Irony of the Information Age

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We have instant access to so much information. Instead of making us more knowledgeable and informed, it can often have the opposite effect. There’s too much available, and too many things of dubious quality. And it’s too easy for false information to go “viral” polluting news streams in a matter of seconds.

It’s easier than ever to access information about anything, but harder to trust the quality of the sources, or to figure out what’s relevant. Searching Google with just a few words, for example, often yields millions of results, more than anyone could possibly go through. And yet, most people will never go past the first page, relying on the advertisements and top 10 hits to find what they need.

We’re inundated with snazzy headlines, cool things to read, entertaining videos, all vying for a few seconds of our attention. The value of the information is often questionable, but that doesn’t deter us from watching, reading, and sharing these items of interest. We can now learn from our peers as well as reputable experts in a given field, making it that much harder to know who to trust.

I often read peer reviews when I’m thinking about purchasing something new, or trying a new restaurant to get a general sense of the item’s worthiness. However, even with peer reviews, I’m always evaluating the quality of the review and ratings to ascertain if a product is really a bad product, or if maybe a particular individual just couldn’t figure out how to use it thus resulting in a low rating.

Listicles are popular reading for many people.The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a listicle as “an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list” (source). They are often seen as a good way to ingest a few golden nuggets of quality information. If you’re like me and don’t have time to read dozens of articles about something, a listicle provides highlights in an easy to read, digestible format. However, I can never be sure how many items were looked at to produce the listicle, what criteria was used or how extensive the search process was. Unless I’m reading listicles from a reputable source, I’m always curious to know what didn’t make the list, and why it was eliminated.

We live in the information age, but if the quality declines as the quantity increases, is that a benefit for us?

 

 

 

Under Construction

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Few things feel as disruptive in the home as going through renovations. Space must be made. Things are moved around, piled up, bagged, or stacked, sometimes for an extended period of time. All while I’m trying to get through my day-to-day life.

Earlier this year, my building decided to replace the windows on all of the units. Ever since I found frost on the inside of my bedroom window my first winter here, I’ve been an advocate for the window replacement project. However, it’s challenging to keep up the enthusiasm when the actual work is being performed. For each window installation, 5 feet of space has to be cleared in front of the window. And it has to stay that way for days, sometimes weeks, until all the work is finished. Furniture is piled up away from the windows and covered with drop cloths. And no curtains.

In order to keep my sanity throughout the process, I rely on a few things I learned from moving. The first trick is to adjust (i.e., temporarily suspend) my expectations and standards. I have to get used to looking at stuff piled up and remind myself it’s temporary.

Another adaptation is planning extra time for routine tasks, some of which may take longer because everything is displaced. For example, my designated practice area was consumed by stuff relocated temporarily from the living room. Consequently, I now have to move things around to recreate a suitable space, and take it down when I’m finished. Cleaning also takes longer, and it needs to be performed daily during the construction period. So much dust!

Now that I know the construction will go on for longer than anticipated, because something always comes up, I work that into the plan too. When I move everything, I make sure to keep things I may need easily accessible. And I designate special places for critical items such as keys, phones, wallet, chargers, etc.

One of the most important things for me has been to maintain one space that I can use for an oasis when it feels crazy. This time around, I’ve been able to keep my bedroom clean and clear.

If I ever get renos done in the future, I’ll be adding money to the budget to stay somewhere else for the duration of the work.

Cyber Sales

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Around this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the fever of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales. Along with these two highly publicized annual events come some other aspects of the season that remain behind the scenes. In addition to being inundated with Black Friday/ Cyber Monday Sales [enter shop here], I also can’t help but think about price discrimination, targeted advertising, and customized sales & advertisements.

By now, I’m sure most people who use the internet and mobile devices have some idea that their actions are being tracked and monitored. Whenever this topic comes up in conversation, I’m always surprised at how many people shrug their shoulders and say, I’ve got nothing to hide. What are they going to find? Whether this is true or not, does it make it ok for companies to learn that much about us? To collect data every time we go somewhere or buy something to analyze our habits? To scan our interactions on social media and in email for keywords?

I’ve blogged about these issues before (here and here), but every year it seems that the apps and services get even better at tracking my movements. While I don’t have anything to “hide”, I do have something to protect. And therein lies the difference in the subtle shifts happening to us regarding how we interact with and perceive all these services. The tendency is to perceive tracking/monitoring as a way to catch illegal, criminal, or shady activities. And while this is one reason for tracking and monitoring, it’s also a way for companies to learn more about us. Once armed with this information, companies are then perfectly poised to exploit our vulnerabilities and target us with exactly the right formula to get us to spend money. They learn our spending tolerance (i.e., how much are we willing to spend for…) and then adjust the costs based on our individual price points (also known as “price discrimination”).

Many people enjoy getting customized coupons or advertisements exactly for the products (services) they want to acquire. And in some cases, it can be really useful if you’re waiting for a sale to purchase a particular item, for example. However, I can’t trust the “sale” price I’m seeing, even if it’s at my desired price point.

Convenience always comes with a compromise on control, and it’s important to consider who’s controlling what these days.

 

Put a Date on it!

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One of my biggest peeves is when information/documents/records don’t have a date. Dates can be incredibly useful on things such as cards (birthdays, events, holiday), notes, to-do lists, documents (paper and electronic), event posters, and notifications. When dealing with web content, the date is critical for information. How else will I know if what I’m looking at is relevant and timely?

My job often requires me to analyze documents and records retroactively. I encounter both printed and electronic documents without dates. Without a date, sometimes it’s really challenging to evaluate the validity of the information. The computer will automatically provide a create or a last-modify date, but many times this date can’t be trusted if documents (photos) were migrated (moved) from one machine, or system, to another one.  Often when this happens, the migration date becomes the “create” date making it almost impossible to know when the document was originally created. Unless somebody put the date on the actual document.

Why is this important?

A date is a quick way to provide context to content. It helps to create a timeline of what happened when. It’s invaluable for assessing if something is truly outdated, or if it still has some value. Or for identifying the most current version of something.

I’ve started adding the year to event promotions. The event date is usually for something happening in the near future, so the year isn’t necessary.  However, I find adding in the year makes it useful later, when I’m looking back to see what was done previously. For example, I run a workshop called “Tax Talks” every spring for small business owners. I find it helpful to have the month, day, and year on the promotionals so I can compare one year to the next.

When I cleaned out my childhood bedroom I went through boxes of old artwork. Since my artistic skills never progressed past a 2nd-grade level, I found it difficult to figure out what I made at a given age. Now I tell all my friends who have children to write a month/year on the back of the artwork. It seems insignificant now, but will provide valuable information later on.

Adding the date is easy, the hard part is making it a habit. I still forget sometimes, but I usually remember to write the date on everything, even post-it notes, to continually reinforce the habit.

 

Wearing Out the Wardrobe

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About a year ago, I had to move the bar in my closet. I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to try an experiment with my clothes and to see which ones were being worn. I can’t remember where I learned about the trick, but essentially you hang all the clothes in your closet with the hangers facing the opposite way. Every time you wear something, you flip the hanger around. At the end of a set time period, you review the hangers to see which pieces have never been worn.

Since I keep clothing for all four seasons in my closet, I let the experiment run for a full year. I started in September 2016. Throughout the year I occasionally went through the items to see which ones hadn’t been used yet. Every few months I donated a piece I knew I would never wear again, usually after buying a new garment.

This past weekend I finally took the time to go through each piece of clothing. I noticed a few items to donate. Many of the other pieces I hadn’t worn had a perfectly valid reason. Was I really going to give away my jungle print party dress with red trim just because we had a cold, rainy miserable summer? Or my crisp, white button-down shirt simply due to a casual summer dress code?

As for the other items that hadn’t been worn, but that I still like, I’m going to make an effort to wear them this year. Clothes require more than a 1-year cycle for me. Sometimes I have a “fat” year, or a “thin” year when certain items fit better. Or a particular style is back in fashion.

The only down side to having so many clothes is the time spent deciding what to wear. Usually it’s pretty easy, but there are mornings when I change my outfit several times before settling on one. I know it slows me down. On mornings like these, I can never tell if I would be better off with less options. Less choices means less decisions to be made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be faster.

Going forward I’ve decided to donate what I know I won’t wear again and make a point to wear pieces that have been neglected for no good reason. And I’ll continue the annual review.

 

Technombie 5

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When we last left Gillian Bean, her lifeless form was rolling towards a viscous slurry of primordial bacteria, jellyfish, and brightly colored plastics. Read about it here.

Hanna adjusted her night vision scope. Even the pale green light of her goggles wasn’t enough for her imagination to transform the slimy ooze into an ocean. And it did nothing to eliminate the stench. But still, she was here on a rescue mission and had to remain focused.

She crested a sand dune following the coordinates to the last place Gillian Bean’s feed had emitted a signal. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a flash of human flesh, a calf and part of a foot to be exact. One blink later, the limb had been obscured by thousands of gelatinous tentacles, sliding over the flesh, sinking it even deeper into the goo.

Dang. Hanna cursed silently. She looked away. Rescue was out.

She brought her forearm to her mouth and shook it once.

“Hanna, here,” she said.

“Speak,” a gruff voice barked back, amplified through her skin.

“She’s gone. I watched the last of her disappear into the ocean. No sign of the feed. Over.”

“Why didn’t you pull her out? Over,” the voice replied in a critical tone.

Double dang, thought Hanna. She had to carefully control every reaction now, even physiological ones so they wouldn’t be broadcast through her feed. Truthfully, she hadn’t wanted to wrestle Bean’s body from the sludge of faceless, invertebrate organisms.

This was her first “rescue” mission. The training had been extensive, but now confronted with reality, she was unclear what exactly was supposed to have happened. Surely Bean’s body would have been…something…

“I was too far away. It was by chance I even saw that much of her before she was gone.” Even as she said the words, Hanna knew she should have made more of an effort, or at least made some effort, instead of watching in petrified horror.

“Is that so? Interesting thing, #0076382,” the voice replied, referring to Hanna by her rank number. “Your feed is projecting a rise in body temperature and an accelerated heartbeat. It’s not a hot night. Over.”

“Check. I was moving fast to get here. Moving to phase 2 of the mission. I’ll check in from Bean’s residence,” Hanna replied quickly, hoping that would be enough to end the conversation.

“OK #0076382. We’ll be waiting. Over and out.” The transmission went dead. She took a deep, shaky breath, and started to follow the coordinates towards Bean’s home.

 

**Read previous segments of the story here:

Technombie

In the Mayor’s Chambers

Jellyfish