Loading up on all things digital

On the same day that I read about a strangely prolific Digital Hoarder, I also read that Facebook contains 4% of all photos ever taken in history.  I suspect the two are related items.

The hoarder has found she cannot delete things from her digital life. She’s immobile, arrested, overwhelmed, and time-challenged because she can’t get around to tackling her growing collection of emails, photos, videos, and voice mails.  More than half of these things she hasn’t even viewed, opened, or listened to.  We’re not talking about small numbers here.  She has over 112,000 emails in her inbox, of which 91,000 are unread.  Yikes!  They say email is a dying communication medium and this is an example of how that is happening… by reverse suffocation.  People don’t bother and the medium becomes increasingly irrelevant to their lives (although who knows what the senders of all those unread emails think).

It’s incredible too that Facebook is rapidly becoming THE repository for photos.  I used to work with an executive assistant who utilized FB’s platform so much, it would not surprise me to learn she’s responsible for 2 of those 4%.

I don’t know what to think of this behavior, of letting things digitally pile up.  I can’t say it’s bad or good or something in between.  Who knows?  Obviously, the digital storage people aren’t worried about it.  It does make me wonder though about one thing.  What happens when someone emails a friend and gets no response because the friend never reads it?   Do they follow that up with a phone call and leave a message?  At what point do people move on from people who can’t or won’t manage their communication media?

Social media explosion

For the doubters of our world, it may be time for you to drop your last defenses and adopt a new way of interacting with the world around you.  As the pony express gave way to mail, and the telegraph gave way to the telephone, society has shifted the way it operates and has embraced social media (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).  See this report from the Pew Research Center.  It’s the latest of their annual surveys of social media adoption in America and it shows that 65% of online adults use social media.  There are lots of other interesting statistics in the downloadable report, in particular how women have embraced it to an even higher degree than men. But the most astounding stat of all, to me, was how the growth exploded in the last six years, going from 5% of online adults to today’s 65%,

I draw a very simple conclusion from this. The world is remarkably connected and while social media can be credited with exponentially extending it, it can’t take credit as the trigger.  It’s human nature to want to interact with others.  Social media are simply the enablers on a grand scale. 

Social media and the occasional need to unplug

I unplugged last week, went north with my wife to our cabin in the woods near Parry Sound.  We brought our two nieces with us for a week of peace in the pure air and sunshine of cottage country, accompanied by the call of loons during the day and wolves at night howling at the crescent moon.  Without electricity, life completely slows to the pace of a moment. It’s de rigueur to say we should “live in the moment” but as we all know, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Being away though at a place where electricity is sparingly used for lights (because I installed only a small solar power system) and water is collected as it falls from the sky, a person can’t help but be mindful of how he goes about living the day.  It’s very therapeutic.  Too bad our decision-makers can’t bring themselves to completely unplug and go away for awhile.  It makes you wonder that if they did, whether we would still have the real and manufactured crises we have.

It’s only slightly related but I read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal called, Social networks can’t replace socializing, in which the author, Jonah Lehrer, argues that we should treat skeptically the notion that social networks can effectively imitate face to face conversations.  I agree. I’m a fairly active user of social media but I don’t ever consider it as enjoyable as having conversation with friends over dinner, for example.  There’s no way technology can master or adequately represent the nuances of human facial expression or voice intonation, let alone the shared experience of consuming food and wine.  Mr. Lehrer goes on to cite other predictions of the past where communication technology was inevitably going to make obsolete the need for face to face communication.  The predictions seem absurd now and so will the latest one that Facebook and Google + will eventually replace the need for people to physically meet.

Why are these ideas related?  Because, in the end, humans need to unplug at times, whether it’s by removing themselves to a remote cabin in the woods or by calling friends over for beer and BBQ ribs on the back deck.  There’s no way social media can replicate these things and as Jonah Lehrer says, “…  the winner of the social network wars won’t be the network that feels the most realistic. Instead of being a substitute for old-fashioned socializing, this network will focus on becoming a better supplement, amplifying the advantages of talking in person.”

The perils of only one reading

Much has been made of the perils of Twittering without thinking.  Examples abound of those who typed glibly and then suffered the wrath of hundreds, thousands, millions of people.  Although probably still too early to determine, recent inappropriate and insensitive tweets by Kenneth Cole posed an almost instant threat to his clothing empire.  And over this last week we had Nir Rosen destroying his entire career by typing and sending before he gave a second thought. 

This is why I believe each social media tool has its special purpose and since we live in unforgiving times, a mistake in usage can be costly in many ways.  Rosen lost his job, Cole probably lost a lot of money, but what we don’t know is how their hugely spread messages affected others.  We can guess but we will never know.

Facebook , LinkedIn, other similar sites are clearly successful at connecting people, even people who had no idea they could benefit from such connections. The trouble comes, of course, when that innocence of friending is abused.  Twitter is good when it is used to push concise thoughts that are, if measured and rated by individuals unknown to the sender, considered useful or even valuable.  Used in any other way, Twitter becomes nothing but noise, a swarm of gnats, mostly, but not always, harmless and annoying. And despite reports that blogging popularity is fading, I still feel it’s the wisest and smartest way to communicate your message on the Internet. Time for consideration is wise, there is no need to rush to be first, there is no winning in that. Give your words a first, second, and third reading. Then read them again and ask two questions:

  1. Does this make sense?
  2. Will the reader see any value at all in this string of words?

Turning down the noise

It’s graphically appealing, textually thin, smartly formatted, and very interesting.  It’s a report called The Social Break-up and it was published this week by ExactTarget.  I got the heads-up from Krista Napier’s blog (link to her blog can be found just to the right on this page under Blogroll) so I can’t say I discovered the report on my own.  Nevertheless, I can add some color by saying I think the survey findings are spot on.  It’s good to see some data to support my view that corporations so easily risk tipping over their fan base’s tolerance for information when they email (directly or through Facebook), blog, and tweet too much.  More specifically, they erode the interest of people who were once engaged but who become jaded and irritated when companies communicate in too impersonal a way, too often, and about things that are rather inconsequential. Check it out. Its message should really be a strong word of caution to those who fail to understand that Internet-connected users are no different from the users of any other form of technology.  They want information that is interesting, preferably targeted to them as individuals, and respectful of their time (i.e. don’t fill my letter box at home with flyers, don’t waste my precious time by calling me on the phone at dinnertime, and don’t email me about the same topic you emailed me about yesterday or last week).

How will they order milk?

I recall attending an IBM conference in 2001 where the keynote speaker was that company’s head of data management software at the time, General Manager Janet Perna.  The focus of her presentation was IPv6 and a world of complete connectivity, as well as digitization of the printed word.  She was showcasing IBM’s DB2 database potential and capabilities and she envisioned a time when all printed word in the world would be digitized.  It was quite a futuristic portrait she painted and it’s remarkable to look back at just the last few years to see that the predictions she and others advanced have come true.  Look at what Google, Amazon, and others have accomplished in capturing what’s been written and stored in libraries the world over.  

However, one thing she detailed has taken much longer to unfold and that is the roll-out of IPv6.  While it’s been a demonstrated and proven technology advancement for about the last 3 years, and equipment and software manufacturers have been working hard in preparation for the day IPv6 becomes the defacto standard, we’ve yet to see enough production adoption to put to bed the fear that the Internet is running out of addresses.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal article found at that link mentions that 99% of Facebook users do not have IPv6 connectivity (meaning, the network they use through their providers is not compatible).  I realize this is not new information for some, maybe even a lot, of you folks, especially those who deal with network administration.  But, for the vast majority of our mutual customers, those millions of users and everyday consumers of services provided by IT, IPv6 is just another mysterious bit of mumbo-jumbo from computer techies. They won’t know there is a problem until the very last address has been acquired and the refrigerator they just bought is unable to place an order over the Internet, something the salesperson promised it could do.