Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thus endeth the tweet

As an amazingly great sabbatical year draws to a close, I am grateful for the connections and re-connections we have made.  Visiting family and friends in the States, savouring France and enjoying the delights of Cambridge made this year so memorable. We made new friends and had 3 wonderful home exchanges, two in France and one in the US.  Looking through the photos makes us feel very fortunate indeed.

Connectivity-wise, we discovered satellite radio while driving through the Rockies and Pandora radio in friends' homes (Pandora just became legal in New Zealand--look for it in the App Store).  Spent lots of time waiting in line for service from Orange in France and enjoyed high-speed wireless at Cambridge.  Spent more time on Facebook and even got to visit their campus.  I also spent more time writing this blog than I had imagined, but enjoyed it more than expected.  I hope you've enjoyed it and/or found it useful.

What will we remember about 2012?  Smartphones taking over the world (and driving us crazy), as the PC era officially ended. The cloud capturing our data and our imagination.  And, the Pope taking to Twitter, which pretty much says it all.

From the first time zone, Happy New Year!

Best wishes,

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse now or later?

If you're reading this, the world hasn't ended.

But, that doesn't mean we should not consider the possibility.

Recently, a philosopher, a scientist and a software engineer have come together to propose a new centre at Cambridge, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), to address these cases – from developments in bio and nanotechnology to extreme climate change and even artificial intelligence – in which technology might pose “extinction-level” risks to our species.

Here is more, taken from the University of Cambridge website:

“At some point, this century or next, we may well be facing one of the major shifts in human history – perhaps even cosmic history – when intelligence escapes the constraints of biology,” says Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy and one of CSER’s three founders, speaking about the possible impact of Good’s ultra-intelligent machine, or artificial general intelligence (AGI) as we call it today.
“Nature didn’t anticipate us, and we in our turn shouldn’t take AGI for granted. We need to take seriously the possibility that there might be a ‘Pandora’s box’ moment with AGI that, if missed, could be disastrous. I don’t mean that we can predict this with certainty, no one is presently in a position to do that, but that’s the point! With so much at stake, we need to do a better job of understanding the risks of potentially catastrophic technologies.”
Price’s interest in AGI risk stems from a chance meeting with Jaan Tallinn, a former software engineer who was one of the founders of Skype, which – like Google and Facebook – has become a digital cornerstone. In recent years Tallinn has become an evangelist for the serious discussion of ethical and safety aspects of AI and AGI, and Price was intrigued by his view:
“He (Tallinn) said that in his pessimistic moments he felt he was more likely to die from an AI accident than from cancer or heart disease. I was intrigued that someone with his feet so firmly on the ground in the industry should see it as such a serious issue, and impressed by his commitment to do something about it.”
We Homo sapiens have, for Tallinn, become optimised – in the sense that we now control the future, having grabbed the reins from 4 billion years of natural evolution. Our technological progress has by and large replaced evolution as the dominant, future-shaping force.
We move faster, live longer, and can destroy at a ferocious rate. And we use our technology to do it. AI geared to specific tasks continues its rapid development – from financial trading to face recognition – and the power of computing chips doubles every two years in accordance with Moore’s law, as set out by Intel founder Gordon Moore in the same year that Good predicted the ultra-intelligence machine.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reports and Statistics

Reports of how our world is changing.

The following reports offer 'snapshots' of how connectivity is changing our world.  Of course, some are produced by companies with a vested interest, but they nonetheless offer food for thought and should provoke thinking and dialogue about our digital future.

Technology, media and telecommunication predictions, 2013. Deloitte TMT partners.
Here are some interesting projections and predictions, like 'The PC isn't quite dead, but...' Includes videos and graphics.

Upwardly mobile: Redefining mobility in Britain, Deloitte Report on Mobile Uptake in UK, 2013
Despite high uptake of mobile devices and services (a 'revolutionary wave'), British organisations and society mobile potential is far from what it could be.  "Cultural barriers are greater than technological ones, philosophical more than financial ones."  This would never happen in your culture.

2013 Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB) Internet Use Report (Slide Show - 117 slides). Mary Meeker and Liang Wu.  Extensive and wide-reaching statistics on connectivity trends, especially mobile computing, social networking, e-commerce and consumer trends.

McKinsey Report on Social Media in China (2013)
Offers insights into the usage rates and implications of the explosion of social media usage in China.  Links to downloadable pdf.

'Connectivity is Core' - Global mobile consumer survey. Deloitte, 2012.
This survey reports trends of mobile connectivity uptake, including demographics of tablets (older buyers as much as younger), 4G mobile service uptake.  In general, mobile cellular is still the most popular internet source for smartphones and other mobile devices.

'Connected Generation' IBM Student Study 2012
Excellent, thought-provoking statistics from 'tomorrow's leaders,' presented in contrast to today's leaders, i.e., in relation to CEOs in CEO C-Suite Study below.

IBM CEO C-Suite Study, 'Leading Through Connections' (2012) Study of 1700 CEOs and public sector leaders.  'This year, they (CEOs) identified the overflow of information as on of the most important issues influencing their strategic business decisions.'  Overall, technology topped the list of senior leader concerns, including the 'sudden convergence of the digital, social and mobile spheres' (p. 6).

'Our Future World' 2012 Report of the Australian CSIRO.  
Highlights the importance of connectivity as a future research trend.  Full free pdf document available on-line.

'The Future of Digital.'  (Large) slide deck. Source: Business Intelligence (BI), 2012. Excellent update on mobile and other digital platforms, business models and trends.

Facebook 2012 Trends 
Compilation of what was hot in social media for the Year 2012.

Ganz, James (2012). 'The cloud factories: Power, pollution and the Internet' New York Times, 22 September.

Noonan, Mary and Glass, Jennifer (2012). The Hard Truth about Telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135, 6.

Perlow, Leslie (2012). HBS blog: 'Breaking the Smartphone Addiction' (14 May). 
Includes statistics of success of BCG consultants implementing 'Predictable Time Off' practices.

Rainie, Lee and Fox, Susannah (2012). 'Just in time information through mobile internet connections.' Pew Internet and American Life Project, 7 May.

Cisco Connected World Report (2011). Reports views and attitudes of college students, who will become workers of the future.

Optus (Australia) 'Future of Work' Report (2011). 
Looks at trends in telecommunication, with an emphasis on mobile technology uptake.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Type 1 Disconnects - We're all a little bit third world

Though we often use terms like 'constant' and/or 'ubiquitous' connectivity to describe contemporary life, the reality is that we (all of us) sometimes encounter unplanned disconnects that are beyond our control.

Natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, remind us how fragile our connective infrastructure is, even in so-called developed nations.

There is a song in the Broadway musical, 'Avenue Q,' that goes, 'we're all a little bit racist.'  I often hear myself thinking that when it comes to connectivity, 'we're all a little bit third world.'  Why? Because, no matter where you live, or how advanced your personal and community infrastructure is, we are all still more or less vulnerable to disconnects.  I call these Type 1 Disconnects and they happen no matter where you live or how much money you have.

In developing nations, wireless technologies and mobile phones have circumvented the long wait for land line phones.  Type 1 Disconnects are driving the demand for more and better connective infrastructure around the world. These disconnects may last a few minutes, or may isolate us for days or longer, but we often find workarounds, that is to say we find alternative ways to re-connect with others.

Updated: Christmas Eve, 2012

Netflix goes down for nearly a day due to faults at Google's cloud computing facilities.

Updated November 2014
US falling behind on Internet speed and affordability.  See article in New York Times.

Europe begins to focus on better, not necessarily cheaper telecommunications.

"LONDON — Poor cellphone and Internet service is a fact of life in many parts of Europe.
Less than a quarter of Europeans can connect to high-speed cellphone networks, compared with about 90 percent of Americans. And broadband connections are often painstakingly sluggish.
But the prices here for these services are among the lowest in the world. Europeans spend an average of $38 for a monthly cellphone contract, about half of what Americans pay on average, according to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, an industry group.
Now, though, the region’s top policy makers are set to change that, giving investment and costlier services higher priorities than affordability and antitrust worries."
See article.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Type 2 Disconnects - Command and Control?

When others stand between you and the Net....

When Wall Street banks forbid their employees to use social media, clever bankers find work-arounds, i.e., using their company-issued BlackBerry for work and their personal iPhone for personal (social) applications and communication.

The Internet may be loosely controlled in some instances, but it is certainly controlled in others. Not that that is a necessarily a bad thing, but it does suggest a new questions about who, when and how much we should control connectivity.

Policies that restrict connectivity or force disconnects often fail, or create unintended consequences.  Nevertheless, there are more and more examples of corporate experiments with forced disconnects, like the BCG experiment in Leslie Perlow's book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Type 3 Disconnects - Your Choice

Type 3 disconnects are the good ones, when we choose to disconnect by our own free will.

The extent to which we have 'free will' varies depending our role(s) and the situation we are in.  While we all have some choice, we are all somewhat constrained in our choices. Before the Renaissance, it was believed that God determined what would happen to us, and the notion of free will was one of the big break-throughs of the Renaissance. The sociologist Anthony Giddens describes society as an enduring tension between individual agency and social structures, i.e., the norms and social conventions that constrain our free will. For more on actor agency as an attribute of connectivity, click here.

Featured recently in the New York Times was a private school in New England that has for years offered an off-line environment, meaning no cell phones and little or no Internet access to pupils.  In the past, this was an easy policy to enforce, but the Internet is coming to town (and country), so some kids are heading off to a corner of the property where they can get a cell signal. Other kids are opting out, saying they like being disconnected from the Net, so they can connect more with things and people around them. The question the school faces is whether to uphold their tradition of being an off-line sanctuary, become mainstream, or to offer their students a choice.  To connect or not connect, that is the question.  What would you or your kids do in this situation?

When I give lectures and talks on the subject of connectivity, I encourage people to keep their mobile phones 'on.'  It's not that I like distraction, but I figure people should make their own choices about when and how to connect.

Updated 9 June: Oliver Burkeman on 'slow computing,' 'the zen of tech,' etc. in the Guardian, 10 May 2103.

See Paolo Cardini's Ted Talk on 'Mono-tasking' (short and funny).

Or, my recent comments on taking your smart phone on (summer) holidays.

Update: 21 April 2013
Tony Schwartz writes on Harvard blog about how it feels to totally disconnect.

And, returning to Henry David Thoreau (from previous post), recall his choice of living at Walden Pond.

'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness out of it and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience...'

Friday, November 16, 2012

Future of flexible work

Staying with the telework theme, this week was the inaugural 'Telework Week' here in New Zealand and I was invited to a lunch sponsored by Cisco, vodafone and other firms promoting awareness of 'telework,' which really means flexible and mobile work practices.

Anthony Weldon, HR Director at vodafone, NZ described how the company is radically re-thinking work.  Along with an expected shift toward mobility, they also have redesigned work space to reflect new, flexible ways of working.  It is not so much that it is a perfect solution (some people still like and/or need desks), but the fact that the company is experimenting and taking its own technological advice seriously is an important step into developing new ways of working.

Geoff Lawrie, country manager of Cisco, NZ, gave an enlightening and energizing overview of some pretty impressive trends in global connectivity, much of which can be found in Cisco Connected World report.  Or, check out the short video summary of the report's key findings, which will shape the future of work.

For insightful commentary on 'millennials' (derived from the Cisco report), see Ben Stricker's blog.

Stricker's top ten findings of the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report, with findings on the attitudes and behaviors of college students and young professionals from 14 countries:
  1. One of every three college students and young employees believes the Internet is a fundamental resource for the human race – as important as air, water, food and shelter. About half believe it is “pretty close” to that level of importance.
  2. More than half of the respondents said they could not live without the Internet and cite it as an “integral part of their lives.”
  3. If forced to make a choice between one or the other, two of three college students wouldchoose an Internet connection instead of a car.
  4. Two of five college students said the Internet is more important to them than dating, going out with friends, or listening to music; and more than one in four said saying updated on Facebook was more important than partying/dating/music/friends.
  5. Two of five said they would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.
  6. More than half of college students said that if they encountered a company that banned access to social media, they would either not accept a job offer or would join and find a way to circumvent corporate policy.
  7. If given the choice of either losing their purse/wallet or mobile device, more than half said they’d rather lose their wallet/purse.
  8. Regarding security-related issues in the workplace, seven of every 10 employees admitted to knowingly breaking IT policies on a regular basis, and three of five believe they are not responsible for protecting corporate information and devices.
  9. One in five college students admitted standing outside of retail outlets to use free wireless connections.
  10. One in four experience identity theft before the age of 30, and two of five college students said they know of friends or family members who have experienced identity theft.

A colleague in Sydney also shared another recent report on the Future of Work, sponsored by Optus Australia about trends of mobile and other connective technologies looking out 3-5 years.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The truth about telecommuting

Mary Noonan and Jennifer Glass have published a report on telecommuting that suggests that the flexibility of telecommuting equates to working more hours.

But, as many of those who work at home will tell you, that is the POINT of telecommuting -- getting more work done!  Sometimes that means more hours, and sometimes not, but those additional hours can contribute to performance benefits, as well as a sense of self-efficacy.  And, why wouldn't you trade two hours of sitting in traffic with two hours more productive work?

Work-life balance studies often miss crucial contextual elements around technology use.  In fact, it is just not that simple.  In studies of smart phone use, for example, there are those who make clear and concrete distinctions between 'work' and 'non-work' (e.g., family, friends, hobbies, etc.), and there are also users who blend all communication streams into one big giant pipe of non-stop connective flow. However, many users are 'optimisers,' who use the technology to get stuff done in all realms of their lives, without letting it take over their lives. See MacCormick et al and Dery et al for more on this study.

Work can be meaningful or meaningless, no matter where it takes place.  Collocated work can be professionally and socially engaging, but it can also be trivial tasks and socially superficial.  And, remote, telework can be isolated drudgery, or an opportunity to make things happen on our own terms.

I am reminded of the words of Henry David Thoreau and his justification for living at Walden Pond.

'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness out of it and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience...'

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The world is not flat

Pankaj Ghemawat explores how distance still matters in a global management context.  He challenges Thomas Friedman's famous claim that the world is flat.*  In his recent Ted Talk, Ghemawat offers some surprising data and perspectives on global connectivity (and the lack thereof).

I have always questioned Friedman's thesis too, and in 2007 gave a paper at the Globally Distributed Work conference in Bangalore, India, entitled, "Redefining Distance: Why the World is Not Flat, and Distance can Never be 'Dead'"

A review of the literature shows there are many different ways to define distance, i.e., geo-physical, temporal (time as proxy for distance), 'gravity' (i.e., trade diminishes as we get farther away), the centre-periphery problem, distance in networks, etc.

My position in the paper is that, in an inter-connected world, it makes sense to define distance as 'connective gaps.' So, the connective distance between Point A and Point B may be the physical gap of physical distance, i.e., the number of kilometers between London and New York, or the time (gap) it takes to fly from London to New York, whereas the connective distance is only a few seconds via the Internet.

*To be fair, Friedman does acknowledge in his book that the world is not really flat.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rate, rank, review...the cult of verification

Hey, I just heard about a great restaurant.  Let's Google a review of it.

Sound familiar?  This is a great way to take the risk (and adventure) out of day-to-day decisions.  But, are we creating a cult of verification, where everything must be rated, ranked and reviewed?  Do we really need ratings, league table rankings and reviews to make a simple decision?  Apparently so. Trip Advisor, for example, contains over 75 million reviews of travel-related services and gets 60 million page views per month, or about 2 million per day!

Only a small fraction of users write reviews.  But, what motivates them?  For some it is their way to have their say, or to keep commerce honest. The Internet as truth serum.  It turns out, however, that many reviewers are paid evangelists, singing the praise of a place to eat or stay... for a small fee.

Susan Scott and Wanda Orlikowski have been studying the way that on-line reviews and ratings actually change behaviours in the hospitality industry.  Hoteliers and restauranteurs begin their day checking their reviews and ratings.  Behaviour modification you might say.  But, is popularity always a proxy for quality? Recall that historically good ideas are not always popular, and popular ideas are not always good.

Everyone loves a Top 10 List.  Recently, the Academy of Management published a ranked list of the 'top' 384 management scholars.  Of course, no mention was made of the quality of ideas these people had contributed. Rather, citations and web page views were used as proxy for 'impact.' In the end, these astute authors did acknowledge that, 'Our results indicate that top performers in terms of impact inside the Academy do not necessarily have a similar impact outside the Academy' (Aguinis et al, 2012, p.129). If you ever suspected that too many business school academics are more interested in vacuous narcissism than making organizations work better, now you have verification.  Or, at least you have read a review of a review of it.

Good news.  I am currently ranked in the top third of all humans alive, according to my new website: www.PersonAdvisor, where we can all find out exactly where we stand.  :-)

Update 5 May 2013 - New York Times article on how following restaurant ratings (on Yelp) not only can be wrong, but following the crowd diminishes our own individual judgments of and preferences for what is good or not.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The kindness of strangers

When we think of 'networks,' we now typically think of our social networks, that is the people we know and consider 'friends.'

Network analysis can show how we are connected, or can be connected, to people who are otherwise 'far' from us.  This is the 'small world,' or '6 degrees of separation' thesis, which was originally proposed and tested by pyschologist, Stanley Milgram in the 1960's.

The 'network effect' can be a powerful way to mobilize our network connections.  Recent examples of start-ups getting capital (in some cases, lots of it!) from people they have never met.  Of course, these micro-investors are still investors and eventually will want a return, or at least their money back (no guarantees, of course, if you're thinking of investing with the 'crowd').

Another wonderful feature of networks is what can be referred to as 'the kindness of strangers.' Networks have the ability to put us in contact with and receive help from others who don't know us.  One of these systems that I am personally familiar with is the home exchange system. There are several of these exchange networks, some specialised in teachers, others that facilitate 'couch surfing' for younger travellers.  We have used the site for two longer sabbatical trips.  In 2000, we went to Krakow, Poland, Alicudi, a small island off Sicily, Italy and Weinheim, Germany.  This year, we had 3 more great experiences, two in France (Najac and Lyon) and one in Maine, USA. In fact, we have decided to keep our house listed and are exchanging with a couple in Colorado to ski in January.  In exchange, they will come stay in our place in New Zealand when it suits them.

The wonders of home exchanges are many. First, of course, is that your accommodation is taken care of by 'strangers.'  Second, you get to stay in a home (or second home, condo, RV, etc.) rather than a tourist hotel. Relatedly, you get to meet the neighbours and often make friends of your exchangers' friends while you're there. In Alicudi, for example, we became good friends with the local friends of our host during our 8-week stay and when we left the island, we had a wonderful going away dinner that we will always remember.  And, in some cases (but not required), you might stay in touch with and become friends with your fellow exchangers.

Believe it or not, has been going for 20 years and the trend seems to be growing.  As baby boomers travel more, their sense of community and sharing, coupled with their real estate holdings make home exchanges an attractive option for many travellers.  The psychology of exchange is simple: You share a place to stay with us, and we will do the same.  This web-enabled 'kindness of strangers' is not just a way to save money. It is a wonderful way to connect with those far away.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The cost of clicks: The cloud as sociophysical problem

Several recent posts have dealt with the physical elements of connectivity, such as lost broadband at the home office, Internet cabling and how it gets installed, but this week's New York Times investigative report by James Glanz on the power demands, pollution and waste associated with data centers (a.k.a., 'the cloud' or 'big data'), is sobering reading.

For example, the power consumed by data centers is roughly 30 billion megawatts, or the equivalent of 30 nuclear power stations.

And, it is not just the shear amount of power consumed, it is the fact that most data centers are idling wastefully in order to avoid our rapid surge from users. As Ganz reports,

"Stupendous amounts of data are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send Yahoo e-mail with files attached, buy products on Amazon, post on Twitter or read newspapers online.
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found."
The report insightfully critiques how the social drivers of Internet culture (including providers and users) play themselves out in real physical terms, i.e., power consumption, pollution and waste.  In short, the web-based industry has grown fearful of servers crashing or going off-line, while users have come to expect that every email and billions and billions of songs, movies, photos and other documents can all be stored and/or backed up on-line.  We think we no longer need big hard drives, because of the cloud, but the cloud itself is just a lot of big hard drives. (use quote)

More from the New York Times Report:

"Today, roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie, said Mr. Burton, now at EMC, a company focused on the management and storage of data.
Just one of the company’s clients, the New York Stock Exchange, produces up to 2,000 gigabytes of data per day that must be stored for years, he added.
EMC and the International Data Corporation together estimated that more than 1.8 trillion gigabytes of digital information were created globally last year.
“It is absolutely a race between our ability to create data and our ability to store and manage data,” Mr. Burton said. With no sense that data is physical or that storing it uses up space and energy, those consumers have developed the habit of sending huge data files back and forth, like videos and mass e-mails with photo attachments. Even the seemingly mundane actions like running an app to find an Italian restaurant in Manhattan or a taxi in Dallas requires servers to be turned on and ready to process the information instantaneously.
The complexity of a basic transaction is a mystery to most users: Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.
“If you tell somebody they can’t access YouTube or download from Netflix, they’ll tell you it’s a God-given right,” said Bruce Taylor, vice president of the Uptime Institute, a professional organization for companies that use data centers.
To support all that digital activity, there are now more than three million data centers of widely varying sizes worldwide, according to figures from the International Data Corporation.
Nationwide, data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, or roughly 2 percent of all electricity used in the country that year, based on an analysis by Jonathan G. Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University who has been studying data center energy use for more than a decade. DatacenterDynamics, a London-based firm, derived similar figures."

*This is not to say that companies like Apple, Facebook and Google aren't working hard to lower emissions and power.  For more on energy efficiency initiatives at data centers, see Katie Fehrenbacher's report at gigaom.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pick-up trucks & personal computing

There once was a day when executives had desks without computers.  Then, we thought a desk was strangely empty without a PC on it.  Soon, computers other than laptops and tablets on desks may seem odd again.

Now that the PC era is officially over (fewer than half of memory chips are now used in PCs), and HP is going back into smartphones, and, mobile computing is seriously challenging established business giants, like Intel, Microsoft and Google, according to a New York Times report, I've been thinking about our relationship to the PC, those computing workhorses, or 'pick-up trucks,' as Steve Jobs called them.

Like pick-up trucks, many of us will keep one (desktop PC) around.  In fact, most homes will have one for some time and offices will no doubt keep some form of workstation for a long time to come.  I mean, let's face it, big screens are great and who can really speed type on a touch surface?  As much as I love my iPad, I feel a bit silly pecking on it when I actually learned to touch type in high school and still count it as a key skill for a professional research writer.

When the day comes, I will probably keep my last desktop machine.  I still have my first PC, a Macintosh Plus, which has pride of place on my campus office bookshelf, top left, where the most senior ancestor goes in Chinese culture, I am told.  (I also have an 'ET' Mac sitting on my file cabinet, just because it looks like art--they used to be in MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.)

Like old pick-up trucks, my Mac Plus was there with me throughout my PhD years, dozing beside me for those four-hour nights that were all too routine.  Our love of smartphones is profound, but it simply follows our love for machines, like pick-up trucks and personal computers.  Indeed, we love our smartphones because they are so 'personal,' like old pick-ups and the early PCs. And, like old pick-up trucks, desktop machines will be there for awhile, quietly sleeping on our desks, while we are mobile.

On another prosaic note, there is a great TED Talk by Andrew Blum about a squirrel eating his Internet, which led him to explore how the magic of the Internet is still delivered in a simple material manner around the world.

Note: The only new 'car' we ever bought was a 1984 Ford Ranger pick-up and our current truck (called a 'ute' in New Zealand) is a 1987 Nissan Navarra with a King Cab, so I know a little bit about new and old trucks.

Friday, September 14, 2012

On-line Satire, The good, the bad, the ugly

Waking in Melbourne this week, I caught an interesting ABC News piece on the rise and rise of South Korean pop culture.

Besides electronics (think LG, Samsung) and engineering (Hyundai) another success story is K-pop, Korean popular culture.  Korea is producing music and art that is very cool.  But, a viral sensation, with 150 million + hits on YouTube is a fantastic pop dance video called, Gangnam Style by Psy, who has become a pop hero.  (See post on 'Call Me Maybe') The video is fun, but it is also a commentary on social issues in Korea, according to academics interviewed by the ABC.  Social commentary in light-hearted satire seems 'all good.'

On the dark side, viral video 'mockumentary' that makes fun of the Prophet Muhammad has been a catalyst for violence in a dozen counties in the Middle East.  Google has blocked access to the video in Egypt and Libya, but did not remove the video from YouTube because the video does not violate their terms and conditions of use.

Update: 22 September - The violence around the video has escalated dramatically. A Pakistani minister offers a reward of US$100,000 to anyone who would kill the video's creator.  And, Google has stood its ground on defending free speech.

Media commentary on both the 'good' (pop culture satire) and 'bad' (violent) consequences of connectivity reflect the fact that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what, when and how things go viral on the Internet.  In my 2008 article in Organization Studies, I refer to the 'unknowable pervasiveness' of connectivity as a distinctive aspect of living in a connected age.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Perils of E-Breaks

Having implied that taking a break from the Net can be a good thing, my friend Paul Teten sent me this from the Wall Street Journal, a reminder of why deciding to dis-connect doesn't always work out for the best.

This is the story of Joe Queenan's e-break, as told in the Wall Street Journal.


And, remember to stay in touch.

Monday, September 3, 2012

7 Stages of Dis-connectivity

Maybe you know the feeling of being your own Help Desk?  One of the realities of independent, flexible, anywhere/anytime, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) knowledge work is that you, the non-IT professional have to serve as your own IT department.

John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid pointed out the frustrations and inefficiencies of the home office in their book, The Social Life of Information (2000, Harvard Business School Press).

About a week ago, we lost our broadband at home.  It occurred early on a Saturday morning, so we gracefully took an Internet sabbath and didn't worry about it, preferring to focus on our new dog and the arrival of spring in the southern hemisphere.  Monday morning I launched my career as infrastructure analysis.  I eschewed my ISP's suggestion of using their on-line tool to help with my broadband issue. Instead, I enlisted the help of various real live IT specialists (better than me) in India and a few other countries, whose accents I could not identify for certain.  Great folks.  All too willing to help me out.  When a Filipino technician arrived at my door, I thought, wow--life imitating the Net!  Turns out that after my ISP (Internet Service Provider) had solved their network problem, somehow our wireless router no longer could connect.

Hmmm.... our ISP recommended we use their router, which because we are 'premium' customers (presumably because we pay our bills, as I have no idea what other 'premium' services we are getting), was free.  Such a deal.  Of course, it had to be couriered out to us, which would be within 2-5 business days, but I was assured it would be the lesser.  What to do in the meantime?  Well, at first I was anxious.  It seemed almost everything I wanted to do required the Internet.  OK, settle down. Surely there is something you can do. Fortunately, I have a chapter due in a month and so I took the opportunity to have two very productive writing days. Wonderful.  I didn't even miss the Net after a while. I thought of myself as being at a writers' retreat.  I experienced Zen-like bliss until the modem/router arrived as promised by the end of the second day.  We're back!

That was Round 1 of the disconnect.  Round 2 began with the optimism of a successful Round 1, wherein I got drawn into a series of optional little 'improvements' to our home network.  I figured, why not, as I had to install the new router anyway. One thing led to another and soon I was in a Bermuda Triangle of random techno-weirdness. A password here, a password there, what is the name of the new network?  Apple-related problems always take me by surprise, because I expect all things Apple to 'just work,' but indeed, that is not always the case.

I got super frustrated heading into our second weekend off-line.  Not because I couldn't work, but because I couldn't a) try out Facetime with my Dad to b) show Mom and Dad our new (rescued) dog.  Lesson: The emotions associated with dis-connectivity may be stronger for personal and family connections than being separated from work. (Although my work frustrations would have been higher, had I not been on sabbatical.

Once back on line, I was proud of my Self-Help Desk success.  Let's not talk of the productivity and cost implications of do-it-yourself IT.  Let's consider the psychological phases of dis-connectivity.

The Psychological Phases of Dis-Connectivity

Stage 1: Denial - 'This can't be happening to me.'

Stage 2: Anger - 'Dammit.'

Stage 3: Blame - 'This is so-and-so's fault' (Microsoft, telcos are the usual suspects).

Stage 4: Hope - 'They say it will be fixed any time now.'

Stage 5: Faith - 'This was probably a good thing to do anyway.'

Stage 6: Appreciation - 'Thank goodness for technology--when it works.'

Stage 7: Zen - 'I don't really need to be on-line to live a good life.'

Here is a great TED Talk by Andrew Blum about the physical reality of the Internet.

And, here are some reminders of what successful people do when they are off-line.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

'Tweet me maybe' - The death of marketing?

The popularity of the summer (Olympic) hit, 'Call Me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepsen was driven by Twitter and social media mania, according to the New York Times story, 'The new summer hit: Tweet it maybe.'   See also YouTube creates stars.

My friend, Mark Bixby, got his job at Facebook when the young company discovered his blog.  My nephew, Jeff Francoeur, uses social media to create marketing buzz around his company's line of high performance sporting lights.

Building a personal brand on-line has allows lots of folks to compete against others with higher formal degrees in marketing and communication.  Why?  Because, popularity on the net is becoming a proxy for quality.

On a Harvard Business Review blog, Bll Lee suggests: 'Marketing is dead'

Long live marketing!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Not to worry...Networks are good!

In his recent keynote address to the Academy of Management, Barry Wellman was very excited about his latest book, with Lee Rainie, called Networked: The new social operating system.  Rainie is Director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project and former Editor of US News and World Report.  Barry Wellman is the S. D. Clark Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, where he directs their NetLab.  Wellman's distinguished career has long been focused on social networks--no, not the Facebook kind.  In fact, Rainie and Wellman argue that Facebook is not really based on social networks at all, but a reflection of a phenomenon they call 'networked individualism,' which is becoming the new social 'operating system.' Another famous sociologist, Manual Castells, has suggested a similar thesis in his two editions of The Rise of the Network Society.  The concept of networked individualism is, nonetheless, a new and important development in the way we think about social systems in a world of pervasive connectivity.

So, how do networks relate to connectivity?  Indeed, Wellman and colleague Anabel Quan-Haase were some of the first scholars to use the term 'hyperconnectivity.'  But when they--and Rainie and Wellman still do--use the term hyperconnectivity, what they are referring to is merely 'a lot' of connectivity, not 'too much,' as my colleagues and I use the term.  They refer to hyperconnected individuals as those who are almost constantly connected, usually using multiple media. We focus on the problems associated with performance and/or loss of personal well-being when that connectivity is considered by the individual to be excessive.

More fundamentally, networks are a 'given' (social structure), whereas connectivity is 'contingent' (within social systems).  For example, we are part of a family network regardless of whether or not we can reach family members by cell phone.  Connectivity comes and goes.

Networks, of course, do change.  In particular, they are extensible by their very nature.  And networks are a useful way to describe social relationships.  By contrast, connectivity is the interactive dynamic that both constrains and enables those social relationships.  If networks are social maps, connectivity is the traffic report.

Rainie and Wellman and I do agree, as I suggested in the iCrazy post in July, that the hand wringing over levels of connectivity can be over-stated and that we must be careful to clarify our sources when we make conjectures about the information and communication overloads some are feeling.  Hyper-connectivity (too much connectivity) is real, but it is difficult to say how many of us feel it, how much of the time, and to what effect.  More research is needed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Co-creating great service at Gate 38

Flying out of Boston the other day, I encountered Virgin America and Gate 38 at Login Airport.  I had flown Virgin Atlantic before and have found their service to be consistently excellent.  Not only that, they are one of those airlines that is still 'fun' to fly!  From the first encounter at the desk, every passenger gets treated as well as a Premium passenger on other airlines.

What surprised me even more was my experience at Gate 38, which seems to only serve Virgin customers.  At Gate 38, I was greeted by friendly--not just smiling friendly--outwardly engaging friendly TSA agents.  At first I thought they worked for Virgin, but as they were wearing standard TSA uniforms, I figure they were 'normal' agents, just acting differently.  It was as if the Virgin customer culture was contagious and the TSA had 'caught the spirit' of Virgin.  The Gate 38 phenomenon would be interesting to study.  For instance, are these same agents less friendly when they are at other airlines' gates?  And, does Virgin do anything to make the TSA's job any easier or more pleasant, which is passed on to the flying public?

One digital approach to making airports more friendly is the introduction of avatars at La Guardia and Newark airports, with one coming soon to Kennedy airport, all in the New York city area.  Will virtual friendliness work?  For a glimpse of the digital future, see the Flight of the Conchords hit, 'The humans are dead.'

I am not a service science expert, but my former student and now colleague Christoph Breidbach has taught me that service is 'co-created' by both the service provider and the customer.  If I think about some of the fun approaches (antics) the Virgin staff used to board the plane and make announcements, it seems to me that we, as passengers, were also 'playing our part' in making the service experience 'work.'  We all smiled or laughed when things were done differently. We did not push ahead at the gate impatiently.  We were better 'campers' and our good behavior made the Virgin staff's job easier and more fun, which helped us have more fun, and so on.

If we think of service delivery as an eco-system, every part makes or breaks the service experience, including our own behavior as customers.  A great airline with grumpy TSA agents and bad airport design makes any airplane trip a drag.  Great service from counter to seat, including passengers' not hogging space in overhead compartments, could make air travel pleasant again.  Well, at least that is my dream, now that I have seen it happen at Gate 38.

What is the connectivity connection here you might say?  Well, Christoph's PhD thesis explored connectivity in IT-enabled service systems. Specifically, he looked at the social and technical connections between service firms and service providers.  He identified key roles and gaps in such systems and the impact they have on value co-creation.  Dr. Breidbach will soon take up a post as Research Scientist at the University of California, Merced.

Happy trails!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Go, (connected) Teams, Go!

My colleague, Paul Collins (University of Washington) and I will be presenting some findings from our recent empirical study of distributed work teams at a Showcase Symposium (HR and OB Divisions) of the annual conference of the American Academy of Management in Boston (7 August).

The Symposium is called: 'Connectivites and Disconnectivities in Contemporary Work' and is Chaired by Clare Kelliher (Cranfield) and Julia Richardson (York).

Kristine Dery (University of Sydney) presented 'Permission to disconnect: Lessons learned from from a study of mobile connectivity in financial services' (co-authored with Judi MacCormick, UNSW).

Pascale Peters (Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands) presented work conducted with Lisa van den Berg (Hay Group) and Beatrice Van der Heijden, also of Radboud University Nijmegen, entitled: 'Shaping boundaries between work and private life to maintain higher levels of work engagement.'

Connects and disconnects interact as a 'duality,' like group norms and individual free will, or like individuals and groups, where the each exists in a perpetual dynamic with the other.  No connection is perfectly permanent, nor is anything or anyone totally disconnected.

In work contexts, the more connected we are, the more disconnects matter.  According to the findings  we will present next week, getting the right balance of connectivity makes a big difference for team performance.  Copies of our presentation available upon request from Paul Collins.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hyper-connected; hypo-secure?

In his 5 June 2012 New York Times blog, Quentin Hardy explores the implications of 'Big Data' on security.  Here are some excerpts, mostly from Microsoft's Danah Boyd. Danah Boyd has been thinking about if and how social media contribute to a 'culture of fear.'

“Privacy is a source of tremendous tension and anxiety in Big Data,” says Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research. Speaking at a conference on Big Data at the University of California, Berkeley, she said, “It’s a general anxiety that you can’t pinpoint, this odd moment of creepiness.” She asked, Iis this moving towards a society that we want to build?”
If conventional understanding chafes at the idea that our names are mere noise, consider the challenge in Ms. Boyd’s point about the self in a highly networked society. Take personal genetic data. “If I give away data to 23andMe, I’m giving away some of my brother’s data, my mother’s data, my future kid’s data.” For that matter, “Who owns the e-mail chain between you and me?”
Privacy is not a universal or timeless quality. It is redefined by who one is talking to, or by the expectations of the larger society. In some countries, a woman’s ankle is a private matter; in some times and places, sexual orientations away from the norm are deeply private, or publicly celebrated. Privacy, Ms. Boyd notes, is not the same as security or anonymity. It is an ability to have control over one’s definition within an environment that is fully understood. Something, arguably, no one has anymore.
“Defaults around how we interact have changed,” she said. “A conversation in the hallway is private by default, public by effort. Online, our interactions become public by default, private by effort.”

Besides 'big data,' some scary possible futures enabled by connectivity include ubiquitous GPS tracking, as illustrated in Todd Humphrey's TED Talk.

And, Marc Goodman believes we have good reasons to be fearful and outlines the unintended consequences of connectivity in his TED Talk, 'A vision of the future of crime,' where open connectivity is both the problem and and solution in a technological arms race between good and evil.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Disconnected from craft work?

Who cares if you can't fix your own plumbing or build a deck?  A New York Times editorial by Louis Uchitelle asks whether America is loosing its connection to craftsmanship, or the ability to Do It Yourself (DIY).  The point is that 'crafts' represent more than just a cheap way of getting things done, but rather reflect self-reliance and a 'can do' attitude.  Moreover, physically making things can give a huge sense of achievement. In a world of digital tools, hammers and nails still have something to teach us.

This reminded me of a powerful book called Shop Class as Soulcraft, written by Matthew B. Crawford, who has a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and who runs a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.  Besides being a well-crafted itself, the book--among other things--challenges the notion that so-called 'knowledge work' is somehow superior to say rebuilding a motorcycle engine.  Knowledge work as Crawford acutely observes can be tedious and mind-numbingly boring.  It can also be pointlessly stupid, as Dilbert cartoons illustrate so well. By contrast, envisioning a project, assembling materials and getting stuck into it--and sticking with it--hones the human soul. As they say, 'first enlightenment, then the laundry.'

Craftsmanship and connectivity are not mutually exclusive.  Thomas Jefferson traveled and read widely, but also enjoyed getting his hands dirty (at least metaphorically) on real projects at Monticello. And, many contemporary folks are cyber-connected, while keeping their feet on the ground and hands on the tools.  For example, Michael Healy, Founder of Yeoman Technologies and a contributor to InformationWeek, works on his house when he is not advising clients on information strategies or conducting industry research.

Personally, growing up on a farm in the Appalachia Mountains, I learned basic skills, if not crafts, in so many practical things, from driving tractors and milking cows to cutting timber and building fences.  Building sheering and wood sheds, decks and other features on our New Zealand property still gives me great pleasure. Craft can take many forms, but we should take care not to loose it, for its loss disconnects us from one of the building blocks of human capability.

Friday, July 13, 2012

iCrazy! Hyping hyper-connectivity

Going 'iCrazy'?  Newsweek this week* thinks we are, or at least some of us are.

Following on from the Atlantic's article asking if Facebook is making us lonely, Newsweek's Tony Dokoupil is asking 'iCrazy: Panic, Depression, Psychosis: Is the onslaught (of connectivity) making us crazy?' (To see a short, useful clip of the author, click here.)

Back in New Zealand, our television news ran a feature this week asking 'Are you addicted to your smart phone?' 

We know hyper-connectivity can be a problem, but what will happen as the phenomenon gets hyped by the media?  The inference is that once given a tool and once a heavy user, always a heavy user, or worse yet an 'addict.'  Will we look at heavy users as derelicts, weak people?  This could be a dangerous assumption as most of us turn to our smartphones during what Kristine Dery calls 'micro-boredoms,' waiting to board a plane, waiting for someone to arrive, or waiting for kids.  This is less an addiction than a natural response to boredom and/or opportunity to get things done.

And, while teens' use of screens may cause some concern, as Dokoupil points out, we used to have similar concerns about teens watching too much TV.  Thankfully no one seems (yet) to equate the Internet with the work of the devil, as was done to rock n roll.

The article does cite some worrying conclusions from research from 'over a dozen countries,' which may be legitimate cause for alarm for some users.

'The computer is like electronic cocaine, fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches.' Peter Whybrow, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA

'It fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions' and 'It encourages--and even promotes--insanity,' according to Larry Rosen, who has written a book called, iDisorder.

'There's just something about the medium that's addictive.' Elias Aboujaoude, Stanford Medical School.

To be fair, the Newsweek article also cites research showing that 'Using our computers and smart phones is a form of brain exercise,' according to UCLA's Gary Small, who added, 'But too much tech time could have negative consequences.'

Doukopil answers his own rhetorical question: 'Does the Internet make us crazy?  Not the technology itself or the content, no.'

The author suggests 3 take aways from his research:

1. Be mindful of the amount of time spent on-line and/or with smartphones
2. Have face-to-face conversations whenever possible.
3. Be a good role model for kids (i.e., no phones at the dinner table).

*I bought a digital copy of Newsweek before it hit the newsstands for a fraction of the price I would normally pay for the print version.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Abundance, sharing and hope...

This was an emotional week.  We remember a dear close friend who has 'sailed on to higher realms,' have also met some amazing folks, who we hope will remain friends. Plus, I got to watch one of our students, who is inspiring and changing India. Together, they remind of how connectivity enables the best of what it means to be human.

First, as our friend Jay--amazing architect, visionary and one of the most amazing, generous individuals you could ever meet--sailed on to higher realms, we were able to hear about it through CaringBridge, a site that allows friends and family to stay in touch with those facing illness events.  It allows communication and compassion to spread and resonate throughout the world, without those affected needing to generate a million emails.  It is purpose-built and works well.  Thanks, Betsy, for your courage, warmth and sharing throughout the fight.

Second, we got to hang out for a warm sunny afternoon with Lauren and Michael and their sons and share stories of our home exchanges.  It was a treat to meet this great family, after having been in their lovely home in the States. They each do interesting work, which I will feature in future posts.  They had stayed and worked ('No rest for the virtual.' says Lauren) in our home in New Zealand while we travelled for 6 months.  We used Home for our first sabbatical in Europe in 2000 and it worked so well we used it again this year in France and the US with great experiences.  Home exchange trades on the simple idea that sharing and exchanging homes allows us not only to forego accommodation expenses, but also to experience a living, breathing home and neighborhood.  As baby boomers become freed up for travel, this movement will no doubt expand and grow. Sharing what we already have (a home), we can travel in a world of abundance.

Finally, at a business growth event sponsored by the ICEHOUSE, an organization I work with, I got to watch and listen to Rob Adams, business growth expert, Tim Longhurst, futurist, and Vinny Lohan, who blew me away!  Vinny is an entrepreneur and data engineer alum of our engineering school who has gone back to India to make a difference in the world.  Vinny demonstrates the wisdom, courage and genuine humanitarian vision (along with a great sense of humor) that you might expect from an older Steve Jobs.  One of his technological break-throughs involved taking a ubiquitous connective resource, i.e., radio signals, to connect and transfer data to computers, thereby overcoming the major challenge of connectivity in developing nations.  You can find out more about this astounding technology at

You can also see Vinny Lohan in action at a TEDx conference.  Watching him, you will see why I am proud of this U of A alum, but also why I feel encouraged that the real connectivity challenges of the world will be solved in the hands and hearts of technological leaders like Vinny.

In his TED talk, Vinny observes that we can live 40 days without food. We can live 4 days without water.  We can live 4 minutes without air.  But, 'we can only live 4 seconds without hope.'

Here's to hope and sharing in a world of abundance.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

iFive - What makes a smartphone 'smart'?

The iPhone turns 5 today, but then, you probably already know that if you own a 'smart' phone.

On my previous sabbatical, I did more flying than this time and in a much shorter time span, i.e., 6 or 8 weeks compared to 6 months. I flew from Auckland to Sao Paulo via LA, then Brazil to Fairbanks, AK via Washington DC, then across the US with stops in Seattle, Champaign-Urbana, Ithaca, NYC and on to Berlin and Perth on my way around the globe. Incidentally, it was in Perth, Australia in 2005 that I came up with the term 'requisite connectivity.'

I travelled alone that trip and recall packing my trusty BlackBerry (the classic one), a Nokia 'candy bar' style mobile phone for voice calls and SMS messaging (data plans in New Zealand punish you for making voice calls), an iPod, and an analogue camera.  I loved and needed all this stuff and happily carried it along with me -- all that connectivity required a lot of devices.

Of course, that was before the iPhone appeared in 2007, changing the way we think about and use mobile connective technologies.  Though technically BlackBerrys and Palm Pilots were 'smartphones,' the revolution in mobile technology really took off with the introduction of Apple's iPhone.

This is not a technology blog, so I won't go on about the techno-features of the iPhone.  Rather, I am thinking about what makes a smartphone 'smart?'  For me, it is not that the phone is so smart, but rather that it makes me--the user--feel smart, or at least not dumb!

All too often, electronic consumer goods (still) confront us with unintelligible jargon and complicated menus.  By contrast, the arrival of the iOS (Apple's mobile operating system) put our primate opposable thumbs to work, not just typing, but pinching screens, along with poking and swiping things in and out of view.

'Apps' actually behave like agents for us, dashing off into the Internet like a Golden Lab eager to please and happily fetching just what we wanted to know... a weather forecast, an exchange rate, a cafe nearby, a local map, etc.  How clever we feel when our dog grabs the information frisbee in mid-air.  It is the smartphone's ability to please us while making us feel like we did it ourselves that make it so indispensable and so endearing to us, like a dog at our feet, always ready to please.

The problem with smartphones is that they make other technologies look 'dumb' by comparison.  Maybe it's just me, but I look at TVs now and no longer feel it is me who is at fault for their inability to deliver.  I am embarrassed for their thickheadedness, not mine.  Apps have made their namesake, 'applications,' look Baroque.  Where our impatience with the old and fascination/liberation with the new will lead us is hard to say.

Below are a few visions of the future of 'smart,' seamless computing.  Of course, these visions have been around for a while and we all know that infrastructure (e.g., bandwidth) is the big disconnect that still looms large over our technological future.  The other question that comes to mind is how will we disconnect from technologies that increasingly wrap themselves around us?  As discussed in previous posts, sometimes 'smart' must be replaced with 'wise.'

Google glasses (highly-integrated, personal, unobtrusive connectivity in action)

Microsoft's vision (highly-integrated intersection of personal-professional-family)

Corning's vision (very 'sociomaterial,' but which came first, Microsoft's or Corning's vision of basically the same thing)

i2050 (spoof of iPhone phenomenon)


PS. Thanks to Christoph for the Google glasses clip.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Something wrong with the way we work?

Harvard Business School recently started a blog thread that asks, "Is something wrong with the way we work?"  

The 39 comments illustrate how passionate many feel about the need to find the right balance between connecting and disconnecting in our personal/professional lives (note that the slash here indicts a fine line between the two).

A thematic summary of those posts suggests that in relation to hyper-connectivity and work/life balance:

1. Technology is not the main culprit here, it is primarily a personal, social and/or organizational issue.

2. Corporate culture (like the one Leslie Perlow studied) plays a role in promoting a 'cult of constant availability' and workaholism.

3. National culture also plays a key role.  In particular American culture is compared to European culture, which still values more or less taking holidays and keeping weekends work-free.  A common observation is that Americans simply don't have (or take) enough vacation time to even understand its full value in terms of re-creation, regeneration, and resilience.

4. Individuals have to make choices, but such choices are not easily made given such socio-cultural pressures to be connected anywhere and all the time.  Balancing connects and disconnects is not for the faint of heart.

5. Leaders are implicated in all this for being overly focused on short-term goals and for not establishing boundaries in their own work behaviors--i.e., for setting bad examples.  Thoughtful and healthy work settings require thoughtful leadership.

There is a bias in the HBR blog commentaries. The majority of comments--many of which are actually from executive coaches and academics--are focused on highly educated professionals in industries for which it is difficult to be overly sympathetic.  Bankers, lawyers, consultants and executives have to work long hours for their massive salaries.  Oh, what a shame.  As mentioned by some commentaries, perhaps the hyper-connected sleep with their smartphone to demonstrate their self-importance? Or, as others suggest, they drive others out of their lives, so that there is no one else to sleep with?  

On the other hand, the HBR blog on this subject highlights how pervasive (mainstream) the issue of hyper-connectivity has become in corporate life.  For the curious, HBR previously sponsored a blog on 'multi-tasking' in late 2010.

On a personal note, this week I had a catch up meeting with my friend and mentor, Allan Lind at Duke.  

I also spent some time with someone who illustrates how Twitter can level the playing field, allowing individuals without traditional qualifications make their mark on the world. More on that later...

Have fun!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hamlet's Blackberry

I predict a swelling market for books on the subject of 'how to' manage ubiquitous connectivity, or how to have a smartphone and a life.  Better books may be coming around the corner, but in my opinion, the best book on the subject so far is William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry.  Powers is a journalist, who developed his ideas on smartphone use while a Fellow at Harvard.  Besides being very well crafted, the reason this book (also available as an e-book) is so effective is that Powers is not prescribing a diet approach to the use of 'screens' (handhelds, desktops, TVs, everything with a screen), i.e., 'e-mail free Fridays.'  

Rather, Powers considers 'busy-ness' and distraction as part of the human condition and demonstrates how philosophers from Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare, Thoreau and Franklin managed busy, yet contemplative lives.  Powers invites us to develop a personal philosophy--what Michel Foucault called 'technologies of the self'--for a digital age.  Such philosophies could be extended to teams and organizations to improve resilience and the way we work.  

Powers observes, 'Thus far into this new era, we've followed a clear-cut approach: we've set out to be as connected as possible, all the time. For most of us, this was not a conscious decision.  We did it without really thinking about it, not realizing there was any choice in the matter.'

'We did have a choice and still do.  And, because how we live with these devices is a choice, this conundrum is really a philosophical one. It's a matter of the ideas and principles that guide us.  If we continue on the current path, over time the costs of this life will erase all the benefits.  The answer, therefore, is to adopt a new set of ideas and use them to live in a more thoughtful, intentional way' (p. 209).

Like Thoreau, seeking to 'live more deliberately,' philosophical choices lead us to more lasting solutions to hyper-connected, fragmented lives. As Powers continues...

'I am not just a brain, a pair of eyes, and typing fingers. I'm a person with a living body that moves through space and time. In letting screens run my life, I discount the rest of my existence, effectively renouncing my own wholeness.  I live a lesser life and give less back to the world.  This problem is not just individual and private; it's afflicting all our collective endeavors, in business, schools, and government and at every level of society. We're living less and giving less, and the world is the worse for it' (p. 210).

Whether the world is better or worse for all our increased connectivity, we must still come to grips with its impact on humanity.  In his 2009 commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, reminded graduates that as a connected generation, from time to time, they still should, 'Turn off your computer. You're actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us.'

On a personal note, being on holiday this week, I had the privilege of reconnecting with dear friends in Charlottesville, VA and Maine, which reminds me that, though we are always close to those we care about, nothing beats being able to put our arms around them and tell them we love them.  Summer vacations are a perfect time to think about your personal philosophy of connectivity and to re-discover the mysteries of life.