Being able to handle in-your-face criticism was a crucial skill to advance one’s career before social media took over. Even before Covid-19, in-person feedback drove performance reviews. Anyone in a public sphere back in the 90s would endure rabble-rousing and jostling. Steve Jobs was not a social media promoter and not sure if his aura would have survived if he emerged during the era of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Social media today allows one to hide behind the technology —- enabling perceptions, reactions, and promotions to happen by themselves and for whatever reason. There is a method involved here since many folks have figured out how to monetize their careers quickly, often without ever having made a public speech.
The kind of high-stakes public dialogue and questioning that existed in the 90s is not gone, but rare even for the most famous figures in society. General speaking skills have diminished into curated podcasts, TED talks, and stump campaign speeches, driving so much content. Most feedback loops are digital —- often out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes, they generate unwanted attention. Leaders, whether they are CEOs, politicians, or professors, refrain from being vulnerable, realizing that saying the potential ‘wrong thing’ even once could end their careers. The ‘cancel culture’ has become a form of entrapment. While it has justly punished some bad actors, it has made nearly everyone terrified of being vulnerable in public or digital forums.
Public forums will stay online indefinitely this year and next year. In the last few months, I’ve learned that it’s hard to decipher communication over zoom calls. It’s hard to know if your message is resonating and if anyone feels otherwise. Mastering communication will always help in advancing one’s career. I’m sure once the world achieves a new normal, we’ll never go back to public forums eager to speak, question, and retort. I just hope that being open to criticism will be acceptable like it was in 1997 when Steve Jobs gave this talk. Jobs handled this situation with the kind of grace rarely seen today.