Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This message will self-destruct

Writing for the New York Times, Jenna Wortham suggests that snapchat, an app currently associated with, among other things, teenage sexting may in fact herald a more widely useful feature of messaging, i.e., vanishing after the message is received.  See full NY Times article.  While this seems radically unique, it is basically what our mental image of impromptu messages should be - quickly delivered and quickly discarded.

Years ago, working with a global IT consulting firm, I discovered that instant messaging (IM), which was relatively new, was very popular with employees in this high-tech firm because they believed that, unlike email, the messages were not recorded on company servers.  In reality, most message applications are more like 'email lite,' meaning they are backed up on memory drives and stored for a long time.  But the perception of invisibility to others was appealing then, just as it is now with apps like snapchat.

Interestingly, and somewhat uniquely, now-you-see-it, now-you-don't messaging could be considered a hybrid form of connectivity, that is a Type 3 disconnect for the sender (they control the connection) and Type 2 disconnect for the receiver (the connection is controlled by others).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Smartphones, silly users

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, 'Smartphones, silly people,' Daniel Gulati provides some great commentary on mobile connectivity and suggests that smartphones are not so much the issue as the bad habits we form around them.

Gulati notes:

'First, we don't remember anything anymore. Research shows that we're increasingly outsourcing our personal memory banks to Google and other search engines, effectively wiping our own brains of easily accessible information. But as the growth of apps per device skyrockets and user interfaces simplify, we're relying on more cognitive crutches than ever. Can't recall the name of your coworker? Don't worry; their LinkedIn profile is just a few taps away. Forgotten the name of that Japanese restaurant down the street? Yelp it up! Look for our memory gaps to grow as we train our brains to recall where information is located, rather than remembering the information itself.
Second, we waste time preserving optionality. As the global smartphone user base surpasses 1 billion, more of us are caught in a terrifying, mobile version of the responsiveness trap. As one young entrepreneur remarked, "It's gotten so ridiculous...I spend more time trading Facebook messages about where to meet, who to invite, and what to talk about than actually sitting in meetings themselves." ...
Finally, we get stuck in the infinite notification loop. As we accumulate newer and more apps, the competition for our limited attention intensifies. As a result, developers are aggressivelybombarding our screens with dozens of daily push notifications in the hope of pulling us back into their individual app. These digital nudges aren't costless — they tax our attention. Psychologists argue that we're all cognitive misers, able to focus effectively on a few key tasks per day. ...
He concludes, 
'As smartphone technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, we can't fool ourselves into thinking that our lives will automatically benefit. Instead of passively falling into costly behavioral traps, actively manage your mobile matters. If you're reading this, you probably own a smartphone. Now, ensure your smartphone doesn't own you.'

Relatedly, Steve Lohr writes in the New York Times recently that 'big data' should not override the uniquely human capacity for intuition and tacit understanding.  See article.

These articles remind us that, when it comes to technology and people, we, the people, make the difference.

For an academic summary of why and how technological 'determinism' is 'well and truly dead.' see Paul Leonardi and Steve Barley's article, link in Reading Corner.