My top blogs of 2018

I have long been in the business of finding patterns: in data, in people’s words, in their choices, and in their behaviour which often contradicts what they have said. It is a fascinating job and never gets boring.

Currently, I am talking through my words to find out my own patterns. I hung on my every word, though like everyone else, I am not without contradiction.

So, here we are at the end of another year of blogging. I have studied the stats and made a list of the top 10 most popular blogs of 2018. Can I divine a pattern? Let’s take a look:

  1. Yoga Lessons: Bikram one year on
  2. Katie Hopkins’s #myfatstory is a story of vulnerability
  3. Game theory in social media (1): Fate and power
  4. Designing story (3): Archetypes and aesthetics
  5. Storytelling: Narrative, Databases, andBig Data
  6. Moments in modern technology
  7. Maslow’s hierarchy of chakras
  8. Prejudice: The social animal on social media (7)
  9. Game theory in social media marketing (2): Customers and competitors
  10. User motivation: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

I love that at the top of the list (1) is a blog about Bikram, one of my favourite things to do and to think about, and where I learn lessons about life – not just yoga. There are four about social media (3, 6, 8, 9) , which is a phenomena that, as a HCI person, I began researching and writing about because I wanted to understand it better and make sense of how we are connecting online. Connection is key to us humans, as is understanding peoples’ behaviour which is reflected by blogs 2, 8 and 10, and happens before we communicate our understanding to others and ourselves (4 and 5). Two of my personal favourites about the way we feel in our bodies (7) and online (6) made it onto the list this year too, which pleases me no end.

The other two most popular hits which I didn’t put on here were the About and Now pages as they are not blogs, they are just static pages about me and what I am doing right now. They got more hits than Katie Hopkins but fewer than Bikram and their position reflects what happens when people turn up here. They read a blog and then think: Mmm, who wrote this? What is their background? This is exactly what I do, when I go elsewhere.

I really enjoy writing about being human , especially the slightly esoteric – chakras, meditation, yoga – and our fears about technology and may well be writing more in that direction in 2019 as I ponder these blogs and the patterns in my life which speak to the patterns in other peoples’s lives.

So with that fabulous conclusion drawn, I am off to enjoy the rest of the year which may or may not include more blogging. In the meantime I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and thank you for reading this blog.

Alone Together three years on: Is social media changing us?

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You are not alone – Oprah Winfrey

Alone Together (1)

Three years ago, I watched social psychologist Sherry Turkle’s TED talk (2015) and then read her book: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, (2011) which prompted me to write a blog called: Alone Together: Is social media changing us?

Rereading my blog, I see that my opinion hasn’t changed and on checking, neither has Turkle’s. She now consults on reclaiming conversation ™ to stop the flight from face-to-face conversation.

I am not so sure we don’t want to talk face to face at all, rather it’s just technology gives us the option to avoid those particular prickly peeps we’d rather not see face to face if we can.

Added to that, I don’t believe that technology is taking us to places we don’t want to go. We have no idea what we are doing online or where we need to be, and I am tired of hearing technology described as an unstoppable force outside of our control as if it were freak weather or a meteorite zooming towards earth about to destroy us all. Economics is often the driver of technological advancement and human decisions drive economics.

Glorious technology

Our behaviour online and towards technology reflects us in all our glory – the good, bad and the ugly – along with all our hopes and fears. I do not believe that we expect more from technology and less from each other. Instead, I believe that we turn to technology to plug the gaps and find solace in those moments when we feel alone, afraid, unloved, and indeed sadly, sometimes, unloveable.

Life can be crushingly hard, and many of us know that there are certain people in our lives with whom we will never have the rich, robust and trusting relationships Turkle believes have been eroded by digital technology. Some people are just not up to the job. It may be the same with our friendships online but the hope is there.

Many of us just want to get in and out of any given, often potentially stressful, situation – work, meetings, the playground, the hospital, the dinner table, events with relatives – without saying or doing anything to cause any bad feeling. So that when we do finally get to our tiny slivers of leisure time we can use them to fill ourselves up with what makes us feel better, rather than analysing what we didn’t get right.

If that means staring at a tiny screen then what’s wrong with that? One person I know spoke of their phone, and the access it gave them to an online friend, a person they hadn’t met at that point, as an Eden between meetings. And, why not? Whatever works.

That is not possible now

Turkle says that we use online others as spare parts of ourselves, which makes me believe that she hasn’t really engaged with people on Twitter in a normal way in conversation, and she hasn’t ever met people who do that offline either. Many people make new friends on Twitter and meet up #irl a long time afterwards and then only occasionally. Their relationships are mainly based online. Rather like families who live a long way away from each other. It doesn’t mean it’s less real or not important. It just means they are physically not there which might be difficult but we don’t want to not have any contact with these people because we love them. Maya Angelou said something really beautiful about this when she was on the Oprah show one time. She said:

Love liberates it doesn’t bind. Love says I love you. I love you if you’re cross town. I love you if you move to China. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to have your voice in my ear. But that is not possible now. So, I love you. Go.

We want to be in contact with people whom we love and appreciate, and who love and appreciate us in return. Those people who make us remember the best bits about ourselves. We like people who like us. It is that simple and these people are not always in our daily lives. It’s not for nothing that vulnerability expert Brene Brown says that people armour up everyday to get through the day.

To cultivate the sorts of relationships Turkle feels that we should be having without our phones takes not only a lot of time and energy (and Brene Brown books) but a fearlessness which is not easy. Our greatest fear is social rejection and a robust conversation can leave us badly bruised. Online it is slightly easier because if a person drops out of your life, then you have some control over the day to day reminders unless you turn stalker, which is understandable as the grief of any online loss feels just as real. However, know this:

You are not alone

When we seek answers to our problems emotional like grief, or physical, spiritual, legal, fiscal. Technology really does say: You are not alone.

In real life, difficult relatives and tough-love friends don’t make the best agony aunts and may make us want to keep our questions to ourselves. We may forgo the embarrassment or shame by keeping our anonymity and seeking counsel elsewhere. Giving and receiving advice makes the world go round. In the book Asking for a Friend, the history of agony aunt columns is given over three centuries, and even today with all our technology, they remain as popular as ever.

But, if we can’t wait for our favourite agony aunt or uncle, a quick google/bing or peek round Quora can give us the reassurance we need. No, we are not shoddy, terrible people. Our thoughts and feelings are completely normal. The article What’s wrong with Quora? says that we may prefer a dialectic communication (a chat) say on Twitter, but we don’t use it in the same way as the didactic Q and A on Quora. We may never join Quora or Mumsnet but plenty of us (lurkers) use these and similar forums to find answers and feel better about the difficult circumstances we often find ourselves in.

It is reassuring to know that someone somewhere has already asked the question, either under a real or false name, and some other lovely human has written something underneath which just may help.

I don’t really believe that anyone of us is afraid of having a regular conversation because we have a phone. Turkle mentions research done on teenagers a lot, but they are specific user group and shouldn’t be taken as representative of the general population nor the future. How many teenagers want to talk to anyone? The teenage years are torture. As adults, however, because of the way society is set up, we often have to spend time with people we wouldn’t choose to, at work or in families. In the past we may have tried harder, felt shittier, been robust or at least tried to tell ourselves that, nowadays, it is more acceptable, a relief even, to be alone together, and to save our thoughts and feelings for those we love and who love us in return, wherever and whenever they may be.

Talking heads

I have written many blogs here and I know that there is a message in here somewhere. I just feel it in my code (as Vanellope Von Schweetz would say). Over the last year I spent my time writing yet more blogs to find the message in my blogs and I realised I could go on forever blogging about my blogs.

In September I decided to do one YouTube video a week to see what I was talking about and if I could boil down very long blogs into small snippets of information, but I got fed up at how bad I was and didn’t finish them and then I accidentally smashed my phone and used that as an excuse to give up all together.

Last week, as I was watching the trains at Kings Cross and feeling frustrated at my lack of understanding about my own opinion on human-computer interaction, I had a mini-revelation which inspired me to embrace my not knowing and do one video a day until I have talked right through all my blogs and then repeat them until a) I know what I am on about and b) I am not terrible at being a talking head on YouTube.

At first I was mortified, and kept fiddling with the lights and putting on plenty of makeup but today I was tired, so didn’t do any of that. I just sat down and said what I had to say and managed three different topics. And it is a bit like Bikram Yoga, which I practice as often as I can. If you practice enough in front of the mirror (or camera) you start to like what you see or at least you get used to it enough to stop finding fault. Some days in Bikram I like it less than others, like over the summer I kept munching on cookies and created an extra layer of dough over my abs. At first I didn’t like what I saw then I decided to see it differently: Ta daa I made a comforting cookie belt!

YouTube videos are the same. I am beginning to look at me differently. Instead of criticising, I am supporting: Look at what I know! Even after one week, I see that I have a message and I enjoy listening to what I have to say (but don’t tell anyone).

I know I am supposed to have a call to action here: Come join me, subscribe, and all that jazz, but honestly, it’s ok, the videos are very long and sometimes waffly. For now, it is enough that I am watching them. And that got me thinking about a different sort of call to action which is: Get out there. Be your own fan and watch what you can create.

You may just surprise yourself.

Welcome: Let’s talk tech

I’ve been vlogging for about a month now, but only managed to commit to practicing consistently, last week. So, it’s been a week, now, and whilst I hesitate and still ramble, I am beginning to enjoy talking. It makes a change from writing, and best of all, I am getting to know what it is I am trying to say.

I’ve created a YouTube playlist of my spoken blogs and they are here too over on the Videos (formerly known as Broadcast) page.

So come join me for my next topic: Game theory for social media. I can’t wait!

Let’s talk! #broadcastsfrommybooth

I have been struggling to blog for a while now which was making me miserable as I like nothing better than to get a large cup of tea, swizzle round on my chair and tippety-tappety-talk into my computer.

So to wrestle back some sort of control over my writing, I began to talk tech over on YouTube and now I have embedded it here on a specially created Broadcast page. Ta daaa! The result is that I am feeling much happier.

The first time my girls caught me watching myself on TV and transcribing what I said, they thought it was really amazing and wanted their own channels but after a minute or so they started doing impressions of me falling asleep saying: I am very excited about technology. And, they have a point. I do sound a bit monotonous in What am I doing? but that is better than the video Our human experience on social media I seriously look like I am about to cry. It seems that I am not a natural in front of the camera.

My original idea was #broadcastsfrommybooth as I film myself in an old fireplace in my bedroom – my one fabulous go at interior design, even the carpet fitter thought I was mad – but it is a bit long to say in each video, and every word counts.

I use a Google Pixel phone. The camera is fabulous but doesn’t sound brilliant since the Pixel doesn’t allow you to use a plugin microphone, and if you change to a different camera app, the sound doesn’t really improve enough to make it worth the diminished video quality. Apparently, Pixel 3 will fix this problem but they said that about Pixel 2 and when I tested one, it didn’t seem to use the external mic. So, I will just use what I have.

I tried filming on my laptop with one of those headphone mics plugged in lying across the keyboard. It had great sound, but a terrible picture, I look like Voldemort (take a look – 1st Broadcast from the booth) so I turned off the softbox to get my nose back but then I looked like a guest on Most Haunted (check out Privacy and technology) although thankfully you can’t see up my nostrils. What is it with filming and noses? Softboxes are fabulous but it has taken ages to position them just right.

YouTube Creator Studio has lots of editing tools so you can trim your uploaded video, add notations and helpful graphics which I will do once I get my story straight. Currently, I don’t script my videos which I should do – it is a YouTube rule – but it’s a bit tricky talking about my own ideas in a couple of minutes. I just need to practice.

I manage to wear a lot of black even though that is a big no-no and try to follow the other YouTube rules like put face powder on to so as to not be shiny and distracting. I also stare right into the tiny lens and bring my energy to no one in particular which is easier said than done, believe you me.

Speaking into a tiny lens for a maximum of five minutes is very different from lecturing to computer scientists in a purpose built room for at least an hour where I get moment-by-moment feedback. However, I am enjoying the challenge. I gurn a lot and sometimes my hair looks a bit crazy though I bought a hairbrush this morning. This afternoon, I was drinking tea in between takes so my lipstick is all over the place. Yes that’s right, I look like I don’t know how to put on lipstick.

What can I say? YouTubing is much harder than it looks and I am in awe of those who make it look so great but now I have my first real subscriber over on YouTube who is not a member of my family and thinks I have useful things to say, I am inspired to talk more to my audience.

Today, I talked a lot about The Social Animal on Social Media and tomorrow I will tackle Web Design. I can’t wait!