Disconnect to Connect

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How ironic that we now need to “disconnect” to “connect.”  By disconnect, I mean disengaging ourselves from the addictive hold of our devices and social media feeds. When social media started to become a “thing” about 10 years ago, I think it was largely seen as a way for people to bond and form meaningful connections across time zones and varying interests. Social media offered us ways to communicate with loved ones and link with others who shared our interests.

At brunch recently I was shocked to see a child wearing headphones and watching a tablet in a restaurant at a table of adults. The kid remained quiet mesmerized by the screen and the adults had their social time. But at the same time, something was missing. The child lost out on the chance to connect with others, to observe the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication, and to learn basic manners about interacting socially.

Recently Facebook (FB) announced that the news feeds on an individual’s account will now focus on content from friends and family. Facebook wants its users to spend time on the site to create “meaningful interactions” with loved ones, rather than being inundated with advertisements and auto-playing videos. (Read more about it here.) My first thought was if FB really wanted to create more meaningful experiences for its users, why doesn’t it encourage users to have face-to-face interactions with friends and family?

Instead, FB decided to modify its algorithms to prioritize content from friends and family. And here is where more problems started to develop for me. If you’ve read any of my past posts on Facebook, you’ll know I’m neither a big fan, nor a big consumer. I was curious about the changes and read about them on the FB site directly. Although the news feed will emphasize posts from friends and family, it also focuses on those that receive the most attention or generate activity. So essentially the friends/family that know how to get the most results will rise to the top of the news feed, or maybe appear there more than once.

How does popularity equate to meaningful? Many of my most significant experiences are from being intimate and vulnerable in a private “disconnected” setting, not with something displayed for anyone’s comments.

And what is a Facebook friend? I know who my friends are in real life, but on social media it’s a different thing.



All the President’s Tweets

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When President Trump first started using Twitter to broadcast messages, it generated a lot of discussion about the content. People (e.g., citizens and journalists) wondered if they should take these 140-character messages so seriously. And then they wondered if they could afford not to take them seriously. After all, the tweets were  coming from the President directly, or from someone in his office to whom he delegated the task.

Over a year into his presidency, Trump still relies on Twitter to broadcast messages and communicate. As a publicly-elected official, if Trump decides to use social media to disseminate messages it’s as valid a method as anything else like web content, public speaking, press conferences, articles, interviews, memos, etc. However, where it gets sticky, at least from a records and information management (RIM) perspective, is how Trump specifically uses Twitter.

From a RIM perspective, using Twitter, or any form of social media to broadcast messages and communicate can be valid for any government. What causes the problems are Trump’s lack of regard for content and failure to follow any sort of process to publish messages. Messages coming from the government should be trustworthy, authentic, verifiable, and proofread! They should go through a routine process to ensure content is accurate, valid, and acceptable. Trump misspelled the word “honered” in one of his first tweets as President. This should have never happened.

Also problematic is Trump’s usage of two separate Twitter handles, a personal one and a government one, to post messages. He blasts out tweets as both @realdonaldtrump and @potus (President of the United States). As President, he should only be using his @potus account for official communications. His @realdonaldtrump account should be reserved for messaging when he is not acting in the role of president, which isn’t really possible for someone in such a high position. So if Trump’s going to continue to use Twitter, he should only do so as the President and not as himself. However, this doesn’t seem possible for him leading to all kinds of confusion about whether or not we should take the tweets seriously, and if so, which ones.  The ones he writes as the “President” or the ones he writes as “Donald Trump.” The answer, because of who he is and how he uses Twitter, is both.

Now that tweets can be 280-characters, perhaps we should be taking Trump’s tweets twice as seriously.

The Bane of the Backspace Button

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I learned how to touch type over 25 years ago. I type fast, but I’ve developed a terrible habit of hitting backspace while I’m typing to correct mistakes on the go.  Rather than typing continuously and fixing mistakes later, I interrupt my flow to backspace and correct. It’s worked into the rhythm of my typing. Even while typing this paragraph, I’ve hit the backspace several times to correct a few tiny things!

Many computer apps now autocorrect spelling while we are typing, but even that hasn’t done anything to deter my habit. I can tell I’m not the only one who does this. If you ever listen to other people type, you can distinctly hear the percussive click and break in one’s typing rhythm as they hit the backspace, rather than move ahead and fix mistakes later.

It’s puzzling how I developed this deeply ingrained habit. Even my awareness does little to deter me from backspacing to correct. It slows me down. Sometimes the disruption to my flow causes me to lose thoughts mid-sentence and I still keep doing it. Why?  Why is the impulse to immediately correct a mistake so strong?

I’ve been playing music for 30+ years. When learning to sight read music, I remember how hard it was to break the habit of going back to correct mistakes. Sight reading is a skill many musicians develop that enables us to play music we’ve never seen before and that we may, or may not, have heard before. We read music on the page similar to how we might read words on a page.

In the beginning, it was hard for me to sight read music without stopping and/or going back to fix mistakes and replay a passage where I had missed a note or played a rhythm incorrectly. With practice, I learned to keep moving forward and leave mistakes behind, mostly because I was sight reading in a group. If I went back to correct mistakes, I would get lost and mess up everybody else.

The most important thing with sight reading is to keep up with the other musicians, even if it means playing the wrong thing at the right time. I can always fix things on a subsequent reading, or not, and that’s okay too.

Why is it so hard for me to break this habit when I type? Maybe it’s because typing is done in solitude.


Running Free

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One day in the locker room, after a particularly rigorous aquafit class, my friend and I were chatting with one of the other participants. The woman was in her 80’s and enjoyed her weekly deep-water aquafit. When doing aquafit in the deep end, participants wear a flotation device around their waists to keep them afloat while they do the exercises under the water.

I love aquafit for many reasons, but it was inspiring for me to hear this woman’s story. She told us how she used to love running when she was younger, something that she was no longer able to do on land because of various physical limitations. Supported by the water (and the flotation device) she could run! Her eyes lit up as she described the feeling of the movements, the ease with which her body could move, and the fluidity of her legs churning underwater. She was able to recreate the sensation of running in the water.

It resonated with me strongly as I often feel seal-like going through my day-to-day activities. Awkward and ungainly on land, a graceless hump moving through space (ok, slight exaggeration). But in the water, I can swirl and glide, moving unimpeded and freely. The water supports me, enabling me to move in new and wonderful ways. My arms become powerful pinwheels propelling me through the water. I feel the strength of my legs powering me ahead. Or I can float peacefully, drifting quietly with no particular direction in mind.

Technically this is a sea lion and not a seal, but the sentiment is the same.

I was inspired by this octogenarian’s spirit and creativity.  Her resilience and adaptability to recreate the sensations she craved and the things she loved.

It’s an amazing thing when we allow ourselves to run free of our own limitations and constraints. To move past the pressures and restrictions we so often place on ourselves. And if we let our imaginations go with it, we can be transformed, maybe even into one of these magical, graceful aquatic animals, at least for a brief period of time.

Feeding dolphins. They swim fast when they’re hungry.

Sea turtle resting.

Testing Testimonials

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Last month I watched a news story about an investigation performed by CBC to discover the identity of a “serial” testimonial giver. According to the story (article here), one woman had been hired by dozens of companies to give glowing video testimonials for various products and services. In each video, the woman portrayed a different character to fit the product or service being promoted (e.g., a financial advisor, a licensed dietician, teacher, etc.).

I often look at peer reviews to get a sense of how good a product, service, place, or restaurant might be. Even when reading peer reviews, I’m thinking about how to evaluate the quality of the reviewer. As I wrote about earlier (in Irony of the Information Age), when reading a bad review, sometimes it’s hard to tell if the product was inferior, or if the person simply had trouble using it.

When I read reviews, I look at a mix of ratings, often balancing out my selection with a few from the middle (4/5 stars or 2/5 stars). Somehow I feel like some of these have a better chance of being genuine. However, after listening to this news story, I’m definitely going to be even more discerning when reading (or watching) online reviews. I always knew that companies hired people to give positive testimonials, but it didn’t stop me from reading them. It just meant that peer reviews could only be one part of the selection process.

It’s unfortunate that so many peer reviews are disingenuous because it’s one aspect of the selection process that can be the most helpful. Often when I search online for help with something technical, I prefer to get it from peers instead of the vendor because my peers will use the product like I do and therefore have more targeted solutions. A company can’t always anticipate how someone will decide to use their product. For that reason, I prefer to read/watch peer tutorials, because they’re (often) not financially motivated.

Even before the internet and social media existed, how often would you call a friend for a review or recommendation of something? And how likely were you to trust that person’s testimony?

The internet is supposed to be this amazing space where anybody can have their voice heard, but what about when those voices are paid, or endorsed, and we don’t know that? Who are we supposed to trust?

Party Line

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The other night I was calling a friend through WhatsApp (a popular messaging app), when another call came through on the actual phone. I rarely use my smartphone for actual phone conversations so it was new for me to have more than one call come through on different platforms. The call was still ringing on WhatsApp when I answered my phone without knowing what would happen. (Turns out the WhatsApp call disconnected when I accepted the incoming call.)

Later that evening, I was using Google Hangouts to chat with a friend (yet another messaging service I use) when another call came through on the phone. I accepted the phone call, again without knowing what would happen to the Hangout call. I kept my phone conversation brief and generic, imagining that my friend on Hangout was able to quietly listen to everything. It reminded me of a time before smartphones and call waiting. I’m not old enough to have experienced “party lines” (shared phone lines from decades ago), but I do remember when call waiting first became a thing and how many calls were accidentally merged instead of being switched seamlessly from one to the other.

When I’m talking on the phone and another call comes through, I have three options:

  1. accept the new call and disconnect the existing one;
  2. accept the new call and put the existing one on hold; or
  3. accept the new call and merge it with the existing one.

However, when calls are coming through on different apps, these options are not offered so I’m not sure what is supposed to happen.

When I answered the phone while on Hangout, the Hangout call was put on hold and my friend couldn’t hear anything. However, when I switched back, I couldn’t tell she was on hold and tried to call again through Hangout. Eventually we reconnected, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been if both calls had been on the same service.

Using different messaging apps (WhatsApp, Hangout, etc.) has been great for keeping in touch with friends who live in other countries because calls are free. And many of the apps also support video calling. However, it does get confusing trying to keep track of all the calls, or to remember who to contact through which app.

Remember when phones used to just be for calling people?