The Solitude Challenge: Living Deliberately

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau famously said that he went into the woods to live “deliberately”. He meant to live carefully, in an unhurried way. His chronicle of his time in the woods, Walden, emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature in transcending the “desperate” existence that, he argues, is the lot of most people. Considering that Thoreau lived  160 years ago, one can only imagine what he would have thought of the desperate lives we lead today, with little time or inclination for solitude, as we welcome a constant intrusion of beeps and tweets delivered by our technological umbilical cords.

Thoreau’s was the most famous Solitude Challenge of all time – he lived in a 10′ X 15′ cabin on the edge of Walden pond for two years, two months and two days. My Solitude Challenge, the one  I was tasked with for a class I am taking, only involved sitting alone, sans technology or talking, for 30 minutes.

Rather unexpectantly, I find myself in Florence, Italy this week. Which, it turns out, actually is my Walden Pond. For me, visiting Italy is a kind of home-coming. All four of my grandparents hail from here and in some ways, I was raised more culturally Italian than American. I feel very connected to Italy. For me, there couldn’t be a more perfect place to do the Solitude Challenge .

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We took a drive deep into the heart of Tuscany, to Greve in Chianti. On this late fall day, the weather was a comfortable 55 degrees. The sun was shining and the Italian countryside was, as it has been for centuries, beguiling. In my 30 minutes of solitude, I too moved over the hills and fields, these covered with olive trees and vineyards. With the exception of the small Fiat we were traveling in, I too was free from worldly engagements.

I noticed that the pace of my breathing slowed almost immediately. My pulse decelerated and time passed here as I imagine it has always passed: with purpose. Since it was a national holiday (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), most shops and galleries were closed in the small hill towns. If they weren’t closed for the entire day, they were closed for the afternoon hours of siesta or riposo, a tradition also born out of the human need to retreat, disconnect and regroup.

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Even though I was the only one sworn off technology for a short while, I noticed that the people around me weren’t obsessed with their phones. Men, young and old, were gathered in the town square, drinking wine and telling stories. Women strolled arm and arm into the town church, to light a candle to celebrate the virgin’s feast day. Children played soccer in the piazza. Not a single adult checked their phone for texts, or tweets, or Facebook posts. Instead of the sounds of beeping, buzzing, and text swooshing, I heard birds chirping, balls bouncing, children laughing.  They all seemed so relaxed and so natural. When my 30 minutes of The Solitude Challenge were over, I felt no need to check my phone to see if I had missed any important texts or e-mails. I knew I hadn’t.

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The Accidental Boricua and “friend”, Greve in Chianti.

Perhaps, the old real estate adage – location, location, location – isn’t just about property values. Maybe, as Thoreau discovered at Walden Pond and I discovered in Tuscany, place is as important to our ability to disconnect from our daily interruptions as is our willingness to do so. It shouldn’t take a trip across the pond or a cabin built next to one for us to detach from meaningless distractions, be they technology induced or otherwise. But as both Thoreau and I can attest to, it sure does help.

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I Won’t Dance. Don’t Ask Me.

The Accidental Boricua

One of the biggest adjustments you make in a new culture is in the celebration of the Christmas season. My first Christmas in Puerto Rico took some getting used to. “Jingle Bells” sounded weird at 85 degrees. I worried that local children would be scarred for life, since none of their houses had fireplaces for Santa to come down. And then there were all those parties and all that dancing.

Puerto Rican men love to dance. And they all know how to dance. To this day, many families send their teenage sons for dance lessons to the same lady who taught them, and who had also taught their grandparents. During the holiday season, they are out in full force to take advantage of those lessons by dancing one of the easiest of the latin dances: Merengue.

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Merengue, which literally means “frosting” in English, is not a terribly difficult dance to learn…

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I Won’t Dance. Don’t Ask Me.

One of the biggest adjustments you make in a new culture is in the celebration of the Christmas season. My first Christmas in Puerto Rico took some getting used to. “Jingle Bells” sounded weird at 85 degrees. I worried that local children would be scarred for life, since none of their houses had fireplaces for Santa to come down. And then there were all those parties and all that dancing.

Puerto Rican men love to dance. And they all know how to dance. To this day, many families send their teenage sons for dance lessons to the same lady who taught them, and who had also taught their grandparents. During the holiday season, they are out in full force to take advantage of those lessons by dancing one of the easiest of the latin dances: Merengue.

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Merengue, which literally means “frosting” in English, is not a terribly difficult dance to learn. As a friend pointed out, “It’s easy. You just limp”. Which isn’t all that far from the truth. There are two widely circulated stories about the origin of the dance: The first, that the dance originated with slaves who were chained together and, out of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums. The second, that a great hero was wounded in the leg during one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic. A party of villagers welcomed him home with a victory celebration and, out of sympathy, everyone dancing felt obliged to limp and drag one foot.Merengue

In my first few years of living in Puerto Rico in the mid-80’s, I worked in marketing for a major multi-national company, where women were badly outnumbered. As soon as the music started at my first company Christmas party (employees only), all of the salesmen immediately started dancing with whichever willing partner they could find. I tried to beg off, stammering that I had no idea what I was doing, but they weren’t having it. I spent the rest of the afternoon being passed around the dance floor like a hot potato, dragging one leg after the other.

Since then, my merengue style hasn’t gotten much better. Every season, I take my obligatory lap around the dance floor, and try to make it through at least one song – they are ridiculously long, after all. But then recently, I discovered that the deficiency in my merengue style has little to do with me, and more to do with my partner.

Turns out, it’s his fault. He was born in Havana, Cuba and as he is so fond of saying, “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves”.

I have it from one of the highest authorities in the land that Cubans just can’t dance. Sonia Sotomayer, the 111th Supreme Court Justice, recently gave this advice during an interview with the Washington Post, “Never dance with a Cuban“.

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Her reasoning? Cubans are the “worst” at keeping a beat and they take “very tight little steps”.

So let’s just say that one “wise Latina woman” just gave one Accidental Boricua the excuse of her life to stay sitting down when they strike up the band this holiday season.

Feliz Navidad to you, Justice Sotomayor!

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From One Accidental Boricua to Another

static.squarespaceI’d like to use today’s post to pay tribute to another “Accidental Boricua” – Christina Beckles, the fearless founder of The Sato Project. Today is the third anniversary of the Sato Project, an organization dedicated to saving the stray dogs or “satos” that are left to die at Playa Lucia, or Dead Dog Beach as it is more commonly and shamefully known.

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Christina Beckles

Chrissy Beckles, a former Golden Gloves boxing champion and a native of Manchester, England discovered Dead Dog Beach in 2007 while visiting her husband, a professional stuntman, while he was filming on-location nearby. What she found was a beach littered with stray and abandoned dogs.

No dog walks to this beach. They are dumped there and left to die. Some have arrived in cardboard boxes – often a new mother with a litter of puppies. Some are just tossed out of moving cars. Many are injured or abused. Some have even arrived with gunshot wounds. When they are found, it often takes weeks or months for the volunteers to gain enough of their trust just to get close enough to rescue them.

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Christina Beckles at Dead Dog Beach

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Ms. Beckles preparing a freedom flight

Since discovering Dead Dog Beach, Ms. Beckles has been working with a group of local volunteers and a local veterinarian to rescue, rehabilitate, and then fly the dogs to their “forever homes” in the continental United States. To date, they have rescued more than 1,200 dogs. Why don’t they try to place these dogs locally? According to their website, “Currently the adoption rate in Puerto Rico is very low. ‘Satos’ are not revered on the island.”

This organization is working tirelessly to right a terrible and disgraceful wrong that has been perpetrated on this island for decades. I would also like to use this post as a way to implore Puerto Ricans to help this noble organization: please start by donating to this organization, which is working so hard to make Puerto Rico a better place. And if possible, it would be truly wonderful if we could start adopting and providing “forever homes” to these dogs right here in Puerto Rico.

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Henry – 2011

I can personally speak to the rewards of rescuing a sato. Three years ago, my children found an abandoned dog in our backyard. He was covered with ticks and fleas, and extremely frightened. It was late at night, so I rushed him to an emergency vet clinic for care. The vet estimated him to be about 3 months old and felt that he had been out on his own for some time.

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Henry – 2014

Today, that dog, Henry, is one of three dogs at our house. There have been all kinds of opinions about his breeding – part Lab, part Boxer, part Rhodesian Ridgeback, part Pit Bull. We don’t care. For us, he is 100% Puerto Rican Sato. We love Henry, and he loves us.

Ms. Beckles has noble goals not just for the satos she rescues, but also for Dead Dog Beach itself. “My goal is for it to be called by its real name, Playa Lucia, again someday,” she said. This should be the goal of every Puerto Rican, not just the one of a benevolent outsider who accidentally became a Boricua and makes a difference here every single day. Please help her. Donate.

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Let’s Keep It Local People!!!

Christmas is officially on!

The Accidental Boricua

christmas in puerto ricoNobody does Christmas quite like Puerto Rico.  The celebrations start immediately after Thanksgiving, and go onto into mid-January. Forbes Magazine once named it one of the World’s Top Christmas Destinations.  You’ve got your coquito, your pasteles, your léchon. Friends show up at your house at all hours of the night for a parranda, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling, but noisier, with lots of food and adult beverages.

Then there are the presents. Puerto Ricans love to give, and the giving goes on for weeks. Not only are there presents on Christmas Day, but there are presents again on January 6th, the Epiphany. Better know as Three Kings Day, this the day when the children of Puerto Rico expect even more gifts from the original bearers of Christmas presents.

This year, the normally joyous season is juxtaposed against the dispiriting reality of our local…

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Let’s Keep It Local People!!!

 

christmas in puerto ricoNobody does Christmas quite like Puerto Rico.  The celebrations start immediately after Thanksgiving, and go onto into mid-January. Forbes Magazine once named it one of the World’s Top Christmas Destinations.  You’ve got your coquito, your pasteles, your léchon. Friends show up at your house at all hours of the night for a parranda, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling, but noisier, with lots of food and adult beverages.

Then there are the presents. Puerto Ricans love to give, and the giving goes on for weeks. Not only are there presents on Christmas Day, but there are presents again on January 6th, the Epiphany. Better know as Three Kings Day, this the day when the children of Puerto Rico expect even more gifts from the original bearers of Christmas presents.

This year, the normally joyous season is juxtaposed against the dispiriting reality of our local economy. You can’t go for more than 24 hours without hearing complaints about how horrible things are in Puerto Rico. Unemployment is at 14%, almost 2.5 times the U.S. rate of 5.8%. The local economy has shrunk by 19% since July of 2005 and the population has declined for 8 straight years, as the second largest Puerto Rican diaspora in history continues. The crisis casts a serious pall over what has traditionally been the best time of the year on the island.

So what’s a Boricua to do in the face of all this dour news? GO SHOPPING! You heard me. Because if the gift giving goes on for weeks, the shopping goes on for months. But here’s the caveat:  SHOP LOCAL. Spend your money here – on the island. Resist the tempting option of on-line shopping this year. The single biggest driver of any country’s economic growth is its consumer spending.

In Puerto Rico, consumer spending accounts 60% of our economy; in the US, it is almost 70%. With less disposable income than ever, it is also more important than ever that that spending stays local. Ordering that video game your teenager wants from Amazon does nothing to help our local economy – going to get it at your neighborhood Best Buy or Costco does. The money you spend here gets reflected in the sales for that local store, which helps keep that local person employed, which keeps our economic cycle spinning here, locally – on our island.

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I know, I know, I know – it is easier and maybe sometimes cheaper to order that video game on-line. You don’t have to fight the crowds of shoppers at Plaza las Americas or circle the parking lot 3 times to find a space. On-line shopping may save you a bit of money, some time, and keep you out of the tapón. But in the end, the time or money you saved using your powerful consumer spending off-island just keeps our local economy stuck in its downward spiral.

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So take the pledge to SHOP LOCAL. Unless you absolutely can’t get the gift you are looking for here on the island, avoid on-line shopping. Use the SHOP LOCAL pledge as a way of rediscovering the good in Puerto Rico: spend an afternoon shopping with friends in Old San Juan and enjoy the festive street decorations; buy presents at Plaza las Americas and catch dinner and a movie afterward; or try shopping at one of the many artisanal fairs in the island towns.

SHOP LOCAL and use your personal consumer power to help improve the Puerto Rican economy.  Because the well being of this island is too important for us not to each take responsibility for it.

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It’s a honor just to be nominated!

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Thank you La Salita Cafe for nominating me for the Liebster award. Please check out their blog. This is an award passed around the blogging community to those who have fewer than 200 followers. Kind of a “hey we noticed you … stick with it” encouragement. Nice.

HERE ARE THE OFFICIAL RULES:

1. You must have been nominated in order to nominate other bloggers.

2. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog to your post.

3. Follow the blog of the person who nominated you.

4. Answer the 11 questions they’ve asked you.

5. Nominate 5 – 11 bloggers who have 200 followers or fewer for the award.

6. Create a new list of 11 questions to the nominees OR ask them to provide 11 random facts about themselves.

7. Inform the nominees that you nominated them once you’ve posted about your Liebster Award.

So here are the 11 questions I was asked by La Salita Cafe:

1. When did you decide to become a Blogger and Why?

September 2014. It was actually an assignment for a class I’m taking on Social Media marketing. But now, I might just keep with it.

2. What do you do on days when you just can’t write?

I don’t write. Staring at a blank page and stressing about it just slows down the process.

3. What’s the most egregious writing cliché you’re guilty of committing?

Ha! Too many to name here.

4. What is the meaning of success to you?

Not sure I have one. It’s an overrated concept.

5. Have you ever dropped your phone in the toilet? Elaborate!

Yes! It was in the back pocket of my jeans. I visited the rest room during an activity at my children’s school. I think you can do the math.

6. What event in nature takes your breath away?

Watching the leatherback turtles nest on the beaches of Puerto Rico.

7. What is your favorite book of all time?

To Kill a Mockingbird

8. What is your hidden talent?

If you need someone to  build a mean Excel spreadsheet, I’m your man.

9. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

Slow down!

10. What is the nicest thing that somebody has ever done for/to you?

Wow, so many to pick from. But if I had to name  just one, I’d say it was when my kids found random objects while we were in a hotel room in Spain and made letters to spell out “I Love You” across the wood floor.  I have a picture of it.

11. If you had the opportunity to have ANY one person as your mentor, whom would it be and why?

Meryl Streep. Where does all that creativity come from? Plus, she’s one classy human being.

 My Fellow Nominees: You must answer the same 11 questions above!

Mary Nicodemus

Your Stylish Makeup

Planning Serendipity

Playne Jayne

Digital Marketing Today

Mobile News

Happy Blogging!

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Can a Country Create a “Customer Experience”?

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In 2012, Puerto Rico enacted law 22, or the Individual Investors Tax Act, in an effort to bring high net worth individuals to the island. The goal is to have them invest in the local economy and help pull it out of it’s 8-year and counting recession. The law creates a tax haven for investors and traders, once they become bona fide residents, by allowing them a 100% tax exemption on all dividends, interest and short-term and long-term capital gains on income earned in Puerto Rico.

To date, about 300 individuals have taken advantage of the law and have moved lock, stock and barrel to Puerto Rico. The average net worth of these individuals is roughly $7 million, although there are one or two billionaires in there. So if you invite a whole bunch of wealthy people to upend their comfortable lives and help you re-start your economy, what can a country do to ensure a positive customer experience? Because that is what these migrants essentially are: customers.

This type of customer is every entity’s dream. And their nightmare. Yes, this customer has more money than they know what to do with. But because of precisely that, they may be the hardest customer to keep happy.

All kinds of companies have stepped up to the plate to assure the newly minted Puerto Ricans that they can replicate their lives here. Sotheby’s opened a real estate office here. Government officials set up a conference to educate them about private schools, recreational activities, the arts and philanthropic opportunities. Beachside towns, such as Dorado, have pulled out all the stops to lure the island’s latest immigrants to their communities. The settler’s themselves have set up their own non-profit organization, The 20/22 Act Society, to foster a sense of community amongst other individuals and entities coming to PR for the tax incentives.

Will the government’s experiment to bring in a few hundred millionaires have a significant impact on the Puerto Rican economy? Will they be able to provide their new found citizens with the kind of “customer experience” that will help them adapt and flourish? They may have come here for the tax breaks, but how much of their lifestyle are they willing to give up in return? Only time will tell.

A significant part of the equation will depend on how happy they are living their lives here.  The government can try very hard to entice them to remain in Puerto Rico by cutting their tax burden. Still, there’s that old “money can’t buy happiness thing”. And in the end, if they aren’t happy, they might just start remembering the words of Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

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If You Tweet It, They Will Come

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I’ll readily admit that when I started taking a class in Social Media Marketing, I was not a huge fan of Twitter.  I understand why people use Facebook. I even get Instagram. But I wasn’t quite convinced about the redeeming qualities of Twitter.  I mean, why follow someone 140 characters at a time?  Can there really be any substance in the clipped and transient messages this platform affords?

Tasked with writing about the most influential people in Puerto Rico on Twitter, I reluctantly set out to see who these people were, what they had to say and why they were being followed.

According to the Buena Vibra Group‘s research on the top Puerto Rican Twitter influencers in 2013, the most influential of all is Residente C13 — one half of the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  They have won 2 Grammys, 19 Latin Grammy Awards and are currently nominated for another 9 Latin Grammy Awards. Residente C13 has 5.2 million followers on Twitter.  Conversely, the other half of the group — Visitante — has only 420,000 followers (to be fair, Residente’s Twitter feed is designated as the “official” one for the group).

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So why are they so influential on social media?  As pointed out in an NPR article, they are one of the “most beloved and hated bands in the Spanish-speaking world”.  They are politically outspoken — they were banned from performing in San Juan for 3 years after insulting the governor of Puerto Rico during a live awards show.  They have been reviled by some for their deeply raunchy and explicit lyrics.

However, they have also been highly successful in transcending musical genres and social norms. The title track of their newest  album, Multi_Viral, is a denunciation of corporate, media and government propaganda. Julian Assange, the infamous Wikileaks founder and international fugitive, makes a spoken word appearance (they traveled to London, with help from the President of Ecuador, to record his part at the Ecuadorean Embassy there). The video for another song from this album, “Adentro”, has the likes of baseball great Willie Mays handing one of his signed bats over to Residente, which he then uses to smash a Maserati filled with guns and gold jewelry.  This album also includes performances by Native American singer Vernon Foster, Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, and renowned Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.

The second and third most influential personalities on Twitter, respectively, are Molusco and Angelique Burgos (La Burbu). They are also each one-half of the radio team “El Goldo y la Pelúa“, the number one rated weekday radio program. Roughly translated, “El Goldo” is The Fat One (Molusco) and “la Pelúa” is The Hairy One (La Burbu). Their radio program discusses the concerns of daily life in Puerto Rico, both social and political, with a tone which is both irreverent and humorous.

El Goldo y la Pelúa

When asked recently why he is so influential on social networks, Molusco gave the following response:  “I humanize the social networks, because I manage my own accounts and I try to respond to my fans. On my feeds, there is always something happening and they follow me to keep laughing, because the country is fed up with so much bad news and people are looking for a way to distract themselves from it”.

What they have in common is easy — Residente, Molusco and La Burbu all touch on the political and social issues that affect Puerto Rican society. While they differ in style, their intent is similar.

Residente takes no prisoners.  He is a maverick, like many of the people who collaborate with him on his albums. He is honest, and through his music, he fights unapologetically for what he thinks is right. People follow him on social networks because he speaks out over social injustices here in Puerto Rico and around the world.

Molusco and La Burbu talk about the many of the same issues as Residente, but they do it in a less judgmental, more entertaining way. They win our heart with their jokes, making light of our shared struggles.  It’s topical, yet light-hearted.

Residente’s is somewhat dark and existential, Molusco and La Burbu are light and pragmatic. But, like any leader trying to start a revolution, they are the same in that they keep their followers directly engaged — in short but frequent messages — by giving a voice to their common emotions, be it anger, unease or plain old boredom.

So did this assignment turn me into a Twitter convert? Well, let’s just say I’m still don’t have the Twitter app on my smartphone. But I have a newfound understanding of both it’s charm and it’s importance in how leaders will be able to shape their influence in the future.

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I Would Tell You, But Then I Would Have to Un-Friend You

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A friend of mine was just diagnosed with a serious, but thankfully, non-life-threatening illness. There will be a surgery, and then, hopefully, it will all be in the past. She has all of the obvious worries of her impending major surgery: her health, insurance coverage, recuperation time, leave from work, telling her children. And also, a not-so-obvious one. When asked, “What can we do to help?” Her answer: “Please don’t post anything about this on Facebook.”

It seemed sad that at a time when my friend needs to be taking care of herself, she has the added concern of controlling her privacy on social media. The HIPAA regulations were created in 1996 to protect a patient’s privacy regarding their heath information. The laws specifically allow a patient to request that their information not be shared with “certain groups, people or companies”. We can’t stand too close to someone who is filling a prescription in the pharmacy, lest we have an encyclopedic knowledge of the PDR. We can’t even hold their hand with them in their doctor’s office without their expressed written consent. But there aren’t any regulations stopping us from outing their health issues on social media sites.

My friend’s privacy concern comes on the heels of reports this week that Facebook in considering expanding into the healthcare field by creating “online support communities. The concept is that Facebook would connect users suffering from various illnesses.  Their objective: healthcare communities could increase engagement on Facebook.

Now the last time I checked, it seemed that most people were already pretty engaged on Facebook. Sometimes, they seem over engaged. Facebook itself estimates that the average American spends 40 minutes per day checking a Facebook feed. That’s more than we spend each day on taking care of our pets, exercising or doing volunteer work.  And Facebook is by far and away winning the social media war — they have roughly seven times the engagement of Twitter, their closest competitor. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to be spending even more time on Facebook.

Creating on-line support healthcare communities sounds like a nice thing to do. It certainly helps to humanize the company. But call it a hunch, methinks that Mr. Zuckerberg and the folks at Facebook aren’t just concerned with helping their customers cope with health issues.

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The privacy issues this venture brings up are mind-boggling. And the burning question:  Can users trust their personal medical information to Facebook?  After all, they have had numerous privacy breaches in the past and they are still making amends for their “experiment” involving users news feeds.  And this time, the privacy stakes will be higher than ever before.

In the New York Times article Disruptions:  Seeking Privacy in a Networked Age (Oct. 2012), Dennis Crowley, chief executive of FourSquare, ponders the idea of a service that would allow users to cloak themselves — kind of like Harry Potter’s Invisibility cloak — for a particular time period. “You can imagine a service that says ‘I don’t want my name to show up on any social services for the next three hours’ and then integrates with other social services,” Mr. Crowley said.

So until Facebook can enlist J.K.Rowling to help develop said Invisibility Cloak for their user’s private medical information, I would hold back on joining one of their on-line health communities. Because when all is said and done, J.K. Rowling did a better job protecting her darling than Mark Zuckerberg has done protecting his.

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