market Basket stopped stocking perishable items. Strikers and consumers bearing placards were at every entrance. Motorists honked in support as they passed the demonstrators. A noted fish monger stopped supplying the MB stores. Drama in New England. This is what is meant by stakeholders. A business is not just the equity owners, but the customers, suppliers, and workers as well. Harvard Business School will be writing a case, for sure. Lessons learned? If you own a company, it’s not just your company. You have a constituency: customers, workers, managers. And they all a wield a certain type of power. Be careful when acting in a totalitarian manner. Everyone may not click their heels and follow.

Exhibit Two

Tuesday, we had dinner with one of my husband’s co-workers. In the middle of the dinner, he looked up from his smartphone and said “My physician’s son was just beheaded in Iraq.”Of course, he was speaking of James Foley, who was a freelance reporter, from Rochester, New Hampshire. From everything I have read [in the Union Leader], James Foley felt compelled to report on the war in Iraq. His employer, the GlobalPost, was concerned he continued to put himself in harms way, fearing for his life.

On Wednesday, in my strength-training session in Rochester, my trainer told me that her brother had been a member of the Special Forces, and looked askance at reporters who would put themselves, and by extension the Special Forces, in harms way. Something that I had never considered. Dan Harris, in his book “10 Percent Happier”talks about some of his escapades in Iraq from which he could have easily never returned. And as a result of James Foley’s beheading, the United States may find itself involved in Syria. Lots of connections and ramifications. Very sobering and unsettling.

Exhibit Three

My first initial public offering was Summagraphics, a digitizer company located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The young Chief Financial Officer was Al Schumer, who later resigned, and left for Redmond, Washington from which he ran his own small enterprise, Digitizer Technology Company. He twice attempted to summit Mount Everest, traveled around the world, and ran a dive company with his son. Al had gone through a messy and nasty divorce and custody battle many years ago, and seemed to have come out to the other side, living a very active and full life.

A bit over a year ago, Al informed me that he had decided to undergo a gender change. He went through extended medical treatments, and emerged in February as Alison “Ally”Schumer. My only reaction was that if someone wanted to change gender so desperately that they were willing to go through huge pharmaceutical and surgical procedures, one must support them. My older brother, when alive, was gay, and I understood how difficult a life he led. That is conviction. I just can’t imagine it.

About two months ago, I learned that Ally was sick, with throat and other cancers that had spread. The drugs had played havoc with her mental disposition, as evidenced by the messages I received from time to time, as recently as 7:00pm Friday night. This morning I checked Facebook just before the beginning of WordPress Camp down at MIT’s Media Lab:  there was a posting on Facebook of a poem by Ally, about different paths of life. Not quite understanding what was going on, I read the comment fields and discovered that Ally had committed suicide “by asphyxiation”soon after posting the poem. Such a gifted, brilliant person, vanquished. Rest in peace.


Which brings me to this thought: We are all much more connected than we know. It ebbs and flows and is episodic in nature. Most of the time we go about our business, have contact with people, and just don’t think about it. We would totally get lost in the forest, and all lose our mind. And we would not be able to move forward with our own path. We connect at certain points in time, and create in that a much bigger community.

The mediums we use to be and stay connected didn’t exist not that long ago. Now they’re woven into our daily lives. In praise of the business model: Facebook, Yahoo!, Gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter. All of these make money by aiding us in creating our individual communities, that are now so much more extended. The amoeba has grown, and grown and grown.

The Social-sphere has created new types of community. “Virtual,” if you may. A few years ago, I would have known nothing about Ally’s struggles, the Market Basket drama would have been contained, and I would have read about James Foley in the newspaper, not knowing our connections. These connections do matter, and are important. They are all part of what makes us human. All are iterations on what existed before, though none of us can predict how they will unfold.