On Being Elite

A few thoughts about the use of “elite” as some sort of slur.

The other day, I was accused by a troll on Twitter of being part of the “rich elite” because I owned a helicopter and went south for the winter.

I think I was supposed to be insulted. I wasn’t. You see, I’m not ashamed of what I am or what I do with my time and money. I earned all of my possessions and my lifestyle.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

The only things I had going for me at birth was that I was born in the United States, I was white, and I had a good brain.

My parents were not rich. In fact, when my father left us when I was about 13, my mother very nearly applied for welfare. Our financial situation qualified me for free lunch at school; every day, I’d go to the school office and retrieve a small kraft envelope with 65¢ in it — government money to pay for my cafeteria lunch. I’d spend as little as possible and save the rest. When I got home from school, I babysat my younger sister and baby brother while my mother worked as a waitress to put food — mostly hot dogs and pasta — on the table. My grandmother would bring us groceries once in a while and slip my mother a $20 bill to help out.

I started working at age 13 when I got a paper route. I delivered the Bergen Evening Record after school on weekdays and the Sunday Record before 7 AM on Sundays. There were 54 homes on my route, which I had to walk, and I netted 20¢ plus tips per week per house. In those days — the mid 1970s — 10¢ was considered a generous tip; many of the homes did not tip at all. Collection day — Wednesday — was unusually long since I had to stop at every single house to try to get paid. One Wednesday in September, which coincided with the first day of school, my mother used my collection money to pay for our school supplies because she wouldn’t have money until payday.

Our financial situation qualified me for a summer job working at the high school. With three other girls, all a year or two older than me, I scraped rust off an old chain link fence that ran between the school property and the railroad tracks. The wire brushes we used had to be replaced every few days because the bristles would fall out. The gloves they gave us did little to prevent huge blisters on our hands. When it rained, they let us into the school where we went from classroom to classroom, washing the venetian blinds. The wash water had to be changed every 30 minutes or so because the blinds had likely never been cleaned before.

My mother remarried and I won’t deny that my blue collar stepfather brought us quite a few steps up from our dismal financial situation. I got a chance to see some of the better things in life. He took us to museums and restaurants with real cloth napkins. I stayed in a hotel for the first time in my life at age 15. I was even able to accompany my grandparents on a trip to visit family in Germany. And, for the first time, I started thinking about college.

College was possible with two academic achievement scholarships, financial contributions from my parents (they each paid 1/3 of the net after scholarships were deducted from tuition), and a school loan. And work. At one point I held down three part-time jobs while handling a 15 or 18 credit load. I worked hard to maintain good grades and got a BBA with highest honors in Accounting in four years. I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college.

Within two weeks of graduation, I got my own apartment. I paid rent and utilities and furnished it with my own money. It was in a rough neighborhood and a few of my friends didn’t like to come visit. My mother bought me a sewing machine as a graduation gift and I used it to make about half the clothes that I wore to work, so I could look nice without spending a fortune.

I started my first job right away: an auditor with the New York City Comptrollers Office. In just two years, at the age of 22, I became the youngest person promoted to Field Audit Supervisor.  After five years with the city, I started a new job with ADP in New Jersey.  I did my time in the Audit Department before becoming a Senior Financial Analyst working on special projects directly for the CFO.

By the age of 29, I was earning more money per year than my father ever had. But that didn’t stop me from leaving my job to pursue an uncertain career that was more in line with what I wanted to do for a living: write. I built a career as a tech writer and computer trainer from the ground up. I was completely self-taught and worked without an agent. I wrote books and led hands-on computer training classes all over the country. I quickly learned that I needed to write a lot of books to make a living so that’s what I did. When I was on a book project, I’d work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. I wrote books and articles and eventually authored video training courses. I was very good at what I did and it paid off: within 10 years, I had two bestsellers; their periodic revisions were bestsellers, too.

By the age of 40, I was earning more money than I’d ever thought possible, but instead of pissing it away on a bigger house or fancier car, I socked money away for retirement and invested in rental properties: a condo, a house, a small apartment building. And between book projects, I learned how to fly helicopters.

And yes, I did buy a helicopter. Why not? It was my money that I had earned through my efforts. I had covered all my other financial responsibilities and set aside enough money for my future. Why shouldn’t I invest in something that would make me happy?

I flew as often as I could and started a helicopter business to help bring in some extra revenue to cover costs. I managed the fuel concession at the local airport. I became an aeronautical chart dealer and ran a small pilot shop. I worked for a season as a pilot for a Grand Canyon tour operator. I sold that first helicopter and bought a slightly larger one. I jumped through hoops with the FAA to get required certifications for charter work. I created advertising material, maintained a website, handled social networking needs, did all the accounting, met with clients, did local and long distance flights. I networked with other pilots about other flying jobs.

All while still writing up to 10 books and dozens of articles a year for my publishers.

When tech publishing went into decline, I ramped up my flying work. I got contracts to do agricultural work in Washington state during the summer. I’d live in a trailer, working on various book projects, waiting for a call to fly, for two to three months every summer. Over the years, I built up the number of contracts I had until I couldn’t handle them all alone; then I brought in other pilots with helicopters to help me, managing work and billing for as many as four subcontactors every season.

I was 52 when the man I’d spent more than half my life with decided he needed a mommy to hold his hand while he watched TV every night more than a life partner to actually enjoy life with. He tried to take half of everything I owned in our divorce, but I fought back to keep what was rightfully mine, what I’d earned through my own efforts while he floundered, failing at one job after another. I went into the fight with a war chest of cash I’d saved while he was pissing his money away on a plane he never flew, a Mercedes he didn’t need, and a condo that was sucking him dry financially. His greed, harassment, and courtroom lies didn’t score many points with the judge and he wound up paying me and his lawyers far more than he could have spent if he’d settled for my offer. His downfall is a great example of someone getting what he deserves.

I’ve spent the last four and a half years rebuilding my life in a new place, working hard to build my flying business, expanding into other work in California and now possibly Arizona. I don’t write much anymore, but I make a good living with the helicopter the Twitter troll I mentioned at the top of this piece criticized. I’ve learned how to take my skills and assets and turn them into money. And unlike so many other people, I live within my means. Yes, I go south for the winter, but it’s not as if I’m living it up in some fancy condo or hotel. I’m roughing it in an RV often parked out in the desert. 

It's Mine
Just about everything I own was bought and paid for with money that I earned through my efforts. Why shouldn’t I be proud of that?

I worked hard and smart and I succeeded. Is there any reason I should be ashamed of that?

So yeah, if making a good living and owning a helicopter and wintering in the south makes me part of the “rich elite,” I’m okay with that. I earned it.

And to the people who troll me with their jealousy-driven comments: What’s your excuse for being a loser?

Why I Prefer Twitter over Facebook

A few thoughts.

In recent months, I’ve found Twitter a lot more pleasant than Facebook for social networking. When I mention this to friends, they tell me that they don’t understand why. They say that they just don’t “get” Twitter.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, trying to understand why so I can explain it to others. This is what I’ve come up with.

Facebook

The people I’m friends with on Facebook are, for the most part, real friends — people I know in real (vs virtual) life. They’re people I like and want to respect. When I see them posting idiotic, shortsighted, uninformed, or just plain stupid things, it hurts and confuses me. I like these people and I want to think they’re relatively smart or can listen to reason or aren’t the hateful, brainwashed idiots they seem to be. But over and over again, they share thoughtless, tasteless crap and downright lies, much of it parroted from a dubious “news” sources. I hate to think that the people I really like subscribe to such bullshit.

Obviously, this isn’t all of my Facebook friends. But it is a lot of them. More than I care to admit.

Yes, it’s easy enough to get the stuff I don’t want to see off my timeline: 

  • If they’re real friends I can simply unfollow their updates. Then we can remain Facebook (and real) friends but I don’t have to be reminded periodically about their political or intellectual shortcomings. They probably don’t even realize that I’ve unfollowed them! (No harm, no foul.) And it’s easy enough to start following them again hen they’ve stopped posting the kind of crap that I don’t want to see.
  • If they’re not real life friends, I can unfriend them. They’ll continue to see and respond to my public updates, but nothing else. I won’t see anything they post unless it’s a response to me or someone I follow. In November and December, I unfriended about 100 people I really didn’t know or care about. I also turn down almost every single new friend request.
  • If they’re people who I don’t even know who insist on posting crap on the updates of my other friends or even my own public updates, I can block them. I have blocked dozens of people on Facebook, including more than a few people who were once “friends” and even at least one family member. 

But what I’m left with on Facebook is very little of interest to keep me there and the feeling that I have to walk on eggshells with every single thing I post. 

Now combine that with Facebook’s algorithms that determine what I see and the order in which I see it and and the endless regurgitated posts about what happened a year ago or two years ago or five years ago and the reminders of birthdays and holidays and the suggestions about what I should share based on what’s in my clipboard and the tracking of my activity all over the web so it can display ads that I might click on — well, does any of that would like something I might like?

Is visiting Facebook a pleasant experience? Not usually. It’s mostly a frustrating waste of time.

Twitter

Twitter isn’t like this at all. 

Most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are people and organizations I don’t know in real life. The real friends I have there are people I’ve met on Twitter and have formed connections with based on real social networking interactions there. They are, for the most part, thinkers and doers — people and organizations I like and can respect based on the things they say and share in their tweets. 

What do they tweet? Comments, news stories, images, jokes, and videos, all of which interest me in one way or another. They are tech people and artists, journalists and programmers, writers and photographers. They are publications and broadcasters and government agencies. There are only 206 of them (today) and it isn’t likely that there will be many more. I prune the list of accounts I follow on a regular basis, weeding out the ones that tweet things I don’t want to see and adding ones I think I might enjoy. 

 I read the tweets in my newsfeed regularly to keep up with them. I often read or at least glance at the articles they link to. These things help me learn more about what’s going on in the world. They help inform my opinions. They help me understand what’s important.

And I tweet what’s on my mind. I link to articles and videos. I share (or retweet) some of the tweets the people I follow have shared. 

And I respond to some of the tweets I read. I agree or disagree. I compliment or criticize. I interact with more effort than simply clicking a “Like” button. I expand my world, form new relationships, share viewpoints.

If another person I don’t know or care about rudely or crudely attacks me in response to something I’ve tweeted or shared, I block him or her. It’s as simple as that. I’m not going to waste my time dealing with small minded, petty people. Life’s too short to deal with trolls and cyber bullies. It’s no secret that Internet trolls engage in such behavior because they have little else in their lives to keep them busy.

And Twitter doesn’t play games with me. It displays every single tweet by every single person I follow in the order in which it was tweeted. There are no algorithms determining what I see on Twitter, no suggestions on what to tweet, and no reminders of what I or the people I followed tweeted in the past. 

Twitter treats me like an adult and gives me instant access to the things that interesting people and organizations are sharing right now. There’s always something new to see and learn on Twitter. There’s always someone interacting with me and my tweets. There’s always something interesting for me to read or watch or learn or share.

The Bubble

I hear it already: naysayers telling me that I’m in a bubble.

Okay. So what? Don’t I have a right to filter out bullshit and focus on the things that can entertain me or make me smarter? News stories or opinions based in truth that aren’t full of hateful rhetoric?

Just as my Facebook friends have the right to share what Alex Jones or Mother Jones says, I have the right to ignore them and focus on the work of investigative journalists reporting for reliable news sources. I have the right to ignore Fox News or MSNBC pundits in favor of fact-based opinion pieces that appeal to my mind instead of my emotions. Information sources that make me want to act because I want to do the right thing instead of because I’m spurred to hate someone or something for no good reason.

Anyway, that’s my reasoning. 

You can find me on Twitter at @mlanger. Over 2,000 other people already have.

On Being Verified

Interesting how a tiny blue check mark can make people take you more seriously.

I'm Verfied
That tiny blue checkmark means I’m really who I say I am. (The helicopter is an emoji and appears in red everywhere except my profile page when I’m logged in on my Mac. Go figure, huh?)

About a month ago, I requested that my Twitter account be “verified.” It was the second time I’d made the request — the first time was at least five years ago, not long after verification began — and although I’d been turned down the first time, I was verified the second. I got the coveted blue checkmark beside my name.

The skinny on verification

Verified Twitter accounts are those accounts that Twitter has verified as belonging to the person whose name appears on the account. This is so that people looking for the real account in question know they’ve found it.

To get verified status, you need to be somewhat “famous” or at least publicly known for something. I’m known for a few things: I wrote computer how-to books for more than 20 years, I’ve owned a helicopter charter business for more than 15 years, I’ve been blogging for more than 13 years, I’ve been recording video training courses for more than 10 years (including several about Twitter), and I currently write articles for a variety of aviation publications. When I filled in the forms online and submitted the documents to prove that I really was who I said I was and that I was worthy of verification, the folks at Twitter apparently agreed. Without any fanfare, the blue checkmark appeared on my Profile page.

I actually noticed a side effect to verification before I noticed the checkmark: literally overnight, I gained about 100 followers. That was weird.

The benefits of the blue checkmark

Being verified gives you some additional benefits the average Twitter user just doesn’t have.

Twitter Stats
As amazing as it seems to me, during this particular 24-hour period, my tweets were displayed 123,514 times.

First of all, you get a bit more respect. Is it possible that I’m seeing fewer trolls? It sure seems that way. (Of course, I do block all the trolls I encounter, so I don’t see repeat offenders.)

Next, it gets your tweets more attention. People are more likely to read a tweet when the account it came from is verified. I’m seeing that in my stats. My tweets are getting seen, retweeted, and liked more than ever.

My most popular tweet
This tweet, which I shot out in response to Donald Trump’s whining about protesters (see below for embedded tweet), has become immensely popular.

Of course, I like to think that this particular tweet has become so popular because it’s so witty. Honestly who knows? (And who cares?)

Twitter also gives verified users additional tools for monitoring notifications. An additional tab appears on my notifications page so I can view a list of All, Mentions, and Verified. The Verified option shows me only notifications from other verified accounts. I can imagine this being extremely useful for truly famous people who want to weed out the mere mortals. Personally, I don’t use it much, although a surprising number of other verified users do interact with my tweets. I have to wonder if that’s because I’m verified, too.

Behavioral changes

Has being verified changed the way I use Twitter? Possibly.

First of all, I don’t think I tweet any more or less than I have during the more than nine years I’ve been using Twitter. I currently average 10 to 20 tweets a day, with a total of about 61,600 total tweets since March 2007.

That said, I’m definitely more cognizant that the things I tweet may be seen by far more people. Although I’m usually very careful about what I post online — I’m not an idiot, like a certain small-handed, thin orange skinned president-elect who can’t seem to keep his tweet hole shut, thus exposing his fragile narcissistic ego to the world — I do think twice about how what I tweet might affect my brand.

Yes, I did say “brand.” That’s because being a verified Twitter user helps establish your name (or account name) as a brand. I already had a brand that was relatively strong in the early 2000s. Who knows? It might become strong again. I don’t want to tweet anything that can hurt it.

What do you think?

Does the verified badge on a Twitter account affect the way you follow or interact with that account?

Are you a verified Twitter user? Have you noticed a difference in the way Twitter works for you?

I’m curious. Use the comment link form to share your thoughts about this.

And please — let’s not go off on tangents about the election. Haven’t you had enough of that in the news? I sure have.