Beat them to the punch

jonah jameson throwing something in spidermand

Fascinating episode of the Pineland Underground featuring former Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) John Wayne Troxell.

Lots of interesting takes from the former SEAC on messaging, the role of social media in the modern military (both good and bad), and choosing whether to be an enabler or an agitator in retirement.

What I found particularly interesting was his vignette early in the episode about the E-Tool incident.

Somehow, I missed all that at the time.

While that story is interesting as it stands, I found the behind-the-scenes discussion about it especially compelling.

While visiting troops and making comments suggesting the E-Tool could be used as a non-standard weapon in the fight against ISIS (it absolutely can), a reporter who heard the remarks and took offense told him that he was going to make them public.

So I called up my trusty Public Affairs guy… and I said this reporter is going to go public with this and he said “Well let’s beat him to the punch.”

SEAC(R) John Wayne Troxell, Pineland Underground Podcast ~6:45

So, a picture of the CSM holding an E-Tool with a defeat ISIS message was put together and shared on social media. And of course, like all effective messaging, it garnered strong opinions, some in support, some against.

It’s another example of the importance of getting to the story first. Framing matters. And being shy in the information space can easily put you on the defensive.

What makes these types of efforts successful? A supportive chain of command that is willing to accept failure. And if there are failures, learn from them and move on. Leaders get timid in the information space when they believe that one errant move can implode a mission, a team, or a career.

We’re willing to send them up that hill or around that corner or into that breach, fully knowing the potential outcomes. We can’t continuously lament that we’re “getting our asses kicked” in the information environment while simultaneously eating ourselves alive whenever something we put out there actually does well.

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…there’s a pulse

metal gear solid v big boss smoking cigar

There’s something about a long cross-country road trip that induces reflection. The passage of time, the dusty truck stops, miles and miles of road, lots of time with your own thoughts. It’s like you didn’t even have a choice, you’re going to do some reflecting.

I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next newsletter which goes out next week. If you haven’t signed up, you should.

Teaser: “Oh, you thought this was going to be easy?”

For now, I’m settling into a routine, so posting should resume as normal.

Over the past month, a few things stuck out (ideas, articles, podcasts).

In no particular order:

  1. Writing Cabins. The importance of having a space away from what’s familiar (and familiar people) when you want to do any writing. I’d add time to this. I prefer early mornings.
  2. Educating Leaders for Future War. Interesting (and complete – one, two, three, four, five) series on educating leaders for future war over at MWI. This is a topic I find fascinating. Do we need future leaders to have different attributes for future war? I haven’t read through all of them yet, but from what I could garner these got some people worked up on social media. It seems PME is one of those subjects in which people hold very strong opinions.
  3. #OneThing – Lots of people changing jobs this summer(!). Most have at least “one thing” that they wish they had known before they started. A nice initiative from FTGN to scoop those up (I’ve submitted something simple, we’ll see if it hits).
  4. L2 Speak – I’ve always thought that a great way to learn a new language would be a simple role-playing game where you are forced to learn the language. That’s how you progress. Well someone is finally making it. Very excited to see where this goes.
  5. Gladiator School – II MEF Information Group started a podcast. I haven’t listened yet, but I listen to its cousin and enjoy it.
  6. What’s the point? – Maybe a bit of a darker thought while on the road, but in the moments inbetween when I’d pop on social media to see what was going on, most of it was nonsense. This thought extended to the whole ecosystem of military writing – there is so much out there right now, but very little of consequence. Nothing is landing. Or at least, nothing seems to be landing like it used to. I’m not sure if this is because there is so much out there, poor quality, or maybe so many have abandoned the hard work for performance. More on that in the newsletter.

And as always, sometimes things just ‘pop in there.’ Here are some future posts you can look forward to.

  1. Hyper Active Chaos. Is this a thing? Because people are saying it.
  2. The Father of Psychological Warfare. It’s Robert McClure. Who would the fictional ‘Mother‘ of Pyschological Warfare be?
  3. Context vs Character. What’s the difference here?
  4. Power Word Series. There are some words that just tend to get you excited. Like what? Like this newly-discovered trove.
  5. Information as a Warfighting Function. Are we there yet?

And more.

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This isn’t about Twitter

likes get likes death stranding

I had some positive feedback this week on a nearly decade old post about social media and my desire to use it less.

Just about everyone has a relationship with social media these days. It’s an evergreen topic. You can always write about social media the way playwrights can always write plays about the theater.

For those who use social media daily – which seems to be most people – there is an undying curiousity to know “what it’s like” to pull the plug.

I did it for over four years. No Facebook, no Twitter, no blog.

What changed?

Not much, really.

As I summed it up in the post:

The truth is, when it comes to social media and whether you’re on it or not, nobody really cares. The thing people notice most about social media is their own presence in it – not the lack of someone else’s.

What I missed mostly was having this space – here on this site – to write and reflect. Social media, in all of its forms, but especially Twitter, is mostly a place to get the word out. Or at least, that’s how I prefer to use it these days.

I don’t like the performative nature of threads.

I don’t like the addictive quality of shortform video, designed to keep you hooked without imparting anything useful.

And I don’t like the general toxicity of the platform.

Attention is easy: Be outrageous. Be mean-spirited.

Burn bridges, name-names.

If you’re not careful, you can easily get caught up in it and start thinking that being there is the point. Chasing likes, follows, and retweets becomes a kind of score that no one really cares about.

For me, it’s not worth it. This isn’t about Twitter.

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Against ‘threads’

colored threads

I don’t like threads on Twitter.

Even the good ones.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re often entertaining, interesting, and educational.

And I do enjoy them.

But I don’t like them because they’re so ephemeral.

A lot of works goes into them, they’re fun to poke through, but then they’re gone. And there’s not really a good way to save them.

You can bookmark them, but then you’re stuck with a list of bookmarks. I tend to use bookmarks for things to check out later, and then I clear them out.

There is definitely a place for them, and I get their utility. And I understand how they are engaging.

But some of them are so engaging I want them to live somewhere that I can easily return to for reference.

You know, like a blog.

A few weeks ago I started building a thread on what ‘winning’ looks like in Great Power Competition. I had a good vision for it and I know it would be engaging. It was full of video clips, gifs, pictures, and smart copy.

I stopped building it because I knew that it would be a great thread that would quickly be pushed aside and forgotten.

Instead, I’ll turn it into an article where it can survive.

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Watching it happen

chinook in kabul

I’ve written about this before.

And it’s happening again.

We’re living in a very strange time, where events are beamed to our televisions, computers, and phones as they happen.

Real people are out there – in the arena – doing incredible things and experiencing real trauma.

And we watch – in real-time – and critique, scowl, and gossip.

The flash-to-bang is getting shorter and shorter. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were the opening acts.

January 6th and the fall of Kabul are the most recent manifestations of this phenomenon.

Things used to happen and then you’d read about it, dispassionately, in a newspaper the morning after. If you were lucky, there was a picture that accompanied the article.

Today it’s all reaction and little reflection.

Emotion and absence of mind.

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Starting social media over feels like New Game+ mode

Had this thought the other day as I continue to slog through rebuilding. When I pulled the plug in 2016, I was in a pretty good place. My Twitter/Facebook accounts had thousands of followers and just about every blog post got attention. Daily traffic to CTG was high. It was something I had built over five years.

And then zap – it’s all gone.

Well the blog is still here and has plenty of followers. And each day I am moving forward towards a goal of rebuilding.

The whole thing feels very similar to what happens when you beat a video game, and then are offered the opportunity to replay the game in “New Game+” mode. New Game+ is where you get to play the whole thing over from the beginnning, but you retain whatever skills, equipement, and experience you earned in the first playthrough. The experience is also easier because you know the rules of the game and have gotten pretty good. I know how to write, I know the world map, and I know which oracles to visit. It’s definitely starting over with an advantage. The goal of New Game+ mode is to explore the things you missed while getting another opportunity to enjoy the game.

But boy, it’s still a slog.

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What is it like to quit social media?

I completely dropped social media four years ago. Deleted Facebook. Deleted Twitter. Shut down the blog.

I was a power user. I cultivated an online presence. (It felt like) people wanted to hear what I had to say.

And then I decided to pull the plug. 100%, full stop.

I was ready for the fallout. I was ready for the text messages and phone calls. “What happened?” “Are you ok?”

Instead, what I got was silence.

It kind of reminded me of the scene in Bettlejuice, after the Maitlands try to frighten the Deetzes at the dinner party by having them sing and dance to “The Banana Boat Song.” Afterwards, they’re just looking out the window, waiting for the Deetzes to come rushing out.

“Any second now.”

With the exception of a handful of emails over the course of the first year, most folks didn’t seem to notice.

For the most part, pulling the plug meant more time, less distraction, and less frustration. Sure, there were opportunities I may have missed, people I failed to meet, and certainly interesting things I didn’t read as a result. But honestly, I enjoyed the break. Most people will admit that they feel locked into it at this point and they can’t escape.

Pulling the plug and taking some time allows us to reset the relationship.

The truth is, when it comes to social media and whether you’re on it or not, nobody really cares. The thing people notice most about social media is their own presence in it – not the lack of someone else’s.

It’s not going away, but you can choose how you participate.

By the way, if you’re curious about why I pulled the plug in the first place, sign up for my newsletter. I lay it out.

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Facebook is America Online in the 1990s (in some parts of the world)

america online connection stream dial-up

Last week, I heard two different variations of a theme making the claim that Facebook is the internet in differnet parts of the world.

Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, during a discussion on the weaponization of social media in the Philippines:

[in the Philippines] “Facebook is the internet.”

Source: Lawfare podcast

She went on to talk about how 100% of Filipinos are on Facebook.

And then from author and broadcaster Nina Schick during a similarly themed podcast.

“Facebook became the internet in Burma.”

Source: Making Sense podcast

This could just mean that this idea – that Facebook is the internet for other parts of the world is a meme or talking point, but it clicked with me as something that could be true.

It is important to think about the different contexts in which “the internet” exists across different regions/cultures. The internet that I experience is different than the one that you experience, and more so than the one that people living across the globe experience.

This idea made me think about dialing up to America Online in the 1990s. Logging in, being greeted by “You’ve Got Mail” and then choosing a domain to explore – News, Arts & Entertainment, Games – that was “the internet” for me and many others during that time in the United States. Yes, there was a wider “world wide web” that you could go and explore if you were brave and knew how to navigate it, but it was much more comfortable to explore the walled garden of America Online. 

How much time does a user spend on Facebook versus exploring the wider internet? Especially in a place where “Facebook is the internet?”

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The Special Responsibility of Veterans in the Social Media Era

us soldiers looking at smartphones

Over the past year or so, I’ve had lots of conversations with others about how strange it is to be in the military these days. Social media didn’t exist a decade ago in the way it does now, and we’re still seeing new effects.

I’ve been neglecting a post for months about this topic, and especially about the role that veterans play in it all. It’s an idea similar to this one, about student-veterans serving as de facto ambassadors to the civilian population.

What’s different with this, though, is the whole thing is a closed loop. What military/veteran community put out there gets digested internally. The exhaust gets fed back into the combustion chamber, and the results are often nasty.

I’ve got an essay on this, but it needs work. For now, the thesis will have to do:

There are the two pitfalls of this new world (social media) as they relate to the military:
•There are actual effects on the day-to-day operations of the military
•Many civilians do not make the distinction between active-duty and veteran, especially online

Maybe this is obvious to most. As someone who was in the Army before the social media era, got out, and then came back in to a changed landscape, it seems new and important.

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Flash-to-Bang: Nonsense on the internet, hearing it from soldiers

soldier running with a smoke screen
Smoke Grenade

Just about everyone I meet in the Army has a Facebook account now. It is more odd to not have one than to have one. Whenever I am up, standing in front of soldiers, I automatically assume I’m being Snapchatted. Social media is out there and exists. There’s no putting it away.

There are loads of military themed sites that vie for the attention of service members and veterans. Years ago, it was soldier blogs that made waves, giving others a peer inside the world of the military. Those have mostly died off, replaced instead with aggregate sites that allow many more voices to be broadcast to a much wider audience. These are sites like Task & Purpose, We Are The Mighty, The Rhino Den, Havok Journal, SOFREP, etc.

Then there are the strictly social media landing spots – Power Point Ranger, U.S. Army W.T.F. Moments, Gruntworks, Doctrine Man, etc. The list goes on and the low barrier to entry – an internet connection and an idea – allow these sites to rapidly proliferate and compete for the attention of its audience.

While aggregate sites allow for the display and dissemination of partially to fully formed ideas, the social media sites are pure candy. They post clickable, shareable, rage-baiting images and ideas designed to trigger an emotional response. Some of it is hilarious. A lot of it is nonsense.

Last week, before the media event and graduation at Ranger School, I heard soldiers speaking with confidence to one another that the outcome was pre-determined because of the Havok Journal article that claimed the President was going to be at the graduation, so ipso facto, the women got a free pass. In the circles I heard the claim, no one made a correction. No one said it was nonsense. It was read on the internet, disseminated, and settled.

A couple of months ago, when this article about the demise of Army leadership began making the rounds again, I was approached by a good soldier asking me why he should stay in the Army, because that article resonated with him.

Back in Afghanistan, I watched junior soldiers grow enraged over the ARCOM awarded to MSG Moerk because they saw a thousand memes on it. I could never imagine why a junior soldier – or any soldier – would be so interested (and outraged) at an award a senior NCO gets at a post, far, far away.

I’m not sure I’m shedding any new light on this. I’m sure in institutions all over the world social media is having a similar effect. I certainly see it in politics. It’s just something I’ve noticed a lot more in the military recently.

There is still this assumption that what happens online, stays online. That is an outdated understanding of the internet. What happens on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, interplays with conversations in morning formations. That funny picture I clicked ‘like’ on before PT becomes the actual thing someone references during the run. Only, out in the wild, removed from its original context of a funny thing on a goofy military site, it might not be so funny.

Related: The Military Meme Machine. I’m not a fan.

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