We’re All Digitally Distracted

We're All Digitally Distracted

Focus, focus…forget it!

With smartphones, social media, email, texting, phone calls, meetings, and more…it takes a lot of discipline to not get distracted and actually get things done.

The Wall Street Journal (11 December 2012) laid out half jokingly that most people wouldn’t even be able to finish the article because of all the technological and people interruptions in our daily lives.

There are various aspects to this problem:

1) Digital Addiction–We love and are addicted to the information, connectedness, convenience, and entertainment that computerization, digital communications, and the Internet provide. Loneliness be gone!

2) 24/7 Expectations–Employers, family, and friends expect that we will be available to them around the clock. We are tethered to our jobs and each other with computers, smartphones, Blackberries, telework, social media, and more. If I can’t get to you, it’s because you don’t want to be gotten!

3) Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)–One of the concerns we have about getting off our devices is that we may miss out on something–that critical phone call or email may be regarding an important event, a special sale, a job interview, a long lost friend or lover, someone who needs help, or whatever. But if you shut yourself off, then you may just be missing the opportunity of a lifetime!

For most people the smartphone is the last thing they look at before going to sleep and the first thing they look at in the morning…assuming your significant other doesn’t intervene.

Even going on vacation, for many, means checking work and personal emails and voicemails…a vacation is no longer a real vacation, just perhaps less work than going into the office.

On one hand, we have more information and connectedness at our fingertips than ever before, but on the other hand, we are living in virtual, and not physical, reality.

One example is how we sit with our families and friends, but every one is on their device and no one is interacting with each other in the room.

No wonder there is a movement now to “Turn it off!” or “Leave it at home (or work)!”–We are desperately trying to balance between cyberspace and personal space.

We can’t afford to be distracted or to distract ourselves, incessantly–we need to focus on what’s important, what needs to get done, and on those who love and need us.

Whether you do a zero email day or just leave it all behind vacation–everyone needs some time be human with each other again. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Going To An eLibrary

Going To An eLibrary

I’ve always loved libraries–the stacks of books and periodicals–all that information (almost like being a kid in a candy store)–and the quiet space to enjoy it.

But in the digital age, where people are reading books and magazines on e-readers, news on smartphones, downloading videos with Netflix and watching shorts on YouTube–what is the new place for libraries?

Libraries will always provide a peaceful place for reading, thinking, and writing whether with hardcopy or digital media, but libraries need to meet peoples information needs, incorporate the latest technologies, and fit with the times.

The Wall Street Journal (7 February 2013) describes a new library in Texas that “holds no books”–it is all-digital–you “check out books by downloading them” to your own device or a borrowed one.

While many people still like holding a physical books or paper to read–I know I do, especially when it involves anything more than browsing online–Generation Y is comfortable for the most part getting it all digitally–and then you can electronically highlight, annotate, and share as well.

Some libraries are offering a mixture of paper and digital–actually “more than three-quarters of U.S. public libraries feature some digital books, and 39% offer e-readers for patrons to borrow.”

One of the things holding back the all digital conversion are publishers who don’t want to lose print sales, and so they won’t offer all new titles electronically or they charge more for it than for paper copies.

I envision that once we have 100% broadband penetration–where everyone in the country has Internet access–then we all can purchase or borrow the books, periodicals, music, and videos online from anywhere–in other words; libraries will become vastly virtual, instead of predominantly physical structures.

With more information online than at any library in the world, information growing exponentially, and with online resources available 24×7 (versus set hours for a brick and mortar library), it would be hard for any physical library to keep pace in the digital age.

Aside from physical libraries for traditional use, we need easy to use elibraries, where all information resources are available all the time, where students or those that can’t pay can get it for free or at an appropriate discount–and where help is just a click away.

Of course, many of us also don’t mind a hybrid solution, like being able to go online and borrow or purchase a physical edition–maybe they can just drop ship it overnight or same day is even better. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Ellen Forsyth)

Amazon Will Bury Walmart

Walmart_mess

I’ve never seen the great allure of Walmart. Actually before I moved from NYC to the DC area more than a decade ago, I had never even seen a Walmart–and that was just fine. 

But I had heard these amazing tales of how they were superstores with everything you could ever want and at low prices and the shopping experience was supposed to be, oh what a delight!

So I cannot tell you my utter disappointment the first time I went to Walmart–shabby storefronts, elderly door greeters handing out store circulars and stickers, messy aisles and shelves, with low price tags on a swirling everything, and sort of the image of crummy leftover merchanidse throughout, and top that off with pushing crowds trying to save a couple of bucks on the junk. 

Let’s just say, I’m not running back to Walmart, especially when we have online shopping experiences like Amazon–now that is much closer to nirvana. 

No drive, no crowds, no wait, no up and down the aisles looking for what you want, no shlepping, and no in your face “everyday low prices” image and we won’t let you forget it–instead easy to find, interesting, varied, and quality merchandise of all types, at reasonable prices, with an easy checkout process, home delivery, free shipping, and easy returns. 

And as opposed to Walmart which is stuck in costly and inconvenient large brick and mortar stores, Amazon is investing in infrastructure of the future with convenient warehouse and delivery centers throughout the country, and more recently with their purchase of Kiva Systems in March 2012 for implementing robotics in their fulfillment centers. 

On top of it, Walmart (with nearly 2.2 million employees worldwide) in its endeavor to keep prices low, have spun up their workforce with jobs–that are often part time and unpredictable, low wage, lacking proper benefits, unsafe working conditions, and with questionable advancement opportunties (especially for women). Throw on top of that bribery allegations for which they’ve hired a new complaince officer. Yet, Walmart has also somehow managed to keep their workforce from unionizing to improve things. 

So how should we say this: how about straight out–Amazon gets it and Walmart does not!

And while Walmart has their own .com site–which coincidentally looks very much like Amazon’s–Amazon is eating Walmart’s lunch online, with according to NBC News a 41% revenue increase for Amazon’s online sales versus just 3.4% for Walmart’s. Moreover, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 March 2012) reports that Walmart’s 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2% of their U.S. sales–they just can’t seem to make the digital transformation!

So While overall Amazon sales at $48 billion are still only about 1/9 of Walmart colossal $419 billion, Amazon with it’s high-tech approach (including their successful Kindle eReaders, cloud computing, and more) is anticipated to reach $100 billion in online sales by 2015

Like the other big box retailers of yore, Kmart, Sears, JC Penny, Circuit City, Best Buy, and more, Walmart will decline–it will just take a little longer and with a little more thrashing, because of the size of their checkbooks.  

Perhaps, as the New York Times implied years ago (17 July 2005) only stores like Costco (and throw in Nordstroms as well) with their tall aisles stocked neatly with quality goods, at low prices, and with better human capital ethos, will survive the big box retailer Armageddon.

My prediction is that within a generation Amazon will bury Walmart, if not literally so they are out of business, then figuratively with the best and most lucrative online shopping experience around–and as for the matchup betweent them, it won’t even be close.  😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Fuschia Foot)

Voting Firsts

Gw_with_soda

With voting, this was the first time I’ve ever:

– Voted early–even though it was on the last early voting day.

– Had to wait on any sort of real line to vote–this one was about 30 minutes long!

– Waited outside in the cold on a line snaking around the building–until the election volunteers had a heart and let us all in and out of the cold. 

– Had electioneering occurring right outside at tables and people handing out “information” until maybe 25 feet before the doors of the polling center–in the past, this activity was always kept far away and and they didn’t have the nerve to approach you as you were literally going inside the polling stations. 

– Got to sit down at a voting machine–always had to stand up previously, but from the sitting position and the “ergonomics” of the voting machine, you could hardly see them properly. 

– Had virtually no voting privacy–the machine faced the walls with the touch screens facing inward towards everyone else in the auditorium.

Despite all these voting firsts and most of them disappointing, the one voting first that I would have liked to see and didn’t was Internet voting, where we would usher voting into the 21st century with ease of voting, convenience, and privacy.

For some reason we can bank, shop, and pay taxes online, but to vote, we’re still stuck in the dark ages and it seemed like overall it was getting darker. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Social Media: Closer Together or Further Apart?

This satirical video with lyrics sung by Elliott Yamin (from American Idol) shows a relationship where interest in everything social media outweighs the real social relationship between the two people (boy and girl).

Even sitting right next to each other, they are texting and skyping as if they are a thousand miles away!

The boy keeps trying to get the girl to pay him some real attention–waving his arms, closing her computer lid, and even pretending to shoot himself–but nothing works. The girl is in social media heaven–or hell–and she just keeps on going online: Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Yelping, Grouponing, Blogging, Digging, YouTubing, and on and on.

The boy looks miserable and is proverbially screaming out: “hello, can’t we just be together for real?” But to her, the reality is attained ironically through connecting on social media.

While the video exaggerates the relationship dynamics as impacted by social media, it does acutely point out the many ways that connecting with others has changed in the age of social computing.

But is the change mostly positive or negative–does social media draw us closer or does it in a sense drive a virtual wedge between us?

This past week, the Wall Street Journal (16 August 2011) reported that studies show that “digital communications can lead to more or better friendships online and off, greater honesty, faster intimacy in relationships, and an increased sense of belonging...on the whole, technology appears to enhance real-world relationships.”

in particular, social media seems to be a type of panacea for shy and anxious people who report feeling “significantly less shy, more comfortable, and better accepted by their peers” when they are online than off. Additionally, the “frequent communications online could serve as a practice for in-person social interactions.”

When people are online, they feel perhaps safer, freer, and able to be themselves and this helps them connect with others in a way that is maybe more real than the facade they hide behind in the “real world.”

This can work in negative ways too like when people get behind the wheel of the car, they sort of think they are anonymous and you see them cursing, speeding, etc. In this case, they let their inhibitions go, and in it’s place you get things like road rage. Online too, you have creeps come out and say and do inappropriate things behind the veil of anonymity.

Social media provide tools for us to connect with others. And like any tool, social media can be used for good or bad: On the positive side, it can help us to reach out to others and connect, share, collaborate, and innovate. On the negative side, it can be used as escape from reality or even to conduct unethical or criminal activities.

How we use social media is up to us–the potential to go in either direction is very powerful.

>A Place for Answers

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First there was Wikipedia and now there is Quora.

On January 15, 2011, Wikipedia celebrated it’s 10 year birthday, and according to Bloomberg Businessweek, it now has more than 17 million entries (compared with only 120,000 for Encyclopedia Britannica) in 250 languages and is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Moreover, the accuracy of the crowd-sourced Wikipedia has generally been found as good as traditional encyclopedias.

But despite the phenomenal growth of Wikipedia, a new site, Quora is finding a place for itself in online knowledge management, as one of the key question and answer (Q&A) destinations of the web (others being Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, and more–which were apparently found lacking by the founders of Quora).

According to Wired (May 2011), Quora is only 2 years old and already has about 200,000 people visiting the site each month. The approach of Quora is to create a searchable knowledge market based on merging verifiable facts with people’s personal experiences and observations or what Wired calls “the large expanse between…the purely objective [e.g. Wikipedia] and the purely subjective [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.].”

Quora is looking to capture what it believes is the “Ninety percent of information people have [that] is still in their heads and not on the web.”

The site is also creating a community of people who participate in asking and answering questions, and can select to follow topics and people of interest, and vote on whether answers are helpful (“voted up”) or not to push answers up or down the page.

Similar to Wikipedia, answers can be “trimmed, corrected, or otherwise massaged by one of the rigorous volunteers” (of which their are now more than 100–Quora only has 18 employees). Answers are “written for the world, and for anyone who has that same question for the rest of time.” And even questions can get “extensively reworded.”

Wired asks is this just another popularity contest on the web or self-promotion for the self-proclaimed experts? One of the volunteers responds that “This isn’t about job searching. It’s not about raising money. Most of us who are heavy users can already do that without help. It’s a sense of sharing what we now, and it’s being part of a community.”

Of course, while critics may call them pedantic or petty, the Quora participants are on a mission to build a vital and timeless knowledge repository–“the modern-day equivalent to the Library of Alexandria”, so perhaps the people chic has to be balanced with information usability.

On January 21, 2011, Tech Crunch awarded Quora “best new startup for 2010.”

It will be interesting to see where this goes…the funny thing for me was that I ended looking up Quora up in Wikipedia. 🙂

>An Online Only World and Enterprise Architecture

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How long will it be before the internet becomes our primary means of storing personal data and running software applications (web-based)?

MIT Technology Review, 3 December 2007, reports that one core vision for the evolution of technology (that of Google) is that we are moving from a computer-based technical environment to an online-only world, where “digital life, for the most part, exists on the Internet”—this is called cloud computing.

Already, users can perform many applications and storage functions online. For example:

  • “Google Calendar organizes events,
  • Picasa stores pictures,
  • YouTube holds videos,
  • Gmail stores email, and
  • Google Docs houses documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.”

Moreover, MIT Technology Review reports that it is rumored that Google is working on an umbrella application that will pull these disparate offerings together for a holistic cloud computing solution.

What’s the advantage of cloud computing?

A computer hard drive is no longer important. Accessibility to one’s information is limited only by one’s access to the internet, which is becoming virtually ubiquitous, and information can be shared with others easily. “The digital stuff that’s valuable… [is] equally accessible from his home computer, a public internet café, or a web-enabled phone.”

What are some of the issues with cloud computing?


  • Privacy—“user privacy …becomes especially important if Google serves ads that correspond to all personal information, as it does in Gmail.”
  • Encryption—“Google’s encryption mechanisms aren’t flawless. There have been tales of people logging into Gmail and pulling up someone else’s account.”
  • Copyright—“one of the advantages of storing data in the cloud is that it can easily be shared with other people, but sharing files such as copyrighted music and movies is generally illegal.”
  • Connectivity—“a repository to online data isn’t useful if there’s no Internet connection to be had, or if the signal is spotty.”

Still Google’s vision is for “moving applications and data to the internet, Google is helping make the computer disappear.” Human-computer interaction has evolved from using command lines to graphical user interface to a web browser environment. “It’s about letting the computer get out of our way so we can work with other people and share our information.”

Of course, Google’s vision of an online-only world isn’t without challenge: Microsoft counters that “it’s always going to be a combination of [online and offline], and the solution that wins is going to be the one that does the best job with both.” So Microsoft is building capability for users “to keep some files on hard drives, and maintain that privacy, while still letting them access those files remotely.”

I will not predict a winner-take-all in this architecture battle of online and offline data and applications. However, I will say that we can definitely anticipate that information sharing, accessibility, privacy, and security will be centerpieces of what consumers care about and demand in a digital world. Online or offline these expectations will drive future technology evolution and implementation.