You know how a lot of people have a signature fashion item?
Maybe it’s a great pair of shoes or funky glasses or a favorite color that they wear.
Me? I have an ass pad.
(Personally, I thought a monocle would be a much more mysterious and cool accessory, but I didn’t really get a choice in the matter.)
Well interestingly enough, it isn’t for my ass. It’s for my back.
I have some degenerative action going on in my spine. So when I sit for, say, more than 15 minutes, the force of gravity starts to compress the discs and it hurts.
The best way I can describe it is as if someone took a large fishhook and slipped it up under my skin at the base of my spine and then started to pull the hook upwards, lifting me off the chair at the point of contact. The longer I sit, the deeper the hook sinks.
As you can imagine, this is a totally fun way to spend a meeting. So, I bring along the ass pad, since it helps take the weight off the fishhook and make things a bit more bearable.
So, what does my ass pad have to do with you?
Like most sucky things in life, hauling around an ass pad (which I so wish came in black, since then it would match my purse) has taught me a valuable life lesson that also holds true for online social engagement.
One of the most common concerns I hear from clients about using social media is that they don’t want to look stupid in front of their customers and clients.
This is a totally understandable concern.
But, as someone who’s had to do business for years with a big blue cushion the size of a DVD player in tow, I gotta tell you…people may notice your oddities and mistakes, but most of the time they don’t really SEE them.
We humans have a limited capacity for attention that can also limit the amount of information we can process at any particular time. This can lead to something called perceptual blindness. (For instance, sometimes I’ll joke about the pad with someone and they’ll look at me blankly and say, “what pad?”)
One of the most famous examples of perceptual blindness is the psychological experiment commonly referred to as The Invisible Gorilla.
In social media, the information we need to process (and the noise that goes with it) is amplified, which amplifies the blindness. So typos and errors fly by like a little army of gorillas, but we don’t really notice them because the medium itself is sucking up so much of our focus.
It’s only when someone makes a great show of apologizing, justifying or rationalizing a mistake they’ve made that we stop and wonder, “Hey…what happened? Did I miss something?”
People see what they want to see.
One of my favorite examples of the power of perception happened a few years ago when I was at an airport standing in line at Starbucks.
After I’d flipped open my bag and fished under the ass pad for my wallet, I noticed another woman in line staring at me.
“I bet she saw the ass pad,” I thought to myself. “She’s probably thinking I’m a total freak for carting around a cushion in my computer bag instead of a laptop.”
And, sure enough, the woman leaned over and asked, “Hey…what is that in your bag?”
“Um…you mean the ass pad?” I asked.
Instead of answering, the woman swung her computer bag in front of her, propped it open and pointed a familiar dark blue lump crammed inside hers too.
For once, someone wasn’t blind to the ass pad, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
“I’m so glad you came over to talk to me,” I said to the woman. “I’ve never met anyone else with an ass pad before. Isn’t it great?”
“Totally,” she replied, “but it’d be even better if they made it in black.”