Category Archives: Key themes

The Authentic Reconnect

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If you feel that many of your contacts and connections online are insincere, lack authenticity and are even fake, then you may be in need of an Authentic Reconnect.

If much of your digital interaction feels like spin and hype, the you may have turned into an online liar, often just little, seemingly harmless little liar, but a liar nonetheless.

The language you use or receive from others is simplified, distorted and the responses you get feel deceptive, manipulative or just superficial. You feel like “kewl” and emojis limited and devalue you, others and the quality of conversation. You feel such communication is unreal and diluted.

Inauthentic connection is the basis of online conversation. And it offers quick reactions, fast decisions and feedback. It can feel empty and we lose the sense that people really care about who are are, what we say and do.

An authentic reconnects puts us back in control of digital interaction. We learn to place more conscious value on how we use our smart phones and laptops. We learn to be more essential and valuing of ourselves online.

 

Either on the one to one with a skilled coach or in a small group, working with a facilitator, we get to the habits we have formed that make us inauthentic online. We get to the root cause of why we become fakers in the digital realm. We re-establish and importance of honesty and skilled truthfulness when using digital processes.

We’ll go into a zone of discomfort as we see the problems dishonesty causes us and others. We see the impact digital fakery causes our friends, family and colleagues. We learn the healthy behaviours and skills of becoming truthful and authenticity online

Find out more here

Caring for your gadgets and digital devices and planting them carefully

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Once in a forest I strolled content,
To look for nothing my sole intent.
 I saw a flower, shaded and shy,
Shining like starlight, bright as an eye.

I went to pluck it; gently it said:
Must I be broken, wilt and be dead?
Then whole I dug it out of the loam
and to my garden carried it home,

There to replant it where no wind blows.
More bright than ever it blooms and grows.

“Found” –  a poem by J.W. Goethe, 1813


This simple poem by the writer, Goethe, has a strange relevance for the way many of us live and work today.

When we buy a gadget or digital device – a smart phone, a tablet, even a phone charger or a new desk lamp, we are moving it into our home, and into our life. When the gadget has a significant effect on our life – our habits and routines, our experience of ourself and other people –  that experience can be more or less beneficial. A gadget will take root in our life and where we plant it – or place it – is more important than we often realise.

If you plug the gadget into a plug point not suited to it, it will soon overheat, even catch fire. You’ll only realise this when it happens to you. If we locate our phone next to our bed, it can act as an alarm clock but also a block to proper dialogue with the partner lying next to us, as its alerts and notifies us, as it vibrates and beeps, constantly interrupting the real listening our partners needs us to engage in.

If we put the TV set in the same room as where we eat, meal times can soon become antisocial and we don’t even taste our food properly. The way we look after and use our gadgets can affect, not only how long they last and their ability to work, it can also affect our own health – from keeping them clean and updated, to recharging them efficiently and ensuring they don’t get covered in damaging grease or dust. Leaving a phone in too much light can destroy it; letting water get in can destroy it and us.

Gadgets, sitting in shops or warehouses are like plants –  they are temporarily rooted. We them take them away from those places when we buy them and we can replant them in places and ways that can help or harm us, and even hinder the gadget itself in its proper operation. TVs soon break in dusty corners, phone screens crack when they crash to the floor from cluttered tables.

We can and should plant our gadgets in fertile ground, where we can get best use and enjoyment out of them.

Find the place in the house where natural light allows you to turn down the smart phone glare. Send your gadgets to sleep at night by turning them off and putting them away, avoiding the usual stress of trying to find them in the morning.

We can develop easier, better relationships with our gadgets, enjoying them if we place them well. Our home and our work place, like a garden or a farm, is a small ecosystem. It needs the right amount of light and skillful planting and placement to ensure we harvest the benefits of what we are using and developing.

Our gadgets can be ill used by us, badly maintained and cared for, poorly stored and understood. But when we treat them with the love and care we might treat a vulnerable plant, we improve the quality of our own relationship to the things of the world.

If we treat them as throwaway, they soon degrade and we don’t even use most of what they have to offer us. As food and grease gets into the TV remote control from our unwashed hands, we raise the risk of bugs and disease, of them breaking, and even the act of changing channel can subconsciously feel lazy and uncaring.

Our relationship to our gadgets should bloom and grow. They are part of our world, and we can enjoy them consciously, or let them “wilt”. Like a beautiful plant in a pot, we must plant them and transplant them carefully; only then do we gain value from them.

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Joining the DOTS in 2016

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Friday 16th September 2016, Brighton Dome, Studio Theatre

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DOTS, now in its third year, is a day of talks, TED-style but double TED length. Ten acts of advocacy and no time for Q and A. The lack of interaction is deliberate. This is a day to immerse yourself in content and the trick lies in the well curated diversity – from a story of change at Land Rover to a ballad-writing musician immersed in a Victorian workhouse.

Participants gathered for a busy, rich and full day…

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In a packed Brighton Dome Studio we were glad to be out of the rain and the secret here is in the building up of the day. The interaction takes place in the breaks – the reflections and reactions, debate and discussion whether it be over a cuppa and an almond cake or a fabulous curry at the Chilli Pickle. The day builds and talks begin to connect and ideas to intersect. We start to join the dots.

It was at its best when it was humorous, cutting and insightful. I enjoyed it less when it was bullet pointed PowerPoint (fortunately rarer then many events I’ve attended).

By unashamedly going for largely one way communication it really is all about the curation. There were twelve very contrasting pieces and yet many speakers found themselves referencing other speakers during the day. (See the DOTS reading list for underlying inspiration). Dots were even joining up on stage.

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Themed as “Connecting, Inspiration.Action” DOTS offered a fully loaded agenda of talks in Double Ted sized portions. It was one of 190 events in the Brighton Digital Festival. Founding partner Antony Mayfield opened the proceedings and then MC’d the day, summarising well, with humour and one immortal impersonatio …

We were invited to a day of curiosity,  asking the right questions and generating ideas  with an underlying theme that had informed the curation of getting “behind the scenes”.

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A day to learn, listen, absorb, select, and mull over. But ultimately a day like this is about the golden insights. If you walk away with a handful of those, then the day is more than with your time. I found at least one golden insight in every talk at DOTS. Here they are …


Lydia Nicholas
Digital Anthropologist 
Title: Being Us Online

Golden Insights:

We are weird squishy mammals – we are complicated, understood by our biological roots and heritage, rooted in evolution, but also in our complexity and less predictable future potential.

Studying what is easy and can be done by cheap surveys but asking Why is a very expensive and strange question 

Anthropology has a lot to tell us about our digital lives. 

Our filter bubbles have become more like filter bunkers. The digital realm tends to polarise us into different, exclusive and limiting “camps” instead of helpfully connecting us up and finding easy and useful synergy.

Our public space has become s  divided we can really converse any more 

Most people don’t know what the cloud means. Privacy policies are designed not to be read – are they made deliberately obscure?

The concept of the cloud is not understood and is deliberately confusing 

Our imagined privacy is a self delusion 

Every act of disclosure is a choice with consequences 

Context Collapse occurs online (read more here)

We currently have leaky identities in the digital realm


Chris T-T
Writer and artist 
Singing in the Workhouse 

Chris is a professional songwriter and musician. With funding from an Arts Council and National Trust collaboration, Chris went artist-in-residence at a prototype workhouse in Southwell. (More on Chris here)

He immersed himself in the space and produced music and other artistic insights and outcomes. Largely he was inspired to write and compose a new set of ballads

Golden Insights:

Workhouses were precursors of the NHS 

In situ creativity can be priceless. Only when we immerse in context can we often really find out muse and socially relevant art and creativity

History leaves a footprint, and in that footprint, stories and lessons, insights and ideas still live

More on the project here: workhousecreative.tumblr.com


Nina Jones
Jaguar Land Rover
Joining the dots at Jaguar Landrover to achieve unbelievable things 

Jaguar Land Rover sold half a million cars last year but is still a “troubled child)

Trying to create a movement across 20000 people is not easy, is hard work and there’s nothing better than getting out there among real people, in real dialogue. To create consistent behavior, the company created 5 “customer first principles”;

What customers want …

Personalised 
Easy to do business with
Dependable 
Make me feel special 
Transparent 

Golden Insights

Icons are everywhere and Iconography is powerful in a digital age – a language

Icons needs to be eloquent, artistic, simple and meaningful – inspiring and aiding memory

We begin with the customer = what do they really want – not our guess, but their true need


Nishma Robb
Google
The power of communication in changing gender stereotypes

Her passion project, Nishma is Chair of Women at Google, As well as offering a talk, she showed us some powerful videos that demonstrate how gender used to be portrayed and how new creatives are changing the game. We are hit by 5000 adverts per day so there’s potential here to influence our consciousness of gender in a profound way. In a Google survey – half of women felt stereotyped or discriminated against and young women feel it is getting worse. (More on Nishma here and here)

Golden Insights:

A good place to start is in the media space. We can offer “antidote” images and media that turn prevailing views and prejudices upside down

Reach into education, surprise the children with what they can become, break down stereoptypes early – (here’s a wonderful example that Nishma shared)


Professor Vyv Evans
Bangor University 
Adding value to brands using emoji 

Based on research, Viv was the academic in the room and shared research into the growth and development of emojis. (More on Chris and his research here and watch his film)

Golden Insights

Messages nowadays are becoming made entirely of emoji. Emoji offer to possibilities for simplified expression, and potential complexity and even nuance when (and if) they become a shared sentence-based language

Emojis are a new and growing real mode of communication 

Emoji is the fastest growing new language 

Many younger people find it easier to express themselves using Emojis than through words 


Duncan Hammond
Guardian News and Media
Turning strategy into action 

In news oublishing there has been huge disruption in the market , sending many newspapers to the wall.  85 cents in every dollar of digital advertising goes to Google and Facebook. This is a huge challenge for the traditional media corporations such as the Guardian. Duncan shared how they’ve responded.

They identified 5 reasons for optimism and 5 unvarnished truths e.g questionable reader loyalty or unviable business model, not agile nor fit for the digital world . It seems the key has been to break the collusion of mediocrity and to get real.

Golden Insights:

Re-imagining journalism is not easy, requires unvarnished truths to be spoken and shared, and then turned into action, not as a big bang, but in human-scale steps

Huddles are  Cross functional teams and are vital to change. We break down traditional silos and change is not a peripheral thing but core to the work we do – it is rooted in a wish to be able to move faster, t be agile and no longer the slow, monolithic corporate dinosaur

There must be a real through line from and back to the strategy with OKRs – objectives and key results 


Dan Shute
Creature of London
People like dogs, don’t they ?

We heard the story of how Dan and his company has worked with the Green Party. Dan shared his version of the ten golden rules of advertising and how he and the Green Party broke every one of them. My golden insights pick a few of them. It was also key that any strategy was real. Really real! The Green Part wasn’t (and isn’t) yet a party of government. It wants to be heard, to agitate government. This requires a different approach, something more creative and off the wall.

Golden Insights:

F*ck pitches

Turn advertising on its head 

The rules of advertising could be a sign of a lack of trust 

“Just blithely set out to change the f*cking world”


Martin Gill 
Let customers lead your digital strategy 
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Research Director

Thinking we know what customers want or need can lead to commercial disaster. Martin takes us back to Star Wars in his talk and points to the dangers of not listening to fans – you end up with box office pain and characters that make the wrong top tens.  (Read more of Martin’s research here) What was really needed and more recently successfully offered in the newest movies was the recognition there were “Awesome new fans” wanting “the same plot”

Golden Insights:

Do you really know what your customers want but also WHY?

Use both Surveys and ethnography 

Collaboration is key . Get the customers involved. In Star Wars, the Force Awakens, fans were invited to create the new droid, R2D2.


David Greenfield
Adidas
Surviving the digital transformation 

David arrived on stage decked out in Adidas Gear. We saw a video of the Adidas brand and approach and some useful insights emerged…

Golden Insights:

Digital is a culture change. It runs deep and isn’t tokenistic

It’s hard work  – you have to work at it and you won’t get it right first time always. Learn from mistakes, be ready to try newness and adapt

So: Design and iterate  


Andy Whitlock
Head of brand at Lost My Name 
Messy, scary, stressful and joyful

Lost My Name  make “impossibly personal gifts”. Here we had a story from roots, through shoots to fruits. The company almost stumbled upon a new idea that has grown exponentially requiring fast innovation and people who share the love of the product. Personalising books has a cost to it but one supplier so loved the idea, they worked to make it work!

Golden Insights:

Archetypes.that are important to children and parents  E.g. a journey home  led to “Personalisation – my address”. This allows for a standard story to become important and unique to each child. 

Key process for developing the product: Hack, Hone, Operationalise , Optimise 

Find an idea people love  – Love really is all you need – from all key players, designers, innovators, suppliers and customers


Will Hudson
It’s Nice That 
Building it’s Nice That 

Created this while at university, It’s Nice That “believes passionately that creative inspiration is for everyone and by championing the most exciting and engaging work online, in print and through our events programme, we want to open up this world to the widest possible audience. Founded in 2007, It’s Nice That has grown across many platforms and has a reach of over half a million readers a month.”

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Will shared the story, from first beginnings until now, looked ahead into the future and shared insights along the way.

Golden Insights:

Tone of voice is key. Then people know what they are engaging with. 

It is a  business founded on relationships  and this is key to success – ongoing and developing relationships

“Work hard”

Dream Big, Experiment small

Luke warm is no good 


Caroline Webb
Sevenshift 
How behavioural science can help us all to have a good day at work

“Caroline is CEO of Sevenshift, a firm that shows people how to use insights from behavioural science to improve their working life. Her book, How To Have A Good Dayis a best seller. She shared three main insights”

Research arising from Neuroscience  and Cognitive science is finally confirming what many more traditional sources of wisdom have been saying for millennia. There really are simple ways to function more happily and effectively in life and work. It has significant implications for how we use our digital devices as well!

Golden Insights:

Not every day can be a good one 

There’s a lot of life that’s about luck but what’s our wiggle room ? We certainly can influence how our days is going.

We can control more of our daily experience than we think – Tiny tweaks can have big effects on how our day feels 

You can edit your reality 

Our brain filters out what isn’t “top of mind” for us. But we can learn to re-prioritise and see beyond what our brain presents to us

How do we make time go further ? Multi tasking makes us slower, less accurate, wise or creative  – we need to take ourselves offline = We need to singletask more 

Impacting on other people’s moods… Our emotions are strangely contagious …We can decide what to put into a room — a mood … we can be more positive as a choice

Assume the person in front of us is good person who might be in current bad circumstances and get curious about the circumstances 


My Final Reflections

DOTS 2016 was a successful day for its variety of content and speakers – a well curated day. I think there is scope for some panel discussion and Q and A a couple of times during the day – not just Q and A but also speakers reacting to each other.Maybe even an Open Space the day or a week after!

That said, you can see from the insights I gained and shared above in this blog, it worked well for me! A place to be stimulated, disrupted in a good way, and to leave loaded with insights. Thank you DOTS, and Brilliant Noise, those dots are continuing to join up.


The Full Line Up (Speaker details here)

This was the full timed outline and line up of the day…

10.15 – 10-35

Lydia Nicholas
Being us online

10:35 – 10:55
Chris T-T
Singing in The Workhouse

10:55 – 11.15
Nina Jones
Joining the dots at Jaguar Land Rover to achieve unbelievable things

11:15 – 11:20
Experiments in design
Fluxx

11.20 – 11.40Morning Break
11.40 – 12:00
Nishma Robb
The power of communication in changing gender stereotypes

12:00 – 12:20
Vyv Evans
Adding value to brands with emoji

12:25 – 12:45
Duncan Hammond
Turning strategy into action

12:45 – 1:45The Chilli Pickle
14:00 – 14.20
Dan Shute
“People like dogs, don’t they?”

14:20 – 14.40
Martin Gill
Let customers lead your digital strategy

14.45 – 15:05
David Greenfield
Surviving the digital transformation

15.05 – 15.30Afternoon break
15.30 – 15:50
Andy Whitlock
Messy, scary, stressful and joyful

15:50 – 16.10
Will Hudson
Building It’s Nice That

16.10 – 16.30
Caroline Webb
How behavioural science can help us all to have a good day at work

16.30 – 17.00Close
17.00 – 20.00Drinks

Apple – Genuinely Happy 40th Birthday or Looming Mid-life Crisis?

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The ripe old age of 40 is often a time to reflect on your success in life, either looking ahead to more of the same or beginning to worry that the next forty years might be a road downhill. So is Apple set to hold on to its position as the world’s most profitable public company , or is it about to enter its own mid-life crisis, facing stagnant mediocrity, grey hair and the label “has-been”?

There have been many significant milestones in Apple’s biography so far. A company that has inspired a[ clutch of books  and movies, Apple began life on April 1st 1976, when college drop-outs Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak wanted to make computers small enough for people to have them in their homes or offices. It’s a legend-style tale of inventions in a garage, and the birth of the Apple I, “the first computer with a typewriter-like keyboard and the ability to connect to a regular TV”. Wozniak simply wanted to show what he could create with few resources, but Jobs recognised its importance and set them both on a path that would lead to a fortieth birthday bigger than a head of state’s. In Apple’s 39th year, the company’s quarterly profits “broke the global quarterly profit record for any public company.”

From radical to incremental innovation

A story of ups and downs, early Apple was all about radical innovation. The first computers have strongly influenced the world we live in – from corporations to living rooms and bedrooms. It’s a journey from fixed to mobile, from large to small, from typing to wearing. The Apple II comes along in 1977, the Macintosh in 1984, its first tablet, The Newton is a disaster in 1993, though it was an example of that original spirit of radical thinking and a willingness to risk failure. The story continues in 2001 as the IPod defines music listening for a generation. 2007 is another big year, as the first IPhone is launched, possibly Apple’s last real foray into radical innovation.

Getting more cautious in middle age

Some writers have suggested that Apple has basically stopped innovating, which is a bit of a harsh, overstated viewpoint. It certainly has focused more in incremental releases of its products, year on year and on creating an ecosystem for its operating system and apps that it tightly controls – a strong point for user security, and a real annoyance to customers feeling chained to the corporation’s strategy and wishes. Known as “vendor lock in“, customers find themselves largely caged within the Apple world. This is fine if you are a die hard Apple convert, and infuriating if you want the freedom to choose your digital experiences. Some might say that forty year-old Apple has become an insecure, control obsessed middle-ager. Others might say its simple keeping us all safe. Certainly there are risks to the open source Android operating system and its App Store that are less in the more closed Apple ecosystem. That said, the rise of Android suggests these are risks many customers are prepared, and want the right to take.

It has also most certainly not been the first to market in some key new areas. The Apple Watch was not a first, and we are still waiting for something from Apple in the virtual reality field. It seems the about-to-be forty something is getting slower and more cautious as it gets older.

Apple have brought beautifully designed, innovative products to the market. Its fan-customers love them, defend them on many forums and will be sending e-birthday cards in their millions. And Apple keeps on innovating. It brings out a new product, sometimes twice in a year, and yet that innovation is now staged, carefully managed, releases are cautious. Innovation has gone carefully incremental and that may be a nail in its coffin if a genuine game changer, currently perhaps tinkering and inventing in a garage somewhere comes along unexpectedly.

The Apple Mid-life crisis begins?

As it turns four decades old, I recommend a smile and a frown. Programmers love Apple and dread Microsoft, it is both loved and hated. And that love-hate relationship stretches a long way back. Most of us don’t like but have become resigned to being locked in by a corporation that upholds freedom and privacy on the one hand, and tightly controls us on the other.

As the forty candles are lit around the physical and virtual world, Apple may decide its first forty years are confirmation it needs only to tinker around the edges of its next forty. Or it may accept the warning signs of a looming mid-life crisis where it loses it mojo, fails to change its game, and enters its declining years. The clues might just be lying back in that garage, now lost to history.

The Value of Silence in Human Digital Activity

“Most of our thoughts these days are reactions to, and shaped by other people, organisations and social media. But when, out of your own silence, you create your own thought, you come closer to your own originality. And then universe is changed forever.” Paul Levy

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The nature of subliminal influence is we don’t notice that influence on us. Digital influence is a bit like waves washing against a cliff. That erosion is so gradual that you can’t feel it happening. And the process seems so slow that it is easy to not notice it happening at all.

The hours you spend online is shaping who and what you are. 

If you look at the erosion of a rock by sea waves in real time, you cannot see that erosion taking place just by looking. You have to imagine it. It is only over the long term that we can see the effect of erosion. Over a year we could film the rock, speed the film up on playback and then we can behold the change. The rock has change shape, might be diminishing or moving.

In our daily lives we don’t notice the impact of the digital world on our thoughts, feelings and actions. Yet, as with the waves against a cliff, that erosion is taking place and, over the longer run, the change can be very significant.

If we are like that rock, we are being changed, reshaped by forces outsides of ourselves. But, unlike the rock, we aren’t as closed as a system. We can choose where we place ourselves, for how long, and we can even step away from the influence altogether. 

The digital realm influences us. Unlike the waves of the sea, that influence is intentional. Advertising is intentional – it wants to affect us, change and shape our behaviour. Constant bad news can erode our sense of optimism. The quickly flashing computer or TV screen, flashing so fast it cheats our senses, can make us feel tired or spaced out. Constant alerts and notifications on our smartphones and tablets can make us nervous, or turn us into text or social media addicts.

The more time we spend digitally connected, the more we are affected and changed by it. Shaped by it.

And behind that “it” are corporations – public and private, more or less open or secret, each with an agenda, each with goals and intentions, each with a technical, digital wave, designed to wash against our will power, our feelings and our attitudes. Some want us to buy stuff. Others want us to be addicted so they can sell not advertising. Yet others want to influence who we vote for, what we like to dislike, even how we relate to our friends and family. Even how we see the world.

These organisations are shaping and influencing our children, but also our grandparents, our work colleagues and our friends.

This was, of course, happening before digital technology came along, but it has multiplied, expanded and “exploded” in quantum leaps. Processing power and the sheer spread of the digital is touching almost every moment of our lives.

And it is no longer just about what we look at and read on a screen. Now that influence seeks to impact on our other senses, even our sleeping life.

Some of that influence is benevolent, well intentioned and kind. It can wake us up to suffering in the world, or inspire us to make someone’s dream come true with a small donation. It can inspire and aid our creativity. It can make us better informed or better networked. But so much of that benevolence is laced with often hidden influence – to make us desire something, feel guilty, and want to keep on connecting.

I am eroding away at you right now using the very technology I’m am talking about!

What I have noticed in this constant digital influence – this erosion of our current ways of being – is that many of my friends and even loved ones, little by little, are becoming colder as people, cleverer in an intellectual way. They are becoming more scheming and less tolerant, more strategic and playing conversation like a game. They polarise more – simplifying life into this or that, yes or no, in or out and everything is “keel!”.

They hide behind texting and text more than they talk. They play power politics with smileys and the giving and withholding of “X”s. But most of all, they react often immediately, regularly distracted by new texts and alerts, lightning fast, from thought to fingertips with no time for the slower feelings of the heart.

They text on the toilet and sleep with their devices as surrogate alarm clocks by their beds. They become more critical of others pointing out conversational behaviours and habits in others that irritate them; “You’ve already told me that!”

They are drawn back again and again to their devices and online conversations. 

And they aren’t aware of the influence all of this is having on them, minute by minute, in tiny ways that build up over time and change them, in ways that might dismay them. More confident, yes, better more fluent communicators, yes, but also colder, cleverer, crueler and more strategic.

Holding back these waves of influence on you can slow the less benevolent erosion down to almost zero. 

Our natural resilience and ability to heal as organisms needs only space, time to heal, and to pause for recovery. That arises when we consciously create silence. 

We can do that by switching off, stepping or gazing away from digital connection. We go for a walk. we look out of the window. We stop staring at the screen. We turn off alerts and notifications. We place our digital activity with better time management. We connect just a few times a day where we really focus and then we stop. We have a day without digital connection. We go on a digital detox for a week.

We reflect on our digital activity. Perhaps we meditate or just pause in silence. 

In silence we recover. And that silence involves looking away from the screen. It involves not typing, not checking in, not constantly responding. We step away and the waves cease to wash against us. 

In that silence you might hear the insistent echo of your recent digital activity, you might feel the habitual pull to go back in. The silence may initially reveal just how much the digital world is eroding away at your will power. That might be a shock. 

In the silence you might feel the first symptoms of painful withdrawal. Survive that and you may just notice just how the digital realm has been, and is, shaping your thoughts, feelings and behaviour in ways that you do not want. It is only in that silence that you might become the master, the designer, the leader of your own life once again. 

Before the whole cliff crumbles into the sea to be swallowed up by the vast ocean. And then you are gone forever.

Cafés with and without digital connection

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“We are always just one sip away from revelation.” Paul Levy, author of Digital Inferno

It’s a rare thing to find a café in my home city of Brighton that doesn’t offer free Wifi. Most cases have a significant number of their tables taken by lone souls on their laptops, typing away, many wearing headphones. A coffee cup lies empty beside their digital devices and, though they are in the café, they are also elsewhere.  You might think this is anti-social and yet those people may well be being social with other people, not in the physical space, via the wonders of digital connection. Skype calls. Emails. WhatsApp chats and so on.

Cafés have becoming hubs for digital working. They are buzzy, creative spaces and, for many people trying to earn a living, they are rent-free offices. The only cost is an occasional coffee.

I often do the same. I love hanging out in cafés, working in cafés, meeting and conversing in cafés. I am often one of those people who sits at a table, gets out my laptop and spends an hour or so doing my digital stuff.

But I used to love cafés before mobile and portable digital devices had claimed so much of our lives. I’ve never lost that “original purpose” I discovered in cafés. Unlike many people who need or like to be locked away in a quiet room when they want to think, I need noise. I need buzz and a feeling of social interaction. It’s easy to seek that online these days but I have always found it in physical spaces, especially cafés.

I sit there with a real paper note-book, a pot of tea, and my own restlessness and, sometimes, my own calm. I love impromptu conversations but I also love a kind of inner silence I can only found when surrounded by noise – the noise of human voices and espresso machines. It stimulates my thoughts. it quickens me to creativity and invention. Unbidden, I’ve had some of my most important and profound thoughts in cafés.

We are always just one sip away from revelation. But you have to be able to switch the digital off, or not switch it on it on in the first place. Taste that coffee, soak up that noise and ambiance. Put your digital world in its place, at least when you want to. cafés can be enjoyed without the mobile phone on your lap or on the cafe table in front of you. The liquid surface of your tea ripples with the vibration of a text from your smart phone, like a warning of an oncoming storm on a small pond. It is out of the paradoxical silence of surrounding café noises that my revelations often most appear.

Sit at your table with a steaming cappuccino, its milk froth decorated with a heart or a leaf design in chocolate. Spend at least some time fully immersed in that physical experience. Give anyone you are with your  full attention, without digital distraction. Or simply enjoy the silence and, when you sip, fully enjoy and taste, and you might just find that is when your best create thoughts really begin to flow.

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Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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News from the Restless World of Bitcoin and Blockchain

If cryptocurrencies had moods, I’d say that Bitcoin was in a state of restlessness. I decided to assess the “mood” of the Bitcoin world by trawling the recent batch of news stories hitting the Bitcoin headlines in recent weeks. And yes, there’s some agitation out there right now. So, for this blog, Here’s my “news desk” of Blockchain moodiness…

As I sit here in my Brighton, UK cafe, keeping the warm winter chill away by huddling up to the warmth of the Bitcoin ATM, the value of Bitcoin has just broken the $400 barrier. Bitcoin is on the up and up. Only a few months ago we were in london hosting a BBLF gathering of over 100 people and Btcoins were sitting pretty at $251. That is some climb, compared the the ailing UK Pound and the struggling US Dollar. Yet according to Cryptocoins News, not only has Bitcoin in reality been on the up-down-up, but this is all tied to volatility in both Chinese markets, and the mood swings of one of Bitcoin’s original pioneers, Mike Hearn: “This year, Bitcoin price has reached a high of $457 on January 7 before a volatile month saw bitcoin trading end January at $368.49 in the Bitcoin Price Index. The plunge in price came soon after former core developer Mike Hearn’s post where he announced his departure from the Bitcoin space.”

Ups and Downs

So, market mood swings and the departure of pioneers adds to the restlessness.

The original doom mongers are going to have to at least respect the views and the evidence that the future of Bitcoin (in one form or another) is bright. Jacob Donnelly reminds us that Bitcoin is still a child, barely seven years old. Referring to Hearn’s downbeat words, he says: “bitcoin is going through an existential crisis. But while their message is one of failure, it’s simply another growing pain for the network.” In his optimistic article, Donnelly believes that Bitcoin is going through growing pains and is evolving.

The Classic Rejection

Now, you’ve all heard of Bitcoin Classic, which, according to Stan Higgins, “constitutes a repackaging of the latest Bitcoin Core software with support for bigger blocks, indicates what could perhaps be a new phase in the ongoing debate whether or how to scale the bitcoin network’s transaction capacity.” (To find out more about block sizes and limits, look here). Well, this was rejected by a major group of bitcoin miners last week. So, evolution so far is problematic. The miners ain’t happy. They are worried about the risk of Classic and also the danger of Bitcoin fracturing into different versions.

This could be natural, protective caution, or it could be a kind of worrying conservatism creeping into a disruptive technology that could become frightened of disrupting itself. That paradox might be the nail in Bitcoin’s coffin. It also points to the huge influence of a small number of miners who want status quo rather than risk and innovation. The nay-saying miners want a slower, more careful approach to any fundamental change to Bitcoin’s core coding. For them, a consensus approach is the way forward. It’s ironic really – Bitcoin is all about distributed trust and yet the community hasn’t found a way to trust itself to make bold change.

Schism ot Creative Storm?

The story even made into the Financial Times and was called a “schism” by them. A schism! Bitcoin battles – a sign of real troubles or just healthy growing pains? Others have even called it a “civil war“.

I’m upbeat. Groups and communities form, and a healthy part of that formation is storming. It will unfold, unravel, explode and settle, especially if the Bitcoin community practices dialogue and debate and isn’t afraid to make a few decisions together. As a writer, researcher and practitioner in the field of innovation for over twenty years, I’ve learned that the difference between successful and failed innovation is often this: collusion breaking. It is okay, even vital, to question the way things are, the challenge the dimensions (block size and limit), to question the fundamentals. It is important to enage in what colleague Pete Burden, calls “creative conflict.” That restlessness is always a risk, but it often results in significant innovation. Without it, we often sink into mediocrity and then decline.

A search on Google News of “Bitcoin” is currently throwing up trouble and strife, volatility and that big news about Bitcoin breaking the 400 dollar barrier. I call that a good kind of restlessness. The miners haven’t rejected Classic out of hand. But they are pointing to the need to storm  a bit more.

Meanwhile, over at Blockchain…

Now, flip the channel over to a search for Blockchain and you are back in the land of playful innovation, mad new applications, big corporation involvement and plenty of good news stories…

The Royal bank of Scotland expands its blockchain testing, Hedge Funds get involved in blockchain, we hear Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief executive Ian Narev saying that Blockchain may transform banking, Nasdaq is to trial blockchain-underpinned voting for shareholders, and Linx and IBM “Share Bold Vision for Hyperledger Project, a Blockchain Fabric for Business“. The list goes on. I struggled to find one bad news story about Blockchain this week.

Some are suggesting that Bitcoin’s restlessness is limiting Blockchain take-up. Judging from the first ten pages of a Google search, I beg to differ.

Time for a Restless Self-Conversation?

So, here we have it. Bitcoin is evolving, storming and is a restless self-conversation, played out thankfully in the public eye. I believe that shows all the signs of a disruptive technology, potentially paradigm-shifting, in a state of innovation. It may go under. But it may well simply get radically better. Blockchain is in a state of much more open experimentation. It’s hard to find open conflict in the blockchain realm at the moment. It also seems to be an innovation free-for-all and, with no grumpy miner gatekeepers to push back, the code is being plundered by everyone from large corporations to terrorists, from charities to smugglers. While Bitcoin debates block size and limit, the realm of blockchain is exploring human identity validating, voting, door locking, driverless cars and the Internet of Things. But it is also morphing and on the verge of being adapted, diluted, changed and put to the service of the very corporations that many of its pioneers sought to react against.

It’s been a revealing exercise this week – putting Bitcoin and Blockchain side by side in the news and search stakes. It may all change next week. And whilst acknowledging Jon Southurst’s advice to ignore the mainstream media’s advice on both Bitcoin and Blockchain, I am enjoying some of the positive and negative stormy weather around both.

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting the Elusive Inventor of Bitcoin and Considering Bitcoin’s Year Ahead

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At a meeting of the Bitcoin and Blockchain Leadership Forum (BBLF) on January 28th at Rise London, I met the inventor of bitcoin.  I’m serious.  Not this one. Nor the Australian Genius. Nor one of the ten people who have been proposed as the founder of the now global cryptocurrency. And not one of the Armed with sage advice on how to spot a Bitcoin inventor, as well as a love of creation myths, I suspended my disbelief. He looked the part. He might have been a whirling dervish or a bohemian guru. I am going to respect his privacy and not publish a photo of him (though I have a very blurred one (of course) of him sitting at the back of the well over a hundred people who packed a room meeting to consider the future of Bitcoin and even to vote on whether it has died).

He introduced himself as Satoshi Nakamoto and confirmed he was indeed the inventor of Bitcoin. He’d come to check us out and had decided to finally put his elusive crypto-head above the radar.

Listen. It might be him. When did you all become so cynical? Though some say it doesn’t matter, I was intrigued. He told me with a calm, knowing look,  that the ‘real Bitcoin agenda’ would ‘reveal itself by the end of the year’, that it would ‘involve the big banks’ and that… well that it was ‘all good’. That sounded like creator talk to me. And it seemed very appropriate to have at least one of the Bitcoin inventors at an event considering its future. He sat at the back, spoke once, where he announced his prophecy about the “revealing agenda” and then silently watched the events of the morning unfold.

The room was asked the rather twee question “Is Bitcoin dead?”, as developer Mike Hearn had recently proclaimed. We voted in the room – simple hands up. Over 95% over the over 100 people in the room said a resounding “No.” Perhaps not surprising as a lot of Bitcoin start ups as well as larger corporations (including banks) who had some kind of commitment to, or interest in it, made up the room’s audience.

But also, judging by the regular and genuine stories shared at the BBLF sessions, Bitcoin, and its underpinning technology, often phrased as THE Blockchain, are far from the graveyard of failed innovation. At this session we heard from Hugh Halford-Thompson from BTL Group who demo’d just how easy bitcoin payments can be. Traditional banks and institutions are still set in their ways and innovators like Hugh are looking at ways to harness the potential of Bitcoin to make remittance easier and cheaper, benefiting those without easy access to traditional banking. As services such as this roll out, traditional money transfer is going to be turned on its head. So much for Bitcoin being a failed experiment.

If you are a Bitcoin purist, a hardcore ideological revolutionary, you may well pronounce the  “pure” form of the Bitcoin experiment as dead. Because Bitcoin is changing, and the Blockchain is unravelling way beyond cryptocurrency projects.

Some larger institutions are responding and even being proactive in terms of innovation and attempting to disrupt their own established ways of doing things. For example, Visa are actively seeking to incubate ideas in partnership with start-ups, including those in the Bitcoin space. We heard from Visa‘s  Innovation Consultant, John Downing and Epiphyte’s Co-founder and CTO Or Barmatz,   who are working together as part of Visa’s Collab initative, on using Blockchain to improve global remittance. We got a first-hand look at a mobile app that can really ease remittance, via Bitcoin, interfacing with traditional banking systems but also able to flex into countries where people don’t have access to traditional banking. Taking these innovations through a proof of concept process  in a partnership between larger corporation and start-up may be sacrilege to some in the Blockchain community. To many in the room it seemed a way to positively disrupt and innovative both traditional banking and to enable creative start-ups to ensure the Bitcoin experiment is very much alive and evolving.

Systems across the world differ in each country and any projects and start-ups have to be agile, able to adapt to different rules, governance and network infrastructure. Some countries are currently next to inaccessible and a close eye is being kept on how regulation may roll out as the clearly-not-dead Bitcoin experiments begins to mainstream. Remittance has to be flexible, country-specific and able to work with infrastructure limitations and gadget access and diversity. The benefits? Wider, cheaper and much faster access to remittance.

There was a buzz at this BBLF gathering in London. Most people had no ideas there was a possible Satoshi Nakamoto was in their midst. At the end of the session he approached me, thanked me for a very good meeting and said we’d be hearing from from him. In his view, the next deployment of Bitcoin is going to come from the big banks. You heard it here first. He disappeared, dressed in swish and bohemian black,  into a murky, wet-winter London, the skyscrapers of the City,  like tall guards, on the near horizon.

Was it him? I’ll keep you posted.

Paul Levy is facilitator at the Bitcoin and Blockchain Leadership Forum and author of the book, Digital Inferno.

 

 

Opinion: Snooping Digitally Creates a Toxic Silence

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As reported in The Independent newspaper on 13th January 2013, “The European Court of Human Rights made (a) ruling on a case involving a Romanian engineer who was fired after using Yahoo Messenger not only to communicate with professional contacts, but also to send messages to his fiancée and brother.” Simply put, “Companies now have the right to monitor their workers’ online private messages”. It is a blank cheque for internal corporate snooping, as the court, based in Strasbourg, sided with the employer in the case.

As an issue about human rights and the right to privacy, this is a huge development. But the consequences for business and industry may be more far reaching than just the clear caution that will be added to already existing mistrust between worker and employer, between boss and employee.

As most progressive firms have opted for a BYOD (Bring your own device) policy in regard to digital gadgets, the notion of snooping on corporate “apps” sitting on those devices creates all kinds of potential future trouble for business lawyers. If I own the personal hardware but agree to using it at work (if only for personal convenience as well as cost effectiveness, am I really willing to let my boss snoop on my own device?  (Read more here for tips on how to tell if your boss is spying on you).

Add to this development remote and home working and where is the clear line between personal and work when using social media? And what does privacy mean in say, a freelancer, or a part-time employee, or a creative innovator who, like an artist, often has to blur the boundary between personal and professional practice. When does a walk with my family in the park stop also being a chance to do some thinking about work tomorrow and that important upcoming meeting?

Hierarchies have been breaking down for years and the rise of new approaches to organisation such as holacracy, snooping on employees and default downwards mistrust, seem archaic and, at best, clunky ways to manage behaviour.

What to we gain by claiming the right to read our employees’ private messages? We;;, we can check if they are breaking rules, we can call them on their unprofessionalism. We can “out them” when they use the com;any email to message their kids or partner. But wouldn’t it be better for those common sense behaviours to be bought into freely by staff? Shouldn’t it form part of effective induction? If our personal phones are for personal stuff and our work phones for work only content, shouldn’t we get buy-in for that, winning the arguments about security and the dangers of blurring personal-work boundaries in ways that create commercial risk? The problem with big brother is that it creates little bothers and then we have minimal compliance, and the rise of the “underweb” where smart staff find ever cleverer (and riskier) ways to elude capture.

Years ago the brilliant writer and thinker on organisational life, Henry Mintzberg, suggested better alternatives to controlling and coordinating work. Direct supervision and “policing” is often expensive and generates fear and mistrust. If we can coordinate through collaboration and shared values, freely committed to, behaviour arises through volunteering, not through dictatorship. And, often people go the extras mile when they feel shared ownership of the core values of the enterprise.

Managers and bosses now have the right to snoop digitally on their staff. They might just find that the transparency they think they have won leads to a deeper transparency flying out of the office windows as people zip up, minimise and, more dangerously, take the conversations underground. We then up up with a kind of toxic silence.

We need to all be conscious of when our personal life should remain personal and is better not mixed with our work. That’s a skill we can learn – the skill of discernment. Snooping simply covers over the problem and kills the innovation and creativity that goes with people feeling safe to blunder, to learn and to experiment. Organisations are made of people, and people are, essentially personal. Inject fear into the personal and you de-personalise the culture. Do that too much and the business loses its only real asset – the people that deliver its value.

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

The Vital Tapestry

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“After I nearly died my whole life flashed in front of me and then the image settled into an enormous tableau, like a tapestry I could step through.

“Time became space and every moment of my life was there in crystal clarity – from my birth to my final moments, spread out in all directions around me.

“Yet somehow I could also behold it all at the same time, in the same place. It was then I noticed the holes – frightening spaces in the picture, empty even of shadow. Utter nothingness.

“I knew in that moment our tapestries are meant to be entire, to be complete. These were the holes when I was not present in my own waking life. These were little voids claimed by other influences on my attention. Some of the tears and holes in my life picture were tiny, some were huge. Yet I knew I needed the whole picture to move on properly.

Then I realised it: These were the holes when I was texting, letting the infinite quality of my life be remade into ones and zeros that were never truly born of my being, the gestures I made, without actually caring or being there in my heart and mind. And these were spaces I could never easily fill again.

“The picture unraveled like a tsunami then fractured. Voiceless I screamed, and awoke, sweating in my bed.”

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Re-engaging with physical things at Christmas

  

 A lot of people are tired of Christmas. It has becoming a largely empty and meaningless time where we feverishly scan both shops and web sites for “stuff” to buy our friends and loved ones.

Others have downsized their Christmas or simplified to the lowest common denominator – money. We send vouchers or transfer cash to our kids, even our friends. 
Drowning in stuff

So, some people are drowning in stuff – clutter, gadgets, gimmicks and jokey gifts, while others have named all that crap and translated it into the freedom to buy what crap we want by giving vouchers and money.

If you are tired of this repetition year after year, as you arrive with an overdraft or credit card bill in January, then it might be time to try something new.

Renewing the old

Or perhaps something old. The spirit of Christmas isn’t about giving stuff. That stuff is only imbued with the true spirit of Christmas when it is specific and born a a genuine interest in the recipient of our gift. It isn’t only about what they want when they feel grasping and greedy for stuff. It is also about what they really need, and that real need is based on who they really are.

A Christmas deep dive

When you go that deep you often discover that you have no real idea of who your friends and loved ones really are. The only way to find that out is to inquire, to open up a genuine conversation. You can find out what a person really needs by showing an interest in them, listening actively and deeply to them, and also by trusting your own intuition. Finding out what a person really needs doesn’t usually come from asking them what they want.

When you do get them the thing they really need – which may not be something expensive at all and is often something small, well timed and placed, you can truly say you are acting out of the Christmas spirit – a spirit of generosity rather than pandering to superficial desires. 

What do I really need this Christmas ?

What people really need is usually associated with their questions in life, the challenges they are facing, the confusion they are going through. Sorted it can Neville helping to put a wrong to rights, to release tension or to motivate someone. it can lift the spirits, create the space for change. Often what people say they want actually hides those things and we have to see past those barriers.

Sometimes the reaction is an initial frown but then there is also surprise and often a genuine warmth of gratitude as the other person realises you have truly “got” them, who they are. When we meet deeper needs we are responding to other people in ways that affirm them, value them truly as well.

Why not try that this Christmas? It might just fill up that empty feeling with some warmth and satisfaction.

  

Reclaiming your Christmas from Digital Thinking

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Oh no! Christmas again!

Are you feeling that, as Christmas comes around yet again, it all feels a bit repetitive and stale?

Have you lost your enthusiasm for this time of presents, over-indulgence and celebration of everything from a holy story to a deep winter festival to the Man in the Red Suit?

Are you sick of it all or do you wish it just had a bit more quality to it?

Losing the Christmas Spirit

You may have fallen into a Christmas based on digital thinking. Digital thinking is based on the “binary” world. The binary world is a world of ones and zeros. Binary language is the foundation of all computing, the basic building blocks. Binary language is a world of ones and zeros. Either a switch is on or off. On = 1, off=zero. Now, we can do a lot with that. We can build up all kind of complex codes based on those two numbers and out of that come all kinds of programs which surface as computer operating systems, games, tools and the apps you may be using to read this article on your smartphone, laptop, PC or tablet. But when we develop the habit of becoming binary thinkers, things become simpler, but also can become boring and stale. An instinct tells us there must be “more”.

Polarising the Polar Express

When we think in binary terms, we are thinking either-or. Things become “polarised” like on or zero and that simplicity but makes things seem very simple and clear. You are either in or out. You are either on or off. We quantify life as one or zero. This or that. There’s no space for anything in the middle.

And that’s where the Christmas problem begins. Digital thinking is really binary thinking. And we are all starting to think digitally more and more. The TVs we watch, the smart phones we check into every few minutes, are all binary technologies, flashing superfast on and off; it’s easy to go into a kind of trance state and to join in the binary party.

Go or no go. Upgrade or don’t. Buy it or don’t by it. Agree or disagree. Like or don’t like. The digital world doesn’t really like or do “half like” or “like a bit today and a bit less tomorrow”. This is the world, not of quantity, but of quality, and it is harder to capture it in ones and zeros. And, some would argue, that even if we copy a picture digitally, we can never capture its true essence, even if the copy fools our senses, because quality is, ultimately, infinite.

Just give me money!

Digital thinking surfaces at Christmas when we want “just the money” and not any other option. “Just give me the money, or Amazon vouchers”, says our son or daughter – there are no other options on the table of life. The Christmas spirit becomes more and more narrowly defined until its an “IPhone or misery.”

When we fall into digital thinking we want X, and nothing else will do. Our Christmas becomes limited by habit and we always repeat things a certain way. It can be fun to set up a rhythm and do the same things each year, but they can also become tired and stale. It can become so narrow it starts to feel empty, mediocre and even pointless.

It is only when we experiment with things change them, that we can improve the quality of our Christmas. To do that we have to unravel a bit, explore the fringes of our lives, and be open to becoming a bit richer, not only in our wallets but in our physical and emotional lives. Christmas can be a time to offer up new things to try – new thoughts, feelings and actions. Not only what do we ant – but what do we really need? Then gifts can also be things you don’t need batteries for – they may even be things we have made, even things we say to another person.

Open up the Christmas Conversation

So, if we have become so narrow as to have defined our Christmas gift giving and receiving as either a one or a zero, either gadgets OR money, either vouchers or DVDs, and even either something small or nothing, we’ve lost the ability to enjoy the best conversation of all – a conversation based on quality – a quality conversation with each other where we truly inquire into the uniqueness of the other person. By that I mean asking some interesting, if difficult questions, of ourselves and others;

How have you changed since last year?

What do you really need?

What might help you change and improve a bit in your life?

What ELSE might put a smile on your face?

What might surprise you?

And we can also ask: How could Christmas be a bit different this year? What else could we do?

We can make small changes and notice a big difference. We can tinker with the order of our day, with timings, introduce some new activities. It doesn’t have to be the same way just because it is Christmas once again – that’s digital thinking – either we do it the same way or it has failed! Change what you write on your Christmas cards, opening yourself up to enjoying new presents, try things you have never tried before. When you leave the world of either-or you do risk disappointment but you also risk surprise. The unknown can be scary but also energising.

If we have narrowed our lives so much that we can only receive from others in narrow terms – money or “anything you can put batteries in or plug into a wall” – then we have defined ourself in binary times and, when we do that, we become repetitive, mediocre and ultimately may feel stale.

So, this Christmas, why not experiment with the spaces in between the ones and zeros. Make a few little change, break free of either-or, digital thinking and get back to quality thinking. One way to do what is with conversation – open up that conversation and allow more questions in, allow a bit of change.

You might just find the spaces in between relight your Yuletide fire!

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Five Ways to Reclaim your Christmas from Digital Overload

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In a new book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age“, featured in the New York Times, Sherry Turkle presents compelling evidence that too much online conversation can damage our face to face relationships, at home and at work.

Many of us are addicted to social media – from texting to Facebook, from Instagram to Linkedin. And most of us have our smartphones still on the settings that were probably on them when we took them, all shiny new, out of the box in the store, or when they arrived in the mail.

These “default” settings alert us every time we receive a message, a reply or there has been some kind of action pin our social media world.

George has added you…
Many has commented …
Fred has replied
Congratulations! Your stats are booming!

Every time the phone vibrates or the screen lights up, whatever we are doing physically is interrupted digitally. We are distracted from listening to our child, from something a friend or a work colleague saying to us. we stop looking out of the window, or our thoughts are invaded by an alert. Our head turns towards the device, away from the person in front of us; our eyes dart suddenly towards the ring tone or vibrating phone. For a moment we look furtive, like a predator and, sometimes, like the one being hunted.

The result is that our concentration falters and our relationships woith those we care about, those directly in front of us, are degraded, even spoiled.

And it is very likely to happen on Christmas Day.

As we divide our attention between physical and digital, digital often wins. Even when we choose not to answer, not to look, our concentration has already been shot to pieces by needing to make the decision “not to”.

When we choose “not to”, we can actually become less stressed, more satisfied and productive.

There is increasing evidence that we actually get far more from our digital life if we place it more mindfully. When we become the more conscious and self-disciplined controllers of our digital devices, we become more satisfied and productive, less stressed and distracted.

Here are five ways t do it, and they might just improve your Christmas Day as well.

5 Ways to Reclaim your Christmas from Digital Overload

1. Set alerts and notifications on your various devices – your smartphones, tablets and smart watches,  to off. Then you will have to use your win will power to decide when to check in on your digital world. After a while you may feel more productive, relaxed and in control. On Christmas day, prioritise the people in the room and then make more conscious decisions to connect digitally, rather than be “always on”.

2. Choose times of the day when you check all of your social media. Don’t let it interrupt face to face conversations with family and friends. The family could all choose an hour when they go online at the same time. The room goes silent and we go online together, even if we are doing different things. This can be a very social thing to do and ensure that meal times aren’t interrupted, and that there isn’t always at least one family member disengaged from the physical. Spend one hour on Christmas Day when you full dive in digitally. Enjoy it, immerse yourself and have fun. But then come out. Leave your smartphone and table out of the the bedroom, away from mealtimes, and don’t use it while you poop.

3. Drop the habit of trying to capture every moment with your phone camera. Be more selective and look carefully at what is in front of you before you click the take a picture button. You will feel more satisfied and value your digital content more. Less is more in both the physical and digital world, especially when we are surrounded by stimulation of images, sounds and words. On Christmas day, choose your picture-taking more consciously and go with the principle that less is more.

4.If you have received digital gadgets as presents, don’t get bogged down in setting them up and getting lost in inexplicable instructions. It may be better to get things set up the day after Christmas. Certainly don’t get stressed or so tied up that you lose most of your day to frustration.

5. Have a digital clear out. Delete apps you don’t use, back up photos and delete ones you don’t want to keep. De-clutter your digital life and make head space as well as memory space for the new. It can be very refreshing to do this in the run up to Christmas, and also first thing in the new year. Either way, on Christmas Day, try to have a day where things are simpler, calmer, less cluttered and over-complicated.

All of these tips give you back control over your digital and your physical life. By reducing distraction and digital clutter, but finally talking on the pull of constant notifications and alerts you might just have a happier and more fulfilling Christmas, as well as a more productive and less stressed out new year. Enjoy the day properly – it is only once a year!

Oh, and of course, by a friend or loved one a copy of Digital Inferno this Christmas and help them become the real masters of their digital lives.

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15 Ways to Rescue Your Christmas from Digital Addiction

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Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Many people celebrate it in different ways. If you walk up your local High Street in October or surf the web, you’ll find Christmas very much on the minds of shops and businesses. More and more people are experiencing Christmas as a mix of physical and digital. On Christmas day the smart phones and gadgets can take over. Kids can disappear into their bedrooms, for most of the day, rush Christmas Dinner, and be more interested in connecting online than with friends and relatives at home.

The digital world can be a real blessing at Christmas, as we hook up with relatives on the other side of the world, or check in with Granddad who is on his own in another city. Christmas day itself has quickly become, for many families, a day of TV channel hopping, gaming, texting, and Facebooking. Even in the bedroom, instead of wishing our partner Happy Christmas and offering a goodnight kiss, we are checking in to our Twitter feed. Our screens light up from minute to minute with messages and alerts as our face to face Christmas becomes fractured. Is it just part of the new flow of life? Or is something being lost? Is the digital realm invading, diluting and spoiling your Christmas? If you feel it is, then read on…

    • Tip 1: When you wake up in the morning, make sure you wish everyone in your home a Happy Christmas before you switch on any gadgets. Open presents together and save the digital connecting until afterwards
    • Tip 2: Set a time for making calls to others, even for texting. Ring fence that time and then enjoy the rest of your Christmas with those physically present. Turn off all alerts and notifications and connect at times of YOUR choosing. It isn’t about denying the digital world – it’s about placing it consciously in the physical world.
    • Tip 3: Take some wonderful photos if you want, but don’t snap every single moment; don’t view most of your Christmas through a digital camera viewfinder or squinting at s smart phone or tablet. Be choosy, select your place and time to snap, but also step back and just enjoy what’s in front of you – your child’s face lighting up as she opens a present, the arrival of the turkey (do you really need to capture every turkey for the next fifty years? If you see most of Christmas through a camera, you lose the chance of some more intense and deeper memories to looking at the world directly with your eyes.
    • Tip 4: Escape from your digital “head”. If you get texts and e-cards, read the words out aloud, to yourself or others. Make the digital physically real with your real voice. Some families read out texts and messages as their grandparents would read out telegrams. It can be fun and really add to the festivities
    • Tip 5: Switch devices off during meal times. Enjoy the taste of that food without regular distraction.
    • Tip 6: Choose what you are all going to watch on TV rather than having the TV on in the background
    • Tip 7: Switch computers and devices off if you aren’t actually using them. Get calls to friends and relatives done early so you aren’t waiting all day for someone to ring or text
    • Tip 8: Don’t get drowned in gadget instructions. It might be better to set up gadgets and other technology presents on another day. They can steal a whole afternoon. If you really must set them up, download instructions or watch You Tube guides in advance and get clued up so you don’t waste time and get frustrated on Christmas Day
    • Tip 9: Go for a walk if the weather permits and leave smart phones at home, even if only for half an hour
    • Tip 10: Turn smart phones and tablets off when opening presents. Give present opening your full attention
    • Tip 11: If you get digitally delivered presents, such as Amazon Gift Vouchers, grab a drink, sit back and imagine what you will buy with them. Think of the person who sent you the vouchers, picture them; make it real in your imagination. Send them a written thank you card or a voice call instead of just a text or an email
    • Tip 12: At the end of the day, grab a piece of paper and make a list of the presents you got forChristmas or some of the highlights of your day. Write it be hand, take a photo of it and upload it to Facebook or other social media platforms you use. Give your digital friends a physical image of your thoughts for Christmas
    • Tip 14: Buy something beautiful and non-gadgety for someone used to techie presents. Use your imagination. Surprise them with something home or hand made.
    • Tip 15: Sit back, relax, enjoy a drink or some nibbles and be present in the room for an hour, without any digital distraction. Give your “presence” as a present to your family at Christmas. You might just find when you switch your phone back on that you are refreshed, more alert and energised

We can so easily drift into digital distraction at Christmas. Instead of getting the best of both worlds – physical and virtual – we get the worst of both. We are split in two. Our family doesn’t get our attention and interest, and we flit through Facebook and the day flies by and can feel a bit superficial and empty. But when we decide when to switch on, when to connect, whether to be notified and alerted, when to snap or send, we place the digital world consciously in the physical one. And your Christmas might just be a happier one for doing so.

Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

You can also read this article in Christmas Magazine.

Give Digital Inferno to someone you love or care about this Christmas

DIGITAL INFERNO

Digital Inferno is an ideal Christmas present for your partner, a friend, a work colleague, or one of your older children.

It will help them begin the new year with a practical guide to using their digital devices more consciously and getting more out of them in the process. You might just end up reclaiming your bedroom, dinner table, and meeting rooms in the the process!

“An exciting book – full of hope for the future”, Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood.

Over 100 activities and exercises to raise your awareness and self-control in the digital realm

Stories and diaries from people getting on top of their gadgets and social media

A host of ways to enjoy the digital realm, get the most out of it, and not get addicted to it

Smart tips and advice for using social media – the realm of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, more consciously

Full of practical activities, tips and smart advice, as well as taking an uncomfortable deeper look into the digital realm, Digital Inferno is a gift on several levels at once: a gift to someone who is getting digitally addicted, to someone who doesn’t want to avoid the digital ream, but is worried they may be surrendering too quickly and too much to it. It might just be the most useful and beneficial gift you have given someone in years!

Digital Inferno offers a guide to staying conscious in the digital realm, offering over a hundred tips for holding your own and staying in control.

Facebook, Twitter, texting, snapping every moment with a camera – this might just be the present that gives those you care for, real presence in the world again.

You can buy Digital Inferno from Amazon in your country.

Buy it here in the UK in paperback. Or here on Kindle.

Buy it here  in the USA in paperback. Or here on Kindle.


What they are saying about Digital Inferno

Read Bookbag’s glowing review here Or a longer and excellent review in the Irish Times here..

‘This book is visionary and practical and both are needed at this time as the digital inferno spreads, setting fire to more and more elements of daily life.’Tom Bourner, Emeritus Professor of Personal and Professional Development, University of Brighton, co-author of Workshops That Work

‘An exciting book, full of hope for the future. By applying the concept of mindfulness to digital interactions, Paul Levy shows how we can get the most out of technology without losing touch with our essential humanity. Great stuff – thoughtful, insightful and very timely.’ – Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood

‘An insightful guide for those seeking to consciously navigate the noise and confusion of the digital age.’ – Daniel T. Jones, author of The Machine That Changed The World and founder of the Lean Enterprise Academy

‘A fascinating and thought-provoking survey of our digital times.’ – Cliff McNish, author of The Doomspell Trilogy

‘Our generation is gradually noticing the subtle effects of digital media in our lives. There are no clear answers as the effects are generative and emergent but it is useful to be mindful of the path we are creating. Paul Levy’s book is an eye opener. It is written with precision and full of insights on this ongoing interplay between people and technology. It is a great book for anyone keen to regain control of their relationship with gadgets and digital media in general.’Professor John Baptista, Associate Professor of Information Systems, University of Warwick

‘A fascinating, moving and practical dance of content exploring what awfully is and what awe fully might be as human civilization embraces digital virtuality. Brilliantly conceived and written.’ – Angus Jenkinson, author of From Stress to Serenity, Chief Organising Officer of the Civil Society Forum

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Digital and Face to Face Conversation: The Emerging Skill Set

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Conversation doesn’t happen when two people just advocate. Advocating is what we do when we tell, when we assert, when we ‘put out.’ The digital realm is designed for us to mostly advocate. We press enter and our text is advocated. We send a photo and we are pushing that photo at someone. Emails, tweets, smileys and likes are all acts of putting out, of advocating. It’s all push. Even when we post a question, in the digital realm it has the quality of an output. When people reply and respond, they usually respond with more advocacy. Comment discussions on Facebook or under a posted video soon turn into hundreds of “I think statements”, with little in the design of the platform for silence, reflection or for genuine inquiry. Every mouse click or tap on gorilla glass is a little bit of assertion, usually from the region of our head, far less our heart.

Conversation – whether online or face to face –  is of fairly low quality when we simply exchange advocacy. You speak, I speak. You tell, I tell.

Conversation arises when we speak, not only to other people, but also from, or out of other people – from what they say, inspired and influenced by it. Speaking out of another person requires you to be open, responsive, in a mode of inquiry. Inquiry isn’t about delivering and presenting, it is about seeking and asking. When we inquire, we seek our next statement through the person or people in front of us. Conversation is often of a higher quality when we form what we say out of what has been said to us. when combine material and content coming into us from outside. That way we have at least one more point of view! If everyone is in a state of inquiry, we can find that the number of points of view grow. The more points of view into the world, the more diversity of view, and the richer picture is that can inspire our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We share ideas; we don’t just exchange them. Conversation really happens when we not only act upon the world, but when we interact with it.

Conversation builds out of the raw material of shared inquiry. Occasionally we may advocate, but even then , we do that in order to serve and enhance the quality of the conversation. Sometimes we put out, we advocate, especially when inquiry helps us reach more or less temporary conclusions about something. In a high quality conversation, that occasional adocacy fuels further inquiry.

How well and often do you really listen?

Listening is important in conversation, for what we say arises out of what it said to us; what is said to us reveals to us our next words. Sometimes they reveal a need to be silent, to pause and reflect.

In the digital realm, chat and messaging is physically designed to encourage advocacy. We type and then press “enter” or “submit”. That is our turn to speak over; we then wait for something to be typed back “at” us.

Without the many clues of eye contact, body language and tone and quality of voice, we get our clues from emoticons, smileys, reading into the length of pauses, and into the words themselves. We often type quickly, with fingers and thumbs. Many people now thumb text at lightening speed, and most people two-finger type on keyboards. Typing often looks hurried when you watch it.

If we want to move away from a mode of digital conversation dominated by advocacy then we may need to slow down, to read what has been written, to pause and reflect on it. It can be helpful to read the words aloud, or to voice them in our head. We then take a little more time than usual to type. We read “into” the words of the other, as poetry, as literature, and we allow ourselves to be inspired by them. What are the words saying. But also: who is saying them? What time of day is this? what mood am I in? what bigger story is this message a part of?

Of of this inspiration comes our response. Conversation online is better when it is heartful. We can feel more free online and that can open the door to being more poetic and eloquent, but also more cold and “in the head”.

From advocacy to inquiry

Online conversation benefits from more inquiry and less advocacy, more from questions than only advocacy and answers. It is better when it is poetic in the sense of being warmer and more musical because we lack human physical companionship when we type “to” each other. We can make up that difference by adopting a more literary style that is mindful of the lack of physical closeness. We might describe our surroundings to the other person, or we might just pause, picture them, imagine them, and then choose words that connect with their individuality.

Online communication is a recent development in the history of humanity and the way we socialise and communicate. I believe online conversation, at least in these early stages, requires more generosity of spirit and forgiveness because, for many, without the physical presence of the other, it can feel clumsy, clunky and cold. We can stumble into sharp intellect and a kind of functional way of speaking. Or we can role play an avatar that, at least at first, feels fake and insincere.

Conversation online can be quick, effective, clumsily worded and lazy, dressed up as relaxed and cool. We often reply only to the last thing that has been typed (as we do in speech when we may only respond to the last thing that has been said). Yet online it is often the first thing we type that represents the important context, our real needs. We should take time to read it all. Just as we can listen properly to another in physical space, we can also give the present of our presence, online. Reading it all is the equivalent of fully listening online. And in a mode of inquiry, we seek the essence of the communication, the full meaning and context. If we are unclear, we inquire further. Quality online communication can be lightening fast when you are skilled at it, when you have adapted to the digital world. Without those skills, online communication can be empty, risky and even hurtful.

In online conversation, many people multi-task. We get easily distracted as well. This can be chosen, even a skill. Many young people type into their phones whilst talking face to face with friends. But for many it means we only half listen online. Sometimes we do not reply for minutes, hours, even days. An online chat of just a few sentences can take a whole week! Unless both parties expect that and are used to it, one can feel ignored, disrepected, undervalued and even abandoned. And even skilled multi-taskers may be unaware of how much one conversation can leak into another, polluting and affecting it. Our impatience with one person in one online chat can make us impatient with another person in a separate conversation. We can also suddenly dump one person online for another, on a whim or a sudden change in immediate priorities. That can (and does) happen face to face but it’s less easy to effect, less likely and far more visible. It is often accompanied by an apology or seeking permission of the other person. When I’m texting or messaging, what else I’m doing or who else I’m typing or talking to at the same time is not visible to the other person. We occupy two, even many conversations if we multi-task. Many people do that secretively, furtively, others more openly. It can divide attention, dilute conversation and even create edginess and stress. When it isn’t done skilfully it can make us inefficient and even dangerous at work, or crossing the street.

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So, a new skill set or a reason to step back? 

There are several implications for how we can educate and prepare younger people so they can be more mindful and skilled in both online and face to face conversation as well as the skill in overlapping and switching between the two:

– learning how to advocate and inquiry (including how to process advocated content and how to ask questions)

– developing the ability to multi task and knowing when this is damaging to conversation and relationships

– learning the skills of being eloquent and heartful online – when to be functional and when to be inspirational

– practising how and when to place digital activity and devices in our physical social lives

– learning the value of listening and being silent

Digital conversation bears many similarities to face to face conversation, and often appears to enhance and even replace it. Yet physical world conversation offers its own unique qualities that foster deep, nuanced connections between us. It isn’t a matter of replacing one with the other. It’s about identifying and learning to emerging skills that create virtues out of physical, virtual and the combination of the two types of conversation.

Quickening, enriching and enlivening the digital conversation

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Story 1 – We can be mindful and place the digital in the physical

Jen waking along the beach with Sam her dog on Brighton beach. It’s just after sunrise and that morning sun is spectacular, golden as it rises over Brighton Marina. She takes a picture with her smartphone and posts it to her timeline. She then takes a moment to look out to sea, the sun too bright to look even near for long. Then she types these words below the picture. “They say a sunset can be golden. Well this one is pure white gold.” Later, she’s walking the same route home and the sun is setting over Worthing pier. She captured a deeper, red gold and s purpling sky. This time, she feels, no words are needed. Across the world, a hundred and ten people share both moments. An online friend, Marcia, posts two images of her own, a sunrise and sunset over Byron Bay in Australia on Jen’s timeline. When she looks at them, she smiles, feeling genuinely warmed.

Story 2 – The physical can be sacred and precious and that doesn’t deny the digital

Neil is on a train. He has had an exciting day and he has a lot to tell his partner Jo. The train is crowded and the particularly exciting bit of news about his job offer as something he can’t wait to reveal to Jo. The train journey will last an hour. But Jo never tells his news to Jo in front of other people. He loves sharing privately and in the intimate surroundings of their home. He used to spend the whole journey chatting to Jo and others in his family and social circle. Then he stopped when he noticed the deflated feeling when he would retell the news of the day at home and Jo looked like she’d heard it before, even when there was more detail to share than he could on a voice call or by text. Neil cut down and dowloaded some novels to his EReader. He would still not be able to resist texting hints of his day and, this evening, Neil feels the urge to text “I’ve got some good news!”. Jo would reply “What ? What? And then they’d play a fun game of tease and reveal. This time, Neil savours the silence. He looks out of the window and watches the sunset world rushing by. He reads a bit of his novel. And inside, a conversation is gently wand warmly brewing. When he gets home, he still waits, and finally tells Jo about the new job when they are settled after supper, each finishing a glass of wine. Almost offhandedly, Neil says: “Guess what?” “What ?” asks Jo, seeing the glint in Neil’s eye. Neil grins. “I got it. They have offered me the job.” Jo heads over to where Neil is sitting, and Neil is glad he waited for this conversation to share his news with Jo.

Story 3 – Valuing others gives us more value in physical and digital communication

Menia and Natalie are meeting up for their weekly coffee. Menia looks more serious then usual as they settle at a window table, “Are you ok?” Natalie asks of her usually cheerful friend. “Not really” begins Menia and she begins to talk about some difficulties at work and also in her relationship. Natalie notices her phone vibrating in her bag. She interrupts Menia. “Meni, I am sorry to interrupt and I should have said earlier, I am waiting for my mum and if she calls, is it ok if I take it?” Menia says, “Of course”. The conversation continues. The phone rings three times on vibrate. None of the calls are from Natalie’s mum and she only briefly looks at the phone to check, and doesn’t answer it. It does disrupt Menia’s flow a bit, but the effect is small and both friends relax and the reason for the phone being on has been openly shared. Menia feels better for confiding in her friend and Natalie then takes her turn and discusses some of the health issues her mum is going through, also feeling better for sharing worries. They then go onto chit chat and the phone rings. Natalie takes and call.

Becoming more mindful in the digital realm

The word “mindful” has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years. Yet being mindful is exactly the way to ensure we hold our own in the digital realm. When we are mindful with conversation we are often more skilful and get more value from our encounters with other people in our lives – friends, family and work colleagues. Mindfulness is about choosing when and how to communicate. It is also about choosing when and how to not communicate and when and how to switch between digital and face to face conversation. These days it also involves noticing what is happening in and around us. What is it that we notice? We notice our addiction to the digital world, to social media and to always checking in and responding and reacting. We notice the pull of the digital realm. We can even notice our own weakness in surrendering to it. I have always found it interesting that we are often invited to press a button on a screen called “submit”.!

Mindful conversation involves noticing when our next action dilutes or diminishes the conversation happening right now, in front of us, in favour of another, less valuable conversation. We flip between one conversation and another, we multitask and we don’t get synergy – a greater overall value; instead, we reduce the value of everything we are trying to do overall. When we are very mindful of our digital and face to face conversation, we prioritise what is precious and important, noticing our habits and compulsions. We start to put the digital to the service of our physical, tactile life. It becomes a tool rather than an driver. We get more value out of it by placing consciously – more mindfully.

Sometimes we will favour the digital over face to face or phone…

Story 4 – Looking after each other

Glyn is stressed. He as a presentation to give at the team meeting and he hates giving presentations. The meeting is on the other side of town. His friend, Karen, knows that when he is nervous, Glyn isn’t good on the phone. He forgets what you tell him. But she is worried he might be late for the meeting. He is a good, supportive friend. She carefully writes a short text: “Meeting is at 32 Bread Street. Ask for “Daniella Davis when you arrive at reception. You need to be there by 845 for a 9 start. Book your taxi at 8. See you in reception. And relax!”. Karen knows he will read the text and knows that a call or even going to his office isn’t what Glyn needs. A text arrives at 11.30am. “Presentation went fine. Thanks!”

Our conversations improve when we inquire more than we advocate. And they improve when we gain conscious, skilled control over the border between digital and face to face. It isn’t about turning one off in favour of the other – it is about managing both in ways that keep us mobile – not only physically but also emotionally and in the way we think. The digital realm, especially of social media, clamours for our attention and specifically pulls at us, enticing us away from the value of face to face. It does this with alerts and notifications that usually are set to “on” as a default. We have to control that as an act of will. You can have an entirely different, and even refreshing experience of your digital gadgets if you become able to choose each moment you engage with them, if you have the will power to silence the alerts and to prioritise the people physical in front of you. You cab then use the digital as tools to assist that interaction. And occasionally you may choose to dive in, to immerse yourself in the digital realm – surfing, researching, chatting, sharing, responding, and advocating. But it is always better when it is a choice – to both immerse and to exit freely. Two habits – together and separately, can hinder and even destroy that freedom: when you become habitually addicted to the digital in favour of the physical world, and when you become a serial advocater, unable to be silent, to listen, be open and curious, patient and responsive. Conversation goes out of the window, and your real freedom with it.

Physical immersion, narcissism and digital addiction

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From physical activity to physical immersion

The rise in physical fitness and the use of westernised Eastern practices such as yoga has been significant in recent years. The emergence of the boutique fitness studio, new forms of high-intensity  Yoga, such as Hot Yoga, as well as the rise of the low-cost gym (with UK gym membership spending up by 44% in 2014) all point to an increase in western human focus on the human body. The often cited motive for this is health and fitness. In practices such as yoga, the intention may go beyond that into psychological and spiritual well-being as well.

You probably know someone – a friend of family member – who has joined the local gym or bought a two-week pass to a Hot Yoga class, and they can’t get enough of it. Often when we try something new and gain benefit from it, we can quickly become immersed in it. We go to the gym every day and take half a dozen classes. We go to three yoga sessions in a day. It is thrilling, exciting, we feel immediate benefits. Apart from the possible risks of overdoing it, there are darker consequences of over-immersing ourselves in physical activity, especially when, in parallel, we begin to over-immerse in the digital realm – the world of texting, photo sharing and social media gaming and messaging.

The rise of digital connection

Studies are already finding that too much texting can harm relationships. It can create mistrust, and also take our attention away from critical times in our relationship with our partner and family members. On waking, instead of spending a bit of good morning time with our partner or our kids, we head into the bathroom and everyone notices that our “morning poo” is taking longer and longer. There’s an eerie silence in the bathroom, for these days, tapping on gorilla glass is a silent activity. The family becomes fractured even in the first few minutes after waking up.

But what does all this have to do with going to the gym? Physical activity – exercise, yoga, Zumba, and even stillness-based mediation are all bodily activities. They take us into our separate selves. They are immersive activities. What does that mean? it means we go into them, physically, emotionally, our attention fixes on the physical activity, we sink into the activity. The problem doesn’t lie with yoga or physical fitness methods per se. Traditional yoga wisdom warns of narcissism and over-immersion – and that wisdom goes back a very long time time. The problem lies in our modern addictive relationship to it, our need for instant gratification and the way some new forms of it are packaged and marketed.

The need for balance

Most physical exercise is about balance. If we overdo things we can injure ourselves. We can get headaches, have disturbed sleep and even become depressed by too much physical activity. Too much water can poison us, and too much physical activity can, under some circumstances, also become toxic for us. There’s even a term for it: exercise addiction. We become “exercise dependent”, and this can be experienced by partners as a decline in their relationship. In physical exercise, our focus on the bodily form can create insecurity in our partners and family members.

Distaste for those we used to love

We can become critical of them and their bodily form. Suddenly they look overweight and even ugly to us; under the guise of wanting them to be as fit and healthy (and good-looking) as us, we cast our critical eye over their posture, their lifestyle and express dissatisfaction.  We’ve possibly arrived in a genuinely good place in that our newly won fitness and health is something our family would genuinely benefit from emulating. But we may also have arrived at narcissism where no one in our close family and friends is quite a beautiful as we are! Slowly, your partner starts to be less attractive to you and the better toned people in your gym become cooler and more compelling.

Who are you kidding?

In spiritual-physical practices such as yoga, your may fall into “spiritual delusion“, seeing your newly improved body as a kind of temple that your boring family are not fit even approach or simple don’t understand. Then the morning hugs stop, even the eye contact.  Sometimes that comes from the culture of the gym or class which can fuel that elitism and narcissism, especially where there is no discussion or reminder about the impact on, and relation of your practice to, the rest of your life and family.

Me Me Me!

Narcissism is “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance”. When we immerse too quickly and too much in any activity we can lose our connection with our wider social context. We have to “surface” again. The problem with a narcissistic approach is that we do not see our close social context as the place on which to surface. We surface alone, or with our cool friends from the gym or the yoga class. If we can’t meet them physically, we simply trade one form of immersion for another. We say we are going for a walk, to take a bath, or to sit in the garden but what we really do is light up our smart phone and start messaging on Facebook and texting. It’s 10pm, the child is tucked up in bed and we wish our partner goodnight without so much as a kiss or a warm smile and head back into our own private world. The danger of overdoing physical practice is that we then abandon even the smaller physical acts of a cuddle, a conversation or a meal together. Family life feels too intense, and we feel as if we are being scrutinised when, in reality, our kids, our partner, even our friends are genuinely trying to reconnect with us because, through immersion, we seem very absent, zoned out, and even a bit alien. And all we have to offer thm is silence; becausethe now mundane family seems too intense.

Families can normally deal with immersion. We all have phases of immersion and most of us don’t fall into addiction and dependency. Phases come and go and things tend to settle over time. However, in recent years, the rise of the digital realm has brought in a powerful new dynamic – the possibility of instant and even constant digital distraction and immersion, alongside whatever else we are doing in the physical world.

The pull of social media

Social media is rooted in connection, in our messaging other people and it is device-based – when we are doing it, we are NOT doing anyone or anything else. Younger people have learned to multi-task and for them holding two conversations at once is now normal. There’s plenty of evidence for that in Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. My own research in my book, Digital Inferno, also suggests that digital immersion brings many new experiences and benefits to humanity, but also takes it toll. And it takes a particularly heavy toll on people who do not find its underlying “pull” easy to cope with. Partners can feel ignored, excluded and even begin to wonder at who and what their partner is connecting with in their over-long stay in the lavatory.

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Scratching the itch for connection

Digital distraction scratches an itch for connection without the need for physical intimacy and visceral immediacy. When a partner comes home from a workout at the gym and feels physically satisfied, even overloaded, it is easier to debrief with someone with a few hundred finger taps,  away from the family in the room next door, than to expose yourself to the “glare” of real physical presence. When someone has physically immersed to the point of overload, even a goodnight kiss is one physical act too much. The light goes out first and the “g’night” emerges minimally from the darkness, if at all. The partner turns over into some restless sleep.

Joining in?

One solution is for the partner, even the whole family, to join in with the physical activity. This can and does recreate connection. We develop some shared, common ground. We all go to the gym together. We all take a family walk together. But if we all then go into overload, it will simply multiply the problem, not resolve it. Certainly if one family member is experiencing physical exercise as life-changing, we should not make them feel alienated. We should celebrate with them and join in when we can. But when narcissism creeps in and takes over, that can be hard as the person wants us to keep out of their space. This is my thing! This is none of your business! You don’t get me (and I don’t want you to get me anyway). We can feel we are losing a person and that can create fear and panic in a husband, a wife, even a child. It is always healthier to debrief our activity together, to share and involve each other. That makes it easier to feel safer to then give the other person whatever space and distance that they also, at times, need. Where it all goes wrong is where the partner and the rest of the family is frozen out of the activity. They are put “over there”. And then, when the immersed person does want to connect and debrief, they head to their Facebook page, Whatsapp, and their texting buddies as the default.

The Fatal Tipping Point

Digital immersion creates a tipping point, I believe, in many relationships. Relationships which began warmly, start to suffer under a fatal combination of physical and digital immersion and even addiction. The physical immersion makes family intimacy feel “burning”, and the added digital immersion steals any final energy and inner resources for smaller acts of physical intimacy and warmth. A kiss from your partner feels forced, even grotesque because you are simply physically overloaded and it all feels fake. You’ve ploughed all of your physical and emotional energy into yourself. All you have left for your family is polite, detached, spoken words, all at a fairly safe physical distance. In comparison, typed kisses and fingertip conversations are so much easier…

Some people joke about being a “yoga widow“, and the “I and mine” (as it is sometimes called) consequence of over-immersing breeds narcissism. I become more important than my family, and my partner’s need for the regular intimacy and connection we used to share becomes unreasonable, annoying, cloying and invasive. If physical practice feeds narcissism, the added ongoing digital connection on social media – a realm of Xs and likes and superlatives, feeds that egoism even further. If you are doing too much yoga, the digital realm will “loop back” into your “false ego duo” and actually harm your practice. You’ll then bring THAT home to your family which they may experience as you being even more detached, selfish and even cold. This can erupt into “angry yoga” syndrome where the physical and digital overload overwhelms us and we express that in terms of blame and intolerance of those around us. Why don’t they get us? Why are they demanding so much of us? Why can’t they give us a bit of space? 

We get home – the family wants a bit of our time, and all we want is to get to bed, get into an empty room for a bit of digital time, or to simply be left alone. We don’t realise we are too immersed, overdosing and putting up defensive walls of survival. 

Little gestures of warmth and love

The digital realm of social media is all about many small gestures. That is what an”X” is. That is what a “like”, “smiley”, a little “hello darling” to a male friend all are  – these little gestures each take an imperceptibly small amount of our energy and motivation and we often get little positive gestures back in return. They are immediate and compelling and they are nearly always aimed at “ME.”. When we are tired out from three gym classes and a run, it can be easier to get a goodnight and a kiss from our Facebook friends or a loving or fun text than the more physically close and “intense” husband lying next to us. Looking at us. Why is he staring? Why is he being so needy? There he lies – wanting to touch and a bit of warm eye contact in the moonlight. Yeuchh!  

When he says “I love you”, it is because he means it and because he hasn’t seen you all day. Yet it can feel like a demand because, of course, it is so much more than a convenient smiley.
There’s plenty of evidence that staying in love is all about small, simple gestures. Without them, relationships degrade. I believe a tipping point can be reached where normally benevolent practices such as physical fitness and yoga become so immersive that, when combined with digital overload, the relationship within a family or between two people can begin to die. And the tragedy is, it wouldn’t have died had this not been the case. Relationships that would have lasted and grown over years get buried under the weight of addiction combined with distraction, detachment and, often, anger. And the real tipping point is when we lose the ability to value or even understand those little gestures of love from those we used to welcome them from. Those little gestures actually point the way out of the mess.

What can be done?

For those practising yoga and other spiritual-physical practices we need to apply similar discipline and mindfulness that we do in the practice itself. We have to become aware, not only of egoism developing in us,  but also of harmful social detachment developing too. I believe small physical and emotional gestures towards our family become more important the more we immerse in physical activity. These are gestures of giving and sharing, an antidote to selfishness and narcissism. And what is wonderful about them is that they challenge the developing narcissist because they are gestures of giving and sharing. A hug, a kiss, holding hands, listening to another, a cuppa and sitting close – all of these things are not only about ME. They become a counter-weight, an antidote to toxic selfishness. This balance will actually enhance the physical practice you engage in as well. If I go to yoga, it should never only be about me but also my family, even my community, even the world at large. Yoga was never meant to be cold and unkind. It was never intended to damage family life. Physical fitness was never meant to diminish how we see others and our conversations with them. Those conversations can be diminished to such an extent that they become empty and unbearable. It’s hardly surprising that the easier “chat” on social media and the smiley become such ready alternatives.

Hippy nonsense?

Does that sound like New Age clap trap? I suggest not. It is eminently practical to develop ourselves to be at our physical and emotional healthiest and best, not as an end in itself, but so that we can be a better partner, a better mum or dad or parent, better in the job we do, a better more contributing member of society. That isn’t hippy, it is actually purposeful and efficient. My partner is a yoga teacher and she often refers to her motive for doing yoga. Yes, she is working on herself, but there is a companion motive of being more present and energised for we, her family. And she wants to make a positive difference in her community- not just for herself, but also for the world. She comes home from a long day, tired from physical activity. And it is just in those moments I offer up those (sometimes hard to take) little gestures of love – physical, emotional, and warm. So does our son. So does our cat.

As more and more people admit to using their phones whilst on the toilet, and with research pointing to how smartphones in bed can ruin your sex life as well as your relationship, I believe that immersion in physical activity combined with digital addiction will destroy more and more relationships. Indeed this is already happening. It may be happening to you right now. It’s time to open up the dialogue with your partner and your wider family – before it is too late.

When physical immersion goes beyond being a fun and thrilling phase and becomes a compulsion; when family life begins to suffer from it, it is time to reduce and more consciously place that immersion and find a better balance. If the people who you know love you begin to tell you they are experiencing you as colder, more detached, if they are struggling to experience the warm flame of love that seems to have diminished to a hidden pilot light, there’s still time to reclaim the conversation that brought you all together in the first place. 

How? You will need to begin to place both your physical and digital activity more consciously in the context of your family and friends, and of your partner who isn’t as immersed as you. You might need to name it as an addiction. You may need to say sorry. You might need some professional help. One good place to start: those important, small gestures of love.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

New iPad? Tech firms have abandoned radical innovation for mediocrity

The ConversationPaul Levy, University of Brighton

The dust has now settled on the latest product launch from Apple, which for many trumped headlines about refugees, poverty and the battles for the Republican nomination and leadership of the UK Labour Party. We have new iPads, iPhones and more. But how new are they really?

Innovation is often characterised as being either “radical” or “incremental”. When it is radical, it sets new precedents and fundamentally changes the way we do things. From self-administered insulin to solar powered houses to driverless cars, radical innovation releases potential. Incremental innovation on the other hand builds upon what is already there in small steps.

In the world of mobile phones and tablets, incremental has become the new radical, and true radical innovation has been relegated to the sidelines. Incremental innovation has become the norm because of a belief that “slow and steady wins the race”, that people don’t like the risks that come with big dramatic changes. That seems to be Apple’s long-term strategy and, as a dominant player, it is setting the culture for other players in the market.

Using staged marketing in the form of annual or biannual high-profile media launches, tech firms have groomed us as consumers to accept small change as normal. More radical innovation, such as a modular phone that can be continually upgraded, is seen as crazy, quirky or even science fiction.

No radical innovation

The new iPad Pro that is a few inches bigger than the last one is being hailed as a “big leap” when it’s really just tinkering with the old design. Despite the new features, it in no way represents a radical innovation worthy of ecstatic celebration. The whoops of delight at its launch were followed by voices of disappointment online.

It is primarily for commercial reasons that Apple has institutionalised incremental innovation and tried to convince us all it is radical. iPhones and iPads are brilliantly designed things. Incremental innovation requires expertise and excellence in design and improvement. Phones and tablets play a major part in millions of peoples’ lives. But continued innovation happens at a slow pace designed to suit the supplier not the user, who is nonetheless pushed to pay significant amounts of money each year for minor changes.

When they said the new iPad was bigger they weren’t kidding.
Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Fear of failure may have also contributed to the disappearance of radical innovation. The struggles of more unusual designs such as that of the Amazon Fire phone may have made innovators more cautious, delaying and lengthening product development and rollout to compensate. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that virtually none of the radical (labelled “crazy” at the time) concept phones of 2010 have never appeared on the market.

We may have also reached a point where phone design is so good that truly impressive change has become much harder to achieve. So we continue to buy similar looking products, putting them to our ears (just as we did with landlines), snapping cameras with slightly better picture clarity, and getting slightly more intelligent answers from Siri. Same game, tiny changes, price hike.

A smartphone revolution

At the same time, major new challenges are emerging for smartphone makers, from evidence that current phone designs may be fuelling unhappiness and reducing productivity to the worrying environmental impact of manufacturing them. Radical innovation is needed so that phones fully serve customer interests in a sustainable way.

But for the time being, more radical products, such as the Yotaphone 2, (which offers a dual screen), or the Runcible (round, beautiful and rather different), will be at best seen as quirky and niche. The existing market leaders will only change their tortoise-speed approach to radical innovation if a major new player genuinely disrupts the market with fast, penetrative changes.

For example, Chinese company Xiaomi is creating a range of products for the home (from TVs to air purifiers) that automatically link with their smartphones in a single, integrated system. This is the kind of radical idea that could shock Apple into becoming more radical and adventurous.

We could eventually see mobile computing move away from hand-held, screen-based devices towards seamless interaction across different devices and platforms such as wearable technology and projected holograms.

For the foreseeable future, however, innovation in the mobile and wearable space is going to be dominated by incremental and fairly mediocre approaches to innovation. Radical thinking will be consigned to concepts for the future and the iPhone 7 will probably look a lot like the iPhone 3. But the launch will be offered as another revolution.

Paul Levy, Senior Researcher in Innovation Management, University of Brighton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Excluding Friends and Computer Gaming

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The Play Date Becomes a Date Alone

It’s a play date. After school. At some point food will be served. Until then there’s time to fill. There’s some overflow energy from school and the two boys head to the garden and leap about on the trampoline. Out of breath, they lie next to each other, looking up at the sky. They chat about “stuff”.

A few minutes with the basketball net and then they are back inside the house, heading for the boy’s room.  Star Wars Lego is pulled out and played with. Mum and Dad can hear the sound of a bit of banter and disagreement and then the topic changes to: “So what have you being doing on Minecraft?”. The talk becomes a bit more hushed, more intense and earnest. And then there is silence.

Inevitable Screen Time

It’s screen time. We always seem to end up here, these days, sooner and sooner.

The boys have this computer game in common and it forms the basis for much feverish chat during school breaks. One of the boys is more “advanced” than the other. He spends more time playing the game, often when his parents don’t know he is playing. But there is only one IPad in the house.

Nick pulls out the IPad and says this: “Shall we play?” Colin nods eagerly, wanting to be part of “cool.”.

Nick soon becomes entirely focused on his game and, despite a few questions from Colin and even a request to “have a go”, Nick quickly zones out of Colin. It takes less than three minutes. There’s a bit of chat and show at first, but then that stops.

Colin might as well have vanished. Colin tries to get some pleasure out of watching the seemingly expert Nick as he builds and destroys. He praises here or there and gets a nod or a grunt that soon diminishes.

Soon Colin actually feels invisible, more like an unwanted ghost. He gets up and finds a book. Twenty minutes later, there is a call from downstairs “Pasta’s ready!”

Colin passes on the message to Neil that food is ready, though both are in the same room with the door open when the call came up the stairs. Colin, ignored, heads downstairs. Neil hasn’t moved. Five minutes later, the IPad ripped from his hands by an indignant mum, Neil is then with Colin, eating Pasta Carbonara and munching garlic bread. Mum wonders if the boys have had a fight. Neither is talking.

Back at Home Alone

Colin gets home and his dad asks if he had a good day. “Yeah” he replies. A bit later Colin tells how his play date was “Ok, but it got a bit boring”. This is now the fifth time in a row that their play dates have ended in the same inevitable place, with Colin an excluded bystander to a computer game. “How did it make you feel?” asks mum? “It makes me feel like he doesn’t really want me to be there.”

Colin’s dad thinks he needs some new friends. In future, Colin wants to get home first before the play date so he can take his own IPad to the play date. He knows there’s a ban on taking them to school, even stowed in a backpack. Mum doesn’t think play dates should involve IPads at all. “It’s only a couple of hours after school!”

In the play date house, Neil’s mum asks Neil how the play date went. “Yeah, ok” says Neil. “But Colin didn’t seem to want to do much.”



Reflection

When there is only one device and the game is really designed for single user play, friends can become excluded. Soon, play dates become fractured and dissatisfying. The solution could be to ensure that games are collaborative or that there is more than one device available to the children. There are many games out there that require collaboration. However, collaboration-based games of this kind seem to work better when the children are actually in different buildings to each other. They “chat” as they play. But then the collaboration is a bit ghostlike, based on texting. And does this really solve the issue of the fractured play date – placing the kids in different rooms to each other?

Similar things can happen with watching TV. If what is watched is genuinely a shared experience for friends, it will then feel social, shared and there may be joined up conversation during and after. But when the programmes are simply there for one child and the other isn’t interested, or up to date, they become detached, excluded onlookers. This can happen when a child has become glued to a TV series and the guest child hasn’t even seen episode one.

Now excluding is something children learn all about in the school playground. it is part of childhood “monkey” dynamics. We all have experience of being left out of the group, of being told we aren’t part of something. That excluding can toughen us up, traumatise us, we can learn from it, or it can leave us bemused. In a competitive world, exclusion and inclusion are part of life, with positive and negative effects on us. In this play date example, the exclusion doesn’t seem to have anything positive about it. It does teach the lesson that digital gaming can be a solitary thing and that gadgets seem primarily designed for the person holding them, and that person alone. Most of all, on a play date, it seems to dilute the value of that play date and it isn’t the same as a play date going into a phase where the children head off into their own space for a little while, to play alone. It involves leaving a person out in a way that makes them feel ignored and undervalued.

I believe play dates should have ground rules based on inclusivity. Devices and programs should be shared. If we must do digital, then how about some shared stop motion film making? If we must watch a movie, then let it be something both children genuinely want to watch. When digital becomes anti-social, it undermines the benefits of shared time together. The play date dissolves into simply passing time in the same room as each other.

There are collaborative games, but devices themselves tend to be designed to comfortable in the hands of one person; there’s a physical imbalance in how we have to sit, our angle of view. Devices, as they are currently designed – phones, tablets, even PCs, focus on separation, not collaboration. They also encourage the child to zone into them, which consequently leads them to socially zoning out of people around them. If play dates are primarily aimed at sharing time and being social. digital gaming and programme watching can often destroy that aim.

Play dates, especially for younger children, do not have to revolve around screen time. It is okay and even strengthening to create ground rules around play dates. They can include linking screen time to collaboration. Excluding behaviour can have the consequences of less screen time. We can more carefully choose games which are based on collaboration and being social. During play dates we can keep an eye on how screen time is happening:

  • choosing TV and films that everyone wants to watch and stopping for a drinks break to let the children talk about what they are watching
  • Encouraging sharing of devices so not only one person hogs the time – having rules for this
  • create a direct link between shared physical activity and screen time (For example, 200 bounces on the trampoline for 5 mins screen time)
  • chunking screen time with turn-taking – sometimes this results in the children opting for physical play instead anyway
  • ensuring shared screen time is done in a social place, not a locked or closed bedroom. Yes, you can play a game together, but its downstairs at the table, where the rest of us are
  • time-limiting screen time and ensuring that homework is done first
  • using more creative programs and apps such as stop motion animation that can involve screens AND physical activity such as clay model animation, or using an app with a drone
  • rewarding sharing behaviour and discussing after screen time what each child learned or enjoyed about it
  • including adults in some of the screen time; parents become “cool” and people to involve and ask questions, not only viewed by children policemen
  • always having some play date time out of the house – rendering screen time less relevant – when they are on the climbing frame in the park they soon forget about screens
  • place screen time more specifically and overtly; arrange a screen time play date separately; create a new default for play dates based around non-screen activity; ensure plenty of other activities are on tap: things to do in the garden, park trips, sports, crafts and building activities, creative arts etc.

Play dates can become antisocial, disappointing experiences if excluding behaviour occurs; it seems to be occurring more with digital devices. Let’s reclaim play dates as true places of social, shared play for our children.

The Loss of Emotion and Embodiment in Children’s Gaming

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The Game is Changing

In the early days of shoot ’em up computer games, physical gestures in gaming at least partly mimicked physical ones. I remember watching angry friends wearing out ‘Fire’ buttons on joysticks or ruining the space bar on a computer keyboard which acted as the fire button.

Kill and destroy gestures were angry, forceful and partly authentic to their physical counterparts. You’d often see calm gamers build and explode into anger and swearing.

Goodbye, Mr Bond!

Now, cut to a thriller movie: The chilling bad guys of movies such as James Bond were chilling because, when they pressed the red button that released a scared servant into a bubbling pool of killer piranha fish below, they pressed the button, not with anger, nor forcefulness but with a soft, ballet-chilly cruel lightness. The press was almost lazy, too easy, effortless and even indifferent – like some depictions of Roman Emperor Nero’s thumb deciding who would live and who would die.

Clash of the Gestures

Recently I watched a child playing the addictive app war game Clash of Clans. As he re-armed his base with numerous death devices to burn, evaporate and explode people and villages, and as he quickly reloaded guns and restocked with bombs and chemical weapons, his finger presses were not ’embodied’. They were hardly committed physically. They did not show aggression or excitement. They turned war into something light, without real consequence for him. His fingertips brushed the keys as if it all didn’t really matter, as if all this destruction was without consequence for him. (Now this game isn’t a real-time shooter, but it does happen pretty much in real time).

On the Moral Rebound

When we punch hard with an angry roar, we also create a “moral rebound”. The impact of our anger and emotion plays out, not only in the world around us, but also onto and inside us as well. (we hear and feel the sound and impact of our own glorious human roar).

So, the authentic gesture is embodied and usually echoes within us. The resonance goes into our memory and can even lead to reflection and the awakening of either further anger or of conscience. Righteous anger can arise where we feel our gesture was morally justified, or we may feel guilty and that we should make amends or cease our aggressive activity.

War and mass destruction was occurring in Clash of Clans and it was as if this child’s deftly tapping fingers were delivering death and pain in the manner of little ballet feet on the gorilla glass.

Disembodying our Children

For children, these games become, not only a form of disembodied aggression, but even the last vestige of embodied gesturing, a growl and a strong aggressive key press becomes diluted and even disappears completely.

Something calmer replaces it – it can look economic, minimal and even graceful. The presses become a form of cold, functional, spider-like applied movement. The fingers scuttle instead of expressing feeling. Now there may be some benefits or advantages to this ability to detach. It may give us more of a distance from being too immersed. Yet if we lose the ability to embody our feelings, is the price too high?

Clash of Clans becomes a playground for emotionally minimal destruction without moral rebound or reflection. It becomes a training platform in pure indifferent cruelty. The death doesn’t matter because it is pixelated – the practice and imagined experience of it become a lazy afternoon pastime to while away an hour or three. The tiny smile on that child’s face was utterly chilling as he ignited then obliterated another little field of people. Then he looked up, stared at me and said: “What? WHAT?”

The New Skill Set for Digital Content Management – Communication or Conversation?

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Conversation is a form of communication. But not all communication is a conversation.

At a recent gathering of social media leaders in London, UK, from mostly large corporations, I heard many internal communications and social business leaders talking about the challenge of “news”. Others shared their frustration at how many days it took to get a tweet authorised on the corporate twitter channel. Yes, days. Others boasted of hours, and one pointed to five levels of approval needed for a Tweet to go public.

There was also a lot of conversation about the struggles to get employees to “engage with the corporate message”. News stories are regularly published and there’s little full reading of them and even less comment or discussion.

When we see ourselves as publishers of content, and encouragers of others in our organisation to publish content themselves, we are a long way away from conversation.

The challenge to really communicate

And this is a serious problem because this really is the age of conversation. Cafes are full to bursting with people meeting to chat and social media in the world “out there” is all about conversation. I spoke so several Millennials recently who admitted to reading only a the first paragraph of a news story (or even just the headline) and then jumping to the bottom of the page, skilfully avoiding adverts and sponsored news stories (some use ad blockers) and finding more engagement in the comments and discussion at the end of the news story.

Conversation, of course, is interactive. Even if we curate the topic, we cannot predict how the conversation will go and that’s why hierarchy based organisations either don’t really get conversation or kill it by trying to over-control it.

Conversation opens space for the unknown. It is emergent

So can we we ensure the conversation doesn’t harm our brand or our bottom line? Well be can be mediocre and simply stifle the conversation with one way communication instead. We basically become a PR channel, Now, that is interesting because the new Millennial generation (and other generations too, I suspect) are very mistrustful of PR and PR-speak.

The way we ensure the conversation is beneficial is by being authentic and responsive to the feedback the conversation produces. A big part of that is openness and acknowledging feedback we find uncomfortable. Out of negative comment, innovation can be born. Often the conversation will settle over time, especially if our engagement with it is honest and authentic. Ditch PR and you might find the real conversation becomes valuable, even vital.

“Conversation is a form of communication. But not all communication is a conversation.”

Recently in Brighton, there were two fires in the city. As the budget-strapped local newspaper failed to cover the stories, even on Twitter, the conversation using its newspaper hashtag became compelling and news-rich as citizens and groups on the ground filled the news gap with their own reports and updates. The newspaper could have curated that conversation, encouraged it more actively, instead of practising what was described by many locals as a disappointing “radio silence”.

New skills are needed

We become not broadcasters alone, not a tradition one-way media channel that “puts out” stories. We become facilitators of the online conversation – inside and outside our organisation.

These skills include:

– the ability to trigger or inspire conversation with questions and “Opening statements”

– using emotional intelligence to tap into communications

– being able to deal and work with negative conversation and turn “destruction” into “construction” aimed at solution and innovation

– knowing how to respect views and acknowledge, be compassionate and sensitive – using non-violent communication methods and phrasing empathically

– knowing how to facilitate different conversation threads and manage tangential “threads” in ways that keep core themes in tact

– knowing how to be agile and flexible across different types of content and media channels

– using listening skills – and being able to summarise conversation, feed back essential points

– being able to draw useful action, ideas and suggestions for emotionally charged conversation

– being able to connect threads of themes in a conversation

– knowing when and how to bring a conversation to an end and to set ground rules for conversing online

being able to facilitate debate and discussion and to motivate “advocaters” to enquire more into the views of others (Turning “pushy-talk” into “listen and interact”)

– using humour properly and helpfully in social media conversation

– knowing how to diffuse and redirect conflict

From Communication to Engagement

Conversation creates engagement – with your organisation, its products, its value and its brand. Conversation can be “owned” by customers and employees and can lead to loyalty, commitment and also a willingness to offer ideas for innovation. Conversation is more real-time and enables the organisation to be more responsive. It can work along side traditional channels of news broadcasting that then respond to it and become more relevant. News then serves conversation ,feeds it, adds to it

There’s a real opportunity here for larger organisations to skilfully practice social media conversation. I am often involved in teaching the practical skills for doing that. We draw on different fields that can include: theatre skills, writing skills, listening and dialogue skills, media skills, negotiation and conflict resolution, alongside specific skills such as eloquent tweeting or manage threaded discussions.

The first step is to remember that not all communication is conversation, but conversation can ignite energy and engagement.


Do get in touch if you’d like to develop these skills in your business or organisation.

Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Ten Ways to Let Go of Your Digital Day

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The Digital Day that overshadows the Physical Day

More and more people are waking up to the sound of their smart phone. A convenient alarm clock, our phones have crept into our bedrooms, right onto our bedside tables. 

Sales managers, business leaders, teachers, teens and even doctors and yoga teachers habitually digitally connect just minutes before they turn over to sleep through the night.

Morning comes. We reach for the device and set the alarm to snooze. Or do we? How many of us are reaching for that device and beginning our digital day with our eyes hardly open and our dreams still fresh on the borders of our consciousness? We reach for that device and check texts, Twitter feeds, comments on our Facebook page, watch a video or read some emails. At night we place our device by our bed, still on, connected to WiFi, setting the alarm with perhaps one final check out with our social media swirl.

And what lies in-between? A digital day woven into our physical day – from the flat screen TV above our running machine at the gym, a desktop PC at our work desk, coffee breaks and bus rides loaded with mobile connecting, as well as digitally made adverts wherever we go, clamouring for our attention. Our voice calls, though physical, are sent via a digital medium, and even a paperback book is full of code – the language made up of letters, following logical rules and structures. Reading, even of something that grips our imaginations, involves deciphering more code.

The pull of the digital world

For a moment we look out of the window of our train and see Nature rushing by. In my home town of Brighton in the UK, there’s a short stretch of track where our train crosses a viaduct and Nature’s green vista opens up on all sides on our way to London. It lasts for about thirty seconds. Many people on the train look up for a moment and behold it. As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed fewer people doing it, staring instead at their phone games, or tablet work emails.

Time to properly  let go of your digital day?

Night time comes. You yawn with tiredness, ready for a refreshing sleep. There’s increasing evidence that using your phone before you turn in for the night could be adversely affecting that sleep. It isn’t just the disturbing images of checking the news before bed, or reading a stressful work email. Wifi signals themselves could be harming the quality of our sleep.

Yet do we need evidence, or doesn’t common sense tell us the same? An argument before bed, watching a TV soap, the (bad) News or a  horror film, reading a disturbing fiction book –  we’ve known for years that these are not ideal ways to let go at the end of a day. Yet there are new factors that arise that are fairly unique to the digital world.

So, how can we healthily and mindfully let go of our digital day? Here are some tips. Not all will suit you. Choose the ones that work best for you.

1. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. Keep your devices out of the bedroom.  If you must use your smartphone as an alarm clock, choose a gentle sound for your wake-up call. Many alarm apps on smart phones and tablets can wake you up with some soft bells, music or bird song. And turn the device to AIrplane mode which switches off the Wifi. Even better, keep them out of the bedroom and get a real alarm clock.

2. Let go with some music. If you play a CD or an Mp3, you are, of course, still digitally connecting as this is digital music. If you must do that then at least choose some relaxing music – nothing with too much of a melody to fire your thinking, or a disturbing beat or lyrics to upset your dreams. Something gentle and calming. Or how about a bit of singing? I’m not kidding! A warm shower and a bit of a song can be a lovely way to prepare your physical breathing for the rhythmic, settled breathing of sleep. SIng in the bath, or just hum.  I’ve also heard of friends who play guitar, their flute or piano before sleep.

3. A verse can be another way of getting into a gentle rhythm for sleep. I wrote my own lullaby years back and learned it. I know it off by heart; it’s a simple poem, something to re-engage myself with spoken, not typed words. Many of my friends have used it and benefited from it. Say it aloud or say it in your head, just before sleep. Or find one to suit you or write one yourself.

Lullaby

The sea is rising, falling on the spray

The river to the sea does wend its way

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

Into the river comes the stream to sing

Before the winding stream there is the spring

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

It bubbles gently from the mountain gray

Like notes upon the water’s gentle play

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

And flowing like a lullaby to sleep

Its pebbles, sands and crystals in the deep

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

So tinkle-rings and fairy song do seem

To ease you to a calm and lovely dream.

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

Sleep now soft and sure sleep

Sleep now soft and sure

Sleep now soft and

Sleep now soft

Sleep now

Sleep.

4. Let Nature refresh you. We stare at digital pictures throughout our day. Many people experience the Tetris Effect, where they see after-images as they lie in bed. It can be very disturbing and really harm your process of going to sleep. Always leave an hour of non-digital activity before you go to bed and to sleep. If you’ve had a busy day full of digital interaction, step outside and look at the night sky. Look at a picture depicting Nature, ideally made from real paint! Gently engaging with Nature, beholding a plant, and natural materials (a shell, a pebble, a  piece of driftwood), seems to help undo the effect of digital images. Try it!

5. Reflect back over your day, in reverse order. Go back over the events of your day and you will notice things that are still there, unresolved, in your mind, perhaps bothering you. Reflect over them and gently let them go until the morning. Start at the end of the day – from most recent events and then head backwards in your memory, stopping to simply notice anything that “comes up”. Noticing is a remarkably healing thing to do. You might make a decision or two. You might get a new, better perspective.

6. Look your digital day straight in the eye. One way of stopping digital content from lurking in your subconscious is to bring it into full consciousness. Try reading texts or emails aloud; hear the words, lifted out of the digital realm. If a text has been bothering you, read it aloud; you might even want to talk it through with someone – get clarity on it; clear the air. Debrief with yourself or with with a friend or family member, talk about anything that is bothering you. Summarize and gently process your digital day. Some people keep a diary and write it all down, with real pen and real ink. You might do that in the evening, in the morning, or both.

7.  Tie up loose ends before the end of the day. Don’t leave conversations unresolved, decisions hanging in the air. Are you hiding behind texting? Would an early evening call clear up a problem? Do you need to meet that person face to face? Don’t take your worries home with you, into your evening, into your sleep.

8. Find a night time drink or aroma that helps you let go. A cup of chamomile tea, or perhaps some lemon water. Often caffeine and alcohol accompany digital activity. If coffee is what you need at the start of your day, find something that helps you relax and find calm at the end. An hour before bed, even a glass of filtered water and then NO digital activity can be all that is needed to let go of your digital day. You might also burn some lavender oil in an oil burner. Find a “nightcap” that suits you.

9. Turn off your Wifi at the router. Reduce the amount of digital activity in your home. Turn off devices, place them consciously in a dedicated place in the house (Not in the bedroom!). The ritual of placing our tools away, of leaving them, is a gesture of letting go that can really enhance our rest and recuperation.

10. Finally, find physical and mental activity that helps you unwind and release. For some it is meditation, for others yoga. A swim, a bath, a walk by the sea or in the park. Try to do it where there is no digital distraction. Turn phones off. Try to avoid digitally produced music. Just you, the activity, your body, your mind and your breathing. Find an activity that supports you in letting go of your digital day.

Creating the Rhythm of Letting go

When we get into a regular rhythm of consciously letting go of our digital day, we can initially feel the pull of the digital realm. Our habit and even our addiction can try to sabotage us. Gently persevere, keep at it. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself drawn back into digital activity. Over time you’ll find that you are putting your digital day  back in its place. Sleep and rest are not digital activities. Even though some digital activity can relax us, many people find that they never truly relax when they aren’t able to step away from the world of screens that flash on and off faster than our eyes can see. If you are one of those who wants to be able to, at will, to put some healthy distance between your physical and digital experiences, then these tips might just transform your night, and the day that follows..

Narratives for Digital Addiction

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We create narratives for our addictions. Narratives are “storylines” and in terms of addiction they are stories we tell ourselves and others to justify the continuation and even escalation of our addictive behaviour.

There used to be a narrative that smoking was good for you. This served the interests of tobacco companies and certainly made it easier for smokers to continue to smoke a hundred cigarettes a day. Even as our dad or mum coughed ceaselessly, our attempts to get them to give up or cut down were met with “But it doesn’t do me any harm!” or even “But it is good for my lungs, it clears out my chest!”

When evidence became more compelling concerning the link between smoking and lung cancer, the addicton narrative changed to one of questioning the reliability of the evidence. There were also other narratives, some of which survive to this day.

The most influential one was the “cool” narrative. It was cool to smoke. Bogart smoked. Eastwood’s gunslinger smoked. To be cool you needed to smoke. To be really cool, you needed to smoke a lot. Here we have what I call a “functional addiction narrative” – the narrative, and the accompanying behaviour, serves a useful purpose. It has a function. Smoking makes me cool and I want or need to be cool.

Other narratives also were born, more or less based in fact. Smoking relaxes me. Smoking is my only vice, or my only pleasure.

In all cases the narrative serves the addictive behaviour and perpetuates it through justification.

Functional narratives takes different forms…

We can use the Value Narrative (the addiction serves a necessary and valuable purpose)

We can use the Cool Narrative (it is fashionable and cool to do this a lot)

We can use the Health Narrative (Doing this is good for me and/or others)

Narratives can be very compelling and they can only be challenged or refuted with evidence. If we have evidence that an addiction does more harm than good, then the narrative can be brought under scrutiny. We weigh up the positive for the addiction against evidence based negatives. When the narrative is strongly rooted in ddiction, it can become extremely diffcult to challenge. The burden of prooft, of evidence, is  very demanding.

Many of us kept on smoking (and still do) even when the evidecnce of its harm was irrefutable. New narratives were cooked up – the right to indulge, the right to die, the right not to be told what to do.

A similar phenomenon of addiction narratives can be seen with other addictions. With gambling I tell myself I have cracked the system, that I can beat theodds, that I have luck on my side, that it is only a bit of fun.

With alcohol the narratives are about how drink relaxes us, makes us more confident, brings us pleasure after a hard day at work. Red wine is good for us. A brandy is good for the stomach. Many of these ideas are grounded in some evidence, but none suggest a narrative of addiction and bingeing.

The “cool” narrative is still strong in alcohol. It combined well even today with smoking. A lot of people still smoke abd drink heavily in the creative arts, the professions, and even in sports such as darts! Smoking and drinking, according to these narratives are cool, get us into a flow state, help us focus, help us to complete things; they assist our motivation, fire up our “mojo”.
These narratives form a self-conversation that justifies the addictive behaviour, and we also use them when we uphold our addictions ti others. We are the exception, this is the behaviour that we need because it serves a necessary function in our lives.

And, of course, grandad lived util he was 102 , smoked liked a chimney and drank a bottle of whiskey a night!

In recent decades the evidence for the harmful nature of addiction has grown. We do know that smoking can kill us. We know the healthy and safe limits for alcohol consumption. We know how gambling addiction destroys lives and livelihoods.
Digital addiction shares many features with these other, better known forms of addiction. Yet often it simply flies under the radar of scrutiny and challenge. Even as addiction clinics open all over the world, the functional narratives for digital addiction are almost beyond challenge.

Digital addiction manifests as compulsive connecting, of being 24/7 online. Yet being always on and available is designed into many peoples’ jobs. We are more responsive, more agile, even more effective. So goes the addiction narrative. We can reply instantaneously. We NEED to be on. My boss NEEDS to get hold of me day or night. I NEED to be in touch with my team.

Note that word need. It crops up in addiction. When a want becomes a need, we are haeading into pathological addiction.
The functional narrative of needing to be always digitally on then becomes dangerously the same as being digitally addicted. Manypeople  simply don’t notice the transition from a regular drink to an addiction to alcohol. This is even more true with digital addiction. Sometimes the design of our job or work forces it on us. Often we simply wander into it.

Addiction is the inability to say no to the substance. We find ourselves inexorably drawn back to our “fix”. In digital addiction it is every few minutes. We digitally imbibe when there is no real functional need. At work there is no authentic business value. But we digitally engage anyway. The generic narrative of “needing to be in touch” becomes a catch all reason to keep indulging. Soon we can’t stop, telling ourselves we can stop any time.
Checking in on email texts, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, making calls, commenting on posts.  Hourly becomes every few minutes. The digital device rests on our lap in meetings, held in hands in corridors, while we are eating, at home during mealtimes, in the cinema, the car, the train and plane. Even in the bedroom. At two in the morning.

There are various levels of digital addiction. But when we can’t stop, that is when the addiction starts.

The first step is of course THE First Step, to admit we are addicted and to seek help. Part of that will involve a reality check on our narratives. How truly functional are they? We then welcome evidence. How TRUE are these narratives? Only then can we, if we wish to, begin the cimb up and out.

It isn’t that the digital is all bad. Too much water can poison us. Addiction involves taking in too much of a substance too intensely, even if that substance is normally harmless or even benevolent.

If you are addicted, it is time to admit it, name it, recognise the narratives upholding the addictive behaviour, and Then to take the first step. Ready ?

Starting your Digital Detox – Finding the Symptoms

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To begin a digital detox, we need to identify what is causing the need in the first place. What are the symptoms of being so involved in the digital realm that it is negatively affecting not only your physical world life, but can also be damaging your enjoyment and benefit from the digital realm as well?

There are four main symptoms of the need for a digital detox. Each symptom represents a kind of “toxic” behaviour in our lives. The symptoms, especially when strong, cause more harm than benefit.. Taken together, they can harm us profoundly – our personal, our social, or family and our working lives.

The four symptoms are: Digital Addiction, Digital Drift, Digital Distraction, and Digital Decline

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Symptom 1 – Digital Addiction

You’ll know you are falling into digital addiction when you feel a compulsion to connect. You find yourself “going back in” every few hours, or even minutes. You are “always on” because you simply cannot not be always on. You find yourself in a state of anguish after only a short while of not being connected. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your device. It is never further away than reaching distance. You need to be connected. If you lose your device you go into a panic. Simply put, you can’t do without a digital fix at very regular intervals.

A lot of people justify this by saying it is vital for their work. Well, that may be true. You work may force you to become digitally addicted. Some people’s addiction is largely work-based. I know people in the financial sector who compulsively check in during working hours alone. In most cases, the addiction also reaches into social life. It can also happen in the other direction. People who are digitally addicted in their social lives can allow this to spill into their working lives, constantly connecting “under the desk”, so to speak. We can and do have periods of intense digital connecting – this isn’t always the same as connecting habitually and compulsively.

Digital addiction has similarities with substance addiction – you need the regular “fix”, the constant high, and you are simply unable to stop.

Ask yourself. Can you really stop if you choose to? Even when you do for a few hours, does the device find its way back into your hand? You go on holiday – the first thing you do on arriving at the hotel is to ask for the WiFi password. You are out for dinner with friends – you leave the phone on and check it when you head to the bathroom. You have to have your phone by your bed using the excuse it is an alarm clock. You have become so attached to a game you can’t stop playing it. You’ve tried several times to leave Facebook but you keep reactivating your account. Your life is becoming increasingly determined and driven by your digital activity, even when what you are doing interferes with your physical life isn’t in any way productive or useful. You are “always on”, at mealtimes, in cafes, on trains, in bed at night, even in the bath.

You can check the symptoms in even more detail here and read some stories of digital addiction here.

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Symptom 2 – Digital Drift

Digital Drift can be part of Digital Addiction but it can also stand apart. People who aren’t (yet) digitally addicted can find themselves in a state of  digital drift.

Digital Drift happens when you are engaged in digital activity that serves little or no valuable purpose – to you or other people. It can sometimes be fairly automatic. You check your emails far more than you need to, clicking the “read” button just to clear the notifications. The emails don’t need to be read at that time and you end up missing the lovely view from the window of your train, or you only half listen to the content of an important meeting. When you are digitally drifting you are connected digitally for the sake of connecting and not for any other purpose. Digital drifting can be aimless surfing, pointless scrolling, purposeless clicking.

It can also involve getting involved with social media platforms you don’t need to join and that you aren’t genuinely even curious about. You can digitally drift over the course of a few minutes to simply pass the time (which can sometimes be ok to do) and you can also look back over your day and realise you were connected for hours but actually achieved hardly anything. Digital drift takes your time and offers you little in return – an addictive game you aren’t even enjoying that much, looking a products on a web site that you aren’t even going to buy. Digital drift can begin purposefully and end up without purpose as you go “off track”. With digital drift purpose gets lost, or is weak. Sometimes the drift is controlled, not by you, but by others – corporations and people who want your attention. When this happens digital drift can become digital distraction. Digital drift steals bits of your life which ,over time can begin to feel like loss – these are hours or days you can never get back. Often digital drift hides other symptoms – feeling lost in life, bored, directionless, and having an addictive personality or weakened will.

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Symptom 3 – Digital Distraction

Digital Distraction is one of the key symptoms of being digitally addicted, but not all people who are digitally distracted are (yet) digitally addicted. A term has been coined to describe a large part of digital distraction – “WILFing”. WILFing stands for “what was a looking for?”. When we WILF we begin with one purpose and then get distracted off at a tangent. We were looking up some train times and see, on the same web site, some news about an accident. We click on that link and read. There’s a video which we watch. Someone famous was in the accident. We check their web site. They are in a new film. We look up the film. There’s a special offer on that site, offering a free Smart phone if we answer a simple question. We click on that link. To have a chance to winning we have to register our details. This opens up another special offer to get free tickets to the premiere of the film. Ten minutes have gone by. We still haven’t booked our train ticket and, unknown to us, the cheapest tickets have now sold out.

WILFing involves being distracted by something other than our original purpose. Digital distraction occurs often when the digital world notifies us or alerts us to something that takes our attention away from what were were are currently focused on. Digital distraction reprioritises the digital distraction over whatever is currently before us — be that physical or digital. We are working on an email – a new one comes in and we check it. We are on a call and a text comes in – we read that instead. Digital distraction can take or divide our attention. When we WILF we can go off track altogether, sometimes completely neglecting our original task. Too much WILFing and we digitally drift.

Digital distraction can affect us at work as we don’t properly listen to colleagues or end up juggling too many tasks and never doing one of them properly. it can affect our families as our kids don’t get our proper attention, feel neglected, as meal times and bed times become places of half-goodnights and half-listening. Digital distraction can stress us out as we feel pulled in more than one direction.It can reduce our performance unless we love this processes of multitasking. It can be fun and useful to occasionally deliberately WILF, but when it is a habit, it can become harmful and valueless.

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Symptom 4 – Digital Decline

Digital Decline can happen for a number of reasons and tends to reveal itself over time. It can occur when we are digitally addicted, drifting and distracted together. The combination of these ensures we have no coherent, controlled nor conscious relationship to the digital realm – we are at its mercy. We become part of the “gadget” we once were in control of. In the digitally realm there’s a difference between diving in (and getting out) and drowning in it.

Digital decline is the state where our own self – our personality, skills, development, knowledge, self-confidence and self-awareness begins to degrade through our use of the digital realm. We look back on our “digital self” and we do’t like who we are. This can be mostly restricted to our “avatar” (the version of our self we inhabit and project in the digital realm) but it can also impact on our physical world personality. It is “decline” when who we are becoming is not who we want to be. We can become addicted, unable to concentrate, easily distracted. We might experience ourselves as a “colder” person, someone who has become more uncaring. We might also discover that, despite spending hours, even days “networking”, that our income is no higher, is even lower. We might feel more stupid and less confident as the digital calls on skills and reactions we simply don’t have and find hard to develop.

Our relationships are decaying, the family is losing touch with each other. Our career is floundering. We simply aren’t getting the benefit from the digital realm we hoped for. Our gaming time means we spend less time with friends. We are bored, have lost direction. At worst, we have a thousand friends on Facebook but no one came to our birthday party.

In a state of digital decline, we aren’t using the digital realm consciously and we aren’t able to use it in ways that create meaning, purpose and help us to grow, develop and thrive.

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So, what next?

Which of these symptoms have you identified as in play in your own personal and working life? Which symptom is strongest? Having identified the symptoms and named them in your life, you are now ready to begin your digital detox. Detoxing can take many forms. You can create your own detox programme, draw on what is already “out there”, or read some of the resources here or in Digital Inferno to help to to get started. Digital Inferno is full of practical activities and exercises to help you to detoxify your digital life.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Five New Ways to Think About Privacy

Privacy versus Transparency

We have tended in recent years in the realm of social media to think of privacy as the opposite of transparency. Companies such as Facebook have espoused an ideology in favour of transparency. Whilst stating that privacy is a human right, they have mined our data in order to sell it to third parties and better “target” us with advertising. This is built on a basic business model of social media being free in return for access to this behavioural data.

The Damage of Targeting

That word – “target” – I am not sure if it is supposed to sit easily with us and feel normal. It feels predatory, it is usually associated with hunting, shooting, with war.

Target Marketing turns you and into a target, a mark. Privacy can make targeting harder, even impossible. So corporations based on advertising revenue don’t like it one bit.

So, one of the reasons corporations dislike privacy is that it thwarts the ability to target us. We can be targeted as sources of data which can then be used to re-target us (or others) with products, services and advertising. We can also be targeted to try to influence the way we think, feel and act. Privacy scuppers that.

The Benefits of Transparency

There are benefits to transparency. Better targeting us can improve our digital experience and help us to find what we are looking for. Better targeting can lead to more specific and helpful medicines and therapies. Better targeting can reduce fraud, improve data accuracy and data security. Ideologically, surely open is better than closed, surely transparency stops us all hiding away? Surely privacy needs to be stopped?

Yet, set against that are problems of this often forced transparency. We can feel invaded, manipulated, disrespected and even attacked. We can feel controlled by corporations and snooped on by “Big Brother”. We can end up badly targeted, frustrated and even scared.

The Benefits of Privacy

There are benefits to privacy that could and should make us rethink the assumption that all transparency is good.

Here are five of them…

5 New Ways to Think About Privacy

1. Privacy can create safe space for creative thinking. When we know we are not being overheard, we feel more safe to explore all aspects of our thoughts, feelings and actions. This can help us to solve problems, explore issues and questions on our own terms. Somethings opening up is a better way to address problems and questions, but not always. The ability to go “private” can be essential to problem solving and innovation.

2. It is possible, though rare, for a group or even community to be private. This is recognised on Facebook with “closed” groups, yet even that isn’t wholly private as the platform owner – Facebook – can still mine that groups data. This can defeat the purpose of the group being private and lead to over-cautious and even fake posting. Truly private groups and communities need full privacy (within the law, of course).  There are difficulties here because some groups may break laws and should not have their private activity hidden from view. However, we need to find better digital solutions for that and not default everyone to varying levels of transparency. Without that ability to be private, groups online will never feel truly safe to dialogue and share openly with each other. This leads to cliques, grapevines and, worst of all, lack of innovation as people default to playing it safe.

3. Privacy is a place of mystery. In privacy  we can learn a vital life skill – the ability to positively be alone. Not everyone has this skill and it means we are often looking for self-definition fro others, often receiving distorted self-images as a result. All kinds of problems can arise when we can’t find certainty or enjoyment in exploring our own mystery. Every human being is unique, an unfolding story. When we opt for total transparency, the world “out there” is bigger and more influential than we are. We tend towards copying and end up as a cliche, spouting the language of the media, feeling the thoughts put before us, and confusing what we get fed back with who we really are. Privacy throws us against ourselves – that can be confusing and frightening at first, but it is a chance to find out who we really are. Digital transparency can take away ai=n important daily meeting – me meeting me.

4. Privacy is a place to decide what to forget, what to delete. The human right to delete is lost if all data is kept and analysed, even anonymously. The ability to decide “I want to obliterate that picture” gives confidence yo edit and to ensure that what we publish to the world is what we choose to publish. Artists draft and redraft to refine and improve. The right to rip up, to burn has always been essential in creative artists and thinkers. Yet in the digital realm we make it hard, even possible to delete. Some mobile apps, such as Linkedin, don’t let you delete messages and nearly all social media platforms still mine data, even after you have deleted it. Even “Purging” doesn’t immediately and irrevocably delete data for the owners of social media platforms. Knowing it is never truly gone can dilute our creative passion, make us careful and reluctant to draft. What is the point of drafting if we can never truly burn or rip up our earlier efforts? It is as if all our rough drafts are sent to a central art gallery to be looked at by corporations. Who really wants that?

5. Privacy can be fun. We haven’t really begun to explore what a truly sacred personal digital space might look like. My own personal blog read only by me – my diary, my jottings, my drawings, my designs. Certainly some are using encrypted platforms and the dark web to try to achieve this but, in the mainstream, our private spaces, even when set to private, are still mined for data anonymously and we know this. This is changing with some new social media platforms such as Ello.co claiming “you are not a product”, yet even here the ethos is one of sharing and transparency, even if your data safer from the snooping eyes of corporations.

Zoning out?

Currently many people, when they opt for privacy, simply switch off. They opt for a physical note book or the privacy of their own thoughts.

But what would a digital realm look like that truly allowed us to opt for complete privacy as described above, when we need to choose to? Does the net become less neutral if it enshrined a genuine and total right to privacy as a foundation stone?

An Opportunity for Social Media Providers?

I believe there is a genuine opportunity here for corporations to finally “get” what privacy is all about and to respond. If social media platforms enabled and even encouraged users to choose times and content to keep utterly private – and if that content really was genuinely inaccessible to corporations – people would trust social media more. If we were skilled in choosing when and what to share, we might actually share more. We might trust and use privacy settings more smartly and usefully. Privacy ought to be an open, collaborative conversation between users and suppliers, not an irritated, mistrusting and evasive battle.

If we were allowed and enabled to withhold, if corporations knew when and how to respectfully avert their gaze and “turn away”, there might be more selective and conscious sharing of data. This happens in medicine when people willingly join medical trials and find cures all the quicker and more effectively.

What if chosen, personal and complete privacy fostered innovation and creativity useful to individuals, groups and societies? I believe privacy exists in the human condition of a good reason. It helps us heal, resolve, dream, create and vision. When it is interfered with, diluted and even designed out, we all lose out. Transparency, for its own sake, can become a kind of mania and it can harm and ultimately eliminate the best we can be.

Why Social Business Usually Isn’t Social

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Social isn’t an input

The term “social business” is presumptuous. (That’s a good word as I am currently writing this article in a cafe called Presuming Ed).

Social business has, in recent years, split into two, largely unconnected branches. Originally social business referred to businesses that are more conscious of,  and sensitive to their communities and their social impact. It still does. “Social” business also is often a term used in the same room as ESN (Enterprise social networking), and Social Marketing. It is often shortened to “social”. It’s a term that has been taken to heart by the world of social media, internal communication and PR in business. It is this second use of the phrase that this article focuses on.

So, why am I saying it is presumptuous. It is [presumptuous because calling something social doesn’t make it social. That might seem so obvious as not worth mentioning. Yet many social marketing, social media and communications professionals deploy “social” in their businesses as if that is the end of the matter. We are now “doing” and “being” social because we have social platforms in place, because we are championing “social”. This a bit like dumping a load of fruit and vegetables in a room and announcing that everyone in the room us now healthy.

From social to socialising

“Social” in business isn’t an input. Nor is it a product, a platform or an iniative. Social is a quality of interaction. Social is an “emergent property”. We can put eleven players on a soccer pitch but that doesn’t make them a team. Teamwork is an emergent property of how those eleven players play together. How they communicate, how they collaborate and interact. There will be skills, values and attitudes at work, helping “teamwork” to more or less emerge on the pitch. Calling them a team doesn’t make them a team. Teamwork is a noun. It is a word we use to describe the process, after we have observed it. It’s the difference between a “meal” and “eating”. That is a meal. That was a meal. But eating is an ongoing process, in the present.

“Social” isn’t something that is happening. Socialising is what is (or isn’t happening). It is a process.

Now, in a technical sense, you could say that all interaction, of any kind, is “social”. Anything that happens between people, good or bad, is social. Yet the way the term social is used in “social business” or “social marketing” or “social networking” has put a value on social. It seeks the “socialising” to be beneficial, to help the business to meet its aims, to realise goals. “Social” is aimed at creating different kinds of value.

The true value of social

And, that sense, not all “social” will be valuable. The danger lies in presuming that all social is valuable. In a business with certain aims, that isn’t true. Indeed the presumption can harm, even kill the enterprise. Any business that has Tweeted clumsily, or remained silent when it should have engaged, knows that to be true. “Social” in the beneficial sense requires skill and, most of all, it requires awareness, consciousness. Conscious socialisers are responsive, they develop the skill of noticing; they are in a  real-time open state and they ensure that all of their “delivery” of content is responsive, sensitive to what is going on in the social realm around them.

In that sense, “social” becomes dangerous when we treat it as a noun. It becomes the old “send-receive” dynamic in communication when we broadcast (I often called this content vomiting) and then wait for something to happen. Many social media managers, in an effort to kickstart “social” in their businesses, regularly vomit content into their organisations – fake posts, competitions, unneeded tweets, provocations etc. They try to groom “champions” who vomit content on their behalf. n many business cultures, where fear is a dynamic, people collude with the mediocrity and soon the whole of social is a collective vomit-fest. Little of the content actually adds value to the business or creates “social” as a beneficial emergent quality.

How social emerges

Socialising isn’t something you can kick-start. It isn’t an input. It emerges from interaction, collaboration that people freely create and value. You can’t make it happen, though you can create the ground upon which it is more likely to happen. Socialising may be more likely to happen in the digital realm where

– the physical work place encourages it with open plan working, decent cafes and a culture that values openness, honesty and safety to reflect on mistakes and learning 

– access to interaction digitally is easy, secure (when needed) and adaptive to different types of personality and preferred styles of communication

– it improves working processes in ways that tangible add value, improve working life and benefit different stakeholders in the enterprise

Responsive and conscious social business

Why is this? Because most people enjoy socialising. We do it in different ways. Some like the anonymity of some kinds of social networking, others prefer the openness of the group. The danger of fixing “social” as a noun is that platforms aren’t able to allow different kinds of socialising to emerge, to morph and change in real-time. Some people the zone out, detach and even switch off. Others minimise, fake and collude.

One huge and potentially disastrous presumption in the world of social media is the assumption that transparency is the shared utopia. It then creates a fixed default of openness. Privacy becomes a tolerated legal necessity but not a valued dynamic in its own right. People then have to conform to the default. Invariably that creates “antisocial” emergent behaviour. “Social” doesn’t mean “open”. It means beneficial interaction. That will change according to the diversity of people and situations.

So, “social” to be truly “social” needs to support “socialising”, and this has to be responsive, enquiring and conscious. That s the next step for social business, social media and social marketing.

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

B2B Social Media – Essential Quotes and Links

B2B Social media is a very opinionated field. I thought I’d share some of my favourite quotes and links with you. Please do add your own.

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Content Marketing

“On average, 30% of B2B marketing budgets are allocated to content marketing”

“Large B2B companies outsource content creation more frequently than small companies… Writing and design are the two functions most likely to be outsourced.”

“”58% of B2B marketers plan to increase their content marketing budget over the next 12 months.”

Source: The Content Marketing Institute’s B2B 2014 Report.

 

Social or media?

“…marketers of all stripes seem to have accepted (for now) that social media in large measure = Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube and blogs. This is a bit disheartening and dangerous, as social media is and can be a lot more than just your company’s presence on these sites. It’s this focus on “media” rather than “social” that could doom this industry eventually.”

Source: Jay Baer,  Convinceandconvert.com

 

B2B versus B2C

“It’s The Engagement Level, Stupid—and business audiences are more engaged by nature of their livelihoods and thus, social media marketing signifies a HUGE opportunity for B2B marketers. An even BIGGER opportunity, I contend, than for B2C marketers.”

Source: CK’s Innovation Blog

 

Strategic uses for social media in B2B

Social media can deliver many things, but for me, it offers business three key things.

1. It offers an opportunity to boost customer acquisition by expanding a brand’s reach, add scale to campaigns and enhance conversion through recommendations.
2. It can help form deeper relationships and advocacy through improving customer service, brand reputation and even product and service quality.
3. It also provides the opportunity to access a huge market to test, trial and crowd source new ideas about your products and services.”

Source; Rene Power,  Smart Insights

 

Taking your time

“A successful social media strategy takes time to implement – much more than you would expect. Budget enough time, because you’ll need it. And you likely won’t see instant dividends. But the endeavor is hugely rewarding if you don’t take it lightly.”

Source: 8 common mistakes B2B companies make on social media

 

My commentary

Increasingly B2B social media is moving beyond tradtional PR and news. It is a place for pre-competitive collaboration, for dialogue and for ensuring brand stories join up. Many companies are still slow to react and focus resources on B2C efforts. Some of the current research cited above points to B2C as having a profound impact on B2C as well as on B2B. It requires a more holistic and enlightened approach.

How do different social media platforms join up? Where are there unnecessary overlaps> Shared and syndicated content can enhance more than one organisations’s B2C efforts. We can share articles, initiatives and even product information. This happens in very customer facing organisations already. I buy an electronic device. It goes wrong and I can contact the manufacturer’s warranty support team directly via the retailer web site. Integration serves customers. It can link the supply chain better and also enhance marketing efforts.

The problem is one of assumptions. Walls of mistrust and insecurity within an industry or sector can inhibit and even block B2B social media, creating “spin” and positional content. When this is done in front of customers we see competitors clumsily fighting for our custom. We don’t trust the spin we read.

B2B social media needs to become more social and its media needs to form part of a narrative that serves value-adding collaboration as well as end-customer satisfaction.

For many, there’s still a long way to go.

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

The Importance of Being Digitally Lost

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Lost and Found in the Digital Realm

A major effort has been taking place on planet Earth to ensure that the human race doesn’t get lost. This effort was aimed at the developed world but is also increasingly turning its attention to developing countries as well. This effort has centred around the word “search”. Search, still largely in the hands of one corporation that has become so powerful and dominant that it has even replaced the word “search” with its own name for the majority of people”, is all about ending the state of being lost. Whether we “search” for or “google” something, the line we are on is one which begins with “not found” and ends with “found”.

We search for a film, a holiday, a person, a news story, a way to do something, an address, and we even search for ourselves.

Two things happen here. Our starting point of “not found” may not be a starting point of “lost”. It might be a starting point of simple curiosity. Or we may know where we are but are seeking a destination. I have watched the first three movies and I want to find out if there is a fourth in the pipeline. I know where were want to travel to for our holiday and I am looking for the best value and quality hotel choices. Where our questions are focused on finding something – an object of information, we don’t necessarily experience being lost. In a different case, our starting point may well be lost. I have no idea where to eat in this city. All of the restaurants look the same and I am “lost” in terms of knowing my way around this city to find a decent eaterie. Or I am in my car and am genuinely lost and I search for a map, real time if possible. Whether I search via a search box or through the help of a program or app, the digital product aims to help me come out of the state of being lost. My measurement of the efficacy of the digital product is whether it helps me find what I am looking for (quickly and accurately) or whether it helps me experience myself as being less lost.

In both cases, the intention is to find something.

Beyond Lost to the Bliss of Confusion

The Digital World is pretty good at helping with both of these scenarios and is getting better all the time. But it isn’t perfect. Often I may begin in a state of not feeling lost, I look for something using a “search tool” and I end up feeling lost when the tool creates more confusion than clarity. A page of search results can achieve that. I look for Paul levy and find fifteen Paul Levys that aren’t the Paul levy I am looking for. I access a map via an app and it zooms in on my position in a way that simply confuses me. I take the wrong turning. I access some research and it is in a format that makes it impossible to search by keyword further (such as a PDF file or a scanned in document). Users in the digital realm often find themselves in a lost state when they weren’t in a lost state when they started.

I would even suggest we are lost more often than we realise and that we waste time in fake productive activity which is more about finding our way out of the maze that the digital world itself has put us into. This can also happen when we wade through emails, or click on Hyperlinks that are basically mazes in themselves. In businesses, many intranet managers report that the majority of users ignore links and just use the search box “on the top right of the screen”. In many cases this search helps them but in many cases they end up lost.

Now you might think this article is about the problem of being lost. There are many people who have written about “search” and “navigation” and how to make it better.

 

Death by Tagging

What I am going to focus on is the value of being lost. When we seek information or knowledge with a clear intention, not finding that information can be frustrating, even dangerous. it can certainly be time consuming and costly. The cost of 100 employees’ time in failing to find what they are looking for is rarely measured well yet that cost can be far greater than the benefit the tools claim to helping them find stuff. Most search engines, even Google, are clunky and break down when our searches become subtle and complex. They hurl results at us, usually in pages of more or less good guesses and gambles.

In the background is better or worse “tagging” of data or attempts at employing artificially intelligent algorithms that are better at finding names and products than at helping us to answer complex open questions.

And I am really glad about that. I’m really glad that the search products often leave us lost and confused.

Why? because asking open questions is all about creativity, exploration, and adventure. Our curiosity is the very thing that enriches who we are. Not knowing the answer can cause us to ponder, think, reflect, and creatively explore options and possibilities. In problem solving theory, there is a healthy state of opening up a problem through a range of creative approaches – from imagination to brainstorming, from art to experiment. Allowing ourselves to be lost, to not seek to too quickly “tag” our thoughts stimulates the kind of thinking that leads to invention and innovation – even to originality! With closed questions, search needs to “close down” to the results we seek. We don’t want to get answers we aren’t looking for unless they reduce our confusion or help us to be “unlost”. But with open questions, search can be like a curse, like an imp on our shoulder, whispering cliches and answers that distract or confuse us in unhelpful ways. Too much information becomes unwanted noise.

Priceless Slience

When we are lost it can be vital to be silent, to find calm, just to ponder gently or notice. Search results are like so much vomit all over our screen. I’d love to see a search engine that can be switched into “opening up” mode where the results are presented to inspire us, to fire up our thinking and stimulate our creativity. This is where social networks such as Reddit or Stumbleupon can be helpful, but for many they are too random, too sales-y and can simply divert rather than truly help us be creatively lost.

Creative, proactive lostness, as a tool for invention, innovation and the addressing of really “wicked” problems is enhanced in the digital realm when:

 

– we are offered different points of view

– when we end up asking new and more exciting questions

– when we find our assumptions questioned

– when we find connections to people we really need to connect with rather than who we thought we ought to connect with

– when we get a sudden “knowledge download” from a new source or field

– when we find our thinking or practice disrupted – when we are surprised

– when we end up even more lost but are glad of it

– when discover new ways of searching or addressing our problem or question

 

Lost? There’s an App for that

Now, how many apps or search engines are there for that? Imagine an app that would help you get lost in a new city but would keep you safe as well. Imagine an app that would help you research a subject, not by offering answers and content but would gather in all the questions that others are asking on the same issue? Imagine a search engine that offered you seemingly unrelated content that might just inspire you? Imagine an app where you put in tour tentative answers and what you got back were the questions you really should be asking, or the paths of enquiry you really should be following?

Too often now, people are in very linear and functional relationships with their digital devices and platforms. We ask questions on social media and get a stream of answers, be it in a search for information or a bit of fun on Facebook. We offer, they respond. We search for stuff and get offered answers. We search more when the first results page throws us rubbish. We do it all day and become groomed to this instant response – the offering of answers,  often shorthand,  pithy “solutions”. We become trained in a kind of functional problem solving model of question-answer-action. And, the longer we spend in that mode, our real creativity, even a bit of our artistic madness, goes out of the window, perhaps never to return. When that happens, we either forget we had it in the first place, or we miss it and head back into the digital realm looking for creative apps and ever more stimulating content to fill the aching hole. Or some of us head off to art classes or to music festivals for a burst of that lost creativity.

At work, staring at screens doesn’t help us to find that “empty canvas” of allowing problems and questions just to work on us. Some companies have created space for silence. In all cases it currently involves turning your attention away from the digital realm, turning devices off, closing your eyes, going for a walk. There doesn’t seem to be an algorithm out there that wants us to seek more than find without adding to our confusion in ways that do not help us. Companies that measure their staff by how long they are at their desks and facing screens do so at their peril if they want those same employees to be creative, proactive and also motivated. You see, without times when we can just be open, confused and a bit lost – we lose our motivation. We dumb down and become wretchedly content (or not content in many cases). Pink Floyd called it “comfortably numb” and it manifest online as WILFIng where we endlessly search for an click on “anything” or “nothing in particular”. The Guardian newspaper recently called this the “new British pastime. Ironically. WILFing can be a good way to be confused and just “be” online. Yet often its a negative distraction. We do it because we have forgotten how to go for a walk in the sunshine.

But what if the digital realm isn’t only a place of search and finding answers, but in answering and finding searches? What is enquiry is as valuable to value-creation and innovation and a sense of purpose in life as advocacy and information-push?

This, I believe, is the next possible step for the digital realm – to serve our human creativity and originality – something the digital realm of ones and zeros currently lacks. The digital realm feels to me as if it is becoming an arrogant entity, a place of know-it-all-ism. It develops towards become a macrodatabase expanding out in the wake of the universe itself as it flows outwards. With that as a purpose, innovation seems to be focusing on “helping” us to never to be lost in life. To always be in a state of “found” or “unlost”. We may just win that battle and lose the war. It might just kill off an essential part of our creativity forever.

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Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

 

An Introduction to EASN – Enterprise Anti-Social Networking

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So, what is thew “social” in Enterprise Social Networking?

The challenge at the heart of ESN is the word “social”. Social isn’t something you immediately achieve by calling the behavior of the enterprise ‘social’. Social is an emergent property that arises from certain kinds and qualities of interaction.

Interaction is not always social, in the benevolent sense of the word. Interaction isn’t always social, but social is always interactive. In the human or animal organism, cells can interact in ways that can harm or even kill the body. From a sense of social being beneficial, some interaction is not beneficial at all. Cancer arises from interaction. Fighting is a form of interaction.


Wrestling with the word “social”

Is wrestling social for the wrestlers? Is a fight to the death social? Some might say that certain forms of interaction are anti-social.

The problem lies with the dual interpretation of the word. At the theoretical level, all human interaction can be called social – whether beneficial or harmful. In that sense, social networking is social in all its forms – even where there is no perceivable value in the interactions, or where there might even be unwanted cost and damage. Yet the way social is used by most comms leaders in in a loaded way. Social, for them, means “connecting and interacting in value-adding ways” – and that value can be more or less tangible, but is always framed as something that adds value to the enterprise. Our motive for social in the enterprise is to engage in interaction because “it is good for us, and good for the organisation. The term social networking in an enterprise context then becomes about joining in. Not joining in means not supporting the social networking activity. it is a kind of enterprise-level party-pooping.

The Value of Social

Social, as a value-laden term suggests certain qualities. It suggests a productive form of interaction, sometimes designed or intended towards some goal, e.g. innovation or engagement. Social suggests purposeful interaction. It is something that can be more or less achieved. But not all ESN is really social at all. By naming it at social it can often blind us to what is and isn’t working.

So there is the generic term “social” that includes all kinds of interaction, and there is the applied use of it in the term “social networking” that very often has an inbuilt bias of “social=collaboration/fun/friendliness”. Here the confusion arises. Social has developed into a genre, and is no longer a generic term alone. Many enterprises are no longer judging social is “good or bad”, but more simplistically as “in and out” and this is often reflected in the primitive metrics (numbers oif posts, nmbers of replies, reach etc) that are waved like flags to claim ESN success.

Not all business processes in an enterprise need social interaction. Indeed, some may be damaged by it. An example of damaging social interaction is information overload. Another is cyber-bullying.

Yet often, the goal of enterprise social networking is measured in the simple terms of the growth in users interacting, the number of posts or responses. Interaction is often seen as a good thing in itself. It might be quite the opposite. What we are often really seeing is Enterprise Anti-Social Networking or Enterprise interaction.

Anti-social social

Now we have a problem, because there is a growing phenomenon that is often lost in the missionary zeal of “social networking is all good” champions. That phenomenon is what I call EASN: Enterprise Anti-Social Networking. What form does this take? It takes many different forms, but here are a few examples. These examples are really instances of social networking (in the theoretical sense) but can be labelled as anti-social in a more applied sense:

– information overload
– sharing information that invades work flow
– cyber bullying and teasing that creates fear, confidence loss and stress
– interaction that lacks awareness of impact on other business work flows and systems
– delayed responses that prevent decision making or sharing
– fake conversation, insincerity and collusion
– use of language and jargon (and smileyts) that alienate
– creation of digital cliques and elites

These are just a few examples of EASN. We have research EASN very little and that is leading to under-the-radar problems is ESN adoption and performance. it can only get worse if we fail to see ESN more holistically and consciously.

A challenge for ESN Leaders

The worst manifestations of EASN are managed by strict governance, some coaching, better induction and training. But this mostly focuses on traditional behaviours that were already unacceptable in wider society or were embodied in existing good HR practice. Wha we are not giving enough attention to are the more subtle antisocial behaviours. This can include being unclear, ignoring others, failing to listen well, and “spinning” the truth. It can also include more physical world behaviours. It may be “social” to tweet from a meeting to share emerging insights. It is anti-social to text during a meeting whilst not properly listening to s colleague who needs you to fully listen.

EASN is growing at a faster rate now than “good” ESN. Who has it in on their radar?

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

After Bitcoin, are you ready for the next generation of cryptocurrencies?

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The Bank of England believes that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin could be big news and even UK chancellor George Osborne is tweeting about it. But it is important to note the detail in the central bank’s comments. It is talking about forming its own digital currencies in a trend which could yet see Bitcoin take a back seat in the future it helped to create.

At a recent meeting of the Social Media Leadership Forum in London on the theme of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, we watched a short film that portrays Bitcoin as a kind of moral alternative to traditional banks. Not only is Bitcoin the new, cool choice of Generation Z, but it is also a way to render third party profiteering from financial transactions irrelevant. Bitcoin is the answer! Bitcoin is the future. Bitcoin is the best way of transferring value digitally without a third party. No pal needed to pay …

There was a straw poll in the audience. Who, of these leaders of (mostly) large corporations in the UK, had any direct experience of Bitcoin? Three hands went up – and they belonged to three young terrier-like Bitcoin entrepreneurs who chatted freely and articulately about their wares and painted the Bitcoin story as a huge, unstoppable business opportunity.

Two contrasting views emerged at that meeting. One is of Bitcoin as a kind of moral revolution, setting us free from corporate greed, interference and snooping. The other is a more prosaic view, of Bitcoin as a new means of making money in a leaner and smarter way. (There is also a subsidiary view of course: of a below-the-radar gambling den, a shadow money-changing table for the Dark Web)

Morality play

The unscientific poll in that meeting room would appear to support findings elsewhere. One online survey found that only 8% of US retailers were planning to accept Bitcoin within the next 12 months. None was currently accepting Bitcoin. Another survey found 65% of people polled were not at all familiar with Bitcoin. Of those that were even slightly familiar, 80% had never used it before.

There has been a significant decline in the value of bitcoins, and questions have been raised about whether 2015 is Bitcoin’s make or break year. Whatever the prophets of doom say, there remain bullish young entrepreneurs, buoyed by the recent announcement that Dell will be the first major retailer to accept Bitcoin, as well as a survey that suggests lower income populations may well embrace it.

First draft of something greater?

The Bank of England is understandably circumspect about the feasibility and advantages of creating its own digital currency, but the simple fact of the discussion adds to the feeling that Bitcoin may be the “first draft” of something with broader application. Digital value doesn’t only have to mean money and the popular view of Bitcoin might just emphasise the “coin” a little too much.

At the meeting in London much discussion centred around the “blockchain”. This public ledger of all Bitcoin transactionseffectively creates continuity for Bitcoin users, a context in which the currency can exist.

According to technology writer Nozomi Hayase:

When I say Bitcoin, I am talking about the underlying technology of the blockchain (which is much more than currency), along with its decentralized network, and also blockchain-based cryptocurrencies in general. Bitcoin might not be the final currency that ends up bringing us into a decentralized future, but it has opened the door.

Beyond Bitcoin

So, let’s say that Bitcoin is a good example of decentralisation and people power, but it is only a first example, and we will move on to using and innovating the underlying technology. It is no longer about cryptocurrencies really but about the potential of third party-free transfer. That can involve entirely different cultural interactions than just seeing value as meaning money. For example, we could see voting and collective decison-making without the use of third-party control. The future can involve all kinds of creative exchange between human (and even digital) beings that are direct, private when wanted, and totally in the hands of sender and receiver.

You might enact your will without lawyers. You might even ensure your driverless car isn’t mediated by Google but is just a direct relationship between you and the vehicle’s operating system. We will transfer all kinds of digital value and assets without third party control. Our artistic creations: our music, our digital art. With the advent of drones, even physical things.

One of the issues that Bitcoin has is its split personality. It is touted as a place of personal empowerment and direct, honest transacting that is private and yet also potentially seedy and criminal. It is billed as a moral reaction to greedy banks that, at the same time, offers ways to gamble in a money market not dissimilar in terms of underpinning ethics. It suggests freedom from governance even as that very lack of governance may throw up all kinds of social problems.

That puts our choice of future at a crossroads. For, even as we cut a direct channel from sender to receiver, between sharers of different kinds of meaning and value, we also potentially cut out the moral force that third parties have usefully played. Most users of Bitcoin are shocked to discover that if they are scammed into sending Bitcoins to a fake web site, their money is gone for good, with no way of getting it back.

Currently, there’s redress in the realm of conventional banking. If insurers spring up in the Bitcoin arena with hundred dollar excesses, aren’t we heading back into the realm of third party involvement again anyway? And if central banks start issuing their own digital currencies?

Bitcoin in 2020

Yet the opportunity is there to take Bitcoin away from a collusion of mediocrity around money metaphors and evolve into genuinely new and exciting ways to allow the sharing of value in ways that empower individuals, regardless of income. As Hayase, also points out: “Bitcoin makes possible open source governance. The power to decide the course of one’s own destiny is now in the hands of ordinary people.”

That huge claim implies the way crypto-value exchange is viewed and deployed is going to change significantly. Without third party governance, we will have to build ethical awareness and behaviour into new versions of the platform, and also research and educate ourselves in the new moral challenges and risks associated with it.

The technology promises much, but the whole thing may end up parked in wiring cash and simply buying and selling more stuff online. Yet it could be so much more. Blockchain technology could underpin the internet of things, safeguarding our privacy, reducing cost, and ensuring the next wave of change in the digital realm puts real control in the hands of people, not corporations. Whether it does will depend not on enthusiastic Bitcoin entrepreneurs, or opportunistic corporations like Dell, but on the users. You and me. And maybe the odd central bank.

This article also appears on The Conversation.

Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Dealing with the Invisible in a Virtual Meeting

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In physical training and meeting rooms, physical distractions are mostly visible and audible to people physically present in the room, though not completely. Something that is happening outside a room window may be visible only to one or two people, depending on where they are standing or sitting. Also, a silently vibrating mobile phone might also be only present for the person who has that phone in his/her pocket. But mostly, distractions are shared, and have a fairly uniform impact on the whole room – noise outside the room, sunlight streaming into the eyes of a large number of people,

Facilitators manage physical distraction in different ways – curtains can be drawn or blinds down, people can be asked to keep noise down in a corridor, or distractions outside of our control can be acknowledged and at least collectively accounted for.

The only distractions that are truly not (usually) that visible or audible in a physical room are inner distractions (the mind wandering, emotional concerns etc). These may be shown to others or not but are not – by and large – physical.

So, now to a virtual meeting.

Here people do not share the same physical space, though attempts may be made to compensate for this through the use of webcams. Webcams do bring use closer to showing our physical space to others and this will partly show any physical distractions that might be impacting on our audio interaction – phones ringing, people coming into the room etc |(depending on where the webcam is located and how much it shows).

There are different views as to the current state and usefulness of webcam technology. It can still be grainy, inconsistent in terms of quality, can be jerky and even lag behind spoken audio. In my own experience virtual improv works better with either excellent and consistent quality video or no video and just audio (and delivered in the style of a radio chat show – round an informal virtual chat show table!).

And now, onto the distractions. Audio distractions have the biggest impact and can include:

– some voices sounding like high quality radio and some sounding like old-fashioned telephone voices

– lagging and distorting voices (and cutting out)

– phones going off and the sound of typing

– voices of other people in a room not on the call

– different volume levels

– different levels of comfort and familiarity with virtual meetings and calls

– some people on echoey speakerphones

Some of these things can be reduced or eliminated with a technical check-in/rehearsal before the meeting and by suggesting a clear spec. for example: use landlines, no speakerphones, be in a room without distraction from others etc.

You can also do a warm up game or activity that familiarises people with the technology. We can play a game where each person can practice volume levels, clarity etc.

But what if the distractions are just there and not easy to control? It can be easy to get distracted by the distractions. My own general rule is to name them, acknowledge them lightly. If someone is clearly only half attending and multi-tasking, I’d do just as I’d do in a physical room and name that behaviour and invoke a ground rule. One key ground rule for virtual improv is: No distractions in the physical space you are occupying during this virtual meeting. Another way of framing that: Take personal responsibility fully present in the virtual session.

If we are in a conversation which involves taking turns, be ready to pass over someone where a distraction is disrupting the process. Do it lightly but firmly.

If someone drops off the call, again, don’t get paralysed by it. Move on quickly. Be ready to restart or simply pass to another participant.

Prepare newcomers to this process for distractions and how to minimise them. Maybe send out a briefing page in advance of the session.

One warm up I enjoy is to do a simply shared storytelling or name game where we also tune into each other’s volume and clarity. We can then gently ask people to sit closer to the microphone or turn off background distractions etc as we go – until we are all tuned in.

Finally, there’s another opportunity – more radical.

Virtual meeting is a unique approach to non-physical connecting and it relies on technology and also the meeting of people who are in different quality separate physical spaces. How can we make a virtue of that? Some fun activities arise:

– we could ask people (in improvised mode) to describe to us their surroundings (as if they were an octagenarian musem guide, or as if it were a wildlife tv programme!).

– we could ask people to describe their surroundings in a made up poem or song

– we could also explore the dynamics in communication of our different qualities of voice and possibly video and debrief this – it could be a great way of exploring difference: different standpoints, different ways of seeing and hearing the world.

– we could play status games with volume and clarity!

– we could also explore the difference between audio and visual “signals”

– we could explore intimacy, comparing it to physical/virtual presence as well as video and audio connection

– we could explore understanding and misunderstanding and how collaboration is affected when we are not physically present and when we can see/not see each other

So a new territory for facilitation arises, not in spite of the virtual medium, but because of it. I think this new territory is at the beginning for facilitators.

Case study – an experiment in virtual meeting

I carried out an interesting experiment at Brighton (UK)’s  White Night Event la few years ago,.This was an event with performances and creative events happening over night, all over the city. It created a perfect opportunity to try something virtual and get input from different parts of the world, especially the USA.

We had a room full of people at 3am in the morning. There was a flip chart and also we had a projector and laptop connected to the internet.

First we carried out a brainstorm on the topic of “How would you keep two children entertained on a rainy day if you had no money and there was no TV available?”

We brainstormed in a room of very chilled out and “up for it” people (It was 3am!). I collected all the ideas on the flipchart in classic brainstorming mode. Some ideas were good, but most were what you might expect:

– “take them to the park”, “get them doing crafts”, “do some storytelling”, “get them to make a den” etc.

We then set the “experiment” in motion and everyone in the room became a spectator. We connected the laptop and projector and went into an established online/virtual chat room which described itself as a place to meet online and for “chilling out”. (It was for adults only). There were about 30 people in the online chat room and there was a lot of typing going on, some of it clearly drunk and a bit abusive. Others were engaged in small talk and some flirting. It got laughs in our room as what some people were typing in the chat room was a bit risky!

I then went into the chat room myself and “said” I was looking for ideas on how to keep two kids entertained without TV on no budget! We watched and waited.

We got about 30 ideas within about three minutes. In one case a trio in the room were clearly “bouncing off each other.” Others replied individually. Many ignored us. I was amazed at how quickly the ideas came, how much “fingertip flow” there was. Some responses were offensive, some a bit “cold” and unfriendly “(Kill the kids and solve the problem”, “put them on the streets to earn their keep”, “tranquillise them” etc).

But many were radical and fun,  way beyond anything we had come up with in the room where people could physically see each other and feel a bit “nervous” among strangers.

Of course, had I gone into a physical room where people were already even more comfortable with each other, things might have flowed better in our “real” room. But to be honest, the room at 3am was pretty relaxed right from the word go!

The “virtual” chat room came up with ideas such as “make it their problem, not yours”,  “get them to build a utopia on no money” (which spawned lots of new ideas in the physical room”, “make them angry enough to make their own entertainment”.

All in all the virtual room ideas were more radical and creative, but also a bit harsher,  a bit more unrelenting.

Does fingertip improvisation bypass some of our natural reticence? Or does it plunge us into reckless, coarser creativity?

When we debriefed the experiment in the “real” room, many in our physical room stated they were amazed at how much better the virtual room’s response was in terms of flow, immediacy of response and their wish to “think out of the box”. Our own brainstorm results looked a bit lame in comparison.

I’m now wondering what is freed or released virtually that is more held back physically in a room?

 

Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

The Coming Split of Humankind: Into the Digital Darkness or a New Dawn?

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The Rise of the Millennials

Millennials, also known as the Millennial Generation, are the generation of people born after Generation X (of which – apparently – I am a member). No one seems to agree exactly when this cohort came into being, though “born after the year 1982, is often quoted.

My spell checker seems to think ‘Millennials’, is a misspelling which suggests it is a relatively recent term. Most spell checkers were born before Millennials it would seem.

The traits of Millennials are also not easy to pin down. They are the generation born into, and perhaps for, the digital age. Millennial babies appear to have ditched the silver spoon for an IPad and take to Clash of the Clans as if it were a baby rattle.

Some writers have divided the Millennial generation into the categories of Generation Y and Z, though most seem to describe Generation Z as the post-millennial generation.

Confused? Stay with me. I’m going to dig into my intuition, my recent observations and do a bit of intuitive “futuring.”

Enter Generation Z

Generation Z seems to have come along pretty fast. If Generation Z came to the digital world as a new invention, Generation Y adopted it and immersed themselves in it willingly. Generation Z were born into it, and born for it.

If Generation X haven’t joined Facebook, join it later in life, or join it without knowing fully what they are joining, or have even been digitally ignored, Generation Y dived in and grabbed it (and many are regretting it), Generation Z, the “screenagers”, are leaving it for cooler platforms, or are heading back to the woods, less influenced by money. Generation Z have ones and zeros in their blood, and it is starting to annoy them.

Generation Zders prefer honesty, and hate the “spin” and manipulation of corporate social media, they want to work for authentic people and organisations and – you might be surprised – though digital naturals, they prefer face to face communication over hiding behind texts and emails. Cafes are riding the wave of Generation Z and are popping up everywhere, with recycle bins, favourite charites and organic coffee. Oh, and fibre-optic, free WiFi.

So, when they find themselves in social settings – at work or at play, when people are spinning, bullshitting, jargon-spouting and being digitally distracted, Millennials switch off, get bored and zone out.

True, some escape into the digital realm and start app-surfing and checking in on Twitter. But many simply drift out of the conversation. Staring off into space (see picture above) is a Generation Z-Millennial reaction to inauthentic communication more than any other.

The World of Work

Whereas Generation X faked it, colluded or made excuses to leave boring meetings, Generation Y became digitally distracted or were rude, cutting short meetings that lacked value for them, whereas Generation Z often escape into their imaginations or “float”. This floatiness bemuses and even irritates Generation X and Y folk, especially managers and leaders. X folk see it as rude, Y folk see it as unprofessional as well as rude. Generation Zders simply choose to be in the space that feels most right for them at the time.

The Disappointment with the Digital Realm

Though often escaping into digital distraction, Generation Z people find it largely disappointing (in its current state of evolution). They often escape into carefully chosen advert-free digital spaces – a mind-numbing or stimulating game that allows them to retreat from the physical bullshit in their immediate physical space.

So, Generation Zders switch off from physical interaction by withdrawing from it – either into devices or into day dreaming. They come late to work because a good, slow wake up is their human right. And, for many of them – as Einstein reminded us – imagination is more important than knowledge. But not all people these days know how to imagine and day dream any more so they either sleep with their eyes open or choose the easier option of immersing in a digital device. Imagination isn’t only making stuff up or fantasising. Imagination is about being in your own authentic, inner space.

What? WHAT? Choosing the physical over the digital?

Unfortunately with the rise of the digital inferno – the replacement of the high street with screens, the loss of physical world free or low cost activities near to our work and doorsteps, opting for the physical world is much harder than a bit of digital escapism. Gaming is big among Generation Z, as are transient apps such as Instagram and shared videos. Over time though, as Generation Z folk realise the corporate agendas hidden behind freemium apps and games, they feel greater disappointment and seek ways to switch off altogether.

You might have noticed that there is a yoga or meditation class on every street corner, Volleyball is on the rise again in many cities, people are buying tents and opting for festivals over hotels. This was the case with other generations, but none more so than Generation Z. The Glastonbury festival sells out in minutes.

Is humanity splitting down the digital middle?

Living in Brighton, I’ve become aware that Generation Z is splitting in two. The signs are there…

One part is willingly surrendering, diving in. The mobile phone becomes a prosthetic device and we dream our digital gaming in after-images. The concerns of privacy or loss of individuality is nothing to worry about. The digital future can cure cancer, make us live forever and give us the power of flight. the digital future is a journey to utopia. And even if it isn’t, it’s cool and the wagon to be riding on. The view runs as follows: It is a crime against humanity, a sin not to embrace what is coming. Technology is a miracle, the speed of change an exciting necessity; questioning it is uncool, party-pooping, even irresponsible. At the extreme, we are waiting to leave our bodies and plug into the eternal pleasure of virtual reality that offers new, unimagined worlds.

The second part of the Millennial generation is heading elsewhere, finding the digital “utopia” distasteful, a possible deal with the devil, juvenile, unwanted and inhumane. It is really attempting to flee the boredom of old hierarchies, feeling controlled by “systems”, and the spin of marketing, through creating more authentic “projects”.Projects with purpose. Purpose they feel they own. Projects they have chosen.

Many, ironically make use of the digital world – 3D printing, new, cool apps and plenty of music events, film projects and a host of activities in the “green” space. And they go directly to the rest of humanity for “crowd”-funding.

This part of humanity is forming the world of “meetups”, where we meet up to laugh, to hang out in cafes, to brainstorm the solution to this or that, to find cool empty spaces to work or play in. There’s also a rediscovery of near-to-zero minimalism – simply walking on the beach, swimming and, of course, rollerblading.

The first part of the this split represents, I believe, the generation that will utterly embrace the digital future – plugging in to chips and racing to escape into, or positively commit to artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the cyborg-human. They’ll seek a newer form of “truth” which may involve solving the problem of authenticity and honesty by discovering pure, cold truth – the human without morality. We’ll engineer feeling and put it in a designed place in the human experience. We’ll find cold authenticity by removing the troublesome and confusing nature of moral questions in life, by designing them out of human experience. Why do I say cold? Because the nature of digital technology is binary (“Either you are with us o against us”). And that coldness is already demonstrating itself as a core value in the digital realm. the notion of “acceptable losses” or collateral damage is already becoming embedded in innovation models. A small percentages of uses experience crashing PCs, even plugs set alight in the rush to mass reach audiences. When systems are updates, support for older systems suddenly ceases with little compassion. Research into the negative impacts of the digital realm is under-funded and often brushed aside by product designers. And clunky, pain-causing algorithms are launched on us with little imagination of the possible impact. Innovation in the digital realm has become religiously more important and urgent than social impact. Change precedes sensitivity. Launch precedes social concern and deep dialogue. We might be building a new utopia, or we might be building a new Tower of Babel.

The second part of the split will involve a possible total rejection of the digital, in its current binary-based form. There may be a period of total “switch off”, even banishment. I’m not kidding about heading back into the woods. But this heading back may not be a backward step but an evolution of human awareness. The current varied and often disturbing market for mindfulness and meditation may give way to a quest for higher quality human awareness. We may pause more, commune with the world more in artistic as well as scientific ways. We may explore the meaning of community more and develop new forms of communication and connection.

A Polarisation of the Human Race?

These two groups may well cut off from each other, or even come to blows. Certainly one will have the technological fire power to physically wipe out the other. But the second group may well have the power to elude and even tame the first. Only time will tell. And in even polarising these two “parts” of a split humankind, I’m being as binary and either-or as the digital realm itself. I’m doing it as a means of communication. I’m doing it because I’m drinking from the very cup I’m warning you to be wary of, in order to let just enough of the healthful and harmful qualities add to my perspective.

I believe this process is already beginning. Through Generation Z, humanity is splitting. Some seek self-realisation and purpose through becoming binary-creatures, mediated by digital technology, by 3D printed guns, bombs and into a world where beheading is simple, quick and even satisfying for some who have traded complexity for simplicity, nuance for clear brutality. Others seek to disengage from this, to find ways to be together in smaller groups, in circles, to engage in enquiry, to realise themselves through dialogue with others and to experience the spaces in between Ones and Zeros. They may find ways to enhance and consciously “place” the digital into their physical lives. The internet of things can either shape and control humanity, or serve its physical needs, defined by it and not the corporation. That really is an either-or.

It leaves Generations Y and Z a bit bemused, needing to choose, wondering where their place fits. The digital realm has becoming enormously powerful, very quickly in our history – a power for good, for evil, and for both.

Yet its current trajectory of development has created concern for even its pioneers.

Yet it isn’t the path of development of robots that we should be most worried about. It isn’t the rise of the machines that I most fear. It is what we, human beings, may become.

Beyond Generation Z. Back to A

Let’s look further forward. So, humanity splits, diverges, parts company with part of itself. Out of Generation Z comes Generation A.

Generation A is now in two parts. Generation A1 takes a physical and, dare I use the word, spiritual route. By that I mean it embarks in a route to enhancing its own awareness, not through augmented digital reality, but through enhancing perception and awareness through mental, emotional and physical development. it begins to self-realise through community, connection, through the “breathing in” of others through dialogue, enquiry, playing and working together, through collaboration and exploration. It lifts itself away from dogmatic spirituality, from fixed religion, into curiosity, openness, experimentation, and experiments in freedom – of thought, feeling and action. it explores, reflects, learns and enquires further. It builds stuff, including technology but practices placement – placing technology and other social forces such as money, in mindful purpose. Humanity grows up, but never loses its love of innocence and childhood openness. I wonder if you are shocked that a recent interview with Apply founder, Steve Jobs, as well as many silicon valley senior managers and business owners, reveals that they limit or even ban their own kids’ use of Ipads and other digital devices in favour of fully experiencing a more “natural” and “creative” childhood, making them more ready to face the adult world with freedom and creative originality. Generation A1 steps away from relentless digital invasion in favour of a new encounter with the physical, only consciously and selectively served or enhanced by the digital.

Generation A2 looks on with scorn at A1. They are uncool, even outrageous – damagers and delayers of inevitable progress. A2 readily plug in to augmented reality, wearing it, implanting it, happy for it to amend and re-design their cognitive and even physical selves – as less used muscles fall into decay, and thought patterns become trained in the ways of designed algorithms and evolving digitally mediated behaviour models. Like the first astronauts who spend significant amounts of time in space, even those heading to Mars – this may be a one way trip or one in which, a return to original Earth may kill or damage us. Generation A2 begins to make the leap into integrating with the digital, entering the Matrix. They are no fools. Intelligence and perception become enhanced and augmented. No patterns of human behaviour emerge, new value sets refine and are born. Robotised humans are a way off in the future, but the beginnings of the human-machine are there.

Now we comes to Generations B1 and B2

B1 continue to form communities that exclude the digital in any way that attempts to control human consciousness or values. The digital is seen as a religious choice in life. “Adigital” describes a life choice. It may be that simplicity becomes a core value, or it may be that the human effort to enhance consciousness through non-digital effort creates new non-binary technologies based on the outcomes of leaps in human perception, creativity and inventiveness. “Natural” technologies as yet unimagined come into being. Generation B1ers value the quality of quality, diversity and are constant seekers of new forms of creativity and “freedom”in thinking, feeling and action.

Within B1 there are extremes. At one extreme are total digital banishers who may even evolve a kind of technophobic fascism. At the other are communities that uphold physical privacy (“sacred personal space”) over digital snooping and transparency. The digital’s potential is held in check by a deeper human-centric and physically-biased world view. It bases itself on a faith in human potential “in and of itself”.

Generation B2 are “excarnating” on the one hand – entering disembodied states, immortal forms of digital life and consciousness, less dependent on the human form and mortal processes. (Lie down, plug in the drip feed and start to fly in digital heaven). We may discover that porting consciousness into the digital realm is impossible or the first steps may be taken in eager experiments. We will never know if what arrives is qualitatively the exactly same as what left the physical but, as has become gospel in the digital realm today, if the copy is good enough, who the f**k cares? (MP3s and Oggs, digital paintings, 3D printed sculptures or organs – and the kiss from a clone or Android that feels exactly the same). But many are willing the take the leap of faith, collude happily with mediocrity, and opt for digital versions of reality – cleaner, more amazing and everlasting. On the other hand, others take the first real steps in the replacement or limbs, organs and even the brain with digital counterparts – some copies, some enhanced or new versions of the original. Robots become lovers, guides, friends, enemies and bosses. The digital realm’s functional, binary core pervades and Generation B2ers become more or less aware of how human feeling and morality, rooted so much in physical frailty and physical creation myths (both in religion and science) are changing and being modified or even suggested away. Over time fingers may grow longer, heads enlarge,eyes more shrewd in look. We may lose hair or the need for nostrils. B2ers begins to look different from earlier human beings. (This, I know, is fanciful but some futurists are already drawing pictures!). Unless human warmth and kindness is consciously digitised and recognised as fundamental, it may fell away, into decay and disuse, replaced by a colder intellectual functionalism.Currently the digital world is all about stimulus response models and functional purpose. These things are also nuanced, hard to capture and time consuming to program into models. Nuance gives way to clunkiness that delivers quick results. Generation B2ers value function over moral, output and input over gentle confusion.

Crazy Futuring Nonsense?

What evidence do I have for this seemingly fanciful bit of futuring? Only the evidence, so far, of my own eyes and ears – in the many workshops and discussions I’ve been involved in with Generation X,Y and Z men and women. I see a the beginnings of some sort of divergence. Focusing on Generation Z, some definitely describe the future as one in which we realise how dumb we were, in an age where technological invention and innovation ran faster and faster of our ability to process it, reflect on it, be wise with it. Eventually we will dump the idea that technology is there to control us and turn us into “drones” for the “hive mind“. We’ll reconnect with the natural world and the “machine” will become “placed” in that world, by us. The journey will be towards human freedom, not digital “lockdown.”

Others are all for letting the digital realise its potential. It might just save the planet or take us into realms of flight and immortality. The digital, they say, is benevolent, made by us. we have a duty to embrace it, to “go in”. Some look at the world as it is today and see humans as being poor stewards of the planet, even dumb, and that our encounter with morality has largely failed. It is time for us to reach a “higher place” through smartening our thinking and creating a true human family through the digital realm. Some want us to plug into the “Matrix“, others see a less technologised future where the digital largely invisible but which mediates and defines our experience benevolently. Yet many are using the same technology (by their own admission) to ignore family members, dump partners and even fire people. But what is wrong with that, if we solve world hunger, they say.

This really is the road less traveled, for it lies up ahead. I believe that road will split into two directions. Which one will you take?


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Your digital devices are watching and listening to you

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Samsung today advised users of its televisions not to speak aloud in front of it! I’m serious. Specifically the corporation suggested not speaking personal information aloud. You see the device, which can be voice activated, is in a constant start of alertness, ready for your command. It is recording all you say and, according to Samsung (as reported by the BBC), “Such TV sets “listen” to every conversation held in front of them and may share any details they hear with Samsung or third parties”.

Of course, that particular revelation is hidden in a privacy policy and not offered to customers as a matter of course. Luckily it was reported by the Daily Beast.

You might be shocked that your TV is spying on you. You might be disappointed that corporations who claim that customer care is their priority don’t bring such things directly to your attention.

But this is now the norm in the digital inferno. Without conscious placement of your digital devices and technologies, you simply are at their mercy.

The notion of devices snooping on us first came to light in the media when we heard of how easy it is for hackers to turn our own web cams on us and to record whatever we are doing. There is no a growing market in little covers for our cams (though a bit of sticky tack will also do the trick a lot more cheaply. Even then, audio can still be picked up. We were advised to change passwords. But the mechanics of that are not simple for many who expect to plug, play and simply trust.

The world of computer viruses that put trojans and keyloggers into our devices (able to collect personal information, record every key press we make – handy for grabbing passwords and bank card details) were the territory of the hacker – or so we thought. Think again, with a snooping TV, the corporation can now observe our behaviour and use it for marketing (or other) purposes as well.

Do you want that?

I believe it is the first technological step into a world where transparency (our transparency that is) is the default.

What I call “placement” in my book, Digital Inferno, is a skill. it is the ability to place our digital devices and content in time and physically in our world We decide when to connect. We decide what we share, when and with who. We are the ones who place the digital in our lives.

What the Samsung story reveals is that, because we have become so accepting and even passive in the face of digital snooping and intrusion, the corporations are now doing placement for us, even in our own homes. When the providers take over, it is they who decide what we look at and hear, and when. They decide when to notify us. They decide how we are to be stimulated, and now they are deciding how we should behave in our living rooms: “Please do not say X to your family as we and our friends may be listening in and watching.”

Now one view is that these very innovations help to describe a positive and new future that is arriving. The world is changing! What have we got to hide? the benefits far outweigh the concerns as benevolent and intelligent digital technologies can tune into our world made transparent, collect data, improve and innovate and respond to our behaviour delivering ever better products and services into our lives. This is just the start and we just need to accept the change and take the evolutionary step.

The more prevalent view is one of shock, indignation, even outrage. How dare these corporations assume we are tools for their greed? What right does anyone have to invade our privacy and hide this invasion in small print privacy policies? Such development point to a darker future, the world of Orwell’s 1984 made real. We need to keep these devices out of our houses, sue the corporations for spying and put up ever stronger walls of privacy protection around us.

A third view is a blend of both of the above – the view in which we remain the masters of this technology and these forces that would like to observe our behaviour and listen to our private conversations. Currently transparency and privacy invasion is becoming the default and we might not want that. Yet we might also want a Smart TV in our homes and to enjoy what other new technologies have to offer. In which case, we need to meet these denizens of the digital inferno with some control and consciousness of our own.

To reclaim your house, you’ll need to practice some conscious placement of the digital realm within it. Here are a few practical guidelines…

Five Tips for Keeping Digital Snoopers Out of Your Home

1. Be very wary of voice activated gadgets. Read the small print, especially in privacy policies

2. Get clued up on security of all your devices, not just your laptop, phone or router. As wearables and the “internet of things” comes more into our lives, you’ll need to understand how security impacts on all of these gadgets

3. Cover up your web cams and learn how to truly mute devices.

4. Locate your devices in particular parts of the house. Not every room needs a device with a web cam in it. 

5. Switch devices fully off when you aren’t using them. Regularly sweep devices for spyware and other viruses. (Invest in decent digital security). Your digital home also needs intrusion detection.

This isn’t about spoiling the digital party. But corporations are now trying to make listening in and snooping a normal practice. They may well be doing this for benevolent reasons – to improve your “user experience”. But when data is passed on to third parties, linked to advertising and other marketing agendas, soon your own home will no longer be your own.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

The Problem of Message Replication

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The Inevitable Rise of Messaging

According to writer and leading thinker, Tom Standage = who was the guest interviewee at a recent event for the Social Media Leadership Forum I was facilitating – Messaging Apps are the next chapter of social. Indeed, he laid down embracing messaging apps as a ‘grand challenge’ to the leaders in the room (of which there were over a hundred).

Email Addiction

We are still wedded to email, some might even say, locked into it. That said, many smaller businesses have largely replaced and enhanced email, at least internally – using Yammer, for example, as their prime means of communication and collaboration.

Messaging makes group sharing and collaboration easier, it rips out some of the bureaucratic feel of emailing, and can also enable conversation to replace transactional communication.

The Problem of Message Replication

Yet email still holds an authority in the corporation and the problem of message replication is a new challenge for many organisations. Message replication has always been a problem of hierarchical organisation and bureaucracy. It tends to be born of mistrust. Let’s go back a hundred years. A manager visits the office of another manager to tell them they have just posted them a paper memo. Let’s go back thirty years. A colleague phones another colleague to tell her she has just emailed her an important message. Now let’s go back a year. A team  member receives a text and a message on Yammer saying “I’ve sent you the proposal for comments.”

Duplication of Effort

Message replication duplicates effort, raises cost, and creates unneeded repetition. It arises when:

– there isn’t trust that a particular platform is regularly used or checked into
– the culture of the organisation lays more weight on paper and traditional email over social media based methods
– when there is a more general “cover your back” culture of mistrust in the organisation.

So people receive duplicated content via social media, email, text and even phone and face to face.

Undermining Messaging

Message replication also arises when social media internally is introduced with a superficial style, where it isn’t taken seriously and where decisions then are not honored via its platforms. A chat message becomes part of a false commitment. This already happens outside work on Facebook where people state they are coming to events with no intention of showing up. Social media becomes the home of “maybe”. This then leads to conversations via social media at work that don’t have the same authority or commitment to action that traditional email or paper memos do.

Cost then rises as different communication methods overlap and replicate each other.

Getting it Right

If we are going to use social media messaging as a more formal means of communication, it needs:

– proper commitment from senior management who also use it in appropriate and effective ways

– to be formally embedded into business processes

– to be included in induction and appraisal

– the be given weight through training

– to be built into business critical activities and decision making

Leaders will need to lead on this by example and walk the talk. If managers and leaders are not seen to be making authentic decisions and collaborating via messaging, then its authority and kudos is diluted.

To Message or Not to Message – Checklist

Messaging Apps are more useful for:

– sharing information – news, progress updates, useful tips and learning

– getting questions answered quickly

– getting to decisions quickly that aren’t politically “heavy” (which might be better dealt with face to face)

– working together on documents

– social exchange

– discussion of an issue (again, this works less well if there are emotions and political dynamics involved)

– getting different points of view on an issue, challenge or question to aid discussion or decision-making

– seeking comments and input to a piece of work

– getting “smart advice” – e.g. solving a problem, saving money buying something

– informally surveying on an issue

– announcing a decision that is part of work flow, rather than something too formal

Messaging Apps are less useful for:

– conversations that are complex and may involve parallel themes and topics that are better shared (at least first) in a meeting or via an genuinely helpful, accessible and inspiring infographic

– higher risk communication that is politically weighted and needs more “embodied” communication (body language, eye contact, tone of voice)

– team communication where not all team members have access to the messaging platform

– organisations that have endemic cultures of mistrust. This will lead to message replication and lead to messaging becoming a cost driver


Back to Traditional

An alternative approach is to make a firm governance choice not to use messaging apps for anything other than social interaction and ideas and information sharing. We might re-affirm face to face meetings as the place for decision making and consciously place formal business decision making into more traditional methods of paper, email and physical. Many organisations will feel this is a step backwards. yet we are becoming aware that texting is no place to discuss “sacred” things. Texting and fingertip communication can lack authenticity, feel colder, or we can feel a lack of authenticity as we chat to a cooler, more idealised avatar than to a real person who might stand before us. This isn’t always the case but messaging-based conversation can feel a bit unauthentic. This is dysfunctioinal if a joint decision needs trust and commitment, belief and understanding. This is often when replication kicks in, as we phone to “bed in” or clarify a commitment to an action.

 

It isn’t Always Bad

Message replication isn’t always a bad thing. When it is a deliberate and conscious part of a multi-channel approach it can even be necessary. If millennials are opting for messaging apps as their prime form of communication and more traditionalist communicators are still tending towards email, phone or face to face, we may have to send the same message on different platforms. There’s an emerging skill set here around what I call digital discernment. Digital discernment involves:

– knowing how and when to choose to appropriate communication channel and when to replicate

– adapting the same message for different communication channels

– knowing when behavior needs to change and when communication (and collaboration) needs to coalesce around one channel in particular

There are also other virtues to deliberately overlapping communication methods. We might email a formal announcement or use a face to face briefing but then take the rest of the collaboration onto a messaging platform. The ability to use communication methods as part of a larger “narrative” is key to working effectively in the digital realm

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To Message or Not to Message – That is the Question

In a medium-sized UK manufacturing company, messaging is used to share information and knowledge across different departments. Project teams also meet in groups via the Yammer platform. Documents are shared and also worked on together. The company also uses teleprescencing and other virtual conference methods to share product designs in real time with suppliers and key customers. Design teams then “bed in” discussion and decisions via Yammer.

This has caused problems as not all external organisations, such as suppliers, use Yammer. Email has sprung up in a negative way to fill the gaps in communication. This has led to message replication.

At a recent supplier conference, the company began to offer to assist in deploying Yammer to key suppliers. Several took up the offer and now groups message and share documents across organisational boundaries. This exposed the need to better cybersecurity as well as clearer governance about what the terms of reference were for sharing outside of the organisation.

According to the internal communications manager: “It’s on ongoing project and there are challenging. We are finding a lot of message replication happening as people still phone and email stuff they have also been sharing on Yammer. We are working on it. You have to persuade people and demonstrate that the message platform really is the most effective way to share information and progress project. A lot of it comes down to trust. You have to keep working on that.


Finding a Balance

Best practice seems to involve finding a conscious and useful balance between different communication methods. Messaging apps will continue to claim the space of collaborative idea sharing, document creation, socialising, information and knowledge creation and sharing, and some decision-making.

Emailing still holds court in one-to-one, more formalised communication.

Face to face meetings and phone still hold weight when we need the nuance of eye contact, body language and a trust that needs to be built by being physically present.

But as Tom Standage’s challenge highlights, we can’t avoid the arrival of messaging apps. They have a particular and evolving place in the communication realm of businesses and organisations.

 


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Your life is Facebook’s business model – like it or not

Facebook’s recent apology for its Year in Review feature, which had displayed to a grieving father images of his dead daughter, highlights again the tricky relationship between the social media behemoth and its users’ data.

The free service Facebook offers to its 1.2 billion users is free because of the advertising revenue the site generates from the time that users spend on the site. This model drives a need to keep users on the site as much as possible.

“Sticky” qualities that keep users coming back include the essentially addictive nature of social media sites – one that’s been compared to gambling and alcohol addictions. Another is to provide interesting new features that present Facebook’s vast pool of historical data in new ways – the Year in Review is such a feature, which automatically pulls together a collection of photos from significant moments through the year.

In your face(book)

But innovations pose creative challenges, such as how to develop an algorithm that selects content for the Year in Review that you’d want to see and share. In most cases this works perfectly well, offering up memories from your historical Facebook timeline to bring a smile to your face. But in other cases there is the phenomenon described by writer Eric Meyer as “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”: his Year in Review arrived with a picture of his recently deceased daughter, six-year-old Rebecca, as the headline image.

Meyer’s blog was widely reported and prompted an apology from Facebook.

But what Facebook didn’t apologise for was offering a new feature that thrust content directly into the user’s face. Yes, the algorithm was clumsy, but the notion of forcing content, un-asked for, upon the user is almost taken for granted. In business terms, this is sometimes called “supplier push”. It becomes part of a business philosophy that sees users as crowds, and innovation as a process of “mass customisation”. The danger of appealing to the crowd en masse, is that a significant minority will always fall between the gaps.

So, a minority get to see their dead relatives, dead dogs, their exes, and even their past bad behaviour they’d rather forget in their Year in Review. To be clear here, Facebook doesn’t publish the Year in Review directly, but offers a sample for further customisation and publication if the user chooses. Regardless it’s still thrust in your face, whether or not you wish it; Eric Meyer got an image of his dead daughter whether he wanted to or not.

 

View image on Twitter

Remembering for you, like it or not

And this is where the relationship dynamics that sit at the heart of Facebook’s “free” social media model come in. By preventing us from deleting our own content, Facebook becomes the equivalent of an ever-growing attic of memories – many of which we, if we could choose, would choose to forget. This content is harvested for information with which to further refine advertising offers.

The existence of this problem has been recognised elsewhere: the Mailing Preference Service provides an opt out register for direct mail advertising for baby-related products to prevent unwanted reminders, for example in the event of a baby’s death. Online services have yet to incorporate these measures. And generally speaking, aren’t there often things from our past that we wouldn’t respond well to when re-presented to us?

As social media grows in sophistication, algorithms attempt to target you with content that will keep you interested and so more connected and engaged. Software can currently recognise smiling faces, but not that the smile on one face is of someone no longer with us. Why? Because the user didn’t tag “dead” on the photo.

Tagging is another example of “in your face” social media, in that it also prompts you to look at a image to approve someone else’s tag on your image, or that you have been tagged in someone else’s image. Of course, it might not be an image you wanted ever to see again. There will be more of this in the future: if you can’t delete photos of your past without leaving Facebook altogether, do you lose the right to privacy at the moment you feel you need it? If your Year in Review shows you engaged mostly in dangerous sports, will that affect your next insurance quote?

If you thought you were going to start your new year with a clean sheet, then, as a social media user, think again. Facebook’s new and revised terms and conditions will see it observe your behaviour, location and the sites you visit in even more detail. In order, no doubt, to create further features to keep you engaged. Inevitably, these will also throw up further issues of badly targeted content and intrusion into our personal lives – a double-edged sword that can bring pleasure, or pain.

This article recently appeared on The Conversation

How smart will it really be to let your smart watch give away your privacy?

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At CES 2015 (The Consumer Electronics Show), chair of the US Federal Trade Commission warned that the sensor-laden gadgets and devices associated with the Internet of Things – the smart watches and other gadgets we’ll wear or that will surround us – could collect data about us that will have far-reaching consequences for our personal and professional lives.

Edith Ramirez claimed that such devices pose a serious threat to privacy. The threat goes further though as distorted pictures could be built about us that are then used to corporations and government to make unfair and limiting decisions about us. Information about our “credit history, our health , our family and social connections” as well as many other indicators could end up in the hands of financial, insurance and medical institutions, to name but a few, not to mention the usual efforts to target us with advertising.

It’s an intriguing and disturbing combination – innovations that offer us better health even as they snoop on us in order to raise our insurance premium, or even deny us insurance at all. These fears are not new.

What is new are the implications of clumsy algorithms that providers use to mine your data to present either back to you or to other organisations. Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty recently resulted in Facebook users being faced with distressing images of deceased loved ones in their “Year in Review” feature. If similarly clunky algorithms inform decisions about how healthy we are, how fit for credit, or whether we should be allowed access to a building, then we are heading for troublesome times ahead.

Corporations are not averse to refine their algorithms through the distress of their consumers. Beta testing in public really involves waiting for the “exceptions” to report their pain and then adjusting accordingly.

This is one of the fatal flaws at the heart of evolution in the digital space. For algorithms to refine and improve, they need data. Learning tends to arise out of our processing the bad as well as the good stories. There is a strong likelihood that early versions of smart wearables will fall foul of clumsiness. The public will be the live testing ground for the development process as there is no way of proofing fully against failure. Why is that? It is because the development of the Internet of Things requires the world itself to offer it real time feedback. We are the meat. We are the playground. It will sink its teeth into us.

As the experiences of Inadvertent Algorithmi Cruelty show, it is already happening. Other examples have been in existence for years. A family discovered it was refused a loan because they had moved into a house whose previous occupants left with a poor credit rating. The particular algorithm for deciding on credit was based on address, not person. It took numerous complaints and stress of family people for the “rules” to be refined.

We might decide we do want health data fed directly to our doctor. There are obvious benefits. It can save time. It can improve care and diagnosis. But do we want the same data used to build a distorted picture of us and put into the hands of insurance providers or future employers? As the internet of things rushes from the future to meet us, and with the same providers of digital gadgetry and social media buying up the tech startups, the perfect storm may well be brewing where the corporation becomes the guardian of our moment by moment physical (and even mental) behaviour.

This might sound like scare-mongering. It isn’t. It is another, perhaps sober, call to beware of being “locked in” without your agreement, to make sure that, in the clamour for wearable miracles, you don’t give up your privacy and freedom in the process.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Digital Placement at Work

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The book Digital Inferno contains many practical activities for placing the digital realm consciously, at home, on the go, and at work. In the book, you’ll find the idea of placement suggested as a key way for individuals, groups and organisations to gain mastery over the digital realm in ways that creates more benefit and helps work to become more meaningful, effective and less stressful.

Placement takes many forms. We become more effective in our use of thew digital realm when we make conscious choices about how, where and when we make use of its devices and platforms. We aren’t locked in, nor habitually “always on” – the digital realm becomes a consciously managed and used aspect of our physical working lives.

Ways to Use Placement in the Digital Realm

1, Temporally

2. Spatially

3. Functionally and Sensibly

4. Mentally and Emotionally

We can place our digital devices and our digital activity temporally (in time). Here we locate digitally-based work at specific times of the day. This can enable us to focus more effectively, make smarter use of our time, and also frees up other time for non-digital activities such as face to face meetings, reflection time, reading and decision making that is better without digital distraction. It also acknowledges certain times of the day when our energy is better suited to digital work. It can also enable us to be more mindful of colleagues who work in different time zones around the world.

We can place our digital devices spatially At home this can involve a dedicated room for our digital activity – our screen and gadget time. We keep devices away from our bedrooms, giving us less distraction and better sleep. We can create a specific place where we charge all devices and leave them when we aren’t using them. This can reclaim the home from constant digital intrusion (If we don’t want that). At work, we can also have purpose-designed digital work spaces and separate these off from meeting spaces were focus on face-to-face is vital. We can also create smarter meeting and working areas that better allow us to invoke digital technology when we want it but also remove it from view and de-activate it when it isn’t needed. Here the default isn’t “always on” but “on where and when needed”.

We can place our devices functionally and sensibly. Here we invoke the use of our digital gadgets and platforms, not as an habitual default, but where it makes sense to do so. We embed them and build them into our business and working processes where and when they are needed only. Technology can be booked, used, and then “unhooked” at different stages of a business process. It is easy to draw down needed programs, devices and decision-making aids just-in-time, as and when needed, in non-buggy ways. We are not “always on” and we know when a face to face meeting will be more effective than an email. We have the skill of “discernment” knowing how to choose between different digital and physical communication methods. Some processes function better with different digital and physical methods.

We can place our devices mentally and emotionally. This is more of a personal, “inner skill”. It involves being able to use self-discipline and know when or when not to respond to digital calls upon us. We can choose not to reply because it makes more sense to sleep on a decision o to collect more information. An email may be emotionally quite charged and we are masters of timing, knowing how and when to respond. We do not deal with everything in a reactive way but place digital content in ways that best enable us to make wiser, evidence-based, more emotionally-intelligent decisions. We may, more generally, choose to detox a bit from the digital realm, having a day away from it. On other days we may consciously dive in and fully immerse. In all cases, we are the ones consciously in control, not locked into digital reaction out of habit or compulsion.

Placement involves three key activities:

1. Invoking

2. De-activating

3. Discerning

Invoking is activating, switching on, running one or more digital process and linking digital processes together.

De-activating involves the will power and the ability to switch devices and digital processes off in favour of either silence or a physical process.

Discerning is the core ability to select when a digital process needs to be invoked and when it needs de-activating or switching off.

These three skills represent a new and emerging skill set in the realm of digital working. There’s currently little overt training and development in these areas, resulting in digital working in organisations that it often adhoc, reactive and inefficient as well as risky and stressful.

Digital Inferno contains many activities that trainers can use to start to up-skill leaders, managers and other staff to become more skillful in placing the digital in the realm of work.

As part of my own work with businesses and public organisations I help them to enhance their placement of the digital realm – their smartphones, tablets, their social media, their intranets and communication platforms. This sometimes takes the form of an away-day, a reality check, a “pow wow” to finally get on top of the digital realm in their working environment. in some cases it takes the form of skills training, learning the practical skills of placement. Ultimately it is a more ongoing process of building the digital consciously in the strategy of the business, in the design of work – ensuring that working processes – physical and digital – serve the purpose of the organisation. It lies at the core of the organisation’s digital strategy and we have to enquire into it continually if our organisation is operating is a highly dynamic environment.

If you are looking for a tangible next step in bringing a more conscious approach to the digital realm in your work place, there are number of things you can do:

Five Practical Steps Forward in Digital Placement at Work

1. Carry out an audit of typical days and work flows and collect some data. Where does digital activity integrate logically and effectively? Where is there waste in the use of resources? Where is there information overload, overlap and process that simply isn’t logical? Where are the stress points and where are digital processes being used inappropriately?

2. Put the issue on your next meeting agenda where your review strategy or key processes. Get a discussion going and use the placement model above to see where the gaps and opportunities are. Pick a short-term area for a pilot project and experiment with some change.

3. Embed these digital placement skills more clearly into training and development and build the behaviours into new employee induction as well as forming part of appraisal and reward. Recognise behaviours that are more digitally smart and wise

4. Lead by example from the top. Build these behaviours into leadership and demonstrate their importance through guiding behaviour

5. Look specifically at how, when and where people meet, digitally and physically. There may be small changes that can be made immediately to meeting rooms and working areas that better empower people to practice placement

Pick just one of these actions, and you’ll be on the road to a much more effective and conscious engagement with the digital realm of work.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

A New Year Digital Detox?

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Amongst the many New Year’s resolutions for 2016 will be a digital detox. This term has appeared more in recent years, even in a dictionary which defines it as “A period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.” (Source here). Reporting for the BBC in August 2014, David Grossman described how our devices are quickly taking over many of us, leaving us unable to cope with the constant barrage of messages and alerts that comes with being “always connected.”

The term “digital detox” suggests, as with an alcohol or drug detox, that we are imbibing so much of a substance that it is potentially poisoning us. Can digital interaction actually poison us? There is growing, but not yet conclusive evidence, that too much digital activity could be harming us physically. Phones on high volume with constant use could adversely affect our hearing, constant tapping onto a screen might give us repetitive strain syndrome neck and back problems, and the heat from mobile devices might be penetrating our skulls and frying our brains. There’s also growing evidence that Wifi signals might impact on the quality our sleep.

Taken together it sounds like a rather doom and gloom scenario suggesting we might just end up as gibbering, stooped wrecks in our old age. Doom and gloom often accompanies technological revolutions. This particular technological revolution is being tested as we go. Innovation is running faster than research and that is both exciting and dangerous. Clearly both positive and negative symptoms of this digital wave of change are being reported. It’s beneficial but it is also bad. There are clearly some toxic side effects to diving quickly and fully into the digital inferno!

So, part of a digital detox for the new year might involve some common sense actions to our physical bodies healthy.

5 Tips for a Physical Digital Detox

1. Buying or using a chair with better back and neck support when we are on our computers or tablets

2. No longer bending our necks over our phones when we are texting and using straighter postures

3. Using the speakerphone setting when we can to reduce holding the phone to our ears (many headphones can offer as much radiation as a smartphone to the head, though potentially less heat)

4. Switching off our broadband and Wifi routers at night and when we aren’t using them

5. Eating more healthily around your digital activity and don’t let is become a reason for sugar snacking

Perhaps the more reported on issues around the “toxic” nature of the digital world has been the psychological and emotional impacts. Here the “toxic” element refers to a pollution of our emotional world, the distraction and the diluting of our important relationships. “Toxic” suggests poisoning. Are we poisoning ourselves and our social interactions with too much digital time?

Certainly we can pollute our concentration on physical activities if we are “always on”., and pollution can be a kind of  poisoning. How much did your checking in to social media, responding to texts and emails interrupt or even interfere with your physical world Christmas? How much did it add to it or enhance it? Where it did seem to enrich the experience (A Skype call to Grandma, some nice greetings sent and received, tracking Santa online for fun – all well and good. But where it felt compulsive, where you felt distracted and those you were with felt you were only half there for most of the time, the toxic nature of the digital realm could have been creating negative effects, a bit like you being drunk and simply not able to be “fully there.” Did the family feel enhanced or broken up this Christmas by digital devices and social media?

A digital detox in the new year in the emotional and social realm will refresh up your day and may well remind you that there’s a healthy balance to be struck between our physical and digital activities.

10 Tips for A Social and Emotional Digital Detox

1. Switching off devices for set periods of time and full focusing on the physical world. Two good times to start with are meal times and bed time.

2. Switching off “push notifications” and “alerts” on your smartphones and tablets so you have to decide when to go in to check emails and other messages rather than be constantly alerted and notified

3. Spending more time out walking – in the woods, on the park, in order to breathe fresh air and get away from the pull of devices

4. Resolving to give loved ones, friends and colleagues your full physical attention when they need it. No more phones buzzing in pockets or on your lap

5. Pruning your “social media garden”. Leave online groups you never engage in, prune your Facebook friend list, stop following blogs, people and sites you never read. Unsubscribe from mailing lists

6. Declutter your various desktops, tidy files into folders and delete where necessary. Delete apps you never use. Clear your various inboxes, especially those overloaded with unread mails

7. Visit your privacy settings on the different social media platforms you use, get more clued up and take control over who sees what and when in your social media life

8. Practice not responding immediately to everything that comes to your attention; choose more consciously when to repond

9. Cut down the number of hours you spend online and on different devices

10. Think about what parts of your digital life you really value and love and resolve to enjoy those more mindfully. Make your digital realm the realm you want it to be

So, here it is: You may need to admit you are addicted.

You might need to finally accept that the pain in your neck is down to that addiction, that you are damaging your back from sitting badly over your laptop. You might find that your 2015 is going to be degraded by too much uncontrolled, reactive and largely unskilled digital activity.

2015 could be a more self-aware and ultimately enjoyable year to enjoy the new digital innovations that are now appearing. But do you really want to be a dumb user of a smart watch? Do you really want to wear your augmented reality spectacles like a short sighted lurcher, or to genuinely enhance the way you see the world? Whatever comes in 2015, you can be on top of it, or you can be controlled by it.

Perhaps the most toxic form of the digital realm reveals itself when you start to behave like a kind of gadget yourself. You look at adverts when the corporations want you to. You respond because the corporations need you to be on and reacting. When your digital time is no longer really yours then you have really become overshadowed, taken over by the very world that claims to serve you with miracle innovation and technology.

You reach for your phone habitually, your respond to alerts compulsively. You can no longer enjoy the silence and the absence of screen and gadget time.  You can’t be in the physical world without feeling the habitual pull of the digital realm. That sounds toxic to me.

So, why not make 2015 the year when your get back in control of your digital life?

In the short term the detox might involve cutting out and cutting down. But when your get your will power back and strengthened, you might just find that, in the doses, at the times and in the ways that you decide, the digital realm becomes something surprising, even delightful, as well as genuinely useful and beneficial in all kinds of ways.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Is the Internet Immoral?

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A colleague recently described the internet as “immoral”. Some might think it is “amoral” – a neutral place, where it is we, the human beings who decide whether it is good or bad. But this colleague was adamant. The internet, right from its very foundations (even deeper, from its roots) is substantially immoral. It’s bad, rotten to the core. That immorality may have been made in ignorance b its originators, it is may have been consciously chosen. So says my colleague.

That would suggest that the architecture of the internet itself has been founded upon immoral premises and motives. Now that is strange as the origins of the internet lie in an attempt to enable the sharing of content across physical distance. Universities could collaborate. Knowledge could be shared. People could message each other without using up planet-warming gasoline. That was a original idea, before all digital hell broke loose.

My colleague claims it is the binary nature of the internet that “outs” it as immoral. That is because, in his view, binary thinking, applied to the human-social sphere demeans and even harms the human being. Binary thinking serves mathematics but it can never hold the human “essence” in any morally good way. That’s what HE says.

Binary thinking arises from resolving our transactions, interactions, processes, even goals and will impulses to “either-or”. Complicated systems of the ones and zeros, on or offs, either-ors can then be built up to model and even mimic qualitative reality – the world (internally and externally) that we experience with our senses. Essentially the picture of the Mona Lisa, made up of a billion little pin prick (or smaller) lots of light and colour (built up from little lines of binary code) can be made to fool those senses of ours and we can no longer tell the difference between the uber-complex binary-built model and the “real thing” (made from oil paint and human creativity and effort).

We can reach a stage where the binary copy fools the senses so well- and we adapt very quickly to the illusion, normalising it – that it is perfectly functional in social life. In a few decades (or less) this is going to become even more pronounced as holographic versions of our friends and family are compelling before us, in the room, with crystal clear, pitch perfect reproductive quality. Mom may be in New York, but she is damn as hell in our living room as if she was really here.

The trick is complete and we can no longer tell the difference. My colleague would call it a trick, an illusion, and attempt to deceive – and even if that deception is for benevolently functional reasons, it is, nonetheless, a lie. And, he would say, lying is immoral.

If he is right, every time the digital realm offers versions of reality as if they are true, we are being delivered a lie, sometimes compounded by other lies on top. for example, in the realm of social media, the corporations want to target us with advertising but will often present functionality as if its only motive is to free us up, to empower us, to make us smile, or to get a bargain. Even as the social media companies snoop on our behaviour in the “background” they claim that transparency is almost a moral duty. Transparency and openness are core values at Facebook even as they use complex and largely secret algorithms (programs to mine and manipulate our data) to aim buy-sell impulses at us.

I can see my colleague nodding and saying. “See? Immoral! Just as I told you!”

But sure we are free to switch off? Surely it is we who decide whats content we share or what we choose to look at? If the internet were truly amoral (neutral in the realm of right and wrong) then the providers of products and services wouldn’t be trying to force us to behave in certain ways (we can’t easily delete, we are told we have done something too much, or that we have broken guidelines, we are regularly notified and emailed and it is made very tiresome and hard to turn off those features).

Recently, I heard a new phrase: “”inadvertent algorithmic cruelty“.  This arose in a blog where the author, whose daughter had sadly died some time ago, had an image thrust in his face on his Facebook timeline as Facebook decided to show him what a review of his year might look like. The “algorithm” had no way of discerning which images might cause pain and upset. Its simplicity, clumsy to say the least, resulted in an immoral act, immoral because it harmed someone who did not wish nor ask to be harmed.

The author, Eric Myer, described the experience and offered an explanation:

“To show me Rebecca’s face and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring.  It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong.  Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate.  These are hard, hard problems.  It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.”

He goes to to discuss the algorithms that created this upsetting experience for him: “Algorithms are essentially thoughtless.  They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs.  To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.”

Note he uses the word “unleash”. This word is used a lot online. It is almost as if the internet is an animal, on a leash, pulling insistently, aching to be let go to run all over the place. Once unleashed, it might make some smile, it might make others run in fear. Clumsy algorithms lack more quality when they cannot connect with the specific quality and needs of a unique person. And they often can’t do this. When they do “match” it is often because a person has role played a simplified a version of themselves to enable the digital program to “get them right” – a questionnaire, some fixed settings, only answering “yes” or “no”. Without this collusion, the program will reveal just how dumb and simple it really is. Of course, computing is becoming faster and closer to “artificial intelligence” and in the future we may well find much better “matching”. Often nowadays the matching is very poor, often hurtful and sometimes dangerous, especially when it is forced upon us.

Forcing – which can range from the horrors of rape, to behaviours or bullying and blackmail, is immoral because it undermines the freedom of another. In the case of “”inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”, cruelty results because a choice has been made to sheep dip human beings in a generalised and unasked for forcing of pictures (they could be ex-partners, companies we were made redundant from and deceased loved ones) upon us.

The core nature of these algorithms are that they attempt to personalise and target but try to do this using binary language. When one person’s uniqueness falls between the cracks of a one or a zero, pain or even death might occur. Usually what results is a feeling of being undervalued, ignored or misunderstood. Algorithms that generalise and then attempt to target form the heart of search engines and “customisation” in the internet. The core assumption is that we use the best guess based on an evolving data set. The information may get better as the digital program “learns and refines” but there will be collateral damage – people will get hurt. My colleague would call that immoral too, citing Oscar Schindler that “If you save one life, then you save humanity”.

If we upgrade systems and it always means that 5% of the crowd will be harmed, frustrated, deleted, then we have created a system that harms all of us, because such decisions are immoral to the core. For some this is a naive and sentimental view of the world. Isn’t it better to genetically modify crops, despite possible longer term risks, if it means that more people get fed and less starve? These are difficult decisions, sometimes heartbreaking and seemingly impossible. Yet if we root our culture in normalising such a view, then soon enough we will always have acceptable losses. In medicine and in food safety we try to ensure that foods will not kills anyone (at least that is the theory and what the law says). Strict health and safety ensures our flights are as safe as possible. We have kite marks for electrical products and only when standards drop do people get burned or electrocuted.

Yet in the digital realm, the notion of “acceptable losses” has fundamental to its model of innovation, commerce and functioning. The binary world, writ large, is so complex that corporations only reveal many glitches and bugs through the cries of pain of their users. Many are sold products that are marketed as looking perfect but that, in reality, are riddled with bugs. Users are then expected to pay to get help or are directed to communities of fellow sufferers (help forums), even as the corporation eyes its next product launch. Help and support is ceased for products and programs after ever shorter periods of time. Is this a big whinge of mine? No, it is my colleague pointing out that the internet is built on corporations (app, program and hardware makers) who see the human being, not in individual terms – not as a qualitative, revealing, unique mystery but as a mass, a crowd, something to be controlled en masse. Personalisation is part of an attempt to customise for the majority (as this sells more products and service and is often called “customer care”), but for the 5% who don’t fit, they can firin, conform or die “and decrease the surplus population” (to quote Eberneezer Scrooge).

The internet is a binary beast. As such the quality of nuance, the unpredictable, the uniqueness that is each person, eludes it. But that is no major problem because the commercial model it has evolved allows for acceptable losses, for it to ignore those who don’t fit. Many customers, when their product fails, experience the providers as distant, uncaring, even indifferent. This can be cold and uncaring. My colleague calls that immoral.

Is that immoral or moral? Is that amoral? No, my colleague says,and he is very definite on this – it is immoral. In much of the digital and binary world, if you don’t conform to the majority, then you become part of the problem. “Either you are with us or you are against us.” Attempts are made to solve the problem as long as it submits to binary algorithm. Anything or anyone left out – and my colleague believes that is “left out” bit could be our specialness, what makes us beautifully unique and different – needs to be ignored, swept aside, even obliterated.

And here I agree with my colleague. That is immoral.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

The Relentless Rise of the Superlative

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The Rise of the Superlative

Edward Hanna, Professor of Climate Change at University of Sheffield, observes, in his article for The Conversation, how, in recent news coverage of winter weather in the UK, that a common winter storm was renamed “weather bomb” by the media. This happened to coincide with my own noticing of the use of “Absolutely Amazing” to describe some fairly normal occurrences by people I’m connected to on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You really can’t get any more absolute nor amazing than absolutely amazing.

The rise of the superlative began a long while ago. You can find superlatives all over the TV comedy show Happy Days, which is set in the 1960s and was made in the 19700s. The use of superlatives in the media predate the rise of digital by decades. You can find superlatives in the adverts for products in the Victorian Age.

But there are less of them. They are used more sparingly and I struggled to find “absolutely amazing” anywhere before the 1980s.

Superlative Appendages

Each year I spend a month at the Edinburgh fringe, the world’s biggest fringe arts festival. There, as thousands of shows compete for a fairly tiny audience, everything pitches into superlative, the whole PR-machine implodes and no one ends up believing anything or anyone for a month or more. You also find the use of what I’ll call a “superlative-appendage”. This is a short phrase I am sure you will recognise: “No, really.”

“It was the  best film I have ever seen – no, really.”

“It was fantastic – no really!”

“It was utterly, absolutely amazing – no, really!”

The Communication Dead End

The only problem with ultimate superlatives is that, when we use them, we’ve gone to the limit of communication, plundered the possible, and essentially used up all of our communication credit. Simply put, there’we really nowhere else for us to go. No, really.

If something is utterly this, or absolutely that, there are no words or phrases beyond it. It can’t get any bigger, better, quicker, more satisfying if it has reached absolute.

In a way, “absolute” is a sacred word and we plunder it at our peril.

Equally, if a normal winter storm (perhaps a bit of extreme weather is in there too) is renamed as a “weather bomb”, then a real “weather bomb”, whatever that is, will simply not be believed. We’ll have cried wolf too often. This is what happens when theatre companies and reviewers hit “absolute” at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you keep plundering superlatives to describe “pretty good”, then no one knows what real excellence is any more, nor do they even believe it might exist.

Plundering the Superlative

Advertising has been doing it for years; the clumsiest ad makers plunder the superlative – as a result (along with other forms of truth-distortion), this compulsive exaggeration has simply resulted in the advertising industry having a bad name, being mistrusted and lacking credibility. Exaggeration is a form of lying. Many advert makers have recognised this and aimed at more authentically styled adverts. Largely these are untrusted too as the very same industry sullied its reputation over decades. The flight of many ad agencies from superlatives towards more accurate language has, though, met with partial success. By the time a washing powder became “ultimately bluey-white”, there was no space for anything better to come along and the language used became increasingly ultra-bluey-nirvana-white ridiculous. Equally, when an animated film has become “the most breathtaking spectacle you will ever see”, there was little room for the next movie to excel. Language changed in recognition of this and now we have “game changers” and products that “push the envelope”,. These terms suggest room for further improvement.

Finding the Way Back to Authentic

When there is no where to go in terms of ultimate superlatives, there is always going back – back to basics, back to something more real, more human and authentic. Many users of social media struggle here because they have been groomed in a media age to use a limited vocabulary, recycling the same words, phrases and cliches. They then struggle to find the phrases that might capture their true feelings. We then have the opposite of the superlative – we have mediocrity. Wishing not to use superlatives and exaggeration the social media user grasps for the “Like” button and actually underplays what they’d really like to say. The catch all words for this is “Ok” and, increasingly, “cool”.

When mediocrity gets relabeled as excellent and even pushed to ultimate limits, truth in language tends to arrive at a dead end. It can only then fester, dilute, decline or turn around and head back somewhere more authentic. If those heading back end up back in the land of “reality check” without the language to describe it, they will become speechless. The world of marketing and advertising is aware of that, which is why it offers us readily available generic catch-alls like “neat” and “kewl”.

There was No Weather Bomb

So, there was no weather bomb. Nothing exploded. There was some pretty harsh weather and some impressive, striking and beautiful waves hitting the Orkney Island. For some who might have been flooded out or who lost loved ones, this weather may well have been experienced with the same shock as if a bomb had exploded. It is often this with bad weather. But a bomb? Perhaps not.

The Richness of Language

It’s quite an old fashioned view perhaps to believe that we’ve lost many of the words we used to have available to us in our language. It might be being nostalgic to wish for a time where we had more phrases at our command so that we could express our feelings more truthfully, and to generate our own expressiveness, rather than to become “Like-Dislike” button pushers for social media corporations. As an occasional mentor and life coach it is often essential to iput how they are feeling into very accurate words. We often search for a phrase that is eloquent enough to bring problems, blockages, dreams, ideals, pain and hope into expressed conversation. Then we can work with it. often changing your life, or your organisation involves changing how you think and feel about the way things are and could be. Then the language expresses that. Changing yourself involves changing your thinking, and the way you speak about yourself, others and the world. It’s an internal and external dialogue. “Absolutely amazing” seems to paralyse that process. It leads us to a premature dead end, because, further up the timeline, there are other experiences that will supersede the fake absolute. It is in the richness of language and our authentic use of it that we can vision innovation, a better life.

The Role of Enquiry

Interestingly, a bit of exaggeration can be healthy. Born on the wings of our enthusiasm, we can say a meal is “excellent” or “terrific”. But when we then describe that experience in more detail, using a wider set of words and phrases, we come back to authenticity. And that is one way of helping those who have got stuck at the dead end of ultimate superlative overload. We simply enquire further. Enquiry can be experienced as a bit frustrating at first, a bit of a struggle. But when we ask “So what was absolutely amazing about it?”, that simply question opens up an enquiry that seeks description, looks for evidence. When that happens, the enquiry often results in a healthy retreat from the “lie” of the absolute superlative” and we still end up somewhere really positive, as the “utterly amazing meal” becomes a meal that had some impressive creativity in the way it was presented, had some luscious tastes, made us smile at how good it tasted, and was a unique contrast in flavours. It was a fine meal. It was one of the best we had ever eaten…

One of the best. ONE of…

And then the relentlessness of the superlative has been banished, and there is space to move our thinking again.

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Paul Levy is the author of the book, Digital Inferno, out now in paperback and on Kindle.

On Christmas Morning

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A tale of Placing the Digital Realm at Christmas

You wake up. It’s Christmas morning. You yawn and stretch. You look out of the window. Frosty, but no snow. You feel the tiny tug of your smartphone and then you remember – this year you left it downstairs, switched off, fully charged by now. It’s in the back room, along with your spare battery.

You turn to your partner who is still asleep. You plant a gentle kiss on her cheek; she moves but doesn’t wake up.

You get up, go to the bathroom, then head downstairs. You switch on the Christmas lights; the presents are under the tree, just where you left them the previous night. It’s time to make some Christmas blend coffee. You feel the tug again, a little more insistent from that device plugged in, in the back room. The coffee smells wonderful as you open the vacuum pack, breathe in deeply through your nose, and switch on the coffee maker.

You’ve been aware of that pull for a while now. It is one of the reasons you decided, suddenly on Christmas Eve near midnight, to place your device in the back room, lights off, then off to bed. Normally you sleep with it on your bed side table, on standby. It is a cool alarm clock with virtual Tibetan gongs. Often it is the last thing you check at night, even after wishing your partner good night. Friends and even work colleagues get an X or a “Like” even after you have kissed Ellen and wished her happy dreams.

Not this time. It isn’t a denial of the digital, you think, it’s an affirmation of the physical. You’re not usually a fan of Christmas coffee but the hint of nutmeg is suddenly just a bit marvelous.

“It isn’t a denial of the digital. It’s an affirmation of the physical.” You feel the temptation to go and post that little gem on Facebook right away, and that leads to the urge to check in and see who has wished you happy Christmas. There will be Twitter messages. Oh, and emails too… Happy Christmas.

But this year, something inside you wants to hear those two words first from just one other person in the world. And that is the same person you want to be the first to hear them from you. Again the insistent pull. Again you turn away from it – gently now. Gently.

You can hear famiiiar ceiling creaks; you know she is awake. That’s her ninety-second stretch. Coffees on a tray and two little chocolate stars in silver paper, you climb the stairs and deliver Christmas morning coffee to your goddess.

When did I last think of her as a goddess?

You share coffee in bed and nibble together at your chocolate stars. Presents are waiting to be opened under the tree. You’re excited because you want to see her face when she unravels an IPad Air wrapped in an amethyst chain.

Again the pull, stronger this time – the call of the digital realm – a reminder that you might be slipping out of touch.

In the moment of that thought, you feel a different kind of touch, one you haven’t felt for a while – too long, you realise. Ellen is looking at you.

Your attention turns fully to that gesture; falling into it, like a willing dive from a waterfall.

Nearly an hour later, you both get up and head down to Presentville.

When presents are done and breakfast has been enjoyed, eaten slower this year, with more talk, you make a decision and there’s a feeling of strength behind it.

Yes, now it is. Now is the time of my choosing.

You open the door to the back room. Excited. Greetings await from near and far. A chosen time and a place for your Digital Christmas – warm wishes, cutting humour, smileworthy pictures, an Amazon Voucher and a Skype with Nan. Then out and about in the Fresh December chill to see friends before the feast begins.


Buy Paul’s new book, Digital Inferno, here. it’s an ideal Christmas gift for someone who’d like to be more in control of their digital living and working

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Coping with faster rates of change

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It became a cliche decades ago to say that the future was speeding up. Many of my friends talk about life rushing by. Many people feel the pressure to upgrade their phones every year. Perhaps responding almost daily to technology change adds to that sense of rushing, and perhaps it also is just a symptom of change happening more frequently around us. Back in the early eighties you got very good deals on upgrading. Companies gave huge discounts on new hardware and seem to acknowledge in those days that, if you bought a computer, you would be expecting it to last 5 to 10 years before you bought another one. That soon changed. As the generation of my parents gave way to the more tech-savvy Generation Y, expectations were changed (and lowered) and now there is little reward for upgrading quickly other than the chance to queue all night outside a tech store to be “one of the first”. No discounts for compensation for upgrading. Well, there are discounts but these are often factored into clever pricing from the start.

So, you buy a phone and the next model will be along within months loaded with advertising that suggests you are out of touch and uncool. Interestingly some of the biggest corporations have begun to be caught out by their own pace of innovation and product launch. Apple still offers its older phone model alongside the new one, as it does with its Tablet. Not everyone is up for buying a brand new phone every year and now older models are competing alongside newer ones and the second hand market is growing all the time.

But that doesn’t seem to be slowing the pace of change down that much, if at all. As soon as the Iphone 6 is out, the digital commentators and news pundits are already “leaking” clues of the “7”. This can be fun, part of an excitement about innovation and an enthusiasm for technology and what it can offer. It can also become compulsive, needy, addictive and then it is about getting the next “hit”. When people get into serious debt, often a debt counselor will uncover just how entangled a person or a family has become with digital gadgets and gizmos. Celebrating the digital realm and delighting in it can be part of life’s excitement and authentic enjoyment; being compulsively addicted to it can harm your life, your relationships, and your bank balance.

For people from older generations, and even from younger souls trying to get on the property ladder or make their salary stretch to the month, it can be disheartening and anxiety-creating to always feel you are one model behind the mainstream and two behind the leading edge. We then see our digital gadgets as things that have as much pull on our pockets as those spoilt kids who bought every chocolate bar they could to win a Golden Ticket to Willie Wonka’s factory. We end up aching for the latest gizmo.

That ache can be felt most keenly by parents whose kids benchmark themselves in the classroom against what other kids have got, then emotionally bullying and badgering their mom and pop to cough up the cash. It was ever thus but never so expensive as five hundred pounds for a gadget (and that’s just the smartphone, what about the gaming device and the tablet?).

The parents relent, stump up the cash, breathe a sigh of relief and, in less than a few breaths, the next model is banging relentlessly on the front door. “You’re kids are already put of date”.

It can be tough to deal with that pressure. It can create a kind of underlying angst in the family, and every advert we see online or on TV, on ad hoardings in the street, or via the grapevine, reminds us that we are riding a wave and will thrown off it if we don’t keep up. Keeping up means paying up.

Smart watches are next and suddenly we are all health obsessed needing heart rate monitors and pedometers wherever we go. Of course, this “need” has been cooked up and pushed by corporations and tired out families collude and buy into the myths to stay on the main wave. And now everyone “needs” a smart watch. Wearables, apparently are a “need”.

Is there really a need to always be buying and owning whatever the tech space hurls at us?

There’s a interesting warning from history. Look at these quotes…

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
–Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
–Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and walked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
–The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

“But what … is it good for?”
–Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM,1968, commenting on the microchip.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
–Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
–Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
–David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

The digital realm has overwhelmed many of us, surprised even some of the most prominent thinkers and futurists in terms of how fast and massive its impact has been.

It is all too easy to suggest that what the innovation realm is throwing at us is not needed. But what is different from those times is the sheer pace of change, combined with the pressures from corporations to deliver double digit growth to their shareholders. Innovation is no longer then a wave in itself, but instead is something that rides on another wave, carried along by it. Innovation as a pattern in culture then fixes like a surfer, moving on the wave, but never away from it. And that wave is growth, with proft and market share maximisation driving the wave onwards. Then it is no longer about innnovation meeting needs and inspiring needs – the needs of real people who exist in families all over the world. Innovation then becomes a tool for commerce, even for greed. And then we don’t always need the next magical gizmo, it is the corporation who needs us to need it.

And that’s when the digital realm becomes an inferno and we can kept utterly swept up in its forces, even burned and destroyed by it

So, how do we cope with all of this? The people I have met in recent years who are positively engaging with the digital realm have a certain resilience. They do not upgrade, like an addict, for the sake of upgrading. They upgrade when they have got themselves clued up about what is on offer and they make very conscious choices about how an upgrade will really meet their needs. They are not fascinated by gadgetry but rather enthused by it. They celebrate this onrushing wave of innovation and newness but that doesn’t mean they unquestioningly surrender to it. many have a phone or tablet replacement cycle of 2 to 3 years, not 1.

Often they take their time before making a purchasing decision and are interested in the real life stories of how other people have used new technologies before they commit themselves. I notice that many also have a real note pad and pen in their bags alongside the latest tablet PC. They blend physical and digital. It isn’t a choice between one or the other.

Occasionally they ride right at the front of the wave and delight in trying out something right at the new end of new. Often that is based , not on digital hunger and addiciion, but on a spirit of experimentation and adventure.

Embracing the increasing rate of change with a mix of mindfulness and adventure seems to be the way forward. But we aren’t out of touch if we don’t upgrade every time. Actually we are more in touch – with our real needs, the true story of our life.

Fake Praise from No One in Particular

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I was recently prompted on Linkedin to update my profile. I clicked through the various questions that suggested I update my job history, add a background image, and endorse various people. The prompt out of nowhere to suddenly improve my profile’s content, look and feel, suggests that Linkedin knew my profile needed improving. I said no to everything; then, at the end, Linkedin congratulated me: “Your profile looks great!”.

I’ve had that experience before. I’ve had automated emails telling me my web site looks “ace” and then offering to improve it for me (for a wad of money).

We are all used to “scripts”. These are essentially processes and conversations online that are generated with varying degrees of successful targeting (Dear Mrs Paul…..) to mimic something that a human being might actually say to us. Many of these stock phrases have, of course, been cooked up at some point by a human being. he or she then “casts them out” a bit like a fisherman hurling a line and hook into the deep waters, then waiting to see if they catch anything.In this case the fisherman leaves the rod and heads home, returning only occasionally to see if anything has been caught. In the ever more sophisticated digital real, even the fisherman has been automated.

But we are used to that. We are used to dialogue boxes – “Are you sure you want to quit?” We are asked all kinds of stuff, prompted, nudged even told “you do not have permission to do that”. Our digital interface varies in style from accusing lawmaker, to warning evangelist, to gently berating parent, to crazed would be seller sucking up to us to be liked. Some of the dialogues are functional and are styled to make accessibility and flow of a process better. Our PC, tablet or smartphone mimics a guide, a teacher, a parent to help us get somewhere safely and easily. (Well, there are exceptions – the dreaded Error 666 type message where suddenly the machine in the ghost is outed and revealed in all is primitive and binary beauty).

So, these human-mimicked dialogues I can take. What bothers me more if when I am sprayed with warnings or praise like a pee from a tom cat without any specific reference to the real situation. I’m told my Linkedin profile looks great, even though it doesn’t and even though I have refused every suggestion offered by the platform to make it look better.

Specifically, constant and entirely unhinged praise simply turns into a drip feed of regular lies that can actually wear one down, create cynicism and dilute any sincerity that real humans might be trying to communicate to us. It’s a stream of clumsy fakery that diminishes the digital realm and its possibilities.

I believe a better and more sustainable approach are eloquent and truthful messages that are more neutral and calm. When praise is offered it is based on intelligent metrics. Emotional messaging is then real time and evidence based, not a blunt instrument.

Try this: The next time you receive an automated message via a web site, an email or a social media platform that addresses itself to you personally, suggesting something about you or your digital presence, pause for a moment.

Reflect on whether the message is genuinely responsive to the dialogue you are engaged in. How accurate is the message? How responsive does it feel? Don’t get irritated, just be awake to what kind of message it is. Are you being automatically “sprayed”, or is this a more intelligent and responsively written computer script? If you are told “Congratulations”, is it really cause for congratulations? If you are told “Well done!” have you really deserved that?

When I update this post I will receive the automated message from WordPress: “Post successfully updated. Lookin’ good!” – even if it looks like the back of a rhino’s  ….

Stay sensitive and awake in your digital interactions with automated processes and dialogues. There is no longer another human being at the end of the dialogue, even if a programmer or “scripter” wrote it a few months ago. Staying awake and aware can ensure that you still know how to enjoy and value real and honest praise or criticism.

Don’t get worn down.

Don’t become

Comfortably numb.

Researching Digital Inferno

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In a way I’ve been researching Digital Inferno since I was first bought an Acorn Electron computer back in the early 1980s. As a social scientist I kept diaries and made notes and reflected on my experiences in the digital realm throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium.

When I started blogging about the digital realm I wrote up my reflections, sometimes daily, sharing them with the public and receiving feedback and comment. I’ve spoken with literally hundreds of people – sometimes informally chatting, sometimes in a more structured interview-style conversation. Everything I have written up has anonymised the people I’ve spoken with and respected confidentiality. I’ve spoken with individuals, couples, groups and organisations, in different parts of the world, mainly in the UK.

In research terms, I’ve been a direct and a participant observe. I’ve used reflection on experience and diaries as recording methods.

Digital Inferno was never intended to be a scientific study but I have used the skills I learned a social scientist in bringing the book together, including comparing my thoughts and conclusions to existing work published in the literature. I have also spoken to a lot of the “key thinkers” in the digital realm. I accessed a lot of the published research, much of which was either “for or against” the digital realm, I worked my blog sections up into chapters and checked the main content against my own notes, as well as leading thinking and experience in the field. I share a lot of those references throughout the blog and put some key ones in the book. Mostly I drew upon my own data as both a direct and a participant observer of, and in, the digital realm. I made use of several mentors and critical friends to reality check what I was writing, and point out bias.

Digital Inferno is largely my personal encounter with all of that “data”, presented as a book that can be read by anyone.

The Internet of Things – Time to Pause and Look at the Approaching Wave?

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“Our homes have always seemed a refuge from the merciless world of commerce… Increasingly, though, Corporate America is looking to use the Internet of Things as a trojan horse to penetrate our remaining private moments.”

Todd Wasserman

Take a look at this video of a new product, the Amazon Echo. In the middle of your living room (or bedroom), this clever device becomes the focal point for conversation and communication? Need some news? Need the weather? Need an answer? This neat little beast will do it all. Read it out. Listen and respond. It will read the news, it will play music. It is “always on”.

It is there to help, to respond, to deliver content into your room. And, of course, to potentially advertise to you and to analyse your conversations and behaviour in order to target you with adverts for products and services. Remember this phrase: always on.

Then remember one of the core beliefs of Facebook – transparency.

Yes, the walls of your house turn transparent. There are no bricks any longer, only see-through glass.

Is that what you want? Often seemingly benevolent and innocuous, the internet of things will become responsive fridges, intelligent thermostats, communicating home appliances – but also each part will become an opportunity to show adverts and to feed behavioural data into the corporate intelligence machine, serving the goal of the enterprise = to make money.

This may not bother you. You may already accept this a the new reality and the price of “free” services. You may love the new transparency and have little issue with loss of privacy.

When a device becomes the focal point for our enquiring behaviour, our questions, or need for music, answers, advice and information, the family gains a shared focus. It becomes part of our common ground. But what happens if the price of that focus is a loss of connection with each other. If we ask the gadget but stop asking each other, something essential may be lost. I believe a critical element in family connection is our shared enquiry into the world through each other, via our shared stumbling. We realise ourselves through those around us – they speak to us through our questions of them.

It isn’t just the answer the child gets from mom or dad, it’s the process of sharing curiousity, of exchanging favours, of the gestures we pass between each other. The gizmo in the room that answers all of our needs, ignores the value in our getting needs met through the wonderfully clumsy human condition. It is as much that I try for you than I get the answer right.

As, I say, none of that may bother you in the least. Look away now. Get buying.

But it will bother some. For some, privacy is a choice and something we should have for free. For some, home is where the heart is, and that heart is affected, even disturbed and degraded by commercial agendas. I may not want to go to my fridge of a midnight snack, after waking from a troubling dream, and – without my say so, be targeted with an advert for ice cream, or an alert that my fridge has run out of beer, partly because the sensor above my bed observed me sweating hot in may sleep, and told the fridge to nudge me to order more ice cream and beer. Next step – the implant eavesdrops on my dreams and I come downstairs in the morning to an advert on my coffee maker to buy a spy camera, feeding on the fears of my dream that my partner might be about to deceive me.

It’s the dark side of course. The internet of things, in which my home because intelligent and responsive, could keep us all more secure, reduce my energy bills and even enhance my health. The scope for human benefit and innovation is huge. The internet of things could be so designed as to really serve the home, really assist family cohesion and respect the sacredness of the last private space in our lives. But if the core motive behind it is for yet more advertising revenue and to lock me into platforms, products and services, my private space will become easily and quickly invaded by commercial motives. I’ll be sharing my home with marketing executives.

Some very young children wake in the night and see angels at the foot of their bed. Some have imaginary friends. The new angels and imaginary friends will be holograms offering free gifts and discounts. Yet, equally, the hologram could be a friendly person saying “don’t touch that switch, there’s a live wire and you’ll get a shock!”. If we are given the means and the ability to create and enhance the home, the internet of things, on our terms, will be exciting and benevolent. Imagine what we could do. Imagining a marketing opportunity is a disappointing failure of imagination.

What do I lose by ensuring that I am fully conscious of exactly what I am letting into my home? I don’t believe we ever lose anything by staying free and conscious.

If that bothers you, then it might be time to open your eyes and not blunder blindly forwards into what is coming towards us right now. You might want to meet the miracle with a bit of health reflection and scrutiny. It really is about the small print and gazing into the phenomena behind the neat adverts on YouTube. The current gadgets and gizmos are also symptoms. The root causes are processes largely driven by wishful views of how humanity needs to behave. And the owners of those wishes have service to humanity as only one of their motives. Others include shaping the living space to their commercial ends and being able to define how we behave 24/7 behind the once closed doors we called home.

Are you Digitally Addicted?

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The word “addiction” is a problematic word. it can be used light-heartedly to describe our attachment to something – alcohol, chocolate, food, even love. It is also used by qualified medical practitioners to describe a condition that can destroy lives, literally. So,when we use it, we have to be careful. “You’re addicted to those computer games” we might say to one of our children and we might be describing a dangerous psychological condition, not just engaging in a bit of parental banter. Sometimes it is both.

Digital addiction overlaps with addiction to substances such as nicotine and alcohol.But there are difference as well, of course.  When we are engaged in digital activity – gaming, texting, surfing or tweeting, we aren’t consuming a substance, injecting ourselves physically, or inhaling. Yet, like gambling, we are engaged in an activity that, when addicted, we simply cannot spot. We  might not want to stop. We might want to stop but, try as we might, we always end up doing it again.

At the simplest level, that is what addiction is – the inability to stop; the inability to “not”.

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction offers this short online test. And a recent survey points to the increase in technology and digital addiction. Commenting on the survey, Dr Reed from the University of Swansea in the UK, characterises some of that addiction:

“Some smart phone owners are reporting broken sleep patterns where they’re actually waking up to check the Internet, email, or social media. At the extreme there are people spending 60-70% of their waking life on the Internet for non-work-related purposes.”He further describes it as ” “irresistible urges, inability to stop using compulsively, withdrawal when you don’t have it, and increased tolerance which leads to using it more and more.””

Similar to other addictions such as alcohol, smoking and  gambling? Certainly there are many similarities. We are even finding the neurological basis for digital addiction.

Hilarie Cash points to the hard evidence for the physiological highs that digital addicts looks to repeat through digital activity: “Once an addiction takes hold, the addict is either chasing another high or trying to avoid withdrawal. This, in turn, leads to obsession and engaging in the behavior in spite of negative consequences. The pleasure pathway, now overused, has become highly sensitive and responsive to cues that trigger a craving for the drug or behavior. So, for instance, if you’ve become addicted to Farmville or World of Warcraft, then merely sitting down in front of your computer, or merely opening up the internet on your smart phone, can trigger the release of neurochemicals that make us crave engagement in those games.”

Digital addiction becomes the inability to stop engaging digitally as a person becomes locked into a behavioural cycle of repetition. The person can’t stop.

Can you stop? Are you becoming addicted?

Here are some of the symptoms which serve as warning signs for becoming digital addicted. There are many more. Look down the list and tick any that apply to you. Of course, some of these on their own to not mean you are addicted. It is the combination of several of these which point towards digital addiction.

The Twenty signs and symptoms

1 – waking up in the night to check your smart phone, tablet or PC– the inability to switch off devices

2 – constantly reaching for your phone to check it and an inability to not do that

3 – an inability to not respond immediately to messages and alerts

4 – ignoring and neglecting friends and loved ones in favour of digital alerts and demands

5 – an inability to travel (on trains, planes, buses, even walking along) without constantly checking devices

6 – feelings of strong panic if you can’t find one of your digital devices

7 – becoming agitated when devices are switched off

8 – spending large amounts of money (in relation to your means) in purchasing, upgrading   and topping up digital products and services  

9 – an inability to send a message or some other form of communication without constantly checking back for replies and feedback

10 – digital activity has become the main activity in your day

11 – a feeling of needing to connect every few minutes and an inability to have even a relaxed hour away from digital activity

12 – feeling annoyed when friends, colleagues and loved ones interrupt your digital activity

13 – feeling a compulsion to “get back” to your game, social network texts, program – they have now become your “default”

14 – noticing that digital activity is now your main “high” of the day

15 – needing your devices to be always physically near you or even on your body

16 – feelings of loss and missing out after just a few minutes of being “offline”

17 – your digital world activity now feels more important and more of a priority than your physical world duties and responsibilities

18 – turning devices off for a chosen amount of time and not being able to keep them off

19 – seeing after-images of games, other digital images, animations and text when you are still, lying in bed before sleep, or even walking along; even residual feelings of movement

20 – digital devices are always on and engaged with during all social activities (restaurants, cafés, meal times at home, at the cinema, in bed, out and about) 

Now, think about what you have ticked. If you have ticked more than five of these items, you are showing strong warning signs of being digitally addicted. That might be the signal to start to become more self-controlled in how you engage digitally. It might be a sign to get some professional help. Some people can gain back their self-control with a few smart changes, a bit of cutting down. Others will need assistance. There’s no single answer here for everyone for we are all different.

What next? Some people recognise their addiction, even name it, and decide to carry on. Others belittle it, dilute it and say “it isn’t that bad!”. Some seek help. Consulting your GP, seeking counselling, or looking for a local digital detox program. These are available in different ways in different parts of the world. The first step, though, it to recognise the symptoms and, as with any addiction, to admit to it.

A few resources

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction – services and some resources

The Center for Internet Addiction

Video Game Addiction

Five Tips on Beating Video Game Addiction – an article in the Telegraph newspaper

Video Game Addiction Help –  a UK-based resource

The Art of Texting 1 – Reacting from the Heart

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When you next receive a text which prompts some emotional reaction in you, read it carefully and then listen for what your heart is saying.

Search within for how you feel about the content of that text.

Hold the other person in mind and reach out for what you believe is in his or her heart.

Then form a reply. You can then dictate it into the phone (if you have the right application), say it aloud or voice it in your head before you type and send.

You might find that the slower response is less cold, more eloquent and more ‘you’.

In Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget, one can see the sense in which we are the gadgets and the corporation is the user of gadgets. We text because the corporation uses us to text. We think we are acting, but usually we are reacting. The corporation needs us to be ‘always on’. It has given us a way to talk as quickly as a spider can walk, and to send messages as fast as a spider can spin a thread. We are offered a way to do it with superfast thinking via lightning-quick thumb and fingertips. (Some children can thumb text without even taking their phones out of their pockets.) But it is alarming that there’s no time for us to feel what we mean to say. Feeling in the human heart prompts some reflective pause to take the measure of something we value, but any pause in superfast thinking feels like sluggishness. It isn’t, as we will get to later, but it feels like it. Superfast tap-tap-tap goes with cold calculation, shorthand and minimal touch. No time to consider or empathise. Type fast. Think with the speed of a reflex. Be like a scuttling spider. We can tap glass with the ends of fingertips and write a sentence in seconds. Speed creates efficiency and a digital version of speed-of-sound physical running. Our words reach the other in a second, faster than we can speak the words. No larynx is needed, no tongue, no lips. Those soft organs mysteriously create physical sounds which carry as much feeling as thought. It used to be our main medium. Now we prefer to be like something with a large head and little arms and legs coming directly out of it which taper into long fingertips that can tap screens and point like a clever spider. From a distance it looks like a dance. In Text, we used pizzicato violin music behind the tap-tap-tapping of the jumping spider and its effect was comic and grotesque.

From Digital Inferno

A Moment into Darkness

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This is a poem about chat rage and those who like to “spoil” people’s digital experiences, often just for the sake of it. This is where fights break out between complete strangers on comment threads under pleasant or funny YouTube videos. This is where people write nastily and disdainfully to bring people down. This is about trolls. And this is also about community and the support and warmth that can be found in the digital realm as well.

I wrote it as a sonnet…

The curses came through window panes of grey

Cast cackles of disdain upon the fire

Around the hearth sat warming hands and toes

In cloaks of crimson, purple, jaunty green

Such stories told, such verse was freely shared!

And wine aplenty hot from spicey brews

A voice, the teller sang a wondrous tale

Yet from the shadows came the angry imps

They smashed the cups and pissed upon the flames

They tore with daggers into cooling cheeks

They ripped an eye and kicked into a groin

The circle broke a moment into black

But then our eyes they met in strength of will

Remade the circle, banished all the chill.

Each Morning

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This is a poem about intimacy. Can we achieve the same, better or different intimacy when we connect digitally?  If we are to replace physical connection with digital connection, something vital will be lost unless we value what we have when we physically together.

This poem evokes two people in the same physical space, waking up together, in each others’ arms…

 

Each morning they awaken,

Together in their separate worlds,

Their love, a warm sun, in a shared solar system.

As fingers curl into each other,

It is just like the olden days,

When the Moon was part of the Earth.

Floating free, the mutual pull of their gravities

Is both teasing and remakes the gorgeous selfness

Of being together and apart, at the same time.

Even as you hold me, I know you hold me only in trust;

I have never said I am yours, because we are ours.

There are twenty toes on this four-legged beast called Love.

Some stories of Digital Addiction

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Though Digital Inferno is not another “survey” type book (of which there are quite a few already, I did speak to a lot of people during the three years it took to write it). So, I have collected quite a lot of stories over that time.

Here a a typical few relating to digital addiction.

Names have been changed to preserve anonymity. Do you recognise yourself, colleagues, friends or loved ones in any of these stories?

Story 1:
The Addicted Toddler
Janine is a parent of three. “My two eldest kids are both on their Ipads a lot of the time. But Callum, the eldest does other stuff as well – a lot of sport and Gil is more into his skateboarding. The real nightmare was with Dean, our three-year old. We just downloaded creative games for him – you know, educational ones and a few where you had to pop bubbles or race cars. I’ll confess – it kept him quiet while I got on with other stuff. But a few months ago he wouldn’t let go of it when I tried to take it off him. he’s usually quite a good-natured child but he went into such a tantrum and he actually started screaming and scratching me. It took two weeks of putting up with near hysteria. But it calmed after a while and, as long as I kept him busy – took him out more, to the park and spent time with him – he mostly stopped asking for the MyPad (as he called it). He still tries to snatch at it when his brothers are on theirs. But I’m glad I acted when I did. I think my own three-year old was becoming addicted – and it was down to me using the gadget as a child minder.

Story 2:
naming the addiction
Steven is a middle manager is a media business on the south coast. He visits a hypnotherapist once a week and has been doing so for about five months. “It’s the same woman I saw a few years back to get me off smoking”. But it’s only when I had the first panic attack since my early twenties that I realised I was becoming addicted to my smartphone. Panic attacks are not nice – you feel you can’t breathe. I used to have to breathe into a paper bag. I never thought that would happen over losing an Iphone on a tube train. I felt embarrassed. My therapist was the one who suggested it might be an addiction. The symptoms: feeling panicky if my phone wasn’t nearby. Not being able to switch it off. Waking up early in the morning to check it (even in the middle of the night). Needing to check it at least a few times an hour. Getting obsessed with one particular addictive game. My ex told me to get help. That’s just before she left.”

Story 3
Back to betting
“I used to bet. I never needed to go to Gamblers’ Anonymous or anything like that” says John, a chef in a local gastropub, “but I did spend all of my wages at its worst. But that was years ago. I stopped because I know I lost more than I won and family responsibilities took over. They were the old days, the wilder days. Then, last year, I clicked on a link that offered me ten pounds free credit in an online poker game. No other commitment it said. All the old signs were there. I lost the ten. I bought ten more. Little by little I got drawn in. But this all seemed easier. They kept sending me offers for a bit more credit. They never pushed – actually the gambling sites seemed pretty responsible. It was always down to me, but betting had never been easier – I didn’t even have to leave the sofa. I was even doing it during breaks at work. Just one more… I spent fifteen grand last year. I won three. And I know I have to stop.

Story 4
Addiction or just harmless highs?
Anna is a marketing assistant. “I love social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a few others you probably haven’t heard of. How long? Probably a couple of hours a day. I love it. I love getting notifications on my phone. I’ve got over four thousand followers on Twitter and a thousand Facebook Friends. I like the high. I’m not serious on the dating sites – I’ve only ever met up with someone twice but I love to get messages and to answer them. It’s all just a bit of fun. My boyfriend says I am addicted. So what? Sometimes I binge – stay in all day at the weekend and just connect! I’m sick of people who says there’s something wrong with it. It’s a brilliant way for people to connect.

Story 5
Gaming Addiction
Neil is a graduate in mechanical engineering.
“I failed my degree. I was online for perhaps five hours a night, battling people around the world in three different virtual worlds. It started to take over day time too and, with free wifi at college, it was easy to sit at the back of the lecture room and switch between engineering and killing werewolves. It really hit in the final year. I’d failed three exams in year 2 and had to resit. I only just scraped through. With one year left to turn things around, I started getting involved in another game. Simple, predictable outcome. My final year mark was 34%.”

Story 6
The Teacher’s Dilemma
Sue is an English teacher in a secondary school. “As a teacher is an fairly enlightened school, I’ve got a real dilemma. On the one hand we are expected to introduce the kids to technology, to get them researching on laptops, Ipads and even their smart phones. On the other, we are supposed to stop them all texting and playing games during lessons. Despite being told not to, I know when they are doing it. How am I supposed to teach them anything if they are constantly texting on their laps or even in their pockets? I’ve snatched them away and even read out texts to the class (which got me a warning after a complaint. what bothers me is that many of the students now can’t NOT check their phones for even fifteen minutes. It’s an addiction but we haven’t formally named it and it is definitely impacted on their education.”

A few thoughts

– the first case of addiction to Google Glass was reported last month in the USA. Digital addiction has been named and there are therapies developed for it, but much of it flies under the radar
– digital addiction is similar to other kinds of addiction but has its own unique phenomena as well: it is only partly a biological high that is felt; it links to compulsion which is a different phenomenon from addiction; it is manifesting differently in different people
– digital addiction can have some reported benefits even as it harms us (it can be a bit like social drinking – we feel fellowship even as we fall into alcoholism together
– people are becoming very skilled at hiding their addictive behaviour and soon augmented reality may hide it further – we won’t know when people are online and when they are fully physically present
– digital addiction is often hidden under benevolent types of digital activity – “it’s only a harmless game”
– treatment for, and naming of digital addiction, is currently running a long way behind the launch of new gadgets, platforms, products and services that are designed to be addictive.

I also created a page of links to recent research and articles here:
https://digitalinferno.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/links-the-digital-realm-at-home/

And here is a related article  I wrote recently:
https://digitalinferno.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/placing-yourself-in-the-digital-inferno/


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

Order the Book

Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

Intimacy and the Digital Inferno

Digital Inferno explores the effects on person to person intimacy when people spend a lot of time on their smart phones, tablets, computers and when they begin to see the world partly through augmented reality (Glasses etc.).

The book explores the impact of the digital realm on intimacy in home and social life. Intimacy is a very precious form of connection. We can feel more or less intimate with other people. Intimacy is not only about physical connection and what happens in bed. Intimacy can happen between friends, for example, when we share a confidential problem. Intimacy is about closeness, about valuable connection, a sense of being in tune with each other – physically, emotionally. A parent is intimate with their children when those children feel they can share their worries and problems with them. Friends are intimate when they can be vulnerable with each other. Colleagues at work can be intimate when they can safely challenge each other, admit to weaknesses and really celebrate success together. We can feel in an intimate connection with nature – close to it, able to feel its impact, and to feel we can affect it in ways that change and enhance it.

The book attempts to look at the impact on intimacy of connecting more and more with others digitally. There are a lot of practical activities in the book, specifically around the idea of “placement”. Placing digital devices in the home is a key way to get more out of them and also not to sacrifice the intimacy of family life and relationships.

Placing smart phones and tablets away from the bedroom and the places where we eat is a big part of this. What I call “digital distraction” undermines intimacy, where the last thing we do at night is to check in our our Facebook alerts instead of wishing and kissing our partner goodnight.

Intimacy involves directness and gentleness. When my smart phone suddenly buzzes in my pocket as I am giving full attention to a partner or a child, this is a fairly brutal interruption. We are becoming used to it and lowering our expectations of other people. The quality of our physical connection gets diluted over time and we adjust, expecting less. That’s a big part of the problem – that many people don’t even realise what they are missing – those subtle and precious feelings that pass between people when are fully present for them.

Here’s some more on that: https://digitalinferno.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/reclaiming-your-home-from-your-mobile-phone/

There is also the issue of online intimacy. The book looks at the world of the “smiley” and other forms of digital gesturing. What do we gain and lose from that? Here’s a link to an article I wrote recently about that: https://digitalinferno.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/placing-your-digital-gestures/

Intimacy develops with presence. Intimacy requires attention and authentic connection. This can get lost in the digital realm even as we “hug”, “poke” and send dozens of kisses. I believe we can find intimacy on line when we are moire mindful of what we write – when we type more eloquently, almost poetically. But, most, of all, when we combine digital acts with physical ones. Many children are now Skyping their elderly parents and relatives more regularly but physically visiting them less. Poor grandad would ideally like both – a call AND a visit. His need of company is only fully realised in the room where we breathe the same air.

Is this me just being old-fashioned? I spoke to a lot of people during the three years of writing digital inferno. Some people (particularly younger people spoke of sharing intimate moments online, but just about everyone still gave more value to physical presence over digital connection. it isn’t a case of either-or, it’s a case of both. The ability to text someone I miss with an “X” can be wonderful, and a thrill can be felt when we get an “X” back. But I didn’t find anyone who was happy with that digital form as the main form, the default. Intimacy, for many, is about:
– presence and the feeling that people are there with and for us
– eye contact
– feelings of closeness and vicinity
– trust
– being “embodied” – being able to share physical gestures
– meeting at the level of ideas

This isn’t as easy to achieve for many people online. For many it takes more effort, and the realm of social media tends yo encourage 14 characters and quick responses. For the majority, a smiley is a poor replacement for a real smile.

Here are five “intimacy” scenarios:

1. You are sharing some important worries and feelings with a close friend. They are looking at you and half listening. Their augmented reality glasses are projecting some emails and Twitter notifications as they “listen”

2. Your child runs out of the school door and you are waiting at the gate, engaged in a text conversation with a friend. All your child needs is one second of eye contact with your “hello”. She doesn’t even get that, but receives a cursory “Hello”, without eye contact. She wanders off to her friends, less confident than she would have been with such a bit of real connection

3. You and your partner are lying in bed. He’s trying to chat to you. You have your back to him, the smartphone is on the floor on low light. You say “yes” every so often as he speaks, as you check whether you have won that signed book on Ebay.

4. You’ve noticed you are getting more “X”s from your partner on texts than real kisses when you are physically together. it used to be the other way around.

5. Your friend types “So how are you?” on Facebook chat. You type “Not great. Have been a bit moody and not sure what to do about problem at work. Otherwise, OK”. There is a fifteen minute silence or pause. Then you get an alert from that friend. He has typed: “Kewl! x”

Do you recognise any of these scenarios? Do they bother you? How can we maintain and even enhance intimacy when digitally engaged?

Reclaiming the Exclamation Mark

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Hello!!!!!
Kewl!!!
On the train!!!!

The lost role of the exclamation mark in language

The exclamation mark is a very useful tool in writing. Just one vertical line with a dot directly underneath it can show surprise, shock, delight, bemusement, outrage and even raise the volume of a sentence to a shout or a scream.

Used sparingly it can add punch to a paragraph, and even make you jump.

In the digital world of smileys and superlatives, the exclamation mark is used like loose change, and not only in the singular. As an exclamation mark at the end of just about every chatty sentence has become the norm, whole regiments of them are growing all over the digifield, like weeds.

I’m serious!
No, really!!!!!!!

A caricature of yourself

If you got an actor to read aloud to you what your exclamation-ridden words would sound like, if spoken, you might be shocked at the over-loud, caricature you have digitally morphed into.

Vast crowds of digital realm citizens are now shouting drunkenly at each other and the number of exclamation marks at the end of sentences is going up, up, up!!!!!!

The result? Our genuine exclamations are turning into ineffective whispers, and we are becoming hype-addicts, not quite believing that awesome means awesome. And that leads to true awesome, our ability to be authentically surprised, disappearing over the distant horizon. Then mediocrity becomes the norm, bigged up as excellence.

Wait a moment…

Of course, playing at being a bigger, louder, larger-than-life, zipper and more extrovert you might be something you are enjoying. You might find this loudness refreshing, releasing and even freeing. If that is so, enjoy it, but still beware of the diminishing returns of being over-loud too often. You can end up like the boy who cried wolf. Your genuine shout-outs simply become less credible as people adjust to your always-loudness. Even if you exclaim-binge now and then, ensure that you can use it mindfully and skilfully, when you consciously choose to/

An alternative?

Try this:

Be more mindful about your online exclaiming. Get out of the compulsive need to !!!!!!!.

Choose when to use them and be authentic and truthful. Re-read some of your emails, texts or chat messages and see if the content might work just as well, or even better, “calmed down”, i.e. delete the unneeded exclamation marks

Savour each one. Enjoy their use as a creative tool to express your true feelings – surprise, shock, confusion, delight or indignation.

Then you might just find that real exclamation helps you to discover real awesome.

Yes.
Indeed, yes.

Digital Inferno in the Press

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Here you can find out what people are saying about Digital Inferno as well as read articles by Paul Levy and colleagues from around the media.


Reviews of  the book Digital Inferno

October 2015: A five star review in Darrow Magazine

“A must-read. Particularly if you’re reading this on your iPad.”

“Digital Inferno possesses then the rare gift of giving you help for something that you never knew you needed help with. Like Plato’s Cave, when you’re aware of the problem, it’s impossible to return to ignorance.”

“From parenting advice to how to stay safe online, every quarter of the digital realm is covered by prose and research that is accessible and fascinating. Using examples and experiences of real people, including his own reflections, Levy is never patronising and builds a case from  experience and the insight of many. It is a rare accomplishment of forgoing a proselytising lecture and focusing sincerely on the life coaching aspects of a very 21st century problem. What Levy has successfully done is to push an avant garde agenda for making digital analysis the umbrella, and not the sub-category, of sociology, philosophy and technology.”

A superb two page review in the print-only magazine, New View, Summer 2015:

“A fascinating book”

“I really liked Levy’s discussion of virtual ‘relationships’ in comparison with real ones…”

“For anyone looking for informed, intelligent and above all, highly achievable ways of managing the digital Inferno and the virtual world in an empowering, conscious way that helps it to serve us (as opposed to making us into its hapless victims ), it is difficult to imagine anything much better than this book. In this sense, it comes very highly recommended.”

“The range of themes and digital phenomena covered is truly impressive”

Dr Richard house, author of Against and Beyond Therapy and Therapy Beyond Modernity

 

 

Winter 2015: A lovely review in the magazine, Network Review:

” … a balanced consideration of the dangers of digital drift.”

“This stimulating book gives useful guidance about how to use technology more
consciously and deliberately”

20th February 2015: A nice review in Flight Time Magazine.

1st December 2014: Excellent review in the Irish Times

November 2014: Our first review is in, and it’s a very intelligent four star review from Bookbag – “Books like Digital Inferno have never been more relevant and timely. The book contains plenty of useful suggestions to put the user firmly back in control instead of being a slave to the machine”

“Paul Levy’s book is certainly well timed and contains some great tips.” Nick Brice, Customer Experience Magazine

Some 5 star reviews on Amazon.co.uk


Key Articles and Links

14th Nov 2014: An Interview on workingmums.co.uk

3rd Nov 2014: An article in the Daily Mail Newspaper 

19th Oct 2014: How They Lock You in a Digital Cage – an extract of the book in The Sunday Times (UK)

18th Oct 2014: Politics, Distraction and The Digital Inferno – an article for Scottish political magazine Darrow about politics and the digital realm (UK)

16th Oct 2014: Ways to Master Our Digital Lives – an article for The Mature Times (UK)

15th Oct 2014: How to Switch Off – an article for the Huffington Post (International)

15th Oct 2014: 15 Ways to Survive in a Digital World – an article for The Resident

Elsewhere on the Web and Around the World

3rd Nov 2014: An article on Indonesia News Today (Indonesia)

3rd Nov 2014: An article in the Gloucester Citizen (UK)

3rd Nov 2014: Smartphones Destroying Intimacy on Face N Facts (India)

3rd Nov 2013: A short article on Common Sense For Couples

3rd Nov 2014: Smartphones ruin relationships on Vrouw Online (Dutch)

3rd Nov 2014: An article on Yoda.ro (Romania)

3rd Nov 2014: A report on Classic 105 (Kenya)

3rd Nov 2014: A report for China Daily (China)

3rd Nov 2014: An article on Evoke.ie (Ireland)

2nd Nov 2014: An article about Digital Inferno by Steve Blakeman in Digital Market Asia

3rd Nov 2014: Smartphone killing relationships in The Post Online (Dutch)

The Joy of Choosing the Moment

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Recently we had a family sort through of our vast collection of photographs. Not cardboard boxes full (I think we have one or two of those in the attic), but memory cards and sticks full of them. Literally, tens of thousands of them, ranging across the last couple of decades.

We haven’t even started really, it’s a fairly tiring and seemingly endless process, finding those golden nuggets of memories amongst the relentless snapping, nearly all of which elude my memory.

The smart phone – which gets smarter each year – has been there for at least a decade of those twenty years before being preceded by digital cameras of varying pixelated clarity and reach. We’ve even scanned in many of the older paper-based memories.

Always there, at hand, ready to capture the moment. That really is a technical miracle. There’s an old film in the UK called Carry on Spying, a spoof spy movie from the late 1960s. In that film one of the characters (played by Barbara Windsor) has a photographic memory. She blinks her eyes, we hear a camera-click sound effect, and she has captured an image in her head of secret plans or shady characters.

Who’d have thought we’ll all be doing that with our augmented reality spectacles and even digital eye implants? For now we grab our smartphone, as if it were a prosthesis, or even part of our senses, and snap, snap, snap.

The result? A stream of images, ranging down the years. I’m glad we do have some of those images as we sort through the years. I also wish I’d been more selective, more conscious, more present when capturing them. How many family moments, and chances to encounter breathtaking waterfalls, rainbows and sunsets, did I automatically view, squinting through a viewfinder that simplified the colours, distorted and changed them so that I beheld shadows, poorer versions or the original before me, and so missed the splendour of the real thing?

Is there any value to be had from those digital images and memories now clogging these memory cards? Yes! Some jump out at me from the screen. And I realise they are the ones where I used my will force – where I took care and became mindful. Where I really looked first, drank in the scene, and consciously chose the moment to “click” (and to not click, to hold back). Here the camera became a tool for my own decision of when and how to gather in the scene. The digital device served me; not a hundred clicks or intense staring and squinting into a viewfinder, but a direct encounter with people and place, and then a decision. The exact moment, delivered on the wings of me at my creative best.

How often do we really do that? I think good digital photographers do that a lot. They have claimed their cameras as a tool, not as a gadget that calls on them to keep constantly clicking.

As I look at those photos now, I remember some of the moments fondly, glad of the reminder. Some of the images are beautiful, stirring and will be stories to share with grandchildren.

But too many represent lost moments. I have the after-image but no visceral memory of being present when the eclipse happened, when Freddie stepped, live onto the stage, when the baby took tentative first steps. For I was not a truly direct witness – I was the camera man, zooming with my gadget, and not my feet or my imagination. Even as this technical miracle enabled me to capture and document the moment, it captured me as well, caged me, so I looked on what was in the precious “now” as if locked behind bars, squinting through them. I saw pixels, representations, not the immediate, utterly directly accessible real.

The advantage of those pre-digital cameras was that you had only 12, 24 or 36 pictures per film reel and you had to look up more often, to wait and choose your moment exactly. Even then at least half of your attention was on the device and not the unfolding physical drama before you. But you did look up more. You used your senses more.

Even as augmented reality adds to what you can see – zooms you in and focuses, adds clarity and re-colours, you send some of your own attentiveness to sleep. By not penetrating the physical moment with your own gaze, you end up doing what Goethe once called “living your life with a gaze that stops at the eyes”.

Each photo down the years has become clearer as the technology has improved…

And then I look in an older cardboard box of paper photographs. Some were taken in the 1960s, some in the 1970s. Many lack the clarity of even the earliest digital cameras. Yet, as I look through them, memories come bubbling to the surface (certainly not from all of those pictures and not in equal measure), but I really can smell what there was to be smelled, remember the atmosphere and the feel of that moment when I ran into that sea on the Costa Brava, or when I tasted that wine on holiday in Slovenia. It may be imagined memory, but it comes into my awareness more easily, and my smile or frown feels more intense. Perhaps it makes a lasting impression?

I have ten thousand digitally captured memories before me. I look at most of them bemused, unable to grasp myself in those moments in time. I’d swap them all for 36 taken in full consciousness. Taken by me. By me.

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Links: The Digital Realm at Home

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Some interesting, disturbing, inspiring links about the digital inferno at home.

Health

The first case of Google Glass web addiction ? (Sky News) – a story claiming a case of excessive internet use disorder using Google glass. So can Google Glass be addictive? (BBC News)

Internet Addiction turns teen into a ‘shell of a son’  (Today.com) – a worrying tale

The psychology of video game addiction (The Week) – a good overview article

Symptoms of video game addiction in teens (VideoGameAddiction.org) – a useful list; and in adults;

Teen gaming may have positive as well as negative effects (Medical Xpress) – there may be less obesity, but there may be more depression and other psychological disorders and five tips for beating the addiction (The Telegraph)

Why the human brain prefers paper (author Ferris Jabr) – a revealing article in the Journal Scientific American

Learning and School

Is Digital Literacy ‘as important and reading and writing’? (The Telegraph) – explores this question and quotes a recent survey by Pearson

Does Technology hinder or help toddlers’ learning? (BBC New) – research from the University of Wisconsin concluded that interaction is a beneficial part of digital-based learning and development

Online homework and social media pose parental dilemma (BBC News) – Some 63%, of 2,000 UK parents polled in a survey said confiscating smartphones and tablets was futile.

In the bedroom

Tablets replacing TVs in children’s bedrooms (BBC News) – one in three children in the UK now has a tablet and they are taking over in the bedroom from television sets

Meal Times

Are smartphones and tablets killing your family meal times? (ParentDish) – an interesting article with practical advice mostly focused on “not” parenting

Tech is taking over the dinner table (Daily Mail) – the decline of shared, face to face eating, according to a survey

Parenting in the Digital Realm

A Mobile Phone Operator’s take on Parenting the Digital – Vodaphone offers various viewpoints on the digital realm – an example of a corporation’s selective attempt to be helpful

Check App Downloads – parents urged (Shropshire Star) – quoting Internet matters, this article urges parents to be careful of the “apps” that their kids are putting on their devices

The hidden dangers of too much screen time (A Healthier Michigan) – refers to some studies about the impact of too much screen time; with some helpful tips

How young is too young for technology ? (The Telegraph) – reporting on a survey conducted for the Tonight programme for ITV in the UK

Mobile ForceField app (Manchester Evening News) – an example of an App that can help parent keep tabs on messages and social media activity that might just harm their children

Peerenting versus Parenting – should we buddy our children or parent them old-style? (Parenting Ideas Blog) – An interesting view that is relevant to parenting in the digital realm

Should teens self-regulate their internet use?  (BBC News) – a view that sees banning as counter-productive

Six expert tips for keeping your kids safe on social media (Mashable) – A readable and short set of guidelines that might just keep your kids away from the dangers of the social web

The first porn-free city? (Chester Chronicle) – will Chester in the UK be the first city to apply porn-filters across is wifi in the city?

The Top Ten alternatives to video-gaming (VideoGameAddiction.org) – a useful list

Safety and Security

A computer “worm” virus that seeks out insecure PCs at home (BBC News) – how safe is your data at home?

21 Tips for Holding Your Own in the Digital Realm

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I’ve gathered hundreds of tips for staying in control and gaining mastery in the digital realm. If you don’t want to experience that realm as a chaotic inferno where YOU seem to be the gadget, then some of these tips might just help…

Why do you even need to think about “holding your own” in the world of digital gadgets, platforms, tools and programs? Because we are spending more and more of our time reacting to it, getting drawn into it, feeling split between the person in front of us and the text that just vibrated our phone. We notice our kids spending more time on social media that is the same hunting ground of sexual predators and businesses pushing products and services we might not want them to know about, let alone buy. We are also aware of how amazing the digital realm is, connecting us instantaneously across the world, firing our creativity, informing and inspiring us, making us giggle and reflect. It’s a wave of technological change washing over us faster than any other change in history. Holding your own is all about staying upright in that wave, clear-headed and clear-sighted. So… some tips…

Tip 1. Create some digital-free spaces at home, where you choose not be to connected or distracted. How about the bedroom and the places where you eat?

Tip 2. Create a dedicated charging station for all of your digital devices in the house or at work. Put them ALL there, turn them off when not in use, unplug them when they are fully charged.

Tip  3. When your laptop is booting up, get up and do something else. Better, look out of the window and connect with the world out there; don’t stare impatiently at the screen

Tip 4. When having coffee with friends in a cafe, get your device off the table; give your friends your full attention; it is a myth that the digital realm can’t wait. It can and it rarely impacts negatively on us.

Tip 5. Don’t let the digital realm get too pushy with you. Switch off “push notifications” on your phones and tablets, for at least certain times that you choose. Push notifications are the alerts that keep you “always on”. Check your emails three times a day instead of constantly reacting to them as they bleed into your life

Tip 6. Read a message out loud or in your head before you send it; you will almost definitely then edit it or rewrite it and send a better written message

Tip 7. Get smart on digital security; learn the habit of good password setting; protect your privacy; don’t be like someone who leaves windows open when they go out and says “well, it”s never happened to me” only to come home to a burgled house

Tip 8. Don’t hunch over your laptop like an old miser. Keep your back safe and always ensure you take breaks from bright screens, and that your wrists have support if you type a lot; don’t store up all kinds of back, neck and other problems for later life

Tip 9. Go “in” fully for a chosen hour of your choice; enjoy surfing and playing in the digital realm. Go in, then come out. Drink some water and take a walk outside. For each hour “in”, have a couple of hours “out”. That isn’t because the digital realm is bad; it’s just that it claims your mind and senses very powerfully

Tip 10. Take a day to declutter your digital life; clean out your digital attic – sort pictures, delete what needs deleting and make your desktop clean and fresh; don’t feel mired in chaos

Tip 11. Protect family and social time; you will enjoy digital interaction better when you choose to do it rather than drift into it; Can you leave your device on off or even at home for a couple of hours? You value it more by being able to place it

Tip 12. When sending a text, picture the person you are sending it to; make the send an intended physical gesture (sending across space) as well as a digital one (sending through cyberspace).

Tip 13. Make a list of what you are intending to do in the digital realm today; review that list at the end of the day; how distracted did you get? Resolve to stay focused when you need to.

Tip 14. If you think you are digitally addicted then name that honesty. I’m addicted to gaming; to Facebook. Call that by its real name and then you might just begin to recover from it.

Tip 15. Spend time online with your kids. Don’t berate them or over-police them. Get digitally aware and talk their language. Be there for them and then, when they really need you, they are more likely to seek you our as a parent. If you police them, they’ll feel like criminals. Dialogue over Conflict where possible!

Tip 16. The next time you reach for your device to capture “that moment”, stop, put the camera down and look with your physical eyes; breathe it in. True, you may have missed capturing the moment in pixels; but you may have enriched yourself for the rest of your life and you’ll still have a story to tell

Tip 17. Step away from being digitally dumb. In small steps, check out the privacy settings on Facebook or Twitter; learn about “rules” and labels in email. Open your word processor and experiment with one new feature. Get digitally wise and you will enjoy it more and get more out of the digital realm

Tip 18. Find and create healthy spaces for your digital work and play. A good chair; some natural light or access to fresh air; a favourite cafe, a social space or somewhere where you can also easily step away. Create one room in the house where we enjoy our digital time instead of coach-slouching or taking over the kitchen

Tip 19. Learn to write haikus and you might just tweet more eloquently!

Tip 20. Don’t use the digital realm as a free or cheap babysitter. Go online with your younger children; guide them, dialogue with them; they will take it it like a duck to water but this is no playground to leave them alone in

Tip 21. If you type or text quickly, your writing will often be more repetitive and cliched. Slow down. Occasionally say the message first or even hand write it; watch your writing quality rocket.

I’ll be adding more over the coming months. Do please add your own in the comments box below.

Paul

About the Author

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Paul Levy was born in Essex in the UK in 1966.

Paul Levy is the author of the book Digital Inferno.

Paul is a part-time senior researcher at The Centre for Research in Innovation Management (CENTRIM) at the University of Brighton since 1990.
Paul is currently working as a facilitator with the Social Media Leadership Forum.

He has been a writer, facilitator and change agent  for the last twenty years in the field of personal and organisational communication. He founded and is director of CATS3000.

He was Head of Interaction with The Digital Workplace Group for five years where he also co-hosted the online broadcasts Digital Workplace Live and DW24.

Paul is also co-author of the books  Technosophy and E:Quality.

Paul is the founder of the online theatre publication FringeReview which has over 150,000 readers annually worldwide, and also is a director of award-winning Rational Madness Theatre

Paul lives in Brighton and a large number of cafes.

You used to be able to look out of the back bedroom of our house and see the sweep of houses down towards Hainault Forest, the original hunting ground of Henry the Eighth. I grew up there and remember television sets (big wooden-framed beasts) that you had to physically walked over to in order to change over one of the three channels on offer. When remote control came along, it was a space age miracle, matched or even bettered by the arrival of the plug-in games console that played just one game – Pong. Pong was the first game, wondrous and addictive – a game of virtual tennis with a white dot for a ball.

I soon got an Acorn Electron computer with a massive 32K memory. Screen time for TV got augmented with computer screen time. It kept me quiet until I was swearing that the cassette hadn’t loaded properly or that I’d lost a life. Welcome to the realm of instant reincarnation – lose a life, reload, play again.

“Not long after  a BBC Micro (128K) computer became the new prize, and then it stopped pretty much as I headed into a rock band called Day of Judgement, school exams and then university where computers had become word processors and stats generators with just one printer between a thousand of us. I missed out on the gaming consoles that began with Atari. I dived into books, mediation and live music; theatre, literature and storytelling. In the meantime 32k became a gig, and my rock gigs were replaced with media players.

Soon I got my first mobile phone and the early text device, the pager (still lost, buried somewhere in the Ashdown Forest in Sussex).

A first degree in management, a higher degree in philosophy, initiate of a school of meditation, a founder of Brighton Storytellers and the Upstairs Theatre Company, I still have stacks of hand-writing-full note books of plays, poems and ideas. Words, words, words…

I loved texting. I didn’t enjoy mobile phoning at first.The ringing landline had been replaced with the trilling landline, then the cordless landline which played It’s a Small World After All. Or was that my parents’ door chime?

Then chat rooms – places of hate and happiness, creativity and boredom-busting. I cut my social media teeth in a writers’ chat room. 

Blink! Along comes social media on computers, and then onto hand held devices. And here we all are. A growing realisation that we are stumbling into a paradigm shift with our eyes fairly closed. And I always had my eyes open in those early days.

From Pong to Pinterest. From Joystick to the Internet of Things, it never hurts to look around, to stay conscious. Testicular cancer came to call, and I wrote a comedy play on an early hand held tablet (A Psion 5) plugged into a chemo machine. Cured and I discovered the sheer joy of plunging my hands into wet dark clay – sculpture as part of the way back to health. Texting and typing was claiming the spider-like nature of my fingertips and cold clever micro-sentences. Clay used all of my hand, palms pressed in, in full-bodied commitment. Warmer. Less frowns. 

A new play penned and performed called Text. It was about mobile phone relationships. We won an award. And the blog of the play turned into a book – Digital Inferno.

And somewhere in that journey of over half a life, I half-slept to 48.

Waking up more these days; looking around. Loving the world, excited by, but wary of the inferno. The Digital Inferno that wants us to engage with it, immerse in it, plug into it, wear it, even link it to our nervous systems. The Tide of change that is bigger than we imagine. Hold my own. Stay upright. Love it without losing your self in it.

Walking freely, conscious, curious, open but aware and in control, through the Digital Realm. The Digital Inferno.

Paul Levy, Brighton, 2014.

Parenting in the Digital Realm – Gaining Control over Needs and Wants

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When children are entirely immersed in the digital realm, they forget the difference between want and need. Result: wanting eats away at the vitals. When ordinary wanting becomes need something valuable in us is being switched off. “ from Digital Inferno

Try this: exploring need and want

Explore the difference between want and need. Share examples of real need in the world: hunger and famine, someone in need of a life-saving operation, people without a roof over their heads. You might look at some pictures together in a book or online. Or watch a film. Need is deep, often life or death.

We can acknowledge a child’s strong sense of want but helping him recognise what need really looks like helps him to make an important distinction. It restrains wanting which holds out for unrealistic dreams, to make space for the serious sense of wanting, as in study, career and personal development. This fosters the realisation that we have a life without all of our wants being fulfilled.

The ability to separate need from want at will is a valuable life skill. Do you really need to answer that call? Really? What happens if you are talking to someone in a room and she needs you to listen to her as your friend? The phone rings. It’s someone who said they’d call you back to confirm arrangements for the evening. The person on the phone wants your attention. The person in front of you wants your attention. Can you decide whether there is a need here that is greater than the want?

You observe your friend for a moment. Her look is intense. Behind the eye contact you feel an urgency and a genuine need for you to be giving her the gift of full attention right there and then. The person calling wants to speak with you but they don’t need to. You decide; The call can wait for half an hour. There is a greater need here. You don’t reach for the phone. Instead you reach out with your listening to the person before you. Looking back on that moment later, you feel energised, strengthened by it. It’s like you won a tiny piece of yourself back from the digital inferno.

Wanting something for another, really and truly, is a beautiful human motive. If wanting and getting for oneself becomes the default setting at a young age it makes children cold, clever and manipulative. When this occurs it replaces wanting something for others with calculating self-interest. The child really can learn that our wants fit into a wider picture of human wants and that making the effort comes before real satisfaction. Toddlers are too young to be constantly wanting and getting, and their powerful will needs to be guided by the parent. The child who learns to love the protective guiding authority of the parent will eventually develop self control and see the wider picture. It will develop the habit of wanting not as a single self alone but as a member of a family, a community and the world at large. And most likely, one day, as a selfless parent. “ From Digital Inferno

It can be easier to identify a need in another, where that need is greater than our want to get digitally distracted from it. Most of us want to serve those we love and value best, so an instinctive duty enables us to prioritise someone’s need over our personal want.

It can be harder to tell the difference between one of our own “wants” and contrast it with a “need”. A need is usually also a want (though not always) but a want is not always a need. When we are digitally addicted, we nearly always confuse want and need. In fact they become one and the same thing.

One way to determine whether a want is not really a need is to gently inquire into it: what greater good is served by satisfying this want? Who really benefits? If reading a text and suddenly switching attention away from my son who is telling me about something that happened at school simply satisfies my curiosity, or lets me know the latest in an ongoing saga, but the price is that my son feels ignored or undervalued, then that price may be too high. My child has a need for me to value him by giving him my attention when he’s telling things that he needs to tell me. Is my want really greater than that? Do I really need to check that text, right then, right now? Or can it wait ten minutes? Usually, the need before me will be greater and more precious than the digitally inspired “want”? Why is that? It is no always so, but usually is so when it concerns friends, loved ones, social duties and tasks. Community and caring rarely grows from distraction and detachment. It comes from immersion and connection. And our eyes are simply not designed to look in two different places at once. When digital glasses come along and information is projected into space in ways that can’t be seen by the person physically before us, we’ll have a sense that the person wearing the glasses has zoned out, gone “off”, even as they nod madly at us.

When you meet a need, you serve the other and confirm your own ability to respond. When you prioritise a want over a need, you tend to get a short term, immediate hit, but conscience, deeper down, gets bashed. So, of course, some people have quickly adapted, embracing coldness, automatic uncaring response and indifference. Indifference becomes the new skill, the ability to ignore a need or simply downgrade it to a competing want. Then it simply becomes a battle of wants which you choose to win.

So, back to stories from our own lives where meeting a need over a want had a beneficial outcome. Reminding our kids that there is a difference. Awakening them to social responsibility, giving them a chance to contribute in communities where we all muck in together; all of these basic things can strengthen the will to distinguish between want and need.

We can also all agree as a family to check in with each other when the phone rings or vibrates with a text. Do I really need to check that or answer right now? What happens if I finish the conversation or task before me physically?

Children can discover that delaying the immediate gratification of satisfying the “respond want” can sharpen their instincts in relation to really knowing when and how they need to respond physically or digitally. The proverb: Meet the need, then check if the want is the same or has changed or disappeared.

The result? More self-awareness and more confidence in the physical and the digital realm. We step through the inferno, less blown about why its winds and forces.

A Certain Disquiet with Targeted Advertising

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The Frown

Yesterday I was searching on Google for a children’s book by an author called J.P. Martin. His “Uncle” books went out of print years ago but have been recently revived by a number of publishers and, most recently of all, one crowd-funding effort saw the release of the whole series in one volume. I checked on Amazon.com and saw the books were available from different sellers at a range of prices. I ended the search and went onto some other tasks.

This morning I signed into Facebook and uploaded a photograph to my “timeline”. Whilst doing so, I noticed an advert on the right hand side of my Facebook page. It was an advert for the newly completed book of the “Uncle” series by J.P.Martin.

As I noticed the ad (This of course happens time after time every day), I felt a small disquiet at this “intrusion” into my private digital space. Now this could proceed in several different ways…

I could be angry that I’m clearly being “watched” or, at least, my online behaviour is being watched, even if my name and address is not being disclosed. If that is the case, the advert isn’t directed to me personally, but to my behavioural pattern that allows an advert to be targeted at me, even if my identity isn’t known. The algorithm here is pretty simple: This “Number” accessed information about a book on sale yesterday; this same number is online again, and there’s a slot to put an advert in, so the advert for this same book is targeted.

The Reason

So, why the disquiet? Isn’t this just really simple and clever?

I say no. Quite the opposite. It’s dumb and the motive is to nudge me back into a process I had freely chosen to let go of. I ended that search as a conscious decision. That was my free choice. I might even have wanted to entirely forget that search. It could have been a search for funeral services for a relative of mine who had died – to perhaps buy a wreath. Now, here I am, perhaps wanting a clear head. And what do I get? A forced reminder of yesterday.

This is the root of my disquiet. it is the use of social media in ways that are clumsy, potentially insensitive, even cruel, and even forcing.

Of course, the corporations behind these ads might innocently say: We just thought you might have forgotten and this was a benevolent reminder…

Differing Views

Well,it’s up to each and every one of us to decide whether we trust such seemingly kind motives. In a purely technical sense, I had stopped that search and moved on. There are good reasons why we move on from things. There are good reasons why we forget after moving on. Forced reminders seem to have no place in that. When I do want a reminder like that, I’ll tend to “switch it on” in my life, by choosing certain trusted friends to nudge me when I need a nudge. A faceless corporation isn’t one of them.

A second view is that these platforms are free, so what do I expect? I can’t argue with that, though I do go with the view that they are not free at all. I use these services with my own time and energy; the providers benefit in all kinds of ways, but mostly through advertising. So, targeting me with ads is the only way I can get this for free (just as in the world of television). Well, if that is true, all this advert has done is reduced my likelihood of buying that book from that supplier. Genius! If the advert creates disquiet, I think it defeats it own purpose and disappears up its own ass.

I’m being very specific here. Where adverts are targeted, they need to be targeted in intuitively helpful ways. They need to be adverts that do not EVER intrude upon a human being’s personal and private FLOW. The algorithms need to be written with two elements at their core: respect and sensitivity.

A Way Forward

A respectful advert will never be one that has failed to notice that I ended a search in its direction at a point in the past in a way which suggests I moved on from that product or service. Respectful ads are respectful because they display genuine consciousness – emotional intelligence. They are responses to my ongoing narrative.

A sensitive advert is able to tap into that narrative specifically, subtly and with nuance. Having identified I was looking at wreaths for a funeral yesterday, and then noting that I ended that search, it does not then target me the next day with life insurance or healthcare insurance adverts. But it does not I am checking out travel costs, looking for hotels in a particular city, and it might well offer me cheaper flights to that exact city, and even transfer services from the airport. Sensitive adverts are specifically responsive to the unfolding narrative, in real-time. Respectful adverts know when “Not to” – they divert insensitive content away from a targeted ad slot on a social media page.

I do not believe it is impossible for these algorithms to be written. But they will need to draw much more on the “rules” inherent in the realms of emotional intelligence and conscious business, than in behavioural marketing.

When a targeted advert is either insensitive or disrespectful, disquiet arises. This creates mistrust and reduces the impact of the advert, even into a negative score. Where an advert feels targeted in a respectful and sensitive way,  it can be experienced benevolently, as helpful, as effective, and this can lead to an authentic sale.

I will end this short essay by going even further.

I do not believe that “targeting” is the right metaphor any more (if it ever was). We should be talking about responsive, sensitive and respectful advertising. Then it will be more effective. And surely that’s a good thing?

Social Media – Storytelling or Propaganda?

This is a fairly shocking theatre piece which premiered as part of Death by PowerPoint, a play I wrote and directed which played in the UK and Canada 2007-2009. It explores the alarming closeness of propaganda to advertising. It’s an ideal piece for exploring values in PR, Marketing and Advertising. It also sounds a warning to those who claim that social media in the corporate world is all about “stories”.

Read the scene. Then read on…

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The Book – A Theatre Scene

A scene set in a company, between a senior executive and a trainee

(Enter Dan and Jill. Dan is holding an old book)

Dan: Yes, it is quite an old book and all I have done is replace some of the more old fashioned words with more modern ones.

Jill: I see and you think this is relevant to our new change programme?

Dan: Well, you decide. You know I think we need to look at our underlying values as part of this change programme so I have been doing some background reading. How about this:

(reading): “Every change campaign will first have to divide the programme into two large groups: supporters and members. “Advertising has the key function of attracting interest and support, the function of organisation is to get buy-in.”

Jill: That’s neatly put.

Dan: “A supporter of a campaign is one who declares himself to be in agreement with its aims, but buy-in only occurs when someone actually commits.”

Jill: True.

Dan: “The supporter is made most amenable to the change campaign by advertising – “selling the change”, if you like. The member is induced by the organisation to participate personally in attracting new supporters, from whom in turn more buy-in can be developed.”

Jill: Just like our network marketing strategy. It kind of spreads itself.

Dan: Exactly

Jill: Interesting. It rests on loyalty.

Dan: Yes it does. Complete Loyalty. “Since being a supporter requires only a passive recognition of an idea, while getting loyal buy-in requires active advocacy and defence, to ten supporters there will at most be one or two members.”

Jill: Yes, advocacy and defence!

Dan: There’s more. Listen: “Being a supporter is rooted only in understanding, membership in the courage personally to advocate and disseminate what has been understood.”

Jill: Taking ownership.

Dan: Yes, Now – get this bit: “Understanding in its passive form corresponds to the majority of mankind which is lazy and cowardly. Membership requires an activistic frame of mind and thus corresponds only to the minority of people..”

Jill: Lazy and cowardly. That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?

Dan: Well, yes. But we rely on it don’t we. Our advertising often plays on the fears of external customers. Insurance polices for example.. “Can you afford not to…” “What happens if the worst happens…?” blah blah blah.

Jill: Yes, and with our I.T, we do try to make it very easy for people to buy our stuff. They don’t even need to get out of their arm chairs really…

Dan: “Leaders will have to see that an idea wins supporters, while the organisation must take the greatest care only to make the most valuable elements among the supporters into members…while the organisation must carefully gather from the mass of these elements those which really make possible the ultimate success of the change campaign.”

(Dan puts the book down)

Jill: Well I like this stuff. It makes a lot of marketing sense even if it IS from an old book.

Dan: Yes, I can see you are impressed.

Jill: They should republish it. Who wrote it? What’s the title?

Dan: The title is: Mein Kampf. The author: Adolf Hitler.

(Jill is shocked)

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Scary Discussion

You’ll find stories in the roots of every culture in the world. Stories hold a special place in the daily lives of many families. We tell stories to our children before sleep. We tell stories to each other around the dinner table (at least some of us do). Fairy stories have recently come in for a hammering by the likes of Richard Dawkins. He has a particular issue with fairy stories. Ironically, Dawkins takes fairy tales to task for the “fairy” qualities many of them have – grooming children for a world where magic is real, only to be disappointment by the “real” story, rooted in a scientific world view, atheist in its foundations.

For Dawkins, stories need to be true. Some stories are, indeed, true – they are accurate accounts of events. I could tell you the story of my day today, recounting the events as they occurred, in order. I could also “spin” that story, embellishing it, adding a bit of colour here or there to “spice up” what might otherwise be a story lacking excitement or interest.

We do that all the time. As soon as we exaggerate for effect, we are spinning a story. Late in the evening at a party, I tell the story of how I got lost in a far flung city and thought I was going to be kidnapped. All eyes are upon me. I turn the story into drama, string out certain events, make others appear more dramatic than perhaps they were. I distort the truth in order to make the story more powerful.

Some people, as they tell stories, simply can’t do that. Others won’t do it; they refuse to, in the name of authenticity, accuracy and truth.

Some stories distort over time, their essence preserved in the telling, but the details are spun and change. Our real experiences become morphed into the myths and legends of our lives. In a cynical age, we tend to assume anything out of the ordinary is a myth. Legends can’t be true. There was no holy grail, just a cup. There was no elixir of youth, just a myth. There was no Cyclops, just a story told to keep people away from an island.

Do stories lose their value if they are not true? Are there not deeper truths at a more archetypal level? Does a story need to be factually or historically accurate if it contains valuable lessons or just pure entertainment value?

I believe it all comes down to the motive and ethics of the teller of the story. What is your intention in telling it in a particular way? If the aim of the “spin” is to deceive, to create a behavioural response that, without the deception, would not happen, then you are entering the realms of propaganda and manipulation.

If the aim of the story is to cover something up, to reduce the freedom of others to act, to deliberately confuse, then you are using stories for immoral purpose. The storyteller on ghost tale night might spin the tale to delight the audience, who have come to be delighted, to enjoy a bit of fear and wonder. The storyteller who spins a tale in order to deceive someone into buying a product, is nothing more than a propaganda merchant, misusing our love of story, for hidden and selfish purposes.

So, what are social media stories? What is our “brand” story? It can also be either an honest one or a deceptive one. It can be engaging and authentic narrative, or it can be lying spin and manipulation. Too many social media stories spin their tales in order to deceive, for example:

– to make a company appear more caring or socially responsible

– to make a product look as if it performs more effectively than it actually does

– to make the listener feel inadequate and to “comply” by conforming to exaggeration messages about behaviour hidden in the story

– to be impressed by the company brand for reasons undeserved or not backed up by real evidence

– to distract or take attention away from something the company doesn’t want too much attention on

Here the motive for the brand or corporate story becomes one of deception and manipulation of the audience for the story. Social media “stories” then become fake narratives. it is about “getting away with the story”, about trying to created predictable and always favourable reactions in the audience.

This isn’t real storytelling. This is manipulation and control. Stories are put to the service of hidden motives.

Many people (though not all) pick up on this lack of authenticity and sense something isn’t right. Ultimately enough people become tuned into the deception, trusting their deeper intuition. Many humans have a natural sense of truth or lies. A tipping point is reached where the social media story is assumed to be spin or exaggeration. The company has cried wolf once too long, plundered superlatives too often. No one buys it any more.

Some companies have recognised this and simply tried to flee into fake subtlety, locating themselves in a more simplified directness. They pretend to be haters of the very spin they have been practising. Simple stories, more direct and honest narratives, plain speaking. But the motive hasn’t changed and the stories still are rooted in propganda and the wish to “get people to” react in commercially targeted ways. So, many social media storytellers simply can’t help themselves. Truth telling simply becomes another deceptive strategy.

What is to be done? It requires a turnaround in behaviour and the practice of conscious business principles. Stories are not delivered “to” audiences, but allowed to emerge in more responsive ways, rooted in unfolding evidence. Our stories become formed out of the stories we are hearing from our communities – our suppliers, customers, service users, partners. Our stories become rooted in being transparent with our motives, honest with our ethics. We ground ourselves more in the needs of our audience. Essentially, our default is active listening and speechlessness – we are silent and out of a genuinely respectful silence arises the story that needs to be told.

Some truly eloquent and entertaining adverts have been created by creative teams clearly (at least party) rooted in a motive to entertain, stimulate and inspire authentically. Others see the audience as “targets”, where hitting the target involves tricking those audiences into a particular behaviour favourable to the enterprise. Yet the best storytellers always remember that stories can heal, help resolve, empower, warn, delight, and even set free. The scope here is huge. It enables the story of the company’s values to be shared and told with passion and openness. It allows product and services to be articulated in ways that genuinely serve the needs of informed and awake customers. Stories here can become valuable in themselves. They are told with enthusiasm not hidden expectation. I believe that Generation Z respond to authenticity and are growing up very clued up to fakery. This post-banking-crisis generation doesn’t buy clunky storytelling and, when they are manipulated, it of often a conscious choice. They will more and more ally themselves to suppliers of products and services they intuitively feel are transparent and hold their freedom in high regards. In this emerging context, social media storytelling is going to have to become more adaptive and honest, more able to grasp the skills of entertainment and stimulation but to set them skilfully apart from truth-telling, informing, educating and persuading.

Social media storytelling is going to have to change its own story, from the roots to the tips of the branches.

The Dark Side of Social Media Settings

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I’ve just carried out a non-scientific poll of a dozen friends and professional colleagues. Not one claims to understand the majority of settings available to them on the social media platforms they use.

Big deal? Well, let’s see if there is a deal to worry about…

Several find it hard to locate settings, especially on Linkedin. Several reported a feeling that changing settings is part of a “losing battle” as updates and new contacts seem to allow some settings to revert to earlier states. Even if this is a myth, its a demotivating one. Many report being able to change a few settings, especially the ability to switch off email notifications (after a long struggle and the sense that they still have inboxed full of notifications anyway).

One person pointed to the “default to visible” nature of many settings; again, even if this is becoming less the case, its a reported belief.

In all cases, settings seemed to be problematic still, despite changes some platforms have made in terms of simplicity and accessibility, as well as widening the span of user control.

That said, it still isn’t easy to properly delete and many mobile versions of social media tools don’t even allow deletion of content (welcome to the wonderful world of “archiving”!). It isn’t possible to easily leave a social network, to archive content, and settings to control privacy still have a long way to go. It’s all apparently got easier but the perception, at least, seems to be lagging far behind, even unto people simply “not going there”, as far as settings are concerned.

It’s is also geek heaven. Even as someone tears their hair out trying to get to grips with a particular setting, there is a geek answer available at the end of a premium phone line, or after trawling through numerous forums, which still largely read like victim support groups. Either way, settings are still experienced as “abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

If this were Hell, then the burns unit is doling out flame throwers dressed up as bandages. The conspiracy theorists would claim that over-complex and difficult to master settings are all part of a plan to exhaust users into submission and to lock them in. Unable to leave becomes too tired to try to leave and this imprisonment has a superficial feeling of choosing to stay. So we give up. We collude. We create a narrative that it doesn’t really matter. We even experience changing settings as a kind of betrayal of all that social media openness stands for. Isn’t it all supposed to be setting us free?

On the more optimistic side, settings are difficult because they are viewed by the platform owners are annoying and largely superfluous. The mission of Facebook is to make the world a more transparent place and privacy settings might undermine that mission. The wish to be private becomes equated to a wish to hide and this runs in the opposite direction to the platform’s mission. Transparency and “non-hiding” is the preferred default, so settings are set at least as a level of irritation with you for wanting to be private. “Hide” is a term often invoked. Social media becomes a polarised world of show and hide. The rhetoricians use more positive terms such as “openness” and “sharing”. Who are you hiding from? What exactly DO you have to hide? Hm? HMMM?

Privacy is not the same as hiding. When I hide it is “from someone”. When I choose to be private it can often be something in itself. My conversation is not NOT with you, but WITH this person Sacred space is not the same as hiding, only in the eyes of the nosy. Where I choose to look with my eyes doesn’t not have to be framed as “Well why aren’t you looking THERE or THERE or THERE instead?

So settings, especially settings that allow privacy, are still framed negatively. There’s a sense of “bunking out” about them and a gentle pressure not to spoil the party.

Even if this mildly traumatises people in their personal and working lives, it can then groom them to leave well alone, to not delve too deeply into settings and to simply default to transparency and default settings set to “share” as this is less tiring, easier, simple and even more “cool”. Privacy as party pooping can be innocuous enough in social life, but it can be dangerous and risky in working life. Settings become more crucial when I use my personal device at work, when I engage in social media on company time in public places, and when the corporation begins to communication with customers through microblogging and online communities. The biggest risks in cyber-security are not so much the dangers of being hacked (a growing risk anyway but in ignorant and clumsy behaviour of employees representing the corporation. When the overlap between personal and professional is accidental, incidental and clumsy, even lazy, the risks of information leakage, crossing ethical and legal lines, and even opening up the organisation to unwanted intrusion all rise, quickly and dangerously.

Settings often lie at the heart, not of specific problems, but of a behavioural habit that can kick in To trust lazily. To go with the default. To not bother. We leave security to the techies. We also don’t tend our social media gardens very effectively, allowing all kinds of weeds to grow up and block our view. We can end up with unnecessary content, content repetition, content shared with the wrong people and communities. Our news feeds can become cluttered. We can end up with the wrong contacts. Our garden becomes wild. So, we open ourselves up to risk, but also to inefficiency.

What’s the solution? In platform induction, start with the settings. Training in becoming familiar with the role, risks and language of settings should be taught in interesting ways. Cyber security and social media “gardening” can be engaging. Settings is a key social media skill and should be recognised in appraisal and reward systems. We should value the role and importance of setting our social media garden mindfully and skilfully. Often the senior managers are the worst exemplars. Lead from the top, blah, blah.

Overall, settings are still to complex and inaccessible. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them.

Now back to my non-scientific poll. Here are a few non-scientific results…

1. When I really grasp settings I tend to use the social media platforms more effectively and I also feel more confident using them which can motivate me to produce better content, more mindfully

2. I am more able to keep content more up to date, more relevant to me and others, and this helps me to do my job more effectively when I am on top of social media settings

3. Settings still feel largely hidden but it is worth spending an hour seeking them out, experimenting and getting on top of them

4. I need to be more aware of the risks to my personal and working life of not managing my settings more consciously

5. Settings still feels like a tiring battle. It can be a good idea to follow the “less is more” rule and cut down the number of platforms I use. Use just one or two wisely, rather than skating over the surface of half a dozen like a dangerous and clumsy oaf

6. Settings are a kind of front line of a battle between the individual’s wish for privacy and the corporations wish for transparency (especially so ads can be better targeted and sold).

7. Settings have changed recently. There are global settings and there are specific settings. What can get really tiring is getting lost on the settings of single posts rather than digging down to more global settings that can save time and energy

8. Never join anything without learning how you can easily leave when and if you want to

9. Remember that, on most social media platforms, unless you get your privacy settings right, even when you delete, your muddy content footprint (photos, posts etc) might still be all over search engine results

10. Keep tuned for big policy changes where providers such as Facebook or Twitter announce sometimes big changes to their privacy policies that might just affect you in ways you won’t want or like.

Settings lurk in the shadows. This is a call for you to shine a conscious light on them. Privacy isn’t hiding – it is your human right.

For now…

Getting Beyond Amazing

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A look at how superlatives are taking over our children’s language

Do we really redeem language from safe mediocrity when we allow superlatives to flow like water, rather than wine?

We have created the language equivalent of a European wine lake, devalued or even unvalued, only fit to be washed down the sink hole of hyperbole.

The Challenge

If just about everything is “awesome” then a real sense of awe becomes lost and elusive. Soon, expectations becomes so lowered that mediocrity becomes relabelled as excellence, and a protective social collusion grows around it. Our kid’s rush back from a friend’s house after a play date. The “play” bit was “good” but the DVD was “awesome” and the computer game was “amazing, with awesome special effects!”

“I’ve got your comic on the way home”. “Wow! Awesome!”

A few fireworks burst in the night sky, “Wow! Amazing! Cool!”

In some ways, it’s harmless enough. It’s just people express themselves, and surely it’s better that people put out that keep in?  After all, what’s wrong with positively celebrating things?

Bigging up in the short term diminishes over time

It’s all over the place, in management and motivation speak, and especially in the digital realm. The goal is excellence, but not a sacred excellence, a mysterious excellence; instead it is an excellence that involves hitting profit targets or getting ten out of ten on customer feedback surveys. By diminishing excellence and plundering just about every superlative in the name of positive spin, we lose the realm of authentic idealism, our children’s dreams become over-materialised “goals”, and we create over-big targets that, when we hit them, are bulls-eyes the size of moons.

Plundering Excellence

I’m disappointed that excellence has been so misused, largely by a kind of ignorant, desperate optimism. Life seems such a struggle these days for people that, a bit like a striving child, we say “that’s brilliant!” when they manage to stay half on their bike for three seconds. It’s so easy to fall into that ripping of language from its true meaning in the service of motivation and alleviating the pain of tough existence. “Excellent” then becomes a warm motivator, yet with diminishing returns. Soon we consciously and sub-consciously stop believing each other when we use superlatives to describe the “fairly good” or the “quite poor”. Not using superlatives becomes a kind of meanness, a betrayal of the motivation party that all the “cool” people are rocking to. But get this: The over-use of superlatives to big up and motivate individuals and teams ultimately demotivates them in the long run. Each “amazing” dilutes over time, its value  and the trust in it diminishing over time until its value reaches almost zero.

Going for the Real Potential in Us

In search of excellence, true excellence eludes us, because it is a sublime state, too easily framed as elitist I admit – but still, a rare place, a place that can be gorgeous because it represents true potential in a process of realising itself. No, a video of a cat falling off a fridge and doing two back flips is NOT awesome. And a fairly okay karaoke rendition by our niece of an Beyonce song, is not “amazing”. By calling it these things, we diminish the original effort and striving. It becomes almost impossible NOT to, because we are social beings and everyone else is doing it. But we steal dreams and real potential from our kids by mislabelling Base Camp One as the Summit. many end up parked for two long with their flag planted in the foothills, stuck in a collusion of mediocrity and wretched contentment (Often for the rest of their lives.)

Further up and Further in!

Excellence is not always higher up; sometimes it is further in, or deeper, or more subtle, or more mysterious, a revealing story. Excellence tends to reveal rather than show as a clumsy beacon. Awesome requires real awe. If you lose touch with real awe, then you might soon stop believing that your real potential even exists. What do I mean by potential? Potential is more or less mysterious. We may be told we have the potential to be a (insert job or career or time running 100 meters, or the ability to play a musical instrument professionally) We may tell ourselves what we believe our potential in some field is. Or we may just hope that it is there – we may feel our way towards it – experimenting, taking risks, widening our experience, and looking for confirming feedback. Potential reveals itself to us over time – sometimes through efforts we consciously make, sometimes through what seems like luck and unplanned happenings. When we do find we can run 100 meters in under ten seconds we can be in a state of disbelief, genuine “amazement”. The revelation, literally, creates awe in us – a critical, even sublime moment in our lives, a high point in our story.

Tuning Out of Our Mystery

If we lose the ability to tune into that mysterious potential, we simply set a new bar in our lives, or decide the world of possibility is smaller than it really is, because we now habitually name mediocrity as “excellent”. The danger of calling everything amazing, is that we ceased to be amazed in our lives. The danger of labelling a warm, salt-soaked burger “awesome” is that we never really encounter even the possibility of awe in our lives. Our kids soon become comfortably numb.

When Superlatives Turn into Lies

Saying something is amazing is simply a lie if 1. It isn’t amazing to a common sense bunch of people and 2. if you don’t truly find it amazing. Even if the motive is to motivate, you’ll be drawing upon a well that will start to run dry very quickly. The Greatest Show on Earth ought to be just that. I’m a regular attendee and writer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The hype and hyperbole there maxed out years ago and nobody really believes anybody. Press releases have run out of words and it is the grapevine that has more cred than the official media. And even the various grapevines have disappeared under their own stinking piles of bullshit years ago. Why does that matter? It matters because it affects performance. People believe their own hype and the “amazings” fed to them by their collusive communities. We no longer no what good really is and, as for great, we stopped believing in that years ago as well. Yet, at the world’s biggest arts festival, there is greatest. Occasionally. And it usually emanates from those who have learned to see through the hype and whose (at least private) conversations are grounded not in the compulsive superlative, but in the accurate real. Having interviewed hundreds of performers, the mostly genuinely excellent ones have either stay in the realm of, or rediscovered, the power of truthful naming.

Of course, the constant repetition and escalation of superlatives, in marketing terms, can be an effective form of self- and other- hypnosis. It can create compliant behaviour, grounded in the notion that, if you tell a lie often enough, it might just get believed as the truth. If you can also manipulate people to lower their expectations, they may even have a semi-authentic experience of mediocrity as “excellent”, having forgotten long ago (or never been permitted to encounter) what excellence really is. We all simply become hypnotised into what Pink Floyd called a state of being “comfortably numb”.

Comfortably Numb, Celebrated Mediocrity

I believe that social life is parked in mediocrity most of the time. It’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, because the true-naming of excellence is seen as a kind of “spoiling tactic” and the namer will soon find themselves labelled as a “downer”, a “misery guts”, a “spoiler”. Mediocrity can be a beautiful thing – as we climb and stumble, we reveal our unique vulnerability and the value of learning by doing. But mediocrity has a hiding place, relabelled as “awesome” becomes a place where trying is too dangerous, and where potential is too mysterious to be trusted.

The Rareness of Excellence

Yet excellence is more beautiful when it is truly, and rarely achieved. And ironically, our striving is a kind of excellence, if it is authentic and named honestly. Excellence isn’t only and always the highest bar, but that which is celebrated as realised and emerging potential. It often surprises us. It’s better for not being “harnessed”. We should harness our creative will and energy in the service of opening space for our potential to unfold. Excellence may lie along that path. It will be relative in certain places at certain times. When we raise the bar, it is because we realise our potential is revealing further possibility and vision. When we call the imperfect “perfect” there’s both a truth and a lie in that; there’s a perfection in our human striving, a beauty in the climb, the journey, the struggle. We are perfect in that we are born imperfect – and that creates possibility. But there’s also a different perfect which is there as an ideal, something metaphysical. That perfection is not easily to be found in a burger, a new fizzy drink, nor a business goal and our over-needy misnaming of it as “excellent”, “amazing” or “awesome”, does not make it so, and it often does erode belief in our deeper intuited ideals. That authentic perfection is diverse, elusive, and all the better for not being plundered into the mundane.

Truthful use of language requires more effort. It requires courage. To be delighted with “a bit better”, to strive for “improvement”, and to celebrate “an impressive effort” all appear bland in the face of “amazing” and “awesome”. Yet when we use words in all their specific variety, when we get used to the precision of describing our reality, we quickly find that energy is realised. It’s the energy of REAL potential. it’s the motivation to be truthfully on the “road” to the best we can endeavour to be.

The gentle breeze can be as refreshing as the storm, and a storm is not a hurricane. Our language is exciting, almost infinite and nuanced. And this is where we can start to parent our kids through “awesome” and “amazing”.

What can we do?

So, what can we do as parents? We can start with ourselves, but we can also guide our children back onto a more creative, free and adventurous path. It’s a less certain path, more subtle, risky, and authentic. It will set them up for a life of “whatever” – but they’ll be more in command of themselves, more proactive, more conscious. If you want that, read on…

The Early Years

If your children are offered the TV as the child-minding technology, while you get on with your day, then they’ll soon pick up the habit of superlatives. Give them an IPad and, even the most gentle games, will stun their emerging senses in to the extremes – of colour, of flashing lights, or harsh music, of repetition, and plenty of rewarding “Well dones!” for simply scoring a few points. The media is a benevolently-styled grooming process to prepare kids for the simple world of smileys and “amazing”. Children’s TV is usually presented by adults talking “kid language”, exaggerating their speaking, and using a superlative every five or ten seconds. Since the birth of television, there’s been an underlying assumption that viewing figures will max out when children are stimulated into “waking up into the world” – garish colours, loud sounds, even shouting – repetition and simplistic music. Even “baby sleep” channels play music and show images that tend towards overbrightness and electronically generated sound. For older kids we are in the realm of cartoons where no single scene or camera angle stays on the screen for more than a couple of seconds. This is a kind of binary, on-off world, where constant and sudden “flip-over” change is a virtue, a sign of creativity. Constant creativity is closer often to chaos than mindful, conscious creation. We are often waking kids up into a kind of trance state that prepares them for being compliant consumers. When things are too easily “amazing” or “crap”, “awesome” and “rubbish”, we lose our ability to dialogue in the spaces in between, a world of messy quality, a realm of nuance. When you ask a child, how they are feeling and all they can say is “good” (often said in a short and clipped way), followed by a distracted expression, the effort required to elaborate on that “good” and find out what is really going on in the child, can tire both you and the child out.

“Had a good day at school?” “Yep!” “Great” (Pause) “So what did you do in class” “Oh, usual stuff.” “Brilliant!” (silence as Gaming device is booted up)

So, yes, I’m suggesting that too much screen time is not good for our kids. Even well chosen games and films will usually be designed around quickfire image changes, enhanced colours and presenting a world that is brighter, louder, and more “out there” than it really is. Nature starts to feel like paint that lacks loudness in comparison to the deep blues of every TV-offered sky, and the air brushed faces, and emotionally simplified designs of cartoon characters. The world of Shrek offers a tidier, less demanding realm than the sharp edges of twigs and dampness of real grass.

Children are more able to handle all of this digital distortion and reframing when they are older.  Many writers in this field, such as Eugene Schwartz, suggest over ten is a better place to start introducing them to it. Yes, TEN! Before then, limit that screen time, place it carefully,  and let the physical world be the main playground for the child’s emerging senses. Parents know this in their hearts. Pack a child with sugary foods at two or three and soon, they want everything sweet. An early training in sugar can dull the taste buds for life. Soon enough, an avocado or even an apple starts to taste “disgusting”.

Immerse your kids in the simplistic language of smileys, “kewl” and “On or off” young enough, and you’ll soon dampen their potential to be complex, creative, and lovers of the spaces in between yes or no. The place of subtlety.

Older Children

What if it’s already happened? What is the teens are now junkies of about ten superlatives, and not much else? Is it too late?

We can’t block it. It’s the language of the emerging generation. It’s also often a form of  bold, positive expression (though it can also be souped up indifference). They’ll be exposed to it at school, with friends, and on TV, whether you like it or not. It isn’t about blocking it. it’s about meeting it, redeeming at least part of it. It’s about making amazing truly amazing again.

Try this: Unpacking the superlative

The next time you child says a movie was “amazing”, accept it, show genuine interest and ask. “What was amazing about it? Which bits were most amazing?” Do it gently, don’t push it. But try to draw the child out. Seek description, as if you are sorry you missed it. Often this simply dialogue will re-awaken a more varied conversation. You might even get “Well, that ending wasn’t that amazing. I found it a bit cheesy”.

Don’t fall into interrogation. Just find opportunities to “unpack the superlative”. Be curious about the detail behind amazing. Ask for examples. Tease out evidence. Encourage a bit of gentle critique.

Try this: Walking the quality talk

Start with yourself. Whenever you are with your child, lead by example. Use superlatives only occasionally, accurately and authentically. When you are in a supermarket getting your change, don’t say “Great! Thanks”. When you get your coffee in a cafe, don’t say “Fantastic”. Find some gentler words, and you might just find they become more powerful over time, and the child will pick up on some of them. “Look the barista in the eyes and simply say “Thank you.”

When the pizza arrives on the table, you might genuinely say “That looks delicious”, or “Smell that! MMM!” instead of “Cheers. Fantastic!”

As you eat the pizza, get specific without getting to intense or over-analytical. “There’s just the right amount of tomato on this. Eight out of ten!”

So – ration your use of “amazing” and “awesome”, use more varied language in front of your kids, the describe things as they really are, without any need to “Play up” or “play down” the truth.

Try this: Show your children genuinely “amazing” things. Not everyone can see the Northern Lights or fly over the grand canyon. Not everyone will get into space, or break a world record. But one thing our media has stored and can show us are some of the world’s wonders. We may even have stories from our family and friends that are genuinely “amazing”. Grandad who escaped from a prisoner of war camp and survived in the desert for six months. Sally who built a house entirely on her own. These stories will be relative, will genuinely amaze more or less, but if we can expose our kids to the truly amazing and wonderful, they have a reference point, a yardstick for their own lives. Set the measure at the level of truly amazing and your kids might just start setting their own yardsticks for their experience.

Try this: Go ona one-hour or one day “Superlative Diet

Spend an hour or a day on a break from superlatives. Don’t worry if you don’t succeed, just be more mindful and aware.Resolve not to use superlatives in your conversations, at home, and out and about. When you find yourself saying “Great” or “Brilliant”, just pause and replace it with another word – either after saying it, or before, in your mind, if you’ve caught yourself in time.

It can be a bit discomforting, but also a bit energising, to find new words and to “catch yourself” falling into superlative mode. Over time there can be a feeling of freeing up and feeling more empowered in the way you express yourself. During the “diet time” you might also find that, in a certain situation that really IS “awesome”, the word will slip into your tongue, at your commend, and it will feel like pure gold, or bright clear sunlight, tripping off your lips, then diving valuably into the world.

Try this: Start loving language

There’s nothing wrong with the word’s “amazing”, “cool” or “awesome”. There’s a lot wrong with using and misusing them to describe just about every experience in your day. What we express also impresses itself upon us. Language partly shapes who we are – be it from our own lips or from the lips of others. Language helps to create our identity. Limited use of language limits us within that narrow range.

So, just start to play with language again. Listen out for words that you like the sound of, be more curious about the meaning of words,and add a few to your own vocabulary. If someone asks you “how are you?”, before you leap in with a habitual “fine”, pause a moment and ask yourself how you really are, then dive into your inner library and find the words and phrases that more specifically describe how we are: “Feeling a bit restless”or, “Feeling summery”. I would dare the baffled looks and risk a bit of playfulness with language. If you’ve started calling everything “lush”, you might just savour more words to describe the taste of things: “Delicious”, “Delicate and warming”, “gently spicy and creamy – I like it!”

When our language opens up,so does the vista of possibility in our life. Superlatives are a way of affirming people and the world around us. But they can also dilute diversity into sameness. So, spend a few chosen moments each day experimenting with the richness of language. Reading can help. Conversation on a particular subject or theme can help. Then, when we do say “awesome”, the word starts to re-assume its original power. We use it rarely but more authentically, and we notice people listen more, value what we say more. What an important and valuable example to set for your kids!

Finally…

When we start to increase the variety and quality of our words, placing “amazing” and “awesome” more truthfully and consciously, we can begin to realise just how narrow our language had become. We can discover that language has turned into just a few lazily relied upon default words and phrases. Climbing out of that hole can require effort and may tire us. it can feel like spoiling our “positive party” Initially “good” can feel “bad” in the face of  “brilliant”. Over time we re-establish a more healthful habit – the habit of speaking in a way that allows hidden potential to show itself. We start to realise that the real “awesome” doesn’t come so cheaply, but when it does come, it is really amazing!


About the author: Paul Levy is a trustee at the Brighton Steiner School in the UK and author of the forthcoming book, The Digital Inferno

Book a Digital Working Audit

This is a three day processes carried out by as team of three researcher/experts in the field of digital working.

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The Mixed Metaphors of Internal Communications

stupor

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object.” (Wikipedia). Perhaps the most famous example can be found in the work of William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage.”

When we attempts to describe a situation in terms of a metaphor, this can often reveal aspects of that situation, positive and negative, and also within and outside our awareness.

Sometimes the negatively framed metaphors can be both a shock and an opportunity for leaders. For example, when an internal communications team are referred to as a “police force”.

In recent years, talking to leaders and managers in the field of internal communications (Internal “Comms” for short), I’ve found a range of metaphors at play, often mixed up within the same organisation. These metaphors capture aspects of the pervading culture, but also surface different views about the fundamental role of Internal Comms.

Here are a few of the most common ones…

Internal comms as…

Governance Police Force

Here the comms team is viewed as a group focused on control. From the strict editing of content and complex structures for “permission to publish”, to prevention methods to stop people using Facebook at work and determining exactly which devices are allowed, the comms team is viewed as lawmaker and law enforcer in a culture that is rigidly control. Sanctions are in place, there is a high degree of monitoring and governance structures prioritise explicit rules on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

On the positive side: The police force is viewed benevolently, acting in the organisation’s best interests, minimising risk and ensuring standards are applied safely and consistently

On the negative side: The police force becomes mistrusted, is felt to be overbearing, even bullying. There is a culture of stopping people rather than trusting and enabling them

News Broadcasters

Here communication internally is all about news – about the flow of up to date information. Internal Communication sees users as an “audience”, as targets for content, and innovation is content focused, and becomes ever more obsessed with personalisation and targeting. Gaining user involvement is largely about users become local reporters themselves with the ultimate goal of hyper local news sharing being a sub system of global news generation and sharing. It’s all about news, live scrolling of share prices, weather, meeting room bookings and knowing where each little dot on the map (a person) is at any one time. News can be at the level of company news, but can also be at the level of what is happening next to me, here, right now.

On the positive side: The organisation has a dynamic feel to it, feels up to date and “in touch”. People feel empowered, communicated with and are able to share and tell their own stories quickly and easily. News is seen as a support to more effective working and sharing of knowledge and experience.

On the negative side: There is information overload, a culture of “propaganda” where news sources are mistrusted and filtered through corporate “spin”. News is prioritised as content over other processes such as collaboration. The home page looks like a newspaper, full of information overload with many stories quickly out of date or poorly targeted.

Border Guards

Internal communications manages the borders between functions and departments, protects the firewall between the internal and external organisation, is the arbiter of what comes in and what comes out in terms of content. Internal comms becomes obsessed with risk, wants to control the news broadcasters at the interfaces and also uses police methods when needed. On a more positive note they are often looking for ways of creating “Schengen” agreements where borders safely come down and flow and quality of communication improves.

On the positive side: The organisation’s critical information is secure, and staff are smart and skilled in terms of using social media platforms responsibly. Between departments and functions there are clear lines of responsibility and role and this clarity reduces duplication of effort and ensures that systems join up.

On the negative side: The organisation is over-cautious and makes clunky and clumsy attempts to control the border, making the firewall overly restrictive and holding the organisation back in terms of its potential to extend its work collaboratively into supply chains, both towards the front line of customer services, and further back along the chain. Internally, the information architecture is slow to respond and has created a silo culture.

… Chaos Engineers

Here the comms team takes a very technology driven process. The team believes that technology is the core solution to challenges of employee involvement, engagement and communication. We can “solve” these problems with the next Sharepoint upgrade or with a new social media platform. Technology becomes the core process, a  mix of “there’s an app for that” and a more broad belief that the digital realm is the solution to employee engagement and collaboration. Technology is seen as a way of bringing chaos under control. People are offered “play spaces”, mediated, bounded and governed by the technological architecture and underlying governance. When this works well, people feel the tangible benefits of working in and via the digital realm.

On the positive side: Collaboration platforms become places for genuine interchange, knowledge sharing and decision-making. News becomes useful and finds its way to the hyper-local level and really starts to influence and help information flow. The digital realm becomes a meaningful and consistent parallel and overlap with physical working. The organisation’s people link up more easily across physical distance, and quality of information improves.

On the negative side: The approach becomes a “techie” approach and people feel forced to use clunky systems they haven’t understood or bought into. Many of the technological solutions fail to deliver and there is a huge duplication of effort as people minimally use the digital whilst relying on the more effective physical. Internal comms uses governance to try to steer people into the technological realm. The “techie” approach lacks emotional connection and intelligence, feels “cold”, and never realises its promised potential

… Collaboration Catalysts and Bridge Builders

The comms team is on a mission to get everyone collaborating. They see the organisation as a constant conversation and the realm of the digital as a technological collaboration platform.They see the physical organisation as hampered by physical distance and real estate limitations and view the digital realm as a place for speedier, cheaper and more effective inter-personal, inter-team, intra- and inter-organisational collaboration. The sharing of information and the process of virtual meeting lies at the heart of this.

On the positive side: Internal Comms has evolved its role to not only manage, but also to motivate and to facilitate. It is viewed positively as an empowerer of communication, which has moved beyond information sharing to joint decision making and problem solving. Synergies between groups both inside and across the organisational border have been identified and are being utilised. Platforms such as Yammer become true collaboration platforms. We have a culture of communication, enabled and facilitated by internal comms who are seen as a business critical function

On the negative side: Internal comms are seen as do gooders and many initiatives, well intentioned, are simply taken up by the minority of already converted.Collaboration fails because it is under-resourced or because it conflicts with a governance approach that is too strict and contradicts it. Collaboration is seen as a “nice thing to do” rather than a business critical process and the internal comms team do not have the permission from higher up nor the leadership skills to really address this.

Discussion

In some companies and public organisations one of these metaphors dominates. For example, in a large European Telecommunications Company, the nickname for internal comms among many staff was “thought police”! In a large electronics manufacturer there was a very positive view of internal comms as “collaboration evangelists” among some people in the organisation. “They’ve really got us talking and working together.” In another part of the same organisation, there were complaints of being “bombarded with news” which “gets in the way of doing real work.”.

Mixed metaphors can be a real problem for internal comms. A colleague of mine’s research at Gillette suggests that it can take over six years to replace one guiding metaphors with a different one. Cultures can stick and turn into “myths” which are hard to challenge or shift. Sometimes each metaphor is more department based and has a whole history behind it.

Replacing a negative view of a metaphor with a positive one, or reducing the negative mix requires consistent behavioural change over several years. It can take a long time to undo history. It becomes a process of replacement over time. Consistency is key as is leadership by example. Metaphors have to be acknowledged as existing and their positive aspects identified and, where possible, separated off from negative ones. This has been done with some success via parallel implementation where we wind down an older platform and, through clear iterations, crank up the new one. In other cases a big bang approach has worked, but only where there have been mature and honest, resourced plans to address the reverting to the old ways. We need to keep at it, and ratchet the change, even after big bang.

And here, of course, internal comms leaders become leaders of change. Leadership is a skill. And that’s a whole different story…

Personal Viewpoint

Over five years of conversations with internal communications leaders and managers, I’ve found myself revealing metaphors at play in their organisations that are obvious to an outsider, but often a shock to those leaders and managers. Often internal comms has a heroic view of itself. In other cases its self-view is that it is more emotionally intelligent than it really is, that it is on a mission to realise a particular metaphor in its business and isn’t aware of other metaphorical possibilities and real needs. Internal comms, by its nature of being “internal”, focused on the organisational “Inside”, is an immersive role. This can lead to a loss of necessary detachment and objectivity. This is a very dangerous metaphor – the person who can bite their own teeth! Internal comms, even as they believe they hold the role of objectivity in the organisation, can often be the most subjective of all, projecting its own confused internal self-conversation onto the rest of the organisation. Even as it listens, it filters, even as it visions, it falls into delusion.

This can be avoided when internal comms develops its own skills of listening which involve seeing itself as a place of proactive response. It needs external “devil’s advocates”, it needs to shadow those it seeks to help, it needs to be open to its own biases and the potential distorting influences of different parts of the organisation that holds different kinds of levels of power and influence. It needs to step out of its activity and look in from outside (learning from outside peers and being open to challenge and feedback). Internal Comms needs to be a core part of the consciousness of the business. To do that is has to be multi-disciplinary and able to view the organisation from different angles. Most of all, it needs to clearly understand what metaphors are at play in its own activity and in the organisation as a whole.

How can an internal comms team do this? It depends on the organisation, the time and resources available. A “values clarification” exercise. can be of use, and this may well lead to changes in the way new employees are inducted, how the intranet portal page is designed and presented, and even how the internal comms team itself works. What are the values at the heart of the business? How consistently are these shared across the business, and how are they reflected and the physical and digital communication methods and approaches in the organisation? Is there a mismatch of values and, if so, is higher level clarification needed? What drives us as a business externally and how congruent is this with our internal communications approach? How congruent is our approach to digital working with the way we actually physically work with each other on a day-to-day basis?

Some teams head off site for at least three times a year for a couple of days and really “deep dive” into the values and underpinning metaphors at play in the organisation. They seek meaningful integration and innovation of approaches often results. Some enhance survey data and they may they use metrics. They treat positive and negatively focused metaphors as hypotheses and use measurement to “look for” and “listen for” evidence  of metaphors at play that help or hinder the organisation,  which helps to inform their change and innovation agenda and plans for communication.

Others seek peer group inspiration by comparing the organisation to other organisations, seeking out workable best practice. Others use the more informal networks in  the organisation and resource comms team members to engage in regular and open dialogue across the whole organisation feeding this into communications design and innovation.

There is no one way. And there’s metaphor to leave you with. Many roads can lead to where we need to get to. But some roads will take you to Hell.


Do leave a comment, or get in touch if you’d like to explore this further.

The Dangers of Digital Stupor

stupor

According to a report on BBC News today: “Researchers at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital believe there may be evidence that lullabies can help sick children by reducing pain and improving their well-being.” (You can read a report of the research here).

“They sang the songs to a group of children under three, some of whom were waiting for heart transplants, and monitored their heart rates and pain perception. The scientists then compared this with two other groups, one in which the children had been read to and the other where they had been left alone, and found only those who had been sung to showed a reduction in pain or heart rate.”

It is only an indicative study but it offers a few interesting insights for digital workers and players, especially if the results are transferable to the child in all of us.

I find it particularly interesting that the state of calm and “settled” feeling induced by a lullaby is fundamentally different from reading a book, playing a game, or catching up on a few emails or social media updates.

A lot of people justify their bedtime digital activity as a means of relaxation. A relaxing Sudoku or a few rounds of Angry Birds, an episode of Friends or a chapter from a Stephen King Horror. We let go of the day by activity of one kind or another.

We’re on dangerous territory here because attempts to suggest what might or might not be good or bad for you are often met with irritation and even angry “mind your own business!”. Yet this research points to benefits to our health from allowing music to do the work of helping us to let do of the cares of the day.

Letting go. That is an act of surrender. In this case we surrender to rest. We allow the processes of recovery and mending to occur, and they occur better when our usual mental and physical activity stops for some hours. The heart rate finds a calmer level, and even our attention on our pain can ease and we can settle into a restoring night’s sleep.

Music does it. It helps us to let go. Calming lullabies, music where melody has the repetition of gentle rocking, can ease us into the vital rest state. A book may also relax us, but it also fills us with more content and this can invade the emptier space we need to allow dream content to work its mysteries and for physiological processes aimed at restoration to take their course. Five minutes of calm before sleep, sinking into the relaxed state, music that has a lilting quality to it, music that mirrors easier breathing, the rhythm of the rocking chair or the cradle, these can all allow the content of the day to settle, for the curtains to close on our busy performance of the day, and for wellness to seek us out through sleep.

Digital activity, no matter how relaxing, is unlikely to calm us in the way that music can. Certainly there’s plenty of repetition in gaming, and even in social media interacting. But we are active. We create the threads, follow the threads, and respond to the threads of content. We add more content to our already tall pile of thoughts and impulses needing to be processed and resolved through restorative sleep. The repetitive processes of digital interaction can give us a certain physical and mental calm, but they are often more likely to induce a kind of parody of the rest state induced by quieting music. This is the state of “stupor”. Many people wake up in the morning with the laptop still warm on their lap or the smart phone in their hand, perhaps no different from the empty vodka bottle that sent the alcoholic into a state of unconsciousness.

Music can help us change our flow state from awake to gently letting go of the day, into restful sleep. It can relax both body and mind in the evidence from the health care of children seems to support this. Digital processes at bed time may also do that for some people. Yet for many, it tends to offer us stupor, rather than the more subtle relief our body and mind needs. Digital stupor is when we pitch into sleep having exhausted ourselves, and through digital content overload. It is similar to when the book falls from our fingers and our head flops forward, cricking our neck, and we dribble our way into the night.

Now this might sound a bit like an attempt to spoil your night time gaming. But it needn’t be that. If you consciously decide to “Place” some digital activity at night, then it need not be the nightly habit, especially if you are finding your sleep feels disturbed. You might decide to “flow” digitally late into the night. When you have finished, settle into bed and calm your way towards sleep with some gentle breathing, some calming music and don’t digitally tap, tap, tap until the last possible moment.

I’m not suggesting you need this ritual every single night (though some might). You might wish to carry certain thoughts and impulses over into your sleep. However, the research at Great Ormond Street offers some useful pointers to those nights when we feel stressed, or when we are in physical pain. Parents have known through their own common sense gained over millennia about the power of the lullaby. It serves as a useful reminder to those who imbibe the digital until their eyes droop, that such things are allies to our day time activities, not rivals. Music can enhance your sleep, and that’s an investment in waking more refreshed and able to work better the following day. But it might also improve the health or your heart and do a better job than a couple of Ibuprofen. And that might also become of measurable interest to leaders and employers, for we might just find that quality of work, absence through sickness and late arrivers all show better markers as well.

Experiment with it. If you have back pain or a headache, try to create half an hour before sleep to “slide” into dreamland – breathe in the night air a few times through an open window, settle into bed, and let a music box play you to sleep. That music box could literally be playing you a lullaby or it might be some calming music. The danger of the radio is that the adverts and news soon defeats the whole process. The danger of digitally delivered music is that it is just more digital content. So, I know it might sound crazy, but hum a little lullaby to yourself, or sing with your partner, or yes, buy a music box. So, what kind of music? Well, it will be different for different people. The generic quality of the timeless lullaby is simple melody, nothing to engaging for the ego to actively grab hold of. Repetition is the music is like the gentle waves on the sea, or rocking to and fro. The music is better for being acoustic, free of a drum beat, and a sound that “eases” rather than engages.

Listen you intranet managers, you digital coders, pay attention, you night-time gamers…

The sea is rising, falling on the spray

The river to the sea does wend its way

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

 

Into the river comes the stream to sing

Before the winding stream there is the spring

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

 

It bubbles gently from the mountain gray

Like notes upon the water’s gentle play

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

 

And flowing like a lullaby to sleep

Its pebbles, sands and crystals in the deep

Sleep now soft and sure, sleep now

Diary of a Digital Refugee

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Dear Digital Diary…

Monday October 8.30am café-land

There’s a strong Autumn sun, low in the morning sky.  I have the only remaining unoccupied table near a plug. The sun,warm on my back, is now roasting my back and the back of my neck. The screen is barely readable in the sunlight. 

Monday October 10am

This used to be a favourite cafe, until the owner went into a silent war with his digitally focused customers. Power points were removed from the walls, and free Wifi access is now restricted to thirty minutes, booting you at the end of your allotted time, and also if you attempt to use Skype, or anything else that exceeds 300MB in total over your half hour.

Monday October 11am

The music here is so loud that it is impossible to stay on the conference call. Also the violent bursts of barista-led steam sound like gun shots to the fellow callers. Fled to a hotel lobby for an hour and a pot of decent tea for an arm and a leg

Monday October Midday

The very polite café owner keeps apologising and resetting the router. The connection is live for no longer than ten minutes before cutting out again

Monday October 2pm

The wifi connection is fast and reliable. The coffee tastes like poop and the roast dinners look and smell like swill.

Monday October 3pm

Wandering around looking for a spare table at a café, any café, with a wifi connection. Found a chain. Sticky, uncleared tables, Wifi not working, staff shrug, clueless.

Monday October 4pm

An excellent wifi connection in a lovely café. But no Power Points. Batteries running dangerously low. 

The Challenge

Digital refugees are wandering all over your city or town. They are searching for a place to settle, if only for an hour or two. Freelancers, self-employed, writers, coders, inventors and entreprenuers, home is not a place they want to work today, and office life is a place they have fled from. Mobile, and fairly resilient to distraction, they seek a place to lay their hats and their tablets, to plug in, connect up, and start flowing.

Digital refugees find themselves wandering the streets in search of somewhere warm, friendly, and accessible. They are more than happy, in most cases, to pay their way. They know the spoken and unspoken etiquette of a regular coffee and an occasional meal to justify the rental of a table for a few hours. By and large they get it that cafés and restaurants need to earn a living. What they are seeking is a place to engage in their digital realm work that isn’t at home, and isn’t in an office.

Poor service

Here, in the UK, we are mostly poorly served when we step out of the front door in search of a place to fire up our laptops or tablets and to work in the digital realm. In my home city of Brighton not one café has got it all right, even though many claim they aspire to it.: A café where you can sit for as long as you need, and do your work. The digital dollar no small amount. I spend over $3000 per year in cafés and I sometimes feel the owners have decided to go to war against me, limiting my download speed, blocking my power points and booting my computer after half an hour. Excuse me, café owner – do you really want to lose even half  that amount of money? Is it really worth winning the battle against this growing and spending group of customers, justified by you by your attempts to control and even banish a small minority who sit there all day supping one coffee? Look harder and you’ll find a more significant minority of much higher spending digital workers and players, seeking a place to lay their tablets for an hour or so.

There is of course a sad quality to this image of someone, wandering the streets, as if they had no real life, from place to place, desperately seeking somewhere to indulge their sad addiction to the internet. There is also an alternative perspective, a view of someone who enjoys flow, likes being out and about, is happy to be distracted, but doesn’t want home to be their office, nor an office to be their home. cafés are social places, energetic places, places to welcome distraction, but also places to sit and write a letter, read a book, hold a conversation, meet up with friends and colleagues, seal a deal, and also to do all of these things in the digital realm as well.

A New Kind of Customer?

Digital workers and players are a new kind of customer for many cafés  and owners of public spaces and, by and large, the response has been patchy, often disappointing, and these customers find themselves wandering in search of a place that is suitable for their needs. Where there are no Power Points, the many devices soon reveal their battery life promise to fall short. Where there is no or an unreliable wifi connection, digital working is restricted to “offline” and reliance on 3 or 4G and dependent on “signal”. Noise pollution, uncomfortable chairs, digitally clueless staff, and limits on data and time, all send the digital worker packing. The main justification for this is usually that it is the owner’s intention to send them packing as they need the tables for the next customer. According to them, most of their digitally engaged  customers simply don’t spend enough.

This has led to the rise of “hub” with hot desks.(Here’s an example, in London, UK)  In my own home city of Brighton, these hubs charge by the hour, the week or the month and attempt to offer retro snacks and drinks. None have suited me. I WANT A café! They do suit some and these digital refugees have found a home. I’m still wandering…

Working in cafe spaces holds a unique attraction for some. The cafés  I am sitting in at present (The one roasting my back with sunshine) welcomes digital workers and players. There’s an unspoken agreement to buy more than one coffee, and, if staying for over an hour or two, to eat something. Wifi is excellent, almost totally reliable and there are plug points aplenty. Music is played at a reasonable level. This is café Ground in Brighton, and I thoroughly recommend both of their locations. I’ve had some of my best ideas here, done some of my best writing, had some of my best conversations – both on- and offline.

The buzz and flow of work is aided when the digital aspect of café working feels seamless, generous and relaxed. When the cafe recognises that digital workers are a decent source of income and also referral to new customers (not all of whom will be digital workers and players), it then sees digital services as core to the café offering. Whether there is a real opportunity here for dedicated cafés for digital working and playing, remains to be seen. There are some.

Little booths and breakfast bars?

Some cafés create little booths or breakfast bar areas where someone can sit one on one with their lap top, plug in, and zone out. This works until the sun bursts through the windows. Where there isn’t a window, staring at a wall is no fun. Booths and bars are better when we don’t feel we’ve been engineered out of the main space in order to keep us “away” from the rest of humanity. Then the space feels like lonely old home, or an office desk again. At its worst we have the milking booth cyber cafés, where people sit in a line, forced to use out of date computers and pay by the hour.  These may serve their own useful purpose, but cafés they are not.

Digital refugees are a sign that cafés have either become the quite correct last stand against digital encroachment, or that they have failed to recognise the changing times we live in, where socialising is both face to face and virtual, but that people in a social mood like to do their digital socialising in cafés as well. Café owners often have bad experiences of a beanie-hatted geek setting up camp with one coffee at 8am and still sitting there with tantalisingly not quite empty cup well after midday. This phenomenon seems to grow as word gets out that this is a “cool joint with a chilled out owner” and suddenly the cafe is Facebook and coder heaven and café income is around $19 for the morning. This demonic picture, based in some truth, is largely untrue. Many of the reactions of café owners to keep out and limit digital workers and plays have been over the top and have simply reduced income. Removing plug points, cutting people off after half an hour – these are gestures of unfriendliness. They create an image of the café as a place of “no”not of “How can we serve you”?

Other restrictions have included turning the wifi off at lunchtimes and limited what can be accessed (e.g. blocking video calling and watching). All of these add to the digital refugee phenomenon.

The New Standards

So, they wander from place to place, seeking fast, free digital working and playing possibility. They seek the following, which are, in a way, the new minimal quality standard for authentically offering digital working and playing services outside of the home or the office:

– fast, free (or reasonably priced) wifi access

– safe, available power points

– access to printing 

– comfortable seating and usable,, clean work surfaces

– air conditioning and sunlight control

– staff who are clued in and can be mindful and aware when digital workers and players take comfort breaks, leaving their technology at tables

– a way of dealing with digital meanies (the one coffee all day crew) separately from authentic, willing to pay, digital workers and players

– dedicated spaces for digital working and playing, smartly and sensitively designed, not clumsily cordoned off from the café buzz and vibrant life

It’s all about flow. Digital workers and players are a growing number of people of all ages, and from different parts of society. Mobile technology development is increasing their number, as is the improvement in café quality and variety. A growing number of people want to engage in the digital realm in physical places that feel social, vibrant, and “in tune” with the creative style of working. For many, offices are history, and the home is a place for family and also is too isolated.

Digital refugees are seeking more permanent homes. Nearly all have money to spend. As a café owner, are you fleeing from them, are you ready for them, are you ready to embrace the opportunity?

There are opportunities for new ways of working.  Cafés can be less stressful places, fire creativity, energise meetings, make us more productive when not in our home town or base. There are new challenges about privacy and confidentiality, about the risks of doing work in places not subject to work place health and safety protocols, but there’s also an opportunity to tap into the Buzz and feed that into more innovative thinking and working. The digital realm, when we are engaged in social interaction, harmonises well with the flowing and dynamic feel of a café.

So, the digital refugees continue to wander, in search of somewhere to connect and flow. Time for me to move on too. This black short sleeve shirt is now starting to smoke…

The New Digital Zone

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So, let me introduce the idea of the digital “zone”.

The zone is a physical and mental state where the digital realm is experienced as a flow state, as useful, often euphoric, and entirely purposeful. When we are in the digital zone, we are immersed in the digital realm, using its processes, and allowing ourselves to conform to its demands and requirements in ways that we experience as in tune with the digital realm.

Many of the things you will read about the digital realm on this blog (and elsewhere) that hint at the digital realm being a place of negative distraction and even addiction, are unravelled when we are in the zone. The digital realm is often framed as a poor copy of the physical realm, as a realm of dubious worth, where our “friends” aren’t authentic, and where our activity is largely superficial.

An increasing number of people, however,  are reporting their experience of the digital “zone” as a state they are very satisfied with. The digital realm offers a new kind of experience. Comparing it to the physical world is like saying that swimming is a negative activity compared to sunbathing because you get wet all over. The digital realm does attempt to render and improve upon the physical.  However, it also is offering new kinds of experience in its own right.

To be immersed in the digital realm, we allow ourselves to dive, even fall into it. We do not frame it as being “away from” the physical world, as if that were a bad thing to do. We enter digital immersion willingly, seeking out what it has to offer. The reports from this immersion are many and varied. The positive ones have certain aspects in common…

The state we experience is one of pleasing connection, thrilling distraction and multi-tasking, and often something akin to the ability to juggle a dozen things in the air, and where dropping some things have no negative consequences.

In the digital realm we can be in a messaged conversation with someone and suddenly move onto a different task or conversation, leaving the first conversation hanging in the air. We may not answer for hours or even days, or we may not answer at all. In the “zone”, time is not a very present or prominent phenomenon. We flow in the now, and enjoy being in responsive mode, where largely we are responding most to what stimulates us most. Responsibility isn’t to others, but to the strength of the in the moment priority or stimulus.

In the zone we willingly engage in being distracted. We go where we will and enjoy completing tasks in parallel, zipping between them, and cross-fertilising one conversation with content from another.

In the zone, we tune out of the physical, except to drink when we remember or feel like it, or to eat,or to relieve ourselves. Even where our physical bodies are more fully involved (for example,when we use a seventh generation console such as a Wii), we are still immersed in digital content on a screen.

In the zone, we interrupt physical interactions with digital distractions  and this is enjoyed, even expected as normal,  when the other person we are physically present with is also in the zone.

We feel that this “flitting” enriches our creative life with more variety, and that we are more living on the edge. This is a realm where unexpected and even random stimulus, enhances the experience. We find this helps us to feel more stimulated and we enjoy the euphoria of being “always on” and getting almost instant feedback. We feel more up to date and in touch. We often experience ourselves as being more productive, achieving more, and the sheer number of interactions in the digital realm energises and motivates us.

In the zone we can present our ideal self and get very good at doing this. The zone can give us more confidence. We can also express ourselves more immediately, more directly, often more authentically without the nervous complications of face to face, tactile interaction. This, for us, is a new way to communicate, one that releases us, that gives us permission to take risks with our thoughts, feelings and actions. We experience quicker, more immediate response and feedback, we find action is faster and we can explore threads of meaning and emotion quickly. We can capture physical images and publish our creativity instantaneously and set up a vibrant conversation about what we are seeing (and digitally capturing) physically,between friends and strangers. 

In the zone we experience flow, we can book and buy instantly, we can bid and complain, celebrate and flirt. We can also put our ideas, drawings, images, proposals and get instant feedback that feels more immediate, present and honest. We can put unfinished work into the digital realm and offer it to others to develop and even finish. We can connect with strangers without the same risk as a physical meetings.

In the zone we can feel less pressurised, more able to “float”, “fly” and, of course, surf. We can change our mind when we choose without too much consequence and this allows a lot more experimentation.

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The digital zone connects us to people at a distance, people we might never usually nor easily meet face to face. In the zone we can become part of a group within seconds. We can find out things within moments, and check the validity of things we aren’t sure are true. We can sample, try out, and even engage in a bit of underground behaviour – an illegal download. We can get a lot of things for free in the digital realm and we enjoy thwarting the big corporations.

In the zone we can write a necessary but tedious email, whilst listening to our favourite music, with the news or a  favourite comedy show playing in the corner, and even keep tabs on our social media, keeping two or three conversations going, even as we are typing.

In the zone physical movement isn’t necessary for interpersonal meeting. We tend to wait for people to “appear” on-line. We can pursue several conversations at once. If we create a design and we wish to change it, we do not need to physically erase or screw the paper up and throw it into the bin before reaching for another. We can also cut and paste with a few finger clicks, mix and match, delete, alter, copy and re-imagine. Blowing up and burning in the digital realm is easy.

In the zone, we can split our awareness without feeling guilty. We no longer feel “held” by just one command on our attention. We feel the thrill of teleporting our digital selves from place to place. In the zone we can take a comfort break and then return and it is all still there. In the zone we might use more than one gadget at the same time. In the zone we can be more than one identity, we can take liberties and we can even offend anonymously. We can vote and rate, commit to attend with no consequence if we change our plans at the last minute.

In the zone we feel more free, more mobile, more able. It is the physical world that is the distraction when we are immersed in the digital realm.