The random luck of life


I’m thinking about making my fourth trip to India, a place that, (in my mind), is the most interesting land of all lands.

I first visited India when I was 12 years old. On that trip, the rigidness of the caste system deeply impacted me. Here’s a short story about one defining moment on that trip in 1996.

Me during my first trip to India, 1996.
Me during my first trip to India, 1996.

The train to Agra

When I was 12 years old, I stepped down off the train in Agra and locked eyes with the first person to come forward and greet me. He was a boy with elephantiasis.

His feet were swollen the size of balloons. His toes jutted out around the perimeters. He waddled towards me, his deep brown eyes latched onto mine. His hand was cupped. He stretched it towards me.

Before I could respond, my Aunt Lynn, a doppelgänger for Princess Diana, bent down and whispered into my ear, “Don’t stare.” She swept me away, hushing the boy with a harsh “chale jao” which in Hindi means “Go away.”

Every fiber in me wanted to turn back and look at him. I wanted to understand who he was, what had happened to him, and why he was begging. I knew my obsession with this stranger, a boy close to my age, was shameful in some way. At the same time I was so fixated on him I didn’t care. I had to understand. What had just happened?

A few yards further on, as we pushed our way through the crowd, my aunt’s servants grabbed our bags and hoisted us into the backseat of a Mercedes Benz. From the other side of the glass I peered out at the chaos of India, searching for the boy. Our car sped off, forcefully clearing a path towards our hotel.

In the quiet of the car I sat in the back seat and looked at my two Aunts, Lynn and Debi. Lynn rode in the front seat next to the driver. I asked her the only question that came to mind.

“Why did we have to shoo him away?”

Lynn, who had moved to India a few years earlier, turned to answer me.

“Oh, Erica.” she said sympathetically. “He’s part of a larger system, working for a slum lord. Every move he makes is being watched and any handout he gets will go to his boss. He’s a cash cow. With elephantiasis, he won’t live more than a few years. But until then, he’ll make the lord a killing.”

I was perplexed and retreated back into myself, thinking about what she had just said. Barely 13, I was pleased that my aunt had given me a straightforward answer. Still, I couldn’t comprehend what she had just told me about the boy. I was deeply conflicted. I gazed out the window, frustrated and confused. “Why him,” I wondered.

“Why him and not me?”

A few days later, we were back in my aunt’s New Delhi estate, having taken the return train from Agra. The servants had washed and pressed my clothes, cooked my dinner, and turned down my bed. I revelled in the luxury and yet felt guilty about the stark reality of the caste system, to which, even as a visitor, I was assigned a side.

The night was late and I couldn’t sleep. Quietly, so as not to wake up my cousin Shea, I tip toed out of our bedroom and down the hall. I knocked on my Aunt Debi’s door.

“Debi,” I said with uncertainty, as she opened the door. “Are my feet getting bigger?”

Response to "Twitter Trap"

A few weeks ago I made a visit to the New York Times newsroom. Walking past a cubicle, I was introduced to Bill Keller, the Editor-in-Chief. Upon learning I work at Twitter, he said back, “I’m actually writing a piece about Twitter right now.”

“Go easy on us,” I joked.

His piece,  The Twitter Trap, came out yesterday.

Here is my response, which I wrote personally and not on behalf of Twitter.

Katie Couric's Social Media Path

About a month ago, I connected Katie Couric and Brian Solis for a conversation about Katie’s push into new media which started in 2008. What ensued was a discussion about the challenges, the opportunities and the areas of exploration they both think about when it comes to the convergence of “new” and “old” media. What I like to call – present media.

I hope you enjoy – and as always I can’t wait to hear your ideas and feedback.

Social Media and Real-Time Journalism

“I miss that…kind of connection, that engagement that I had with viewers at NBC. And in a way I feel like I’m revitalizing that through social media.”


Fact-First Journalism and Digital Identity

“There still has to be some of the standards that traditional media…that we have followed through the years. I want them to live on. We can’t let accuracy become a casualty of immediacy.”


Privacy and Personal Branding

“For me anyway, (social media) has to be a reflection of my authentic self.”


**In the third clip at the 9-minute mark, you will hear Katie talk about me. At CBS News, I work with Katie Couric’s team on her webshow (@katiecouric), her social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) and with the CBS Evening News team.

Thanks to these folks for linking to the interview:

  • Harvard’s Nieman Lab – “Preventing Accuracy from Being a Casualty of Immediacy”
  • Lost Remote – “Couric Connects with Viewers via Social Media”
  • John Boitnott – “Turns our Couric Understands Social Media”
  • Social Media Today – “Katie Couric on Social Media and Real-Time Journalism”
  • Fast Company – “Katie Couric on Social Media and Real-Time Journalism”
  • Jess3 –  “(R)evolution’s interview with Katie Couric”

#Election2010 at CBS News

Today is going to be jam packed with projections, analysis and lots of new realizations of new political careers and the closure for so many others. I’m going to be a fly on the wall, sharing the best content, links and ideas coming from the team of reporters, analysts and political scientists.

I’ve been at CBS News for less than a year but it certainly feels longer. Looking around at the storied history of the network and reading books about the birth of broadcasting is the least I can do, I figure, to pay homage to those pioneers before me. The greatest in radio (Edward Murrow) TV (Walter Cronkite) and hopefully next up, CBS will be a place for the next generation of journalists who gravitate to the multi medium beat with a focus on web and mobile first.

Today on election day it’s my simple goal to do this: be an intelligent filter of news and information for you. One that doesn’t inundate and overwhelm but instead takes time to listen, hear what you find valuable (text, audio, video? Polls, analysis, chatter?) and funnel it to you so they in some way, you feel more informed about the political process.

So with that I’m off to do my first set of check ins with the news team. The coverage will be led by Katie Couric (@katiecouric on Twitter), our CBSNewsOnline YouTube channel (wall-to-wall livestreaming of our broadcasts) and our blog, Political Hotsheet.

So what are you waiting for? Jump in. These days only come every two years!

Posted via email from EricaAmerica’s posterous

Privacy Is Lost And That’s OK

My version of family dinner happens anytime after 9pm – on a weeknight, with food or without food, at my quiet NYC apartment. Sitting in front of my roommate’s flat screen TV. Matching silver laptops in front of us and on the coffee table – a pair of iPhones. Eyes dodging back-and-forth between browsers and broadcast. Browser and broadcast. Browser and phone.

Tonight I decided to type into my browser. I guess I wanted to know what was happening in his world. I like Brian because he is smart and savvy and really dedicated to sharing new ideas and information. I would say that’s why Brian is one of my digital educators. A person who bends my mind to think about what changes in technology mean to our society, our lives, our industries. And tonight I got just that when I read this line.

“In this episode (of BrianSolis TV), Michael Fertik, founder and CEO of Reputation Defender, joins the program to discuss privacy and the reasons why you and everyone who matters to you, will be unfairly, but forever judged by what’s online.”

The statement, in that very instant, made me think about and question to what extent people might unfairly judge me.

The Downside of the Internet

Discovery. Essential to what we do as online entrepreneurs, in the business of information exchange.

Tonight I’m surfing YouTube. The CBSNewsOnline channel to be exact (as well other lesser-known channels like RT and Which means watching clips, taking notes, jotting down views and thinking about the content. What makes exceptional click-worthy video journalism?

While I ponder that question….I wanted to post this clip of former CBS Evening News Anchor, Bob Schieffer.  It wasn’t at all what I expected when I clicked play, but was pleased that I did. Same goes for the next clip of CNN’s Jeanne Moos – a playful, informative poke at our culture of capitalism.

From Schieffer: a valid piece of wisdom on the “downside of the Internet.”




The New York Times and the 20-Somethings

Robin Marantz Henig’s piece in the New York Times today, ‘What Is It About 20-Somethings?‘ left me with an abundance of thoughts.

The article starts out by describing what the ‘milestones’ of adulthood are: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. And since numbers show my generation hasn’t hit those yet, or is approaching them in a different order, she suggest this means we “slouch towards adulthood.”

While I appreciate the amount of research and thoughtfulness that went into this, I feel compelled to offer the other side.  While some of my peers may appear to be ‘slouching’ towards adulthood, some of them have accelerated towards it, building new milestones that might set the next generation’s bar. Milestones like being your own boss, traveling the world, paying for your own health care. Milestones that positively help our generation to worry less about how we stack up against the past, and more about how we can contribute to the new, emerging American future.

20-somethings, as noted by Henig, also have something else going for them – a sense of possibility. One that has been considered ‘romantic’ and fades in time. Yet from my perspective, that sense is one of the qualities driving innovation, new models of business, opportunities for growth. Far from romantic, it’s a new reality.

Now that deserves to be a milestone.



What Is It About 20-Somethings? – The New York Times, 08/20/2010

Why Can’t Twenty-Somethings Grow Up? -The Atlantic, 08/20/2010