Alone Together

In this blog I tend to concentrate on the benefits of the internet and the networked culture that it has spawned.  However, the reason why I started the blog was because I was aware that digital life is not without its negatives.  So I was eager to read Sherry Turkle’s new book Alone Together (How we Expect more from Technology and Less from each other). At its centre is the old question of whether technology is deterministic or non-deterministic. Does it control us or are we in charge? A trained psychoanalysist who specialises in technology, Sherry Turkle has been studying the effects of digital objects on humans for 15 years and Alone Together is the result of her interviews.  The first half of Alone Together is concerned mostly with robotics and looks at how they are used to simulate caring. She discusses everything from Furbies to robot caregivers for the elderly. The second half of the Alone Together is what interested me as it looks at the networked culture. The argument about what technology wants is central to this book. Turkle argues that the networked culture is a simulation and the purpose of all simulations is immersion.

Technology traps us

Technology traps us

This comes with a price. The people that she interviews are all connected now. They stay in touch with who they want but they find that they are always waiting for something new. As Turkle says “Moments of more leave us with lives of less”. Central to immersion in the internet is identity. We all like to think that we are our authentic selves on social media but the subjects of Alone Together obviously worry about what they leave out and what they put in on each of their profiles. My own job as a digital marketer revolves around maintaining these different identities. It is like a performance that spills over into real-life. The argument that real life is just as much a performance is not the point. Yes, we all create separate identities (employees, club members, family dynamics etc) but the internet has a new speed that is relentless.

Social Collection Space

Social Collection Space

Technology also effects our ideas of space. In the past we had communal spaces but now we have what Turkle calls “social collection spaces”. I see this every day where I work. Youth hostels used to be traditional communal spaces. Now they are full of young people on small screens connecting with people far away while ignoring those closest to them.  I wonder what part of Ireland these young French and German travellers are experiencing while they are chatting to their schoolfriends back in their hometowns. I remember when I first left home and experienced London – that sense of having to find my feet on my own without the usual supports. It was scary and exhilarating. I was cut off. Do people experience that anymore? There is a downside to missing that experience. In the past communities would spring up when people felt alone and abandoned. There was a shared need. Yes, the internet is full of communities now but they are communities of weak ties. How many of us really depend on all the people in our social media communities?

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Being connected also has an effect on time. The internet gives us the illusion that we have more time by giving us whoever and whatever we want. Being human, this allows us to escape ourselves. In the past we often came to the realisation that no matter where we went, there we were. We had to face ourselves. Not now. Now we can escape by just taking the phone out of our pockets. We check our messages in bed before we go to sleep. When we are not escaping we are doing the other extreme, multitasking.

In the past, doing one thing well was the sign of mastery. Now multitasking is considered a successful attribute.  We measure ourselves by the number of emails answered, by the speed of work. We click harder, faster, despite the fact that we know it does not make us better. We get that illusion of creating more time. It reminds me of that old saying “Doing the wrong thing with more intensity rarely improves the situation”. We can be busy fools, chasing wifi signals. All the time we look longingly at slow movements. We want to switch off but feel guilty. We desperately seek time to think, to reflect. When we do switch off we feel naked. Alone Together makes the suggestion that we are the internet’s killer app.

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We want connection and the internet promises us it. Young people desperately seek it from parents who are there in space but not present. We also fear real connection. Intimate and authentic connection requires vulnerability. That seems too dangerous now. We send our kids out with mobiles so we can get in touch with them should that vulnerability turn into trouble. We never let them deal with boredom. When I left home, I often had to navigate through those situations. I gained independence that way. I took chances.  I searched for things that I did not know I wanted until I found them. I made mistakes.

Turkle uses the example of phone calls to demonstrate how we fear vulnerability. Given the choice most of us will text or email or IM. We can edit our responses that way.  Everything carries that strange premeditation that promises time but delivers only confusion. Phone calls are reserved for special or stressful interactions. Phones do not allow us to hide or to wait for empty silences to pass. We need to use those complex signallings to fully understand each other. In my own family we laugh about our peculiar way of saying goodbye on the phone (Goodbye, good luck, g’luck, g’luck now, g’luck…) but very few people learn how to close off a conversation comfortably anymore. Everything is an arrangement to meet at a later time.

Letter writing is another example of the change. I was a prolific letter writer growing up. I had cousins around the world that I wrote to and each of them would get a hand crafted missive every few months written specifically for them. I blog now, but I blog for everyone. The audience is different and the expectations of interaction are different and so the content is different. It feels the same to me, but on reflection, it is not.

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Young people are growing up with the tyranny of everything being online about them now. I grew up not having to worry about being forgotten. Turkle points out that networked technology feels private. We sit in silence on our little screens but the whole public is there too. She refers to a Peter Pan shadow of data that follows us around now. There are obvious privacy issues with this but Turkle being a psychoanalysist, argues that it is more than the issue of having to hide wrong doings. It is healthy for young people to need a private space where they can dissent. Democratic societies need it. I found it sad to hear one young person look back to a past that never existed for them ” I miss those days even though I wasn’t alive”.

Despite this Turkle is optimistic about the future. She is quick to dismiss the addiction model to explain these new behaviours. That is too easy and it is not a helpful analogy. We cannot switch off the internet. It is essential for employment, play and learning about the world around us. There is no going back to Thoreau’s Walden. The way she explains it we have agreed to an experiment in which we are the human subjects. We have to realise that this experiment is in its early stages and we have a part to play in it besides mindless consumption. The best thing we can do is start to take the time to reflect on how it is effecting us.

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Two studies stood out for me in Alone Together and made me stop and think. The first was an ongoing study by the University of Michigan since the 1970s measuring empathy scores of their students. It appears there is a 40% drop in students who classify themselves as caring about others.  Also, studies of life loggers are showing that there is a tendency to lose the curiosity we have about the details of our lives. Everything is recorded, tagged and archived but it feels like we are missing the point of it somewhat. Neither of these findings bode well for the future and I found reading Alone Together to be a sad experience. It did make me reflect on my own digital media use and that has to be a good thing.

Further Reading

What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell & Jim Gemmell, 2009

The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our Brains – Nicholas Carr, 2010

Empathy: College Students don’t have as much as they used to

Blog Audit

It has been three years since I started this blog as part of the Creating Digimedia module in UCD Information & Library course. It was not expecting it to last. This was purely an experiment. I had other blogs before it and other blogs after it for different projects.   At the start it was just a platform where I could put images to see how they changed with different camera settings. It was never meant to be serious and I a definitely had no real interest in taking photographs but somehow it kept going. It allowed me to throw stuff into a draft that I have an interest in and explore it a bit more without any sort of pressure. Looking back over the years I realise that blogs work in a very strange way for me. I dump text in the editor. While I wonder what direction I am going to take with it, I wander off to look for images. Often the images will take the text and give it a direction. Sometimes I might be looking for an image for something else but I will just know that It belongs to one of these posts. It is odd. Somehow this mix of text and images does something for me. I don’t work like this in any other area.

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Recently I signed up for Blogging 201, the WordPress Blogging University which is designed to focus and grow blogs. I had a few years of content and I was able to look back over it and see what it could tell me. The first thing I discovered was that I use this blog to explore information and to clarify my own thoughts. From this I began to have a look at my blogging goals. This is something I was wary of because it has operated very organically (which means that I have just done whatever I felt like doing). It turns out that my goal is to just explore whatever I fancy and have fun doing it. Identifying that allowed me to have a think about what sort of stuff (technical term for information) I wanted to look at. This gave me the bones of an editorial calendar for the future.

Looking at the sort of content that I had covered and the sort of issues that interested me in the future gave me a lens through which to look at the design of the blog. I had never given this any kind of real thought before. So I had a think about the intent of the blog and how the design matched it, or did not match it. Although the title of the blog had been Information Agent as long as I could remember, the original impetus for it was actually an information explorer. The theme I had originally on this blog did not reflect that at all though so I played around with the look until I got something I liked.

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I changed themes, had a look at more appropriate fonts and changed the background images. I  had not given any thought to categorising my blog posts and once I did this I decided to create widgets for them so they would match the overall look. As usual, I took images from Creative Commons in Flickr, transformed them with Gimp and gave them titles. I updated my about page. I even considered deleting my purpose page but after checking the stats for 2014, I realised that some people clicked on it. Digging around in the stats showed me other areas that I had never given any thought to such as the comments prompts, email and rss subscriptions. These had been set at default but there was no reason why they could not be adapted to suit the concept behind the blog. Basically, I tried to be more consistent with the visual consistency as this helps create trust for a reader. Along with enabling the related posts feature I also decided to create a new page where I could put my favourite old posts posts. This is my blog after all.

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The stats also showed me an interesting story.  In 2013 it was all about digital storytelling. In 2014 it was all about digital marketing. I wonder what 2015 will be about?

 

Organising Information

One of the reasons I got interested in Library Studies was because I wanted to find the correct way to organise information. In the old days, I worked as a tour manager. Keeping track of lots of different projects and timelines at once was my bread-and-butter. I did all of my work offline. I had master books, diaries, plans, maps, notebooks, folders, post-its and assorted filing cabinets. All tried and tested methods of organising information for quick retrieval.

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that I was working that way up until 2007. That is not to say that these methods were in any way inferior from their online counterparts. Far from it. I just find it amazing that things have changed so much in such a short time. I had heard of Excel and Email back then but they were for the deskbound rather than someone on the road. Being mobile in 2007 was quite different to today. However, I did know that change was coming and when I began to look at a career change, the organisation of digital information drew me in.

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

I was disappointed when I discovered that there is no right or wrong way to organise information. I learned this in my first Information Retrieval class in SILS when each group of us classified an article about The Beatles music while the other groups tried to retrieve it using what they thought were relevant search terms. As you can imagine, how people divide up their lives has a lot of bearing on how they assess information. This was the wonderful dance between context, relevance and aboutness that has kept search engines from becoming completely predictable.  There is no perfect way to organise information. At best, all I can hope for is an efficient method that at least I can understand. For me, consistency is the key.

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth from... by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

My own personal info-organising and retrieval behaviour is what Barreau and Nardi (1995) call location based browsing. I will not use in-built search unless I cannot find what I am looking for. Whether it is a physical library with stacks and shelves or a virtual folder and file system, I recognise where I am when I get there. While some might think that this is the old male “why-won’t-he-stop-and-ask-for-directions” cliche, browsing is different to map-reading. A lot of the time I find information because it is grouped with similar information. I like information to be organised so that I can see how it is connected. Visual hierarchies like Pearltrees and Symbaloo (which I have blogged about before here) are good examples of this. So too are library maps. I can jump into stacks or branches and browse pretty quickly to what I am looking for. Barreau & Nordu agreed that this was a common search behaviour among both new and experienced searchers. However, when it came to my Information Hunt projects in university,  I was told that locating medical books through synchronicity and gut feeling was not a dependable search strategy. I agree, but sometimes books just jump out at you.

Man searching for lost item in fountain from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

Search strategy from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

What I have found is that information organisation has to be practical and pragmatic.  My strategy for storing information is simply to pile it into hierarchies. This allows me to chunk my information and navigate in different directions (up-down or sideways) as I need. I have experimented with numerous different ways and means of organising my own files and folders and what works for me is that I organise according to use. In most of my information systems my first level folders are divided into current or archived.

I am a weekly cleaner-outer of files and I know the working week is really done when I sort my current folder. I like to archive at the end of every working week and then open up my current folder to get ready for each new week. I also tend to work on a lot of stuff that I don’t even know what it is going to turn into until it is done. This means that anything that is in my archived folder has usually got its aboutness as tied down as it is going to be. As a browser, having a folder where I can see everything that I am working on is my holy grail.

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

 

I divide my second level hierarchies by ownership as Boardman & Sasse (2004) suggest. Was the information created for business?  Is this my personal stuff (e..g. drafts, random thoughts, creations)? Does this belong to someone else (e.g. articles, downloads etc)? This is my main way of remembering information. Someone gave it to me or I made it or I made it for a very specific business purpose. Finally, I create another level of folders so that I can store files by file type. I tend to know if I am looking for an image or an excel sheet or a text page so this is how I like to have it laid out. I can mirror this structure across different web tools (Evernote. Google Drive etc) with very little adaption (apart from email which has different requirements because it is about personal communication and that can get a bit complex).

Here is a rough breakdown of the decision making process involved in classifying my information down as far as the first level.

information flow

Rough diagram

Sources

Barreau, D. & Nardi, B. (1995). Finding and reminding: file organization from the desktop. SIGCHI Bulletin, 27(3), 39-43.

Boardman, R. & Sasse, M.A. (2004). ‘Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out’: a cross-tool study of personal information management. CHI Letters, 6(1), 583-590.

Khoo, C., Luyt, B., Ee, C., Osman, J., Lim, H.H. & Yong, S. (2007). How users organize electronic files on their workstations in the office environment: a preliminary study of personal information organization behaviour. Information Research, 12(2), paper 293 [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-2/paper293.html]

 

 

Anonymity

When I was a teenager I predicted the importance of identity and anonymity to the internet. The Internet were a dark brooding guitar band from a small village in the middle of nowhere. Identity was a new wave solo artist that was influenced by David Bowie and 17th century Parisian fashion. Anonymity was a hip-hop duo that mixed voodoo beats with disconnected samples. They were imaginary bands that I created in the days P.I. (Pre-Internet) for my parallel Top 40 that I would dream up when I was bored (which as anyone from P.I. days will remember was a condition that happened quite a lot).

Image Credit - Flickr Nationaal Archief

Image Credit – Flickr
Nationaal Archief

 

The point I am trying to make is that I always had a flexible approach to identity. In English classes I wrote essays in a voice that did not sound like me at all. An authentic voice was something that creative artists constructed if they wanted to win the Nobel prize for literature. Dropping and mixing identity was something that I enjoyed doing. It was a form of play for me and I still use it as a lens to view the world, even if it is only in the naming of a blog as Information Agent. It gives me a freedom to say things that I might never explore. Some of us just prefer that sort of communication to the more instant face-to-face method.

This ability to create identity and set different levels of anonymity is part of what makes the internet such an interesting space. Few principles cause as much polarisation as privacy. If there will ever be a Cyber civil war, you can be sure that the flags of privacy and anonymity will be flapping about there in the middle of the conflict.  How people interpret and define the level of online anonymity that they are comfortable with seems to mark them out in much the same way as Nationalism did at the turn of the 20th century. Like Nationalism, people use it for setting boundaries and limits and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Image Credit - Flickr National Archives of Australia

Image Credit – Flickr
National Archives of Australia

Like myself,  I know plenty of students who came out of second level education without great social skills. Online collaboration allowed us to blossom.  Before I took to Twitter seriously I chanced my arm as an online neolithic stone mason in the Boyne Valley. This was a collaborative project with another archaeology student. At one level we wanted to explore what it was like to put ourselves in the shoes of a person from the past, but I think a lot of it was just messing around with online characters. I also had a Tumblr account that was curated by an Edwardian Gentleman Explorer.  Nor is it all about fun and games. I use anonymous forums when I need information that gets too close to my own personal boundaries.  They allow me to explore my own uncomfortability in a safe way.  In parts of the world where it can be hazardous to speak freely, online anonymity allows people to  fight censorship and spread word of human rights violations. Real life undercover agents (whether they are military or anti-criminal) are able to protect their anonymity to ensure that they cannot be tracked. All good stuff.

However, whenever there is a way of expressing yourself without impunity, there can be trouble. Online anonymity is perfect for attacking others. You can say what you want and not have to take responsibility for it. Just look at the comments section of online newspapers. There is something about this freedom which turns the guy next door into a troll who thrives on rising arguments to nuclear level. Researchers have found that online anonymity definitely effects how people comment online. Just last night my daughter received a scary message from an anonymous profile called “Chucky” on one of her game website profiles which was warning her not to go to sleep at night. Luckily we knew that this was her cousin trying to wind her up and she will receive a lecture in return when I get home from work.

Image Credit - Flickr

Image Credit – Flickr

People want their online privacy, for all kinds of reasons. I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with social media. Growing up in small towns makes you highly sensitive to other people knowing your business. It can feel like a sort of control. Some people don’t like the idea of commercial companies using their personal information. Some just want their privacy, not because they have anything to hide, but because they feel it is their right.  All it takes is for one group to figure out how to use your information against you and you are in trouble. This is what happened to the Dutch jews when the Germans arrived and found a perfectly good archive system in place which identified each person by religious persuasion. That was the end of their freedom.

When money is involved, there is just as much at stake. I trade my own personal information in return for access to Google’s index. I am willing to do that, but not everybody is. My online behaviour is measured and scrutinised as if I were a lab mouse. Apparently, companies can learn a lot by running a few mice through mazes a couple of million times a day in return for an information hit. All I know is that this somehow allows Ryanair to put up the price of a flight after I have researched it. In this case, my personal information is tracked and connected to personal identifiers and I lose out because of it.

Image Credit - Flickr Smithsonian Institute

Image Credit – Flickr
Smithsonian Institute

Some people have a healthy dislike of that sort of carry-on. When Janet Vertasi learned that she was pregnant, she did not want marketers targetting her with their products. This behaviour was considered so unusual that the NSA were alerted about her attempts to evade tracking. When I was studying Information in university, one of my fellow students felt so strongly about his personal privacy that he used TOR, the same channel that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden used to leak classified information.  This is a Virtual Private Network which was created by the military to help undercover agents and whistleblowers avoid capture. Although it is now funded by the EFF and it uses voluntary servers to encrypt identity instead of information, even this may not allow real anonymity. The NSA have already hacked TOR once and many of the sites on the dark web that it accesses are supposed to be honeypots for catching criminal and malicious activity.

Image Credit - Flickr National Media Museum

Image Credit – Flickr
National Media Museum

On the whole I give privacy and anonymity a bit of thought. I try to be conscious of what I share online. I grew up P.I. but my kids have a different experience. They have their own Youtube channels. I try to teach them that it is unusual to be permanently in front of an audience and that this can effect how they behave. It is a highly filtered (created, edited and amplified) experience and can be as unreal as an imaginary rock band. As someone once said on Twitter, anonymity is no longer a way to hide who you are, it is now a way to be who you are.

 

Notes

University of Houston. “Researcher finds anonymity makes a difference with online comments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. .

 

Information Pride

When I got off the bus for this years libcamp 2014 in July, the sun was shining and the Pride parade was about to kick off in the streets. This set the tone for my second unconference.
When I did my undergrad in Information Studies, it was impressed upon us from the start about the broad scope of being an Information Professional. One week we were learning about the science of information retrieval and the next we were discussing the psychology of colour design and typography. I returned to study with a vague notion of becoming a librarian and left university wondering what exactly a librarian was. These days I work in Digital Marketing where I spend a lot of time discussing/arguing with my manager about the principles that I learned as an information student. I don’t worry so much about what a librarian is anymore, but it was good to get back to talking about information access without worrying about how to sell stuff.

Lucky Elephant

Image Credit – National Library of Ireland
Flickr

Unlike irelibcamp2013, I got to roam around all the pitches so I got more of a flavour of them this time. For those who have not had the experience of an unconference yet, a pitch is a chance to kickstart a discussion about anything of interest. They are informal and I really enjoy them because I get to listen to concepts and experiences that are often quite different to my own and they keep me connected to librarianship. Unconferences are ideal for covering a lot of different subjects and they have a really nice energy as the food is crowdsourced, the networking is casual and the learning is continuous.

I got to listen to Betty Maguire explore the concepts of access and intellectual freedom through the use of copyright. Jen O’ Neill led a pitch about employment, job-hunting techniques and non-traditional roles which brought up the thorny subject of internships. Laura Rooney Ferris expanded on the non-traditional roles and professionalism by leading a discussion on embedded librarianship while Marta Bustillo from DRI used the concept of  collaboration as one possible solution to some of those problems. Philip Cohen from DIT asked why we should join the Library Association of Ireland and he received a flipboard full of post-its with different answers. Ann  O’ Sullivan and Erin O’ Mahoney got me thinking about what sort of filters and feeds that I use to organise information for retrieval and avoid overload.

Always on the outside, looking in

Always on the outside, looking in

The reason I was roaming was because I was going to do a pitch myself about social media. There is a lot of fear and confusion around social media use out there. Some of it is warranted but a lot of it is unnecessary. I have seen social media guides and policies that are so rigid and dogmatic that they strike fear into the hearts of interns and send CEOs looking for lawyers. A lot of that confusion can be cleared up by putting people in a room and letting them knock heads together. I think that I learned more than anyone else there from actually doing this pitch and from conversations with people during the libcamp who shared their own experiences with me. That is what I really like about unconferences.

Cast in a Koreshan Unity play in Estero, Florida

Information Professionals with a unified and consistent voice
Image Credit – Florida Memory/Flickr

 

For my pitch I split the participants into groups, gave them a random institution and got them working together on language, tone, ethos and character.  This allowed them to generate a “textual moodboard” (thanks to a participant who coined that phrase for me) that they could all buy into and take ownership of. Then I asked them to create a positive interaction on an appropriate social platform and a response to a negative interaction. Ideally this should be done for every platform that a company or institution uses and it should be used as a guide for every new employee that logs on for your company or institution.

Four boys riding goats, ca. 1918

Social media can feel strange at first, but you will soon get the hang of it
Image Credit – State Library Queensland/Flickr


I was happy that each group managed to achieve their objective and I particularly enjoyed the personas that they created for their institutions (A grown-up Matilda for the National Library of Ireland, The Gruffalo for Macnas and Edward Snowden for Open Knowledge Ireland were a few of my favourites), but to be honest, I knew that they would be well able for the challenge.
Looking forward to Libcamp15!

Wait..what? Everything I know about digital marketing I learned in theatre?

I have been immersing myself in digital marketing lately (mostly content creation for social media, blogs, email newsletters, and web pages). When I get into it, I really get into it. So much so that I have noticed that when I get interrupted writing, my reaction is very much like my son when I tell him to pause his Playstation game to eat his dinner. It is what I call the “Wait..What?” response.  When it happens, I usually just need to ask a few simple questions, get a few basic answers and then I immerse myself in the new topic. However, it did get me thinking about my reaction.

Do Not Interrupt Image Credit - Flickr: SDASM Archives Creative Commons

Do Not Interrupt
Image Credit – Flickr: SDASM Archives
Creative Commons

I used to watch actors work every day in a previous career. They would come into a rehearsal room all self-conscious and awkward, and then proceed to strip away all their assumptions until they could inhabit a character. It usually took them a few weeks to do this but when it was done, once the actor went on stage you could not see where they ended and the new character began.
Digital Marketing is similar. We work with brands, and what are they but the human personification of organisations? We work with characters, or personas. Like actors, we have to figure out what motivates them. What is their purpose in each different situation? When digital works well, it feels natural and authentic. The language is a natural fit. We trust what it shows us, even though deep down we know that it is fleeting and created.

actor on stage

What is his motivation?
Image Credit – Flickr: State Library Queensland
Creative Commons

The Digital World is actually a lot like theatre. They both create virtual spaces where the normal rules do not apply. They are both dependent on technical folk who never see the light of day until the project is done or the coffee runs out. Theatre has sets and lights to create the space. The Digital World has wireframes and pixels. Theatre has that constant tension between art and bums on seats. We are torn between design and traffic. They make connections. We make links.

stage door

Image Credit – Flickr: State Library of New South Wales
Creative Commons

Like all good theatre shows, digital is very rarely the result of just one person. It needs a lot of input and collaboration. How other people see the character is important. Decisions about emphasis are crucial. There is nothing worse than a brand that forgets its passion and just starts selling. It is forced and wooden and amateurish. During the rehearsal process, actors have to put the characters on the floor. They take them off the page and get them moving about, trying different things. There is a culture of trying and experimenting and failing harder that creates the magic in theatre. They use the rehearsal room because they understand that allowing people to show vulnerability creates something stronger.

motion picture scene

Image Credit – Flickr: Florida Memory
Creative Commons

Something similar happens on the digital stage. The best companies break the rules. As a Twitter friend of mine said recently, there is no template for a spark. There might not be, but we can create conditions where the spark has a good chance of catching fire. Apply pressure. Add friction or conflict. Ensure there is plenty of oxygen. Then drag your material across the same surface repeatedly and see what happens. It works for me.

shakespeare - growth hacker
In the meantime, I have a newsletter to write.

Telepathic Technology

When I was growing up I was a big fan of science fiction. A lot of the books that I read had some sort of flying car as standard. By the year 2000, we were supposed to have flying cars everywhere. Instead we got a computer bug which never happened and really small phones.
calvin

The other technology which featured in the books I read was something that nobody expected but which has appeared as a tech trend this year – telepathic technology. We already have technology that can track changes in human physiological systems and respond in ways that change behaviour. Wearable technologies and the monitoring of personal data (transactional, physiological, behavioural or emotional) already allows for that feedback.
Monitoring technologies are not new. Since about 1200AD we have been using crystals that were set in bone or leather frames to enhance what we focus our attention on. We use clockwork and digital mechanisms to measure the passing of time. Today we have Nike sportsbands, Pebble watches, Google Glass and the rumoured Apple smartwatch is supposed to be on the way. All of these technologies are designed to monitor the personal data which arises out of our activities and to use that to feed back into more relevant content.
The big leap has been in feedback technology. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows us to see what is going on in our brains by measuring the blood flow. It is now used by courts in America as a way of detecting if someone is telling the truth or not. Electroencelography (EEG) taps into the electrical resistivity of our scalps. Combine the two of these and you have telepathic technology. Last year, two researchers divided by the Atlantic but linked by EEG caps managed to use thought to communicate. There was no external signal that was sent by one and acted upon by the other. This was an internal thought from one brain to another which caused an involuntary physical action to occur. One guy imagined pressing a button while the other guy felt his finger move downward in a button pressing motion.

eeg cap

Anything related to the human mind and psychology will be of interest to those in a number of different fields, most noticeably affective computing (Techtarget, 2013), HCI, medical health and the military. DARPA are currently prototyping an early warning telepathic system to ease the strain on soldiers by using radar and camera technology to detect danger on the horizon. In the past this would often miss possible threats but the combination of an EEG helmet is returning a 100% success rate because it utilises the inbuilt mechanisms of the brain while also ensuring that the soldier remains alert and calm (Darpa, 2012). Stress reduction is an area where telepathic technologies are already being used. New headbands like Muse and Emotiv train the brain and relax the user. By linking to an app, the user is connected to audio content of a storm and by calming the mind, the wind will die down in their ears (The Spec, 2014).
MIT have developed telepathic technology for addicts and sufferers of PSTD which incorporates wearable technology that recognises crisis moments and intervenes with appropriate digital content and social networking messages designed to calm the patient (MIT, 2013). Autism researchers are also utilising it to help children make connections and communicate in different ways.
While telepathic technologies are expensive at present, they are starting to come down in price. Toy manufacturers were quick to use them for gaming. MIT have developed a gesture guitar which allows musicians to manipulate sounds. There are also audio headsets that plays music that mirrors the mood it is reading from your brain. Game manufacturers are creating brain wave games. Mattel have a mind powered ball game called Mindflex which moves a foam ball along a path by concentrating. There is also a “Force” trainer which used the mind the turn a fan which floats another foam ball in the air.
Retail were quick to see the benefits of monitoring emotional reactions to products and layout. They can see what users like, how they react to choice, when they get overwhelmed and when they respond with wonder. This helps create more engaging experiences for the customer.
keannu

The combination of personal data from the user combined with targeted products has already allowed designers to create highly personalised experiences such as mind controlled cars or the ability to change digital objects which reflect the user. Perhaps the biggest impact will be on people rather than products. Our ideas of access, privacy and surveillance are changing as it is. What happens when communication is done through thought? What will we do with all this hardware we carry around in our pockets? Will it become obsolete? Will our children look back and laugh at the thought of when we used to stop what we were doing, pull out a cumbersome old fashioned smart phone and start to tap and swipe at it like a woodpecker. With this sort of technology they should be able to bypass all that hardware. Will telepathic technology turn us all into our own computers? Why bother with pesky design software? Why not just imagine what you want and then print it through your 3D printer? The potential future uses of telepathic technology are limitless.

More reading

JWT Intelligence accessed http://www.jwtintelligence.com/2014/03/10-overriding-themes-sxswi-2014/#axzz2wvQ62ehm March 25 2014
The Spec accessed http://www.thespec.com/living-story/4422069-muse-headband-may-help-you-relax/ March 25 2014
Techtarget accessed http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/affective-computing March 25 2014
MIT accessed http://affect.media.mit.edu/projects.php March 25 2014
Darpa accessed http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/09/18.aspx March 25 2014