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Archive for the category “Psychology”

When technology fills in for human connection

Sharin visited your path, my phone alerted me the other day. For all the things Path does, this feature is a killer. In a real world context the alert could mean many things. Sharin came home. You bumped into Sharin on the street. You met Sharin for coffee. Except that you didn’t.

If you have not already, you must try Path. It’s an app for the iPhone and Android devices. Share Life says this video that advertises Path. While it does many things that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare do, there is a little bit more. A nuance that makes a new kind of connection.

While Path is the new shiny, and this story is not specifically about Path, but about technology beginning to make a human connection. Not just for the shy and the socially inept. “If I have been to sleep and don’t have at least four messages when I wake up, I feel no one loves me” said this quote from this study of 2005. The world has moved on, and for many of us checking our phone for email or SMS messages is the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning.

We are the first generation of humans touched by technology.

What started in analog with telephone answering machine has been converted into bits and bytes and is coursing the veins of the digital nervous system we call the world-wide web. Soon we will be hearing about the Internet of things, like how we did, Web 2.0 a few years ago. And as it unfolds, more things will be connected to the Internet. Objects like the streets of Tokyo or if you can call cows objects, like in this experiment in Holland where a startup, Sparked, is connecting animals to keep track of their health.

It is easy to understand how we can build bridges between objects and the Internet. Haven’t we have heard of concepts like connected refrigerators that could order for fresh stocks of milk and eggs or cars that could made SOS calls when in an emergency, since the early days of the internet? Many of these ideas are not just concepts anymore and as this video from IBM tells us there are more things connected to the internet than there are people.

However what makes my experience with Path a little different is that unlike objects that have an IP address and make dumb connections, Path can play with human emotion. What did Sharin find out about me when she dropped by my path unannounced.

There are others. Take Availabot, one of the early examples of an Internet connected object that could play with us. A USB device that would wake up when a friend of mine logged on to IM. Made me smile. Or Mingling Mii, a virtual Nintendo Wii avatar that, if connected to the internet could popup in the audience as my friends played virtual games no matter where they were.

We are going further as this breathtaking idea from Interaction Design shows us. With PillowTalk you can sleep next to your loved one even when you are far, far away. Wish I had thought of that.

As we move into a world with omnipresent Wi-Fi and 3G networks, RFID and NFC chips, QR codes and augmented reality overlays. Of connected databases that know us, our friends and our preferences better we will see more richness, more meaning being built around us. Ideas that can change our moods, play with our feelings and mind states.

The reason why this fascinates us is because we are the first generation of humans who have been touched by technology, as this baby born into a home with an iPad thought that a magazine is an iPad that does not work.

Backing up your brain. One little app at a time.

A few weeks ago I celebrated by birthday. While I am not an 8 year old anymore to care about birthdays, what struck me most was the number of good wishes I received. From a dozen or so greetings a few years ago, I received hundreds, perhaps a thousand messages this time.

So what has changed? Facebook, obviously. Those useful little notifications that appear on the right top of our streams. Sure. But that’s missing a broader trend.

Einstein’s telephone number. The story goes that when someone asked Albert Einstein his phone number, Einstein replied that he didn’t remember it. This startled the man who was well aware of Einstein’s genius. Mr Relativity had to then clarify that when his phone number was easily available in a telephone directory, there was no point of him remembering it and crowding up his memory,

Remembering to forget. Starting with a telephone directory to new digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Outlook calendar, apps like Rememeberthemilk and programs like Basecamp we have started to slowly outsource our brain. By setting up alerts and reminders we are using technology to help us forget days, times and activities that would have otherwise added noise to our already overwhelmed brains.

I don’t bother to remember to pay my utility bills anymore as I have set them all up in the automated system that my bank provides. With SMS messages that arrive month after month, I only keep a notional track of bills that have come in and have automatically been paid out.

I have gone further, with tools like CarLocator that helps me remember where I parked my car in a busy parking lot.  Or whosthat?, an app that I, err, use discreetly, to help me remember names of people who I have met, and may have forgotten, and therefore avoid real world social embarrassments.

Carbon meets silicone. The brain outsourcing business is still in its infancy with simple apps that need our intervention to take over things we want them to. But this could soon change, with scientists finding ways to connect carbon based humans and silicon based computers seamlessly. British Scientist Kevin Warwick has been working on wiring silicon based interfaces that can send signals between a human body and a computer. In fact he has had a chip implanted in his own arm more than a decade ago and has been experimenting with ways to turn analog signals from his body into little pieces of digital software that once activated on a computer will be able to create a reaction in his body.

Others believe we can take it further. With inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil foreseeing that we will, in our own lifetimes, be able to download our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness into a hard drive. He has written several books on the subject and at 63 is working towards being one of the first humans to be able to seamlessly move from being a man to a machine. Computers are already better than humans at logic, he says and it is just a matter of time when we will be able to transfer our emotional intelligence into a computer.

There are others too who agree with the Kurzweil line of thinking. Ian Pearson, head of the futurology at British Telecom has put a date to when we will be able to seamlessly download minds into a machine. 2050, he says, if you are rich enough, add another 25 years for poor guys like me.

I have seen heaven. So what does happy birthday alerts and online bill payment systems tell us about longevity and immortality? That, unbeknownst to us, we have started our journey from being creatures of carbon, to having our memory and our consciousness preserved in a server farm somewhere. With Apple launching iOS 5 sometime in October, and the promise of free or low cost digital storage on iCloud and elsewhere, we are slowly and steadily uploading our lives onto silicon. With his ongoing battle with cancer, Steve Jobs may not make it. But his vision could help me live forever, in silicon heaven, on a cloud somewhere.

This story appeared in FirstPost. You can read it here 

Unfriending: the new friending

I almost missed the one line status update as it trickled down my wall “spring cleaning my friend list”. Even when I saw it, I was sure I wouldn’t be among the ones cleaned out so I didn’t bother to check.

As days and weeks went by, I started to miss those updates. Auto posts from her subscriptions to astrology sites, odd pictures from late night parties, Farmville notifications. Nothing profound or insightful, yet enough to tell me we were still friends.

I have to admit I have been a lurker, a virtual fly on her virtual wall. Sent her birthday messages every year, early in the morning, without fail. Liked the odd post now and then, just so she knew I am around.Her pictures. Looked them up all, many times over.

And this is what I get in return. A virtual dumping!

Did she think I wouldn’t know? Hey I do now. Don’t know how long ago I was nixed. It hurts OK! It does, even now.

Is unfriending the new friending? Spring cleaning my friend list. Is there a meme of sorts out there that I missed out on?

I remember reading a month or so ago that Facebook was losing users in the US. It was later retracted though. How did she get to that. GigaOm? She doesn’t read that.

New evidence popped up again yesterday that the Facebook juggernaut maybe beginning to slow down. This time from Hitwise in the UK. Refuted again! Lies, damned lies and web statistics as Jemima Kiss wrote in her Guardian Blog.

So what happened to me? Has she been so unemployed recently to manicure their friend lists? Are there new taxes for having too many friends on a FB account? Has the monsoon brought in a new virus? Unfrienditis?

I Googled frantically. Nothing!

And then I noticed this little maroon button gleaming “1” on my Google+ toolbar. Intrigued, I clicked.

It was a notification from her. XYZ has added you in a circle.

Social Media’s New Gold Diggers

Sitting on the fringes of some social media campaigns I am noticing an interesting bunch of players. Fans who have made it their business to win prizes that brands offer online.

You see them again and again and again. The moment a contest is announced by a brand, they swoop down, powered by their personal networks on Facebook, Twitter and 4sq.

Free keychains, no problem, Tee Shirts, we will play! Mobile phones bring em on…

Anything that is thrown down at them, they are game. The same names, the same faces, similar styles. Their theme is familiar. As if telling brand and community managers – you play, we are game.

The “9s” in the 90/9/1 rule of social media they are. They don’t create much on their own but they are ready participants on games simple and tough. Sharing, joking, heckling, flaming, cheering – they seem like a virtual band of brothers and sisters sharing tips as they move from network to network, game to game.

We have heard about Chinese Gold diggers and their subsequent ban on online. Virtual millionaires on Second Life and this excellent story in Wired Magazine that tipped us about this demographic some years ago. Others who help you farm better on Farmville and stuff. But these guys are not that intense. Afflicted with ADD as it were, flirting between many contests at the same time, day in and day out.

It’s a privilege to be a fly on the wall to watch these online merchants ply their trade. Young people from cities and small towns who have learned tricks, shared tips and how tos online.

Would be fascinating to bring these new age netizens together for a tete-a-tete. Understand their real world lives, virtual avatars, online strategies, motivations and more.

In the connected world, anything is possible and I could be a digital anthropologist. Dig, dig, dig

Hecklers in the stands

The joke is on someone else. Every status update. Every check in is an open invitation to show the world how smart you are. A gentle rib. Mild sarcasm. A joke whose ripples reverberate across the social sphere. You enjoy the digs and so do some of your friends. LOLs often, rarely ROTFL…

You soon forget the remark you made and move on.

The web doesn’t.

As it builds up its collective semantic intelligence, your digital diatribes are being tracked and silently backed up in a giant database of actions.

Now comes the interesting part.

You are out in the market looking for a job your prospective employer looks you up online. The new-age profiling database, it’s no Vault of third-part comments, it’s trolled through your handiwork. Your tweets, facebook updates, comments and such. And it throws up your online personality. You are extremely social, highly connected, your Klout ratings are impressive. But hey what’s with your personality types? The No Asshole Rule search engine has tipped your scales into the red.

You are no Edward Boches. Not as mature.

You have built your reputation for rudeness and negativity and have been found out in chunks of 140 character posts.

Search engine optimization is not going to help you hide.

Creativity And Thinking Far

Apparently there’s an easy way to increase creativity. By creating an effect called psychological distance Indiana university researchers have been able create a feeling that if the problem is further away then it really is and hence increases chances of creativity. Why does psychological distance increase creativity? According to CLT, psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete. More in Scientific American

A Gesture’s Worth

Dr. Pentland and his colleagues began applying technological tools to a question of human behavior — how people use nonverbal communication cues — the results were startling. Dr. Pentland’s findings — based on data from a device he calls a “sociometer” a wearable, badgelike contraption that can continuously measure various nonverbal aspects of people’s interactions — have implications for both how people communicate and how they understand what is being communicated to them. Dr Penland built a device to read our autonomic nervous system; it’s the oldest part of the nervous system, the fight-or-flight part. He believes that when you become more active and you have more nervous energy. Also on attention, when people pay attention to each other, and he thinks he can read that from the timing between people who are in conversation. If two people are talking together and each one is anticipating when the other will pause and jumping in exactly at that point leaving no gaps, then they’re paying a great deal of attention to each other. There’s more in Dr Penland’s new book Honest Signals. Read an interview with the Prof here. The power of nonverbal communication, from Wall Street Journal.

The Business Of Happiness

One of the things that the world seeks in times like these. Happiness. And the happiness business seem to be booming, without perhaps making anyone really happy. New York Times reports of the happiness business, with its myriad line-up of gurus, pop psychologists, TV hostesses and more. All of who promise a better way. On another front, advances in neurosciences are giving a boost to the science of joy. Read more in The Times. Here is a post on the economics of happiness from innovation guru Idris Mootee, as he turned 50. Download Time Magazine’s report on The Science of Happiness here.

Making Working Together Work

David Sherwin at Change Order blog has an interesting post on why we in the design, advertising and creative businesses need to collaborate more with people. Here is his interesting little list of whys and watch outs …

1. Great ideas, with proper nurturing, attract the support of others. This holds true for creative organizations that strip personal politics out of the design process. People want to help your work succeed (if you’re generally nice to them).

2. Collaborative making is a sign of maturity in your portfolio. I respect nothing more than seeing a designer’s portfolio stuffed with killer creative work, chased by a presentation where the designer talks about how they brought the unique strengths of each team member to bear on the work. The designer carries the vision, while the team supports it. Such a designer can become a leader.

3. Great teams know how to play jujitsu with client feedback and sell work through. A real red flag that comes up in interviews with designers is when they show their original concepts instead of what ended up being printed or went live. It’s not just on you to sell an idea. Your team will help you. And anyways, even an edited idea is “yours” when it contains the spirit of your intent for a concept.

4. You don’t own it anyways. Your company owns your ideas. Then, after the client pays you for them, they usually own it (or a license to it) forever. So once those ideas come out of your mouth, they’re no longer yours.

Now, with this said: Great ideas still need to be on brief. And you need to be on a team where you’re all on equal footing. Here’s a few situations regarding team dynamics that you should look out for.

Voice your intent before starting a team engagement. Before you start working a project as a team, say out loud exactly how you want it to play out. “First, I’d love for us to share our ideas with no editing for an hour or two. Let’s have fun! Then, we’ll take a walk, come back, and relate the ideas we’ve brainstormed back to the brief… and maybe see if one or two of them can be merged into something even better.” You’d be surprised how voicing your intent, along with an attitude of real humility, can blow the roof off a brainstorm.

Great ideas come from the bottom up, not top-down. If your creative director keeps on handing your team ideas and tells you to execute them as is, you should consider going somewhere a little more democratic. You’ll learn by example, but not by doing the work. Great designers know how to follow the thread of a glimmer of an idea through into the full-blown work, molding feedback into it.

If you keep failing to land an idea, there is likely a clear reason. But it may hurt when you figure it out. If you brainstorm in teams, and you come up with a ton of ideas that end up getting discarded at the end of the process, then you need to consider why your work isn’t getting support. It may have been because you were off-brief or just didn’t connect with the audience on an emotional level. Or, most likely, you didn’t describe your ideas clearly. Lack of articulation is the number one killer of great ideas.

Don’t fluff yourself for being a “creative type.” The number two killer of great ideas? Preening yourself regarding creating the idea after you present it. I’ve worked at places where there was a note in the employee handbook that said, “No divas.” Those rules are enforced with an iron hand, and for good reason. Such behavior keeps people from sharing the most valuable commodity in any creative agency: themselves.

Millenials. Changing The Face Of Marketing

Economist Business Intelligence unit has published the results of their survey “How prepared companies are for the millennial consumer?” That the millennials (people born belween 1977 and 1998) will affect business and the marketplace is already assured. Social networking sites and Web 2.0 tools all bear their stamp. Millennials have grown up in the digital era and live in a media saturated environment. Moreover, they have billions of dollars in collective purchasing power. In an era of text messaging and online interaction, what are companies doing to tailor the customer experience for the millennial generation?

Respondents overwhelmingly agree that the millennials have specific marketplace needs, but few organisations have formally prepared for the millennial customer in their strategic or marketing plans.

When it comes to purchasing products and services, corporate reputation and brand are less important with the millennials than peer recommendation and viral marketing (that is, online promotional communications passed from one customer to another). Moreover, respondents say it is convenience, more than price, that drives millennial purchasing decisions.

Companies have not kept pace with the millennials’ preference for interacting through newer, community-based technologies, as most firms continue to rely on telephone, e-mail and store/office-front points of contact.

To attract and retain millennials as customers, organisations will need to adapt business processes to enrich the customer experience and allow greater choice in customising products and services

The survey points to the fact that millenials seek convenience, customisation, community and “cool” as motivating factors. Others include “fast, reliable service”, “frictionless interaction”, a “tailored approach”, “honesty and trust” and a “personal touch”.

The survey was done among 164 executives from around the world. One-third of respondents’ organisations had annual revenue greater than US$1bn and just over one-half (51%) had less than US$500m in revenue. Board members and CEOs comprised 30% of respondents. CFOs, CTOs and other C-level executives made up an additional 19%. The remainder was split among other senior and middle management functions.

Nearly 40% of those surveyed believe that companies should allow customers greater choice in designing or tailoring their products, with 32% noting that companies should solicit direct input from millennials in the product creation process. This idea of individually crafting the service or product received seems tied to this young generation’s interest in forming fluid, dynamic relationships with companies, which some survey respondents say help millennials “feel special”.

Seventy-one percent of the respondents say that when it comes to purchasing decisions, millennials care most about convenience, followed by overall style and taste (69%), peer recommendation (67%) and accessibility (65%). They also think that enriched content, enhanced online experiences and peer validation as among the most effective communication channels in serving millennials.

Throughout the survey, executives downplay the importance of traditional corporate assets, such as reputation and brand, as key influencing factors for millennials. Further on, the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, videos, chatrooms, social networking sites and other online interactive communication has changed the corporate-customer relationship. And more than one-third of all executives cite the goal of offering superior customer service and value as their main customer priority over the next three years. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that customer service is a competitive advantage and critical to growing and retaining their customer base.

The survey concludes by saying that millennial influence has yet to reach its peak, but its force is already being felt. The young demographic group continues to grow in buying power and as a percentage of the overall population. No generation in history has been so prepared at so young an age to use technology as an agent for change. Millennials’ ease and access to on-the-go, anytime computing has, in a few short years, spawned new channels of communication, collaboration and commerce. These channels increasingly shape the millennial buying experience. With superior customer service identified as a strategic cornerstone for most global organisations, executives will need to adapt business processes and exploit technology to enrich and personalise the customer experience. Indeed, failing to consider the customer contact preferences of millennials would be WOMBAT (a waste of money, brains and time), as millennials would note in text messages.

Download the survey from the Economist site

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