Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Case for Social Media (NOT)

It is all the rage these days to consider that the use of social media is the very best way for companies to really bring their workforce together (look at SharePoint 2013). It helps them communicate to a wider audience without having the expense of printed media. For employees, it also satisfies the need for Web 2/3.0 folks that have only known this kind of communication and to help the older workforce become more ‘tech savvy'. The intent of course is that everyone in a company can now share information, innovations and ideas. Forget about ‘collaboration' and meetings – all of this is now real-time, regardless of where you are, anywhere in the world.

Everyone is on the bandwagon; Microsoft's surprising purchase of Yammer means they are definitely committed. Thousands of firms have invested millions in integrating “social media” across the board. Along with this, even social media has gone to social media - Google+ integrates with LinkedIn, LinkedIn with Twitter and of course, all integrate with Facebook. Companies have really taken to the medium, particularly marketing using things using Facebook to drive their sales and brand, tell their corporate stories, announce products, hold contests and use it to attract new talent.

Outside of the office, social media has made its personal mark. People are engrossed in Twitter – posting updates when they check in to a hotel, visiting a restaurant or simply heading out to the office. Facebook provides everything from posting photos of their last vacation and kids birthdays to connecting with the extended family, old friends and ex-flames alike. From a professional perspective, it makes connecting with jobs easier – they can now apply to a job directly from Facebook or LinkedIn enabling them to boast about their achievements and just about anything they can think of. Many larger firms including even fast food companies encourage this and have recruitment campaigns enabling people to apply directly from the company Facebook page.

Social media has become so prevalent that some companies actually require potential applicants to provide them with their social media accounts as a condition of employment. Many now post information about office happenings directly to their accounts (bad weather closures, new product information and more). Now there's the wave of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) to encourage employees to integrate their personal and professional life and get a little surfing and IM'ing done in the process.

Surely “social media” has revolutionized the way we communicate and to accommodate so have the devices we use. Not too long ago, when actual desk phones existed, there was a time when you got no answer, you knew your friend wasn't home. Then it became cool to have an answering machine - just think, you could have someone leave you a message and you could find it when you got home! Then there was voicemail – you no longer needed to get home to get your messages. For that ‘emergency' contact, remember when pagers were all the rage (until they went off and you couldn't find a phone). Of course, pagers and payphones died along with the advent of car phones (remember the little antennas?). Then came along the cheap cell phones, then instant ‘walkie-talkie' features which in short order made way for “smart” phones now going away to make room for the totally integrated devices (tablets, etc.) we have today. 

There's only one problem - we're all too wired.

Kids don't play anymore. Your average first grader has phone or a tablet in their pocket. They may be excellent at texting but have never played a game of baseball, built a tree fort or regularly walk over to their neighbor's house. Most have never seen or understand what a ‘board game' is. They're losing their motor skills, they can't handle any kind of physical work, don't know how to garden and have no clue as to how to mow the lawn. They don't go outside anymore except to go from point A to B, evident by the pasty look from no exposure to the sun.

Teenagers have spent a generation under the glow of the screen, spending long nights in their rooms or at the internet café. Teenagers can't communicate anymore (unless over the mic when playing World of Warcraft). Five kids sitting in a room don't talk - they text each instead (I've seen this first hand). They are even ‘sleep texting' since their phone is next to them at all times. They have difficulty talking with their parents if at all and their ability to comprehend the language diminished to the point where they cannot put together a proper sentence. They never read a book, never go the library and they can't understand a dictionary (if they knew what it was). Google isn't exactly history.

Schools haven't helped. We're now in the second generation of students that have never done long division or worked out a math problem without a computer and forget about fractions. Teachers don't teach short of telling students how to login so the computer can guide the course. Teachers don't know how to create a proper syllabus and can only follow the computer generated outline. Chalkboards have been replaced with high-definition monitors. Physical education classes are non-existent for fear they may ‘hurt someone's feelings' so they've been replaced with computer labs.

For parents, they've lost connection with their kids. They've given up calling for their kids to dinner, they simply text them (if they ever sit down together at all). Moms ignore the baby crying because she's in the middle of Café World. Dads (if they're around) don't involve themselves since their kids have more understanding of computers than they do. 

For working folks, they've intertwined their personal and professional life so that there is in fact, no difference. They've given up any sort of separation or privacy, even knowing the danger of anything personal being said (or texted) being read by the wrong person. They've lost jobs because they stupidly go on rants on Twitter. They're on call and in instant reach of their boss 24 hours a day. There's no leaving at 5pm anymore and have become accustomed to answering texts and emails over breakfast. 

Overall, the world has become a very narcissistic and neurotic place. Kids now bully each other electronically. Ten year olds are sexting pictures of themselves to classmates. Teenagers think they're the most special people in the world and it revolves around them and their ‘feelings'. Moms notify everyone that they are dropping the kids off at school. Everyone now believes that checking into that nice hotel must be broadcast to the world, as if there were some kind of prize for doing so. 

Some believe they are so important, they broadcast every aspect of their life to the point that it's dangerous – everyone knows when they're not home and can in fact track their every movement. They lose jobs when they call in sick when caught posting the pictures of that party on Facebook. Some are stupid enough to post how drunk or high they got the night before or how they talked so-and-so into having sex. 

Sorry people, you are not that special and overall it is a dangerous trend in society at large. Need I mention Newtown?

It's time to turn the damn things off once in a while!

It's time we take a serious personal look at where we are today. It's time to realize that with all of these great communication devices, we're no longer communicating. People no longer turn it off – ever (hell there's even a do not disturb App for that). They no longer have a break from it and never give themselves the chance to recharge personally or professionally. It's time for kids to grow up outside of the computer, parents to get to know their kids and teenagers to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Now don't get me wrong - I love technology. I grew up with it. I started working full time at age 11 as a data entry operator working a 12 hour nightshift. Self-taught, I learned how to become an operator by age 13. I started programming in Basic when I was 15 working at Dartmouth College. I worked full time as a programmer coding Cobol when we had to use coding sheets and have them translated to punch cards. At 17, I worked full time at Bell Labs. At 19, I ran the Oregon State University computer center on weekends teaching students in between my dishwashing and waiter jobs. I started my consulting firm in 1984 consulting to DEC and have been consulting ever since. It may sound funny, but when I visited the Smithsonian computer display, I was amazed that I'd used every single computer there (short of the Univac).

You should make it a personal challenge to wean yourself of the electronic extension and get a life. 

Start out with yourself – how long can you shut it all off and maybe take a walk? How about learning a new skill like knitting or maybe woodworking? How about taking up something like golf or tennis (where you have to shut it off if you are polite)?  You really can exist without it if you just make an effort.

Parents need to work with their kids, get to know them and encourage them go out and play and run around the yard instead of hitting Control-X. They also need to communicate with them and get them off the damn box instead of playing games until the wee hours of the morning. Don't expect them to know, you have to teach them – when left to their own devices, kids will fall into the trap. And by the way, the parents should be leading by example.

Teenagers need more activities that aren't electronic. They, like adults, need a life. Learning skills, interacting with people, playing Frisbee or maybe, just maybe reading a book. When tied to an electronic piece of hardware at all times, they have nowhere to turn when the power goes out. Boredom is a terrible thing; lack of any kind of imagination to keep one's self entertained is even worse.  Maybe a little more interaction would prevent so many that can't cope with society or becoming mentally deranged.

Adults need to disconnect more often. Farmville will wait; if your crops go bad, so be it – if you find yourself rushing home because of it you have a serious problem. Maybe learn how to actually grow something as we need more real farmers anyway. How about having a bar-b-q with the neighbors? Your personal life should be just that, broadcasting to a world that could really care less is depressing when you figure it out. Moreover, stop chronicling your life – we don't really care that you just checked in at Delta unless I happen to want to break into your apartment. Relax once in a while with a good book. Take a walk around the neighborhood or have a cup of coffee without worrying about WiFi being available. Speak to each other and maybe spend some time with your significant other talking – it might just save your relationship.

Finally – Employers how about taking the time to give your people the support and understanding to know that actual work comes first? How about helping them learn skills, like communicating verbally and in writing? How about building a team the old fashioned way by leading by example through communication and hard work? How about offering them some incentives and materials to learn a new skill? At the same time, how about getting out of their lives a little bit and stop monitoring everything they do like Big Brother? You know deep down that all that does is make them waste more time anyway. And when the day is done, how about you leave them alone? In most cases, they'll be back tomorrow.

To all a good night - *Click*