September 17, 2009

Did it have to be?

I read an article today on facebook while I was browsing through status updates that the government is thinking that the recession is finally over.  They gave the concession that life is still going to be hard for people affected by the recession.

I also read different blog posts postulating what it would have been like on 9/11/2001 if we would have had twitter, facebook, and all the other social media that we have today…and in the light of what happened with the recent recession, the thought scares me…

My status update on my facebook profile caused a discussion where I felt like I might have offended some people and that was not my intent, I didn’t express my opinion very well so this post is an attempt to clarify what I meant.  Carin, I’m sorry if I in any way made you feel like the recession is over for everyone and that people are not still being affected by what happened in our economy.

Did our country just go through the largest recession since the 1930’s?  We did, some would argue that, but that is not my point with this post.  My point is asking the question, did it have to be this way?  My answer is no, but with the combination of the national news networks and social media proliferation a situation that could have been turned around was blown way out of proportion and people started reacting out of fear which is never a good thing.

Let me make a confession, I haven’t watched CNN, Fox, MSNBC, or any other national news station since January.  Before the election last year I did watch the news because I wanted to stay informed about the candidates and have as much knowledge about who was running so that I could do my civic (and biblical I might add) duty and in the most informed way that I could possible.  In my mind there really wasn’t a good candidate, both of the major party candidates had some things right, but also had some pretty major things wrong, but I voted the best way I could.  Anyway, back on track.  After the election, I shut off the news because I was sick of hearing about the economy.  I turned the TV on for about half an hour while I was working one day in January and shut it off after about 30 minutes because I still didn’t want to be hearing about the economy, the national news networks were feeding the fear.

Let’s look at the national news networks for a second, what are they in business for?  Take a second to think about it…

They are a business, which means they are in business to make money, regardless of what your product is (in their case it is reporting the news) a person goes into business to make money.  They sit around tables planning how they are going to make money and what will make them money.  If this wasn’t the case, then the news networks would be non-profit organizations.  How does a news network keep people watching their news network?  They make people afraid.  That’s it.

My mother in law gets my wife a Reader’s Digest subscription every year for Christmas and the issue covers just make me laugh.  If you are a RD subscriber, participate in an exercise with me…grab your stack of RD magazines…now ask yourself the question, what sells magazines?  Look at your RD covers…

8/1/2009 – Brad Paisley “I’d like to beat up the guy who says…”, The best way to avoid scams… (playing on fear)
7/1/2009 – 50 Secrets your Dentist Won’t Tell You (playing on fear)
5/1/2009 – not too bad, but there is the cancer risk you can switch off…(playing on fear)
4/1/2009 – the shocking truth about cancer tests (playing on fear)
2/1/2009 – keep more of your cash! 29 tips to put YOU back in control (playing on fear)
1/1/2009 – Beat the Cheaters! 9 new scams to avoid. (playing on fear)
12/1/2008 – another not too bad one…maybe they took a break from the fear for the holidays.
11/1/2008 – election issue, health care related…another fearful subject for a lot of people (playing on fear)
10/1/2008 – 13 things your pharmacist won’t tell you (playing on fear)
9/1/2008 – Election ’08 Who’s best for our future, on the bottom 13 things your computer guy won’t tell you…(playing on fear)
8/1/2008 – TEEN DRIVERS AT RISK, Smart Fixes That Save Lives (playing on fear)
7/1/2008 – 41 (WOW) Things Doctors Never Tell You (playing on fear)

Hmm…fluffy the happy dog didn’t make any of the covers…

The point is, news networks make their money by scaring people…that’s what keeps people watching…I remember back in October, Ali Velshi on CNN was backpedaling because people were starting to freak out about the economy.  He was telling people to stop freaking out, the problem is he was talking out of both sides of his mouth.  On one hand he was talking about the financial collapse, preaching doom and gloom…by the time he told people to stop freaking out, it was too late, the snowball was already rolling.

My theory is that if people would have shot their TVs and stopped littering (I mean twittering) their fear, things wouldn’t have gotten nearly as bad as they did.  Dave Ramsey said on his Fox Business show (I don’t know where he got his numbers) that only 4% of the US was affected by the housing “collapse” and it was primarily in areas that were already too inflated to begin with.  He went on to say that 68% of the US population thought they were on the verge of losing everything.  A 64% gap between reality and perception…where in the world did this gap come from…any guesses?  You got it, the national news networks (and everyone facebook and twittering their fear to all the people around them).  So now we have 64% of the American population making decisions based on fear, which is never a good thing…Other companies just used the recession as an excuse to trim things they should have trimmed a long time ago.  But the end result was panic in the American population because a majority of the population was thinking they were going to lose everything and twittering and facebooking it to everyone they knew causing even more panic.

So now we are dealing with recovering from a recession where too many people lost their jobs because of fear.  America will do it, we always do.  I just hope we learned our lesson.  We’ll see.

My answer to the question what would it have been like on 9/11/2001 (and following) without belittling how bad it was is that it would have been hell on Earth.  The fear would have been overpowering.  To use a social marketing term, like it did during this recession, fear would have gone viral, but the degree to which it would have gone viral is horrifying…you thought this recession was bad…

To read my thoughts from a business perspective and lessons learned, head on over to my business blog