The Human Transaction: Door-to-door; Click-by-click

In the fight for LGBT equality we are often told that voters have already — several times in fact — disapproved of this concept, and presumably we should therefore just give up and yield “to the will of the people,” or certainly at least shut up about it already. While I fundamentally disagree with this conclusion (not to mention with the idea of silencing a minority according to majority will), here is one small and powerful element of truth: To win votes, if people don’t know you, sometimes you need to go door-to-door.

While it may seem unfair to treat matters of civil rights like regional sales campaigns, I think it’s true that the heart of lasting and meaningful social change is in the profundity of the human transaction, person-to-person, in ordinary, daily life. In fact, hard-working folks such as those at EQCA have been redoubling just such a “Sinead’s Hand-like” door-to-door effort at gaining acceptance ever since Prop 8 passed. And of course few know about the importance of going door-to-door as well as the Mormon Church.

During the past few weeks at work I’ve been thinking a lot about the “door-to-door” element of diversity. My company (a giant global enterprise software company), has an annual celebration of Diversity Days during which it reaffirms the commitment that the key to success is in embracing the value of the rich diversity of its workforce. One of the featured talks during this year’s Diversity Days was about people working with disabilities. It was good to get a look at this form of diversity in our workforce, often only all-too-invisible in my experience. There is such unique “explosion of value” in any particular form of “disability” or diversity, as presenter Gary Karp cited, for example, with IBM “master of invention” (and deaf person) Dr. Dimitri Kanevsky.

The 2002 movie Door to Door about American salesman Bill Porter brought the humanness of the sales and disability diversity transaction to light: “He tries everything and even goes door-to-door:”

Though I’ve never really liked the concept of “salesman” and probably would be more likely to slam doors in his face, from the early days of the door-to-door salesman humans have engineered ways to make the seemingly heartless financial transaction seem more human. I love this example of Bill Porter because it shows how elements of acceptance and tolerance also come down to the great sales job.

In an age where we transact more and more online, this notion of going door-to-door seems at the very least, at first glance, ironic. I would venture to guess that many of us prefer shopping online not only because we can find things more easily from around the world, but exactly because we feel socially inept, and maybe it’s Scary to Actually Meet Real People.

But this is the very thing that makes all the difference. Not so long ago a man from a place called SaveEnergy Company visited our house and chatted with us about our family and our lives and learned what was important to us. It was a low-stress visit, hardly what seemed like a sales call, and we were not intending to contract for new windows that day, yet by the end of the day — of course you know how this story ends — we had contracted for the new windows.

In this case, money seemed to change hands among friends, at a friendlier, less lonely, human occasion. Were we tricked into transaction feeling like we were acting socially rather than financially? Does it matter if in the end the windows – and the experience – were good? Is it possible that many people choose online transactions specifically because they are afraid of feeling “tricked” to be human in exactly this way?

Nowadays we Yelp and Facebook and Twitter to find out what our peers and community think about local vendors and beyond and we regularly connect with friends we know to vet a business before we go. This is of course not new — it simply replicates the in-person experience of door-to-door salesmen or earlier bartering communities online.

Recently I did just this for a major purchase decision — a new (used) car with the help of car broker Bay Area Hand Picked Cars. I read the glowing Yelp reviews and transacted with this business, and in the end I had not only a new car but a new perspective. Now I don’t feel like I ever want to consider large sales transactions in any other way (here’s not looking at you, Target). I also feel like we have a friend in Ioanna Stergiades of Bay Area Hand Picked Cars who would go door-to-door for us, should the need ever arise.

The point is that today the online transaction is hardly less human than the in-person transaction, and becoming less and less so every day. The massive “in-the-moment” coexisting, casual status updates that lead to stronger connections, “accidental” business-to-friend conversions, and particularly my pals at my company who follow me on Twitter and then happen to see my live-Tweeting from the courtroom trial against Prop 8 — and then DON’T unfollow me: These are how the keys to humanity are played these days. Far away from the temporary online momentary monetary transactions we’ve come to presume, I submit even these tiny transactions alter us, little by little, every second of every day.

Back at Diversity Days at my company, I could not help comparing battles for LGBT civil rights with the battle for the rights of those with disabilities. The fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability — whereas 20 years later we still can’t pass a similar protection based on sexual orientation (ENDA) — was not lost on me. We may yet learn a lot from the patience and persistence of someone like Bill Porter, the true salesman, whether we interact online or offline.

We may think we go to the Web to avoid people, but we don’t. Every transaction we make, door-to-door, click-by-click, matters. Be maybe afraid, yet utterly human.

PS: End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell THIS WEEK — find out how.

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3 thoughts on “The Human Transaction: Door-to-door; Click-by-click

  1. a colleague wrote me this comment after reading this — so powerful i had to ask if i could add it here:


    My eyes teared with the Bill Porter story. It reminds me of my son… my son has told me since he was about 3 that he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. He wears the uniform sometimes and he constantly wears a fire hat. He doesn’t know his ‘constraint’ – that he was born with lungs so bad (the worst that the hospital’s NICU had ever seen at that point when he was born in Feb, 2005), they are like someone with advanced emphysema. He doesn’t know that there are physical tests that require him to run or require a certain amount of coordinated neuro-motor coordination, physical strength and endurance that he may not ever possess….what he does know is that he looks at what he “can do” and what he “wants to do”….and, I, as a parent, and am going to continue to help him instill his belief in himself, to acknowledge the constraints and to, most importantly, to channel his passion and goals in to intentions…then create whatever reality will come with full resolve.

    you, my colleague, are a hero. whatever they become, your sons will be amazing with your model.

  2. So, Moya posted this to FB where I commented on it, but I felt that commenting in the public forum made sense as well … so here goes:

    There is NO way on-line replaces in person. Period. It’s not an either/or. It’s an AN…D proposition. I do not disagree that the online experience is increasingly “human” and as the curation tools at our fingertips get better and better and as people get more and more comfortable communicating/sharing on-line there’s no question that the richness and deepness of engagement will broaden.

    However … there is nothing to replace looking someone dead in the eye, shaking their hand, etc… nothing. Even in using online video platforms – (I worked for a year at a company that produced a video conversation platform by which you’d record a video with your web cam and folks would reply in video and the conversation was threaded … you got to really know people) … but thus far most online connection is flat – photos, text … and while there IS video it’s not conversational … no back and forth … so I say leverage online and build out connections but then GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND KNOCK ON DOORS.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.

  3. it’s funny how this one is so much more interactive on facebook — ironically so, since to me what we’re talking about is humanizing the web. i agree, cathy, nothing replaces the pavement-poundingly hand-shakingly human-flesh-pressingly in-person experience. but we can do better on the web at humanizing than we have been.
    by the way, one of the reasons i can’t get on the anti-EQCA bandwagon that so many have done post-prop-8 is precisely because they are doing this *super hard* door-to-door work, thanks for them. this today is good, too — it heats up:

    http://www.lgbtpov.com/2010/09/equality-california-releases-ads-warning-about-whitman-cooley-and-prop-8/

    november is key.

    thank you cathy for being there!
    -m

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