There Can Be No Comparison

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Someone once said that they felt unhappy because everybody else was out doing exciting things but they weren’t, it was all work and home life. The thing is that this feeling was mostly based on Facebook – seeing “all” their friends doing these things. The problem with Facebook is that it expresses a natural Human tendency to only present an edited highlights to others, or alternatively only the worst aspects. For every person showing off on Facebook about all the amazing things they do there’ll be others like me who hardly ever post anything, even if I do do something interesting or go somewhere because it’s not in my nature to believe that anyone else would really want to know every single thing I’m doing on holiday.

“Just saw a dog in the surf on the beach #wetdog”

It’s all too easy to compare your life to others, in real life you might see someone you like the look of and they’re with someone more extroverted or wealthy than you and you might think “typical, they never want someone like me” and so continues a cycle of feeling “not good enough”. Some people similarly feel the need to have better material stuff than others, bigger TV, more expensive Smartphone (“sent from my IPHONE, did you see that, I have an IPHONE”) the old “keeping up with the Jones'” is still alive and well but with more Jones’ to keep up with.

Facebook turns this up to eleven as you see a concentration of all aspects of others lives that you consider are better than yours without the mundane, judged through the lens of what you perceive from the media as the perfect lifestyle, what your life must be like to not be boring.

“Friday night dinner; chips, beans and chicken dippers #livinlavidabirdseye”

They were good chicken dippers too. Happiness is complex in so many ways, but comparing your life to others can erode it. Deleting your Facebook account may not be the answer, you need to evaluate what you personally find true joy and fulfilment in, isolated from those around you. If you really need to be partying every night then nothing’s going to change unless that desire is based on making sure that other people know what you’re doing, that they know you’re such a cool person. As someone said on TV recently “what’s the point of doing something if you can’t brag about it on Facebook.” For many people though knowing what really matters can restore your satisfaction with what you have. Often the joy in the little things is far more important than impressing people who probably aren’t even bothered…

Lazlo’s Chinese Relativity Axiom: “No matter how great your triumphs or how tragic your defeats, approximately one billion Chinese couldn’t care less.”

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The Speed of Feedback

Radio Daze

Radio Daze

Once upon a time if you wanted to complain about a tv show, or make a suggestion, enter a competition, or send in a drawing you’d done to Blue Peter, you’d send it “on the back of a postcard” or in a “stamped, addressed envelope” to the Beeb or whomever and after a couple of weeks you’d see or hear it on the telly.

Taking off my nostalgia hat and rose-tinted specs I return to today and find that as with so much media feedback or interaction is now lightning fast. Any live show on tv or radio will have email, text and a Twitter feed in front of the presenter so they can receive on the fly praise or abuse dependant on the subject and opinion of the viewer. Sports reporters carry tablets to field questions and comments.

The internet as a communication medium is making media more interactive than ever and allows faster access to those in front of the cameras – particularly useful when it is, for example, politicians being grilled in real-time; no more need to queue up for a place on a Question Time audience.

Of course it’s just as well that not every tweet appears on-screen, or on the speaker – as the Rev Richard Coles said on QI of his twitter feed for Saturday Live on Radio 4 he often received some less than complimentary comments, which I imagine could get distracting and even depressing while trying to present a programme.

The other aspect of course is public voting, though not a new idea (it was phone voting in the old days of course) it seems that everything has to have some public choice built-in rather than the decision as to who’s the best cook, candidate or singer being left to experts. One of the latest examples is that Formula E motor sport features the potentially race-changing Fan Boost, powered by online votes, by popularity, hmm. The problem is when the choice is made with the heart rather than an expert head. But at the end of the day it’s all just entertainment.

As we move towards increasingly connected, two-way tv, I can imagine that these features will become integrated into the remotes, new buttons to like or dislike and as for voting people off shows like Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity or Big Brother then the Red Button could have a use metaphorically more like it’s Cold War namesake…

Blogging The Information Tidal Wave

Rubbish Tip

Rubbish Tip – Courtesy Serif Image Collections

That’s how it seems sometimes, the internet, that is.  Well it does to me.  In the earlier days of the net the media and politicians trying to look “with it” called it the Information Superhighway, a term bringing visions of an orderly flow of everything you’d need to know, four lanes of neatly arranged news and entertainment.

The truth today is a torrent of cat pictures, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram pics, blogs, oh and news, all coming at you via the computer, phone, tablet and TV.  It’s a cliché but to paraphrase a famous quote: Never in the field of human endeavour has so much data been available to so many to be consumed in so little time.

It is in the face of this wave that I stand and try to write a blog about modern life and therein lies the problem and the first reason I’ve been getting nervous tremors at the thought of even peeking at this blog editor.  The problem is called Information Overload.

If your blog has a wide remit but you have limited time to write it then information overload can be a major issue, there are so many outlets to find things that would be relevant to what you write about but you don’t have time to both read them and write about them, you feel that you can’t write about the first thing before the next thing turns up.  Another problem with overload is having a subject to write about and either not being able to remember to put in everything you had previously thought would be good in it, or worrying that you’ve forgotten something, before hitting the publish button.  Some people can process, order and retain everything they see and read, many of us can’t.

So what’s to be done.  Firstly you have to simply accept that you’re not going to be able to cover everything you could write about.   Secondly it’s best to find a time that is conducive to writing.  For quite a while I’d not been in the mood to consume any knowledge at all and as such I’d filled the Pocket add-on in Firefox with things to read later so for the last six months I’ve been trying to catch up.  This means that in the evenings I’ve set aside an hour or so to read regular websites but by the time I’d finished doing that my brain had become tired and I couldn’t think of anything sufficiently worth putting in the blog so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The “tomorrow” in January became October 16th in no time at all.

So for me the solution is write early, when I’m in the mood, read later.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do involves organising the information I have and the ideas that pop up through the day.  I have two notebooks, one is A4 and I write long notes.  The other is A5 and contains one-liners by which I mean titles or brief ideas for blog articles, which can be quickly flicked through for inspiration.  In the small book this article existed as simply “information overload” and related notes also existed tagged with the same wording in Evernote – which is where everything from the big notebook ends up eventually.  I recently read an article on Lifehacker on how it’s a good idea to go through notebooks like mine on a monthly schedule to keep the ideas flowing.

So, how to cope with the overload; let it flow past you, take in what you can, and don’t worry about the things that pass straight past or through your mind.  Fishing boats don’t catch every fish, you can’t see everything on the electronic net either.

Facebook Anxiety and Other Maladies

facebook

facebook (Photo credit: dkalo)

I haven’t been “on Facebook” for many months, apart from to wish Happy Birthday to people when reminded via emails.  I haven’t been on for a number of complex reasons I’m not going into now, though one is that over time the sheer volume of posts to catch up with grows to biblical levels and you fall into a “I’ll look at it tomorrow” mindset.   Not looking at it though has shown that I’m suffering from an anxiety about it, a Social Network Anxiety.

There are two forms of this anxiety as far as I can tell, firstly is the almost guilty feeling that because you haven’t religiously read people’s posts in months then they’ll think you’re ignoring them – you think you should go have a look, then you post something and you get silence – no comments, no likes, and it confirms your fear, despite being sure that your Facebook friends are reasonable people and wouldn’t take offence that you hadn’t been paying attention.

However it is true that many people do in fact think that because everyone they know on Facebook has the ability to see what they’ve said then everybody will have read it and those who didn’t respond in some way don’t care, especially if they’ve posted something particularly emotional.

This is the problem with distributed communication – if a direct email or text isn’t responded to, even if you give them a few days to pick it up, then you know that either they didn’t get it or something may be amiss but broadcast expressions may not automatically be seen by everyone you think it will be seen by.

The thing is that I’m not alone in taking a sabbatical from the New Big Blue (I remember IBM, as a child of the eighties), a survey by the Pew Research Centre has shown that over sixty percent of users have taken a long break from the site, most users saying that they don’t have time to dedicate to reading their news feed (as in my case) or basically just feeling that when they have they haven’t gained anything from the experience – that it was a waste of time.  How interesting or not your news feed is depends on how interesting your friends are of course, despite new features such as the Graph engine that is supposed to make searching for travel tips, recipes and other stuff posted by your friends easier to find.  The study also showed that young people were using the site less, possibly due to other ways of chattering such as Snapchat.

The same is true of most social networks – Instagram is famously regarded as a place for people to post pictures of their dinner or of themselves drunk yet also contains interesting pictures too; Twitter inevitably contains streams of verbal diarrhoea (if you’ll pardon the image) as well as pearls of 140-character wisdom and so on and people sometimes get overwhelmed by the volume of information, or have other things to occupy their time.

Eventually the ever evolving internet etiquette will include the fact that people won’t always be listening and as a Tweeter or Status Updater you have to live with that and not take a like-count of zero personally.

To finish this piece though there is the other social network anxiety: that if you’re not checking Facebook, Twitter et al every five minutes then you’ll miss something.  This can be caused by the first but is also a standalone anxiety for those who don’t care what people think but have to know what everybody else is doing.  Many of these people are those in the remaining percentage who haven’t dared to leave Mr Zuckerberg’s empire for more than five minutes.

These are the people who the marketers of smartwatches and personal heads-up displays have in their minds, the always connected, but that’s another story.

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All In The Game

Enthusiastic man and woman.Once upon a time, when there was no internet, no X Factor or Eastenders, not even Chris Moyles on the wireless people had to make their own entertainment and for the well off gentlemen this often meant heading out to their club and indulging in a few little wagers between glasses of port and talk of business.  One such involved which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window first, the sum wagered?  About the value of a country estate, small change really.

Today the bets are perhaps a little smaller, people still bet on games of cards, dice and even hangman, bookies take bets on the names of royal babies and such like, but it seems that “gamification” is everywhere.  On the one hand there’s the opening up of online gambling whose TV adverts showing well-dressed men playing poker and roulette surrounded by glamorous women promise riches and an opulent lifestyle rather than the truth that you’re playing a virtual wheel on a four-inch screen in front of your telly in your shorts.  On the other there’s the social game.  Just about anything you do that could be compared to someone else and logged by some kind of technology will be posted on Facebook or Twitter in a game of one-upmanship that goes beyond keeping up with the Joneses.

It’s not just Candy Crush Saga though – Fitness trackers, Twitter followers, even your performance in bed, or when you’ve practiced safe sex, can be rated and listed in league tables like a monstrous arcade machine.  Admittedly if it gets people exercising then fine but what happens when someone does too much and keels over and dies, will people just shrug and say “it’s the nature of the game.”

Even mundane activities are becoming games as though we need some kind of encouragement to do something simple like typing in a captcha code to continue on a website – as though people won’t set up an account because they have to type in a handful of random words and instead need something shiny and fun to hold their attention like hyperactive toddlers, are we really that bad?

I’m all for having fun but there’s a time and place for it.  Even the NSA got in on the act, turning part of their systems into a kind of game for analysts with successful users accruing “skilz” points for particularly good, er, analyzing.  There are even To-Do List apps that are also games (or virtual pets) just to encourage you to get off your… sofa, and do something, if not for yourself, for your digital kitten trapped in your iPhone.

If people need to be constantly stimulated to carry out mundane activities how long will it be before we’re encouraged to not lane-hog on the motorway by Mario Kart style reward markers superimposed on our heads-up displays or shopping for food becomes more like Supermarket Sweep?

The Speed of Social Networks

Old News - canon rebel t2i

Old News – canon rebel t2i (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Once upon a time news travelled at the speed of the fastest runner, as the story of the battle of Marathon demonstrated, with the information being eventually wheezed out to a gathered crowd.  Later news from abroad depended on the speed of a ship and the reliability of the wind.  Eventually many people received news by newspapers or weekly newsreels.  Even with the advent of Wire Services one thing still delayed the news – the need to get reporters and photographers to where the witnesses are.

Now though this has all changed.  News services monitor Twitter and anyone with a modern smartphone and decent data connection can be an on-the-spot reporter.  The recent Russian meteorite was not only one of the most well recorded in history, with the wealth of dashcam footage available rapidly on YouTube and the like but it was also very quickly reported on via the internet.  The BBC’s Horizon programme described the possible chain of events surrounding the future collapse of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma, an event that could cause an Atlantic-wide mega-tsunami.  One aspect was the way the news of the event would be transmitted – within moments of the collapse beginning there would inevitably be a torrent of Tweets and photos on Twitter and Facebook.

The near instantaneous sharing of news worldwide is an unexpected side effect of services that are regarded generally as just a way to let your friends know, instantaneously, what you had for breakfast.  In the future governments as well as the news agencies will be watching out for keywords in public tweets and Facebook posts to gain early notifications that something serious is happening, from natural disasters to man-made tragedies.  This early warning can enable emergency plans to be activated sooner, and more lives be saved.

News has changed forever, from the speed of sail to the speed of light.

I’m Just Not a Twitterer

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

It seems like everything’s “social” these days, no marketing campaign is complete without “find us on Facebook”, follow us on Twitter for exclusive news, competitions and stuff, and to make sure all your friends know what products you like.  I remember competitions including the line “put your answer on a postcard” but more and more the only method of entering is by tweeting your answer to @most-social-media-aware-company-evar.   Email isn’t an option, Facebook’s sooo last year.

I have Google+ because it was there, with my Gmail, I did enter a competition via that and Facebook today because it only involved clicking two buttons.  The third one was to enter via Twitter.  I didn’t because I can’t.  I don’t use Twitter, don’t even have an account, I have enough information coming at me as it is and I don’t want to have to remember another password.

It is, however, becoming unavoidable.  Presenters on radio shows say “is it snowing where you are?  Let us know.”  You think, yes it is, I’ll be part of this.  Then he says “tweet me to let me know.”  And a feeling of being left out makes you start to type twitter into your browser.  It’s not just unfair to those of us who don’t want to tweet but to those who don’t have the technology or the knowledge to sign up to these services.  Competitions and surveys should be open to anyone.

I haven’t given in yet, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before I have to.

[Edit – March 2016]

Ok, I have given in, I was bored last week and decided to see what the fuss is about, also I thought I’d grab the same twitter name as my Flickr account.  @AndyByTheTrent.  I’ve followed a couple of people but not really done much with it.  #stillcantseethepointyet.

Everybody’s Talking (Or Not)

texting from the bar :P

texting from the bar 😛 (Photo credit: tray)

I’m not a huge fan of texting apart from the sort of messages it was intended for – quick hellos, arrangements to meet someone, thank-yous and so on.  The short, non-verbal nature of it combined with the feeling that you need to reply quickly means that some nuances of what you’re trying to say can be lost, leading to misinterpretation and who knows what consequences.  Well that’s how I see it sometimes, as opposed to the old days of writing long, carefully composed letters or actual speech where you at least have tone of voice to convey meaning.

It seems though that I’m in a minority, if recent research by Vodafone is correct.  They’ve found that average phone call lengths have halved in five years, to one minute forty seconds, with people seemingly preferring other methods of communication.

Surely people aren’t that worried about their inclusive minutes, or battery life, are they?

[Gizmodo UK]

Tweeting 999 – No Laughing Matter

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently in both the USA and UK emergency services have announced plans to allow people to inform them of an emergency via other modern communication methods like texting, Facebook and Twitter.

Cue howls of laughter and derision from writers about how it’s typical of our lazy society that people can’t be bothered to look up from their phones for thirty seconds to phone 999 or 911.  For once I partly disagree.

Normally I too would think it’s another example of people’s disconnection from others, that they wouldn’t want to actually speak to someone, they’d be happier texting etc.  And for some that may be true.  It could also be open to abuse by those who already troll the existing services using fake accounts, names and addresses.

But consider someone who can’t use a voice service – someone in peril and hiding; someone unable to speak or hear whose only form of communication at that moment is a mobile or a computer; someone who has no phone available but does have, for example, a 3G tablet; even someone who for perhaps psychological reasons can’t talk to someone on the phone.  Any communication would be better than none.

The emergency services have said that this is an attempt to enable communication with them through modern technology – this forward thinking should be admired not laughed at.  Or maybe we should abandon the new-fangled phone too and go back to bells and whistles.

Let’s Talk About Stats, Baby

The Runner.

The Runner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people are willingly having their lives tallied and quantified via their mobiles.  The stats are everywhere, how many Facebook friends have you got?  How many Twitter followers, how many likes on that post, how many retweets?  Fitness trackers like Endomondo, Nike+ and Strava let you post your times for the walk to work or that bike ride and compete with your friends, the site Fitocracy even lets you directly battle against others for who gets fittest first by completing challenges against each other.  Where have you checked in on Foursquare?  When and where you have you used a condom? (the latter could be open to exaggeration).

Almost every part of your life can be tracked, logged, rated and compared with friends and strangers, your whole life becoming a competition without a prize other than feeling that you’ve achieved more than someone else, the bragging rights rather than the rewards of the enjoyment of the exercise, the outdoors or just feeling better in yourself (exercise has been shown many times to improve peoples’ mood).  On the other hand studies have shown that such competitive apps can also encourage people to exercise, and of course it can be useful to keep track of your fitness.

The other side of the coin are the stats that tell you whether you’re reaching people with what you want to say.

Once you start blogging, or sharing your pictures on Flickr or videos on YouTube something strange often happens.  You start out thinking “I’m not bothered if nobody reads it, well, I’m happy if just one person sees it.”  Soon though you see the stats page and out of curiosity you look at it.  The first time you see a blip on the line your heart jumps a little as the thought that you’ve made a connection with someone, then comes the wonder of the fact that the person who looked at what you’d posted isn’t your mum or dad, your friend down the road or anyone else on Facebook but someone on the other side of the world.

Then there’s the first “Like” or first follower which gives you the knowledge that you’re doing something right.  You naturally value what you’ve created but now someone else does too.  Once you have followers you start to feel the need to give them something in return, to create something they’ll appreciate.  You could experience the rollercoaster of emotions; maybe anxiety that you haven’t posted in a while, doubts about what you’ve created when you don’t get any views but then your next post receives a flurry of likes and comments and that warm feeling of contributing to the world in your own way returns.

There’s no escaping the stats, they’re everywhere.