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Making Time to Disconnect

11 Nov
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Flickr – J. Skorobogatov

I had a weird/scary moment last week. Not scary-bad as much as scary-unusual. While driving, I actually…looked around at my surroundings. When I was stopped at a red light, I people-watched. No Facebook status updates, no Twitter posts, no Instagram feed. Just driving and thinking. Not surprisingly, and as you may have guessed, it took a moment of forgetfulness – leaving my phone at home – for me to actually appreciate the silence and solitude of my drive.

There are plenty of stories online about people who disconnect from the network and how it affects them; my favorite came from Barantude Thurston of Fast Company. Usually the story begins with some anecdotal tales of how their ever-connectedness via social media caused them to lose the ability to engage person-to-person. Next comes the withdrawal symptoms of “fear of missing out (FOMO),” an actual anxiety that has been covered by The New York Times (forgive me if I think this is wholly an ultimate “First World Problem”). Finally, the protagonist realizes that with silence comes inner peace, or something akin to that.

I’ve not felt that FOMO, since I purposely keep my circle small enough to keep in touch as needed. However, I recognize that as I have more accessibility to email, social networks and news on my smart phone, it becomes harder to just put the phone down. I want to be visually and mentally stimulated at all times, and I’m not the only one who sees it as a potential issue. Dating is an area where technology has skewed what is normal and what is not, as described in this article. Children are not engaging in reading as they once were because of increased time looking at screens. The more technology helps, the more it hurts apparently.

I always say that any potential future offspring will likely hate me, because I don’t believe in giving children access to technology just because it exists. The kid that I spend the most time around regularly asks to play games on my tablet and smart phone and 9 times out of 10, the answer is no. Just yesterday, they told me the ultimate worst situation for a kid: “I’m bored.” My response…good. Be bored. Learn how to just sit and think and be still. You’ll appreciate it when you’re an adult and you look back at those hours of free time you had, wondering how you filled a whole day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I provide entertainment in the form of answering any and all questions asked of me, especially if it becomes a learning experience. I’m thinking I should start taking my own advice though, and create learning moments outside my house and an Internet connection.

Do you feel a FOMO? Are you on a technology fast or diet, or do you take one every so often to reconnect to human beings?

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Digital Footprint in the Afterlife

20 Sep

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In “This Is How Technology Ruins Society” news this week, Facebook used a dead young woman’s tagged photo to advertise a dating site. Once it was brought to their attention, the social media site issued an apology and removed the ad. What makes this story even more tragic are the details surrounding the death of the woman in the image. Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life this past April after severe, aggressive and relentless online bullying following a sexual assault.

This incident sheds light on the larger story of how long our online identities live beyond our physical existence and how the sites where we are building and sharing our identities are using what we consider our personal content to earn revenue from their advertisers, mostly without our explicit permission. When my best friend died in 2009, Facebook was not yet using the photos we’d uploaded of our college days and fun nights out to promote weight loss, vacations or dating sites. In the aftermath of her very unexpected and painful death, I can’t imagine how upset I would be if I looked to the right panel of Facebook and saw her smiling face hawking some jewelry line or teeth whitening (she has a great smile, I wouldn’t put it past the algorithm to pick that up). I will say, I’m glad that her page wasn’t immediately removed in the months after her death, as her friends, family, coworkers and even people who didn’t know her sought to share their grief through posting memories of better times.

Never did I think that the 21st century of a baby book of memories, the Facebook album dedicated to the life of a child, would become fodder for online ads. The advancement in technology – facial recognition, anyone! – means that even if you don’t tag a person, the Internet can still recognize them, associate that image with them and connect the two with a simple search. Almost frightening and…sentient, isn’t it? Because of this, I refrain from posting pictures of the children of friends. What was a funny picture of a 1-year-old smearing cake on their face at their birthday party isn’t so funny when they’re in middle school and trying not to stand out as the “weird kid.” Interestingly enough, the FTC is creeped out as well. The federal regulator is launching an investigation to see if the latest round of privacy setting allowing advertisers to use photos violates a 2011 agreement.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with this thought, as evidenced by a recent wildly popular post by Amy Webb of Slate. Webb said that she and her husband refuse to post images of their daughter on the Internet- the Internet responded by finding pictures that other people had posted. Ahh, Internet justice, is there anything sweeter?

I think it may be too late for me; my face is out there, for better or worse. Thankfully I learned (fairly) quickly that putting down your drink of choice and not giving any ironic/offensive/odd facial and hand expressions makes for a safer (for life and job searches) online social presence.

What do you think of the fact that you can no longer disappear online? Did you start curbing and editing your identity?

Facebook Has Hashtags, Twitter Has Analytics: Does It Matter To You?

14 Jun

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As you may well have heard, everyone’s favorite social networks, Twitter and Facebook, both rolled out some new features this week.

Facebook’s addition was long-overdue: the ability to use a hashtag that is actually searchable. I say this because, despite the fact that people knew that their use of the hashtag did nothing on Facebook, they insisted on using it in their status updates. I truly considered defriending people for this, no lie. Well, those folks can now call themselves forward thinkers. According to the company (via Mashable), they want to make it easier for users to “find information.”  Considering that Facebook has consistently lost young users to sites like Twitter and Instagram in the recent years, maybe the company thinks this will shore up their interest. Best of luck with that Facebook. More than likely, I will not engage with Facebook hashtags because they have been synonymous with Twitter for so long. For me and others like me, this may cause some cognitive dissonance. Hopefully the FB team has thought of this and plans to address it by showing the value it brings to the user experience.

Speaking of Twitter, the company is trying to get more individual users to analyze their reach by making basic stats available for accounts. I’ve used Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, both of which give users an overview of their traffic. I found the analytic page straightforward, and I imagine small business owners who don’t want to invest in tracking software will be satisfied with the information as a starting point. Of course, social networks don’t create new features from the goodwill of their heart. The link to your analytics is under the page to sign up for Twitter ads, encouraging users to associate their analytics and buying advertisements. Smart move, and it’s likely some bloggers and online personalities will find value in this. For small fish like me, I’ll keep my coins.

What do these changes mean for your business? Will you add Twitter analytics to your social media measurement, much like checking your Klout score? How do you (or your business) plan to use Facebook hashtags?

image via Satyrika on Flickr