What 3 Twilight Zone Episodes Taught Me About Social Media

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twilight-zone-episodes-illustrate-current-social-media-trends-1Are you a major Twilight Zone geek? I look forward to the 4th of July each year but not for the usual reasons that others do. My reason is the Twilight Zone Marathon. What makes Rod Serling such a visionary is that you can watch episodes and each time still come away with new realizations.

It’s Summer. We’re halfway through the year and I wanted to share my insights on the current social media trends. I thought it would be fun to allow the genius of the Twilight Zone to illustrate them.

3 Twilight Zone Episodes That Illuminate Current Social Media Trends

1. Number 12 Looks Just Like You

Storyline: In a future society, all young adults go through a process known as “The Transformation,” in which each person’s body and face are changed to mimic a physically attractive design chosen from a small selection of numbered models.

Eighteen-year-old Marilyn decides not to undergo the Transformation, seeing nothing wrong with her unaltered appearance. Nobody else can understand Marilyn’s decision, and those around her are confused by her displeasure with the conformity and shallowness of contemporary life. Her “radical” beliefs were fostered by her now-deceased father, who gave Marilyn banned books and came to regret his own Transformation years earlier, committing suicide upon the loss of his identity.

When Marilyn becomes upset, talking about how the transformation makes everyone beautiful and therefore the same as everyone being ugly, they offer her a glass of “Instant Smile”.

Despite continued urging from family, doctors, and her best friend, Marilyn is still adamant about refusing the operation. She insists that the leaders of society don’t care whether people are beautiful or not, they just want everyone to be the same. Her pleas about the “dignity of the individual human spirit” and how “when everyone is beautiful, no one will be” have no impact.

After being driven to tears by the inability of anyone to understand how she feels, she’s put through the procedure and (like all the others) is enchanted with the beautiful result.

Dr. Rex, who operated on Marilyn, comments about how some people have problems with the idea of the Transformation but that “improvements” to the procedure now guarantee a positive result, thus indicating that there may be modifications made to the mind as well. Marilyn reappears, looking and thinking exactly like her best friend Valerie. “And the nicest part of all, Val,” she gushes, “I look just like you!”

Although this episode highlights Hollywood’s age-obsession and youthful looks for women, one could say our culture has pushed us far beyond this limited notion.

When everyone is beautiful, no one is.

Social media is not scalable even though many vendors wish it to be so. The more homogenized the look, the less attractive it is to consumers because they’ve seen it before.

You can potentially share a content piece with every breath you take and unfortunately, a lot of people do.

The result? Social media channels get flooded with samey samey content you’ve seen a dozen times before. It’s just adding more ammunition to the content shock, you see it every day:

  • Average how-to advice articles shared on Twitter.
  • A rambling political post on Facebook.
  • Another inspiring but seen-a-thousand-times quotation from a luminary: “Follow your dreams through hard work!” penned by Mr. Random Famous Person.

This isn’t horrible, but it’s not providing real value either, considering the tough competition leading to content shock. First, it takes time away from you. Secondly, it ‘spams’ the space with more similarity, preventing your brand from breaking through the clutter.

I used to do the same, but I have changed my approach. I’ve reduced my social media content and replaced it with fewer, but higher quality messages.

View “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” here:

2. Monsters are Due on Maple Street

Storyline: “Maple Street, U.S.A. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice cream vendor. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon…in the last calm and reflective moment before the monsters came.”

A roar and flash of light in the sky suddenly disturbs the people on Maple Street.

Soon everyone discovers the phone lines and power have gone out. Cars don’t start and portable radios cease to work. “It’s as if everything stopped.”

A group of neighbors gather to brainstorm what could be happening. A kid mentions that the aliens have come to earth and they’ll look just like humans.

Mob mentality begins to take over and neighbors suspect each other of being the monster from outer space. They descend on one neighbor but soon everything escalates to everyone suspecting everyone.

A voice of reason shouts, “The only thing that’s going to happen is we’re going to eat each other up alive.” I won’t tell you the end but suffice to say, it’s tragic.

“We’ve met the enemy and he is us.” – parody of an US Navy message by the comic strip, Pogo. 1970

The camera pans out to reveal the aliens witnessing the neighbors attacking each other. One alien says,”They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find. All we need do is sit back and watch. The world is full of Maple Streets. We’ll go from one to another and let them destroy themselves.”

The dark side of social media is real. There are forces hard at work to divide us all. Don’t let them.

Rod Serling’s monologue at the end is just as meaningful today: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own. The pity of it is…is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

View “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” here:

3. A Penny for Your Thoughts

Storyline: Hector B. Poole, a sensitive, insecure bank clerk, tosses a coin that miraculously lands on its edge while buying a newspaper. He can now hear other people’s thoughts.

He’s nearly hit by a car when distracted by these voices, and is confused when he hears the driver simultaneously voicing concern for him and thinking angrily about his carelessness.

At work, he hears his boss, Mr. Bagby, thinking about a weekend affair he is planning with his mistress. Hector also hears the thoughts of Miss Turner, a co-worker who admires him from afar and wishes he would be more assertive.

While Hector is finalizing the paperwork for Mr. Sykes, a businessman who has just been approved for a $200,000 loan, he hears Sykes thinking about using the loan to gamble and win the money he has embezzled from his company. When Hector challenges him about this, Sykes accuses him of lying and ultimately withdraws his business from the bank, leading Bagby to fire Hector.

Mr. Bagby offers to reinstate him when he discovers that Sykes has been arrested for gambling with company money. With Miss Turner’s telepathic encouragement, Hector makes the case to Mr. Bagby that he deserves to be accounts manager. When the bank manager resists, Hector slyly uses his knowledge of his boss’s adultery to convince him he deserves the promotion.

After work, as Hector returns home with Miss Turner (now calling her by her first name, Helen) he inadvertently knocks the standing coin over. His mind-reading ability is gone, but he is a man changed for the better,

By listening to other people’s thoughts, Hector recovers his confidence and discovers his self-worth.

“One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge and all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration or a slight glow. Hector B. Poole, a human coin, on edge for a brief time in the Twilight Zone.”

Fortunately, you don’t need a coin to land on its edge to listen to your customers.

There’s nothing that is more effective for improving the quality of your product or service than listening to your customers.

Discover what your customers are experiencing–and really hear what they have to say about it. It’s not just good practice – it’s what makes your business memorable.

View “A Penny for Your Thoughts” here:

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