It’s that time of the year to make our resolutions. So, can we all resolve to speak directly, without euphemisms or other language shenanigans?
In contemplating subjects to close out the year here, a lot of topics ran through my mind. Biggest news stories of the year? There was one in March, just before the CTIA show, that sort of kicked things off. Another one occurred Oct. 5, when Steve Jobs died, that saddened us. A lot happened in between.
Then it occurred to me that if there were one maxim we could live by a little more often these days, it’s this: Don’t lie. As in, don’t lie to customers, the press (of course), the general public, your vendors and pretty much everyone you do business with. Above all, don’t lie to your customers or potential customers. It’s that simple. Be up front with the terms and conditions; if there’s some catch (and there usually is), you should cop to it.
I don’t mean to suggest this industry is rife with liars. On the contrary, established companies and their executives in the wireless industry by and large are forthright and honest folks. Industry associations ensure that guidelines are written and members adhere to them. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of companies want to be good corporate citizens – but they have business objectives to meet as well.
Do companies sometimes put language in places where people are not likely to read it? Let’s face it, no one, save for Richard Dreyfuss’ and his dramatic interpretation of Apple’s end user license agreement, reads through those legal-laden documents. Granted, companies are legally bound to disclose a lot of things, and they can’t always know what every individual cares about and then flag that particular information. If they did, they’d end up flagging everything and we’d just be back to the same fine print problem.
Maybe it boils down to marketing speak, which, to me, is the language that some people dream up to describe products or services that when you seriously think about it, means nothing. Or rather, when you first hear it, it sounds like something that doesn’t quite ring true. Had I kept a list of every time I heard marketing speak throughout the year, I’d have a pretty big list. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I did not keep such a list.
Antennagate probably would have made the list. Steve Jobs was a master of spin. The reason he got away with it, besides being many other things, was you knew what you were getting with him. He didn’t use the robotic CEO voice that so often kicks in during those quarterly conference calls. He used plain language, and he didn’t mince words. Sure, he had a temper. But when he tried to explain his problems with Flash, he didn’t say something like: It has come to be our belief that we do not require Flash to be in our products. Instead, he explained his reasons in terms most anyone could understand. You could relate to him on some level despite his billionaire and genius status.
This year especially, the wireless industry went through the 4G gauntlet – not necessarily a proud moment for the industry. Even when no networks were technically deemed 4G, advertisements blared about so-and-so’s power of 4G. This isn’t a new issue. Years ago, we wrangled over the term “PCS” when some carriers were advertising services as PCS when in fact they weren’t using the PCS spectrum at all. Even when operators years ago advertised their “unlimited” data plans, they had to enforce restrictions so the data hogs wouldn’t ruin it for everyone else. Hence, they were not really “unlimited” in the truest sense of the word. Fudge a few things here and there, and pretty soon, the little lies we tell ourselves get bigger and easier to come by.
It’s not just coming from one sector of the industry, either. It runs throughout, touching everyone from startups to established vendors and carriers. In late November, as reports swirled about Facebook getting closer to an IPO, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that Facebook had agreed to settle FTC charges that it deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private and then repeatedly allowed it to be shared and made public. In a rather long blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that mistakes were made but the company promises to do better in the future.
Why is it so difficult to just be honest, especially in a world where “transparency” is the word of the day? It’s a word that implies openness and something you can see through. I suppose we all have our own versions of the truth, but surely we can all do better in presenting those versions a little more forthrightly.
Filed Under: Industry regulations