Walking The Pink Carpet

Computer Bird

Only in Starbucks Florida…

Does Buddy the bird sing and dance inside the shop next to the coffee drinkers.

Here, my wife was doing some writing for the Federal Communicators Network.

And she is very serious about her writing–and don’t bug her when she’s into it.

But Buddy was a different story…

He proudly walked right over the iPad pink keyboard.

And then headed for another circuit around the table.

Picking up keys, ripping up the New York Times, hanging upside down, and playing with everyone who was only too happy to pay him attention.

When I asked Buddy if he liked Starbucks coffee, he started bopping up and down like crazy–it was hilarious.

As to my wife’s computer and writing, this was about the only thing that she would allow to disturb her. 

I was surprised she didn’t eat the bothersome bird, but even she had to laugh at his gall to step into her virtual world of writing, brands, and social media. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Internet, Anything But Shallow


Over time, people have transitioned the way they predominantly get their information and learn, as follows:

1) Experiential—people used to learn mostly by doing—through their experiences, although these were usually limited in both time and space.

2) Reading—With the printing press, doing was supplanted by reading and information came from around the world and passed over from generation to generation.

3) Television—Active reading was upended by passive watching television, where the printed word “came alive” in images and sounds streaming right into our living rooms.

4) Virtuality—And now TV is being surpassed by the interactivity of the Internet, where people have immediate access to exabytes of on-demand information covering the spectrum of human thought and existence.

The question is how does the way we learn ultimately affect what we learn and how we think—in other words does sitting and reading for example teach us to think and understand the world differently than watching TV or surfing the Internet? Is one better than the other?

I remember hearing as a kid the adults quip about kids sitting in front of the TV like zombies! And parents these days, tell their kids to “get off of Facebook and get outside and play a little in the yard or go to the mall”—get out actually do something with somebody “real.”

An article in Wired Magazine, June 2010, called “Chaos Theory” by Nicholas Carr states “even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.”

Carr contents that the Internet is changing how we think and not necessarily for the better:

1) Information overload: The Internet is a wealth of information, but “when the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories…our ability to learn suffers and our understanding remains weak.”

2) Constant interruptions: “The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes out attention only to scramble it,” though images, videos, hypertext, email, IM, tweets, RSS feeds, and advertisements.

3) “Suckers for Irrelevancy”: “The stream of new information plays to our natural tendency to overemphasize the immediate. We crave the new even when we know it’s trivial.”

4) “Intensive multitasking”: We routinely try to do (too) many things online at the same time, so that we are predominantly in skimming mode and infrequently go into any depth in any one area. In short, we sacrifice depth for breadth, and thereby lose various degrees of our ability in “knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

While I think that Carr makes some clever points about the dangers of Internet learning, I believe that the advantages of the Internet far outweigh the costs.

The Internet provides an unparalleled access to information and communication. It gives people the ability to get more information, from more sources, in more ways, than they would’ve in any of the other ways of learning. We are able to browse and search—skim or dig deep—as needed, anytime, anywhere.

With the Internet, we have access to information that exceeds the experiences of countless lifetimes, our world’s largest libraries—and TV isn’t even a real competitor.

At the end of the day, the Internet is a productivity multiplier like no other in history. Despite what may be considered information overload, too many online interruptions, and our inclinations to multitasking galore and even what some consider irrelevant; the Internet is an unbelievable source of information, social networking, entertainment, and online commerce.

While I believe that there is no substitute for experience, a balance of learning media—from actually doing and reading to watching and interacting online—make for an integrated and holistic learning experience. The result is learning that is diversified, interesting, and provides the greatest opportunity for everyone to learn in the way that suits him or her best.

Moreover, contrary to the Internet making us shallower thinkers as Carr contends, I think that we are actually smarter and better thinkers because of it. As a result of the Internet, we are able to get past the b.s. faster and find what we are looking for and what is actually useful to us. While pure linear reading and thinking is important and has a place, the ability online of the semantic web to locate any information and identify trends, patterns, relationships, and visualize these provides an added dimension that is anything but shallow.

>Information Stats to Scare


We all know that we are generating and receiving more information then ever. Good thing? I like to think so, but sometimes, you can have too much of even a good thing.

Certainly, information is a strategic asset—its vital to making sound decisions, essential for effective communications, and critical for expanding our thinking, breaking paradigms, predictive analysis, and helping us to innovate.

But when information is too much, too unorganized, too often, or too disruptive, it’s value is diminished and organizations and individuals suffer negative effects.

Here are some information stats to scare from Harvard Business Review (September 2009):

  • 60%–Those who checked email in the bathroom (and 15% even admitted to checking it while in church)
  • 20—Average hours per week spent by knowledge workers on email
  • 85%–Computer users who would take a laptop on vacation
  • 1/3–Emails considered unnecessary
  • 300—Number of emails executive get a day
  • 24—Minutes for worker to recover from being interrupted by an email notification
  • 40—Number of websites employees visit on an average day
  • 26%People who want to delete all emails (declare “e-mail bankruptcy”) and start over
  • 3—Number of minutes before knowledge workers switch tasks
  • ~$1 trillion—Cost to economy of information overload
  • 85%Emails opened within 2 minutes
  • 27%Amount of workday eaten up by interruptions
  • 2.8 trillion gigabytes—Size of digital information by 2011
  • 31%Workers whose quality of life is worsened by email

Some interesting antidotes offered by HBR:

  • Balance—weigh cost-benefits before sending another email
  • Reply to all—disable the reply all button
  • Five sentences—keep email to 5 sentences or less
  • Allots—affix virtual currency from a fixed daily amount to email based on its importance
  • IM Savvy—program by IBM that senses when you are busy by detecting your typing patterns and tells would be interrupters that you are busy
  • BlackBerry Orphans—to regain the attention of their parents, children are flushing their parent’s BlackBerries down the toilet

While the issues and proposed assists for information overload are thought provoking (and somewhat humorous), what is fascinating to me is how technology and the speed of its advancement and adoption are positively, but also—less spoken about—negatively affecting people and organizations.

It seems like life keeps accelerating—faster and faster—but the quality is deteriorating in terms of fuzzy boundaries between work-life, weakening of our closest relationships, burn-out of our best and hardest working people, and unrealistic expectations of people to be always on—just like the email account that keeps spitting out new messages.

Somewhere along the line, we need to hit the proverbial “reset button” and recognize that information and communication are truly strategic assets and as such need to be used intelligently and with good measure or else we risk cheapening their use and limiting their effectiveness.

>Information Addicts and Enterprise Architecture


As an enterprise architect, my job is to develop plans and governance for IT to meet mission/user requirements, which is typically for more and more information. But is more information the answer?

The Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2008, reports on a new book called Distracted by Maggie Johnson, that talks about instant communication robbing “the workday of any sustained interval of unbroken attention to a particular task…from email to instant messaging to Twitter—an-update service devoted to what-are-you-doing-at-this-moment inanity–the interval between interruptions appears to approaching zero.”

“In the workplace, a distracted knowledge worker is a fallow asset.” Ms. Jackson reports that:

  • “Workers ‘typically change tasks every three minutes’ and ‘take about twenty-five minutes to return to an interrupted task…usually plugging into two other work projects in the interim.’
  • By one estimate, ‘interruptions take up to 2.1 hours of an average worker’s day and cost the economy $588 billion a year.’

“Many distractions turn out to be self-initiated: It appears that we just can’t wait to read the next email or blog entry or check to see what might be happening in an online discussion.”

We are addicted to information. On one hand, we want more and more information and complain bitterly whenever we are out of our carrier’s coverage or otherwise not able to use our cell phones, email, or internet connections. And on the other hand, we are so overloaded with information and so distracted all the time, we are walking around with our heads spinning, not knowing what to focus on next. We are true information junkies!

The information overload and incessant disruptions and distractions are not limited to the workplace. No, indeed.

I don’t know about you, but time for me is an endless deluge of everything information, driven by technology (especially email, blogging, professional networking, internet news and search, and so on).

Yet, while we absorb and spit out more and more information, our quality of life seems in many ways worse and worse. The things that are really important like spirituality, family, friends, charitable giving, and health/fitness is eroded by our incessant need for the next information fix.

We run away to getaway resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, and day trips, only to take our Blackberries or worse yet our laptops. We check our email compulsively. We check our networking sites to see where our friends are and what they are doing. We check for the latest information on this, that, and the other thing. We are checking ourselves into a dizzying numbness, where we are losing touch with real people in the real world in lieu of information ubiquity and life in a virtual world. We are losing important pieces of ourselves in our addiction to information.

So what’s an enterprise architect to do?

  • Baseline—awareness is step #1. We need to recognize that we are creating an information addicted society for ourselves and our children. Information ubiquity, if not our current state, is certainly where we are well on the way to. In fact, I’ve seen many organization’s IT strategic plans that specifically state their vision as information 24x7x365 or anytime, anywhere.
  • Target—planning for a better tomorrow. We need to take control and set a target state that balances the “highs” that we get from more and more information, with the need to be better people—better to ourselves and to others, more inclined towards our spiritual needs, physical health, and more in touch with the real world versus the virtual.
  • Transition Plan—getting from here to there. We need to wean ourselves off the constant information fix. It’s easy to get addicted. I had many a caffeine headache until I got myself some decaf beverages. Similarly, smokers often must substitute a nicotine patch for a cigarette. We need to plan time for spirituality, family, friends, and other activities that wean us off the information addiction we have.