Communication: Evolving?

BittersweetI was connecting with someone who ran into me while I was having some naan and other things in Maraval, Trinidad, after the fact – through Facebook messenger.

And emojis came up. I use them quite a bit in quick communications, and it’s because people who don’t know me can’t always judge my mood by what I write. The same holds true for anyone, really. They serve an important use.

It’s because body language, in person, is such an important part of communication. In general, I prefer communicating with people in person because of this. Things are more clear. Personable.

But I have spent half of my life without an Internet. There’s generations that have been born since. Emojis are their a big part of their ‘body language’ now, in this new sort of intimacy – a digital intimacy.

Modern intimacy. #tech #people #intimacyNot too long ago, I watched a mother and daughter sitting at a coffee shop in a mall. I took a picture of them.

That’s how they looked the entire time. I find myself doing this at times with people close to me as well – that mutual searching for something somewhere else.

They’re probably using emojis.

The world has changed. There are some who say for the better, some say for the worse. It doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it has changed and that I have witnessed it. That I am witnessing it.

I’m not talking about the early adopters. I’m talking about how mothers and daughters used to talk to each other and make eye contact instead of sipping coffee at a coffee shop and staring at their phones. I don’t know the quality of their relationships. I can’t judge.

A (Snowy) Day In New YorkBut this all has created voids of understanding. Yesterday, a young man I know asked on Facebook about why people would tell him that if he had an anime profile picture his opinion didn’t matter. I explained to him that people saw an anime picture and saw someone who preferred to be identified as something that they aren’t as opposed to someone they are.

I don’t care too much about anime pictures. I take issues with people on social networks that don’t have pictures of themselves. That’s really the whole point, particularly with people like myself who are great with faces and bad with names. If I could draw beyond stick figures, I could probably use facial recognition to find that person I was thinking of.

Summarizing: It’s about interpretation.

That’s where it gets interesting. It is a bit of a problem here and there:

…Yet, for all the convenience that the shorthand of emoticons provide, they can also land users in hot water. After all, the meaning that one person associates with an emoticon can be lost on – even completely different to – the reader’s understanding of it. The ambiguity of emoticons can lead to undesirable misunderstandings, particularly when two parties are not familiar with one another – for example, when cross-cultural work emails are interpreted differently.

Make Tiny Hands Emoji Great AgainI’ve seen it. I’ve reacted to it. I’ve done it. It’s this fumbling through with fingers that can make any sort of communication awkward.

This must be very confusing for these newer generations. Everything they see is posed online, from duck-lipped selfies and photobombed pictures of great landscapes to streams of video.

It’s all staged.

And that’s all they see.

I imagine a genuine smile might be confusing to someone raised on that.

I’m sure this was all a revolution of sorts. I’m not sold on it being an evolution.

My generation started it. Enjoy, and I’m sorry.

🙂

 

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The Art of Interruption.

networking_communicationThis meme is making the rounds – and while it is funny, for those who have seen ‘The Princess Bride‘, it really hits an issue that…

Well, it bugs me. It applies to so many things beyond phone calls these days.

Maybe you can blame your parents if you don’t do these things. Maybe it was your peer group. Maybe you were underprivileged and had no access to other humans. Or maybe you just were raised by feral wolves, and you want to go around sniffing other people’s poo. I don’t know. But when dealing with humans, get a few things right instead of wrong.

People, for example, will call and not announce themselves, immediately asking for me (hopefully, or not), assuming I know who it is.

Assume the person you’re calling doesn’t know who you are. Always.

The relevant personal link can be omitted if the person receiving the call knows the personal link. If you don’t know them that well – a good way to judge is whether you know what color their underwear is when you call – assume they don’t, and remind them. If you do know the color of their underwear and they still don’t know who you are, hang up. They have larger issues than you, and you probably sound creepy to them. Expect a visit from local law enforcement.

Managing expectations is a good idea – or, simply getting to the point so the receiving person knows what this is about. I’m the person who doesn’t respond to messages that start with, “Hello”, or, “Hi”, or, “How are you?”. You’re messaging or calling for a reason, get to the point – with some caveats.

Also, assume they don’t have a lot of time or are busy.  “Are you busy?” or “Do you have a few minutes?” lets people have a chance to tell you that maybe you should call back when they can focus on a conversation that you think is important enough to interrupt their time for. If they think it’s important, they’ll handle it then. If they have immediate things to deal with, don’t be an idiot – let them deal with those things. Unless you’re dying and the emergency phone operator puts you on hold. But then, what can you do?

Getting to the point is a big thing for me. When you interrupt my life, I expect you to have a point unless you’re a very personal part of my life (I will know the color of the underwear, or will be interested to know).

I don’t care if it’s hard for you to get to the point. Get to the point. Don’t dance around it. Don’t give me your life history.

And for the love of all that is human, if you don’t get a hold of me, don’t keep trying immediately. Leave a message. Try in a while. Maybe I’m too busy dealing with something. Maybe I’m in the toilet. Maybe I’m talking to someone. Maybe I’m in a meeting. Maybe I just don’t feel like talking to you right now. Maybe you’re not as important as you think you are (there’s a reality check). For whatever reason, when people don’t respond immediately, it doesn’t mean you should keep pestering them immediately, unless it’s an emergency.

An emergency is life or death. I’m not a doctor. If you’re dead, you have no business calling me. If you’re in the process of dying, you should probably see a doctor. If you were just born, I will get to you – you should have a while for that to happen.

If it’s business, I will get back to you.

Take a breath.

 

 

The Reading Problem.

Reading enlightensWe’ve all encountered it. We post an article on some social network and someone comments without reading the article, or not reading it properly.

As someone who writes, I went through the stages of grief about it. I can apathetically report that I don’t care as much as I used to about it. Many people tend to skim headlines, sharing them without thought, and then blaming the Russians or whoever the headline targets for everything.

As someone who reads, I’m confounded by it. When I read that skim reading is the new reading, some of it began to make sense:

…As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading… — 

The bad news is that anyone who read that didn’t skim it, and therefore doesn’t need to understand it on a personal level. The good news is that there are people thinking about it.

But there are other things, things that also need to be addressed. Some people don’t even skim articles, they skim headlines – and in a rush, for whatever reason, they share it. Before you know it, things with no actual truth to them, or just enough to be shared, inundate the entire web.

Issues, too, of framing with technology come into context.

And what it really boils down to is that, aside from how much we might like to think people who are demonstrably susceptible to all of this are ignorant, as a society we generate a lot of things to read. Publishers understand the need for sticky headlines and ‘cover art’, and are good at it.

People don’t have enough time to deep read things, and they don’t want to be left out of an accelerating world – but are proud of themselves when they can type out the 4 letters, ‘TLDR’.

People who figured all of this out long ago have capitalized on it. Fake News, coupled with Big Data analysis of what people are interested in, allows some impressive amount of sharing of information that should probably be tossed in a pyre of literacy.

So, what to do as a writer? Well, the answer to that is simple: Keep writing.

And, as a global citizen on the Internet? Deep read. Don’t skim. Encourage others to do it.

 

Where Communication Fails

Communication is the keyIt amazes me how people make things more difficult through communication, enough so that sometimes I wonder if there is a special group of us that talks to ourselves for lack of anyone else receiving on the other end.

Exhibit A.

Last year, here in Trinidad and Tobago, someone asked me to be a reference on a visa application – which I willingly did because I know these people. I was at their house, filled out the form for their granddaughter and thought this was done other than a phone call. There was no signature, just the filling out of a name, address and phone number – as most references are.

Time passed – maybe a week. The grandfather calls me and tells me that they had filled out the old form and that they needed a new form filled out – and so, I told him it was a simple matter of copying the information over. He said that the new document needed a signature, which I was sure was not the case. He insisted, dropped by…

And lo! There was no signature necessary. It was as I expected, the form simply needing the same information that was on the old form, that anyone could have copied over. I showed him that, and he got upset with me. I filled it out anyway. We’re friends.

Why did he get upset? It took some time to unravel that. This 70-something year old man was upset because his granddaughter told him it needed my signature. She’s in her mid-20s, a product of an education system that apparently can’t distinguish between simply filling out a name and actually signing something.

It broke down to a functional literacy failure, something that I’ve found increasingly common.

Exhibit B

I was ordering a breakfast I normally order at a place I am a regular at, from a lady I normally order from and who is familiar with my order. The scene was tense for some reason as I walked in, having nothing to do with me. Yes, I asked, and she would have told me – which is why I value this relationship.

The sound of the AC was buzzing above the register, and the background noise of the busy place was at a high. I hear her say that there’s ‘No ham bacon’.

I’m puzzled by this. “Do you have ham?”

“No ham bacon”.

We go on like this for a few moments. She doesn’t speak up. I’m not understanding what she’s trying to tell me, and I know that she is trying to help me. After a while, it gets sorted out when she finally raises her voice a bit so I can hear over the background noise – when she spoke quietly, her voice was deeper and it merged with the underlying buzz.

She was saying there was no ham, only bacon.

But why couldn’t I hear her? Frankly, maybe I should get my hearing checked – I should get on that – but the other part of it was that she was upset and was making a conscious effort not to raise her voice because she was upset about other things.

This was a situational communication problem. Had we not known each other, it probably wouldn’t have ended with both of us laughing.

Exhibit C

I’d sold a piece of land to someone who was already on it – a simple solution (hack) to a silly problem caused by laws in Trinidad and Tobago – and a year had passed.

Out of the blue, I see this person is trying to contact me on Facebook messenger – by calling me (who does that?). So I message them back, and they message me that they were having trouble registering the deed. A year later.

Now, they had my phone number. After a year, this suddenly became an emergency – which is easy to judge someone on without knowing how their life is, but a year is a long time and I know that the deed registration had to have been done or I would have heard about it from the lawyer, who I do know, and who has done other transactions similarly.

Something wasn’t adding up, and it was already clear that this was a communication error.

I sent them my phone number – they should already have had it. Then they tell me that they don’t have my phone number. I respond that I just sent it. “Scroll up.”, I typed, even as I wanted to scream it.

11 messages and 5 phone calls later, they tell me that they’re at the tax office and can’t find the deed number. And this is where a lack of specialized knowledge created the core communication error – they were confusing the assessment number and deed number up, and finally, after repeating myself a few times, it sunk in. They blamed the government office for not telling them, but based on everything I had experienced with the person…

I was pretty sure that the person just wasn’t paying attention to what anyone had told them, written to them, or tattooed on their forehead. The whole situation showed over and over that they were not interested in finding out what they needed to know to solve their problem. They were happy just annoying people until someone held their hand and guided them to the right solution.

Maybe they were hugged too much as a child. I don’t know.

But this example shows not only a problem with understanding specialized things, but also the joys of dealing with people who do not listen well.

Exhibit D. 

In dealing with purchasing something, I ended up dealing with 3 separate entities who are allegedly working together: A lawyer, the seller, and the agent. During this process, I handed over documents required to the seller.

Their lawyer contacts me. They want me to come up and submit the very same documents to them. I explain that the seller has the documents, and the lawyer tells me that they can only receive those documents if I authorize the seller to release them.

The rub here is that the seller has their own lawyer that, by circumstance, I have to use. One would think that the documents that the seller had would be furnished to the lawyer. The lawyer explains that it’s to safeguard my privacy (nevermind all the photocopies of my IDs hanging around) – but it’s really a process failure.

In the course of a few hours, I get conflicting information from all 3 parties who were legitimately trying to help me around the process failure, which I ended up resolving by simplifying. I only need to deal with the lawyer. What she says is what we go with, in the hope that it all falls together properly.

So this was a conflicting communication error, caused by trying to work around a process failure. I have to wonder how many people get stuck in those loops.

So Many Problems.

This is just a sampling. All of these communication problems, at their core, are human problems. In an age when we can communicate so quickly all over the world – I remember a time when postcards were a big deal – we still don’t communicate well enough to make use of it.

We build things on communication. We build things on flawed communication. Technology is not waiting for us to get it right; it’s a wildfire of acceleration on all fronts.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Listen. Speak clearly. Know of what you speak of. Ask the right questions.

Communicate. The world actually does depend on it, and more specifically, your world depends on it.

The Age of Dune

The-Spice-Must-Flow-PosterWe’re in a strange age of Dune, metaphorically. If you haven’t read the books or, for the reading impaired, the movie, you won’t get the metaphor – you should go do either immediately and not return to the internet until you have.

If you’ll recall, the book was about Spice – and how the spice must flow. Last century, it was a metaphor for oil, and this century, it’s a metaphor for information.

I bring this all up because of the Russian submarines making NATO nervous because they’re prowling near underwater cables. The conversations around this speculated on them eavesdropping – relatively tinfoil hat – when a real threat is the severing off those cables. Remember how Mua’dib rose to power? Who can destroy the Spice controls the Spice, and who controls the Spice is the real power.

Factor in the death of network neutrality, which has been long dead in other ways while people have been discussing the imminent rigor mortis while poking it with a stick. It’s not as if Facebook has been deleting accounts at the requests of the U.S. and Israeli governments.  It’s not as if any despot of any sort hasn’t at least tried to control the information flow. The trouble is that most people don’t understand information and don’t understand data beyond the definitions in dictionaries and antiquated textbooks.

Information flows. In a battlefield somewhere, a severed submarine cable can mean chaos on the ground somewhere. In a world where cables connect markets, severed cables mean being unable to get access to those markets. It means isolation.

The spice must flow, the information must flow. And those who seek to destroy information, from burning books to limiting access for people to information is about isolating, about controlling, and about power. How will it end?

I’ll be in my garden, monitoring the situation. You kids play nice.

2018: Tech and Society

Brighter FutureOn the human meta level, it’s pretty clear that robotics and AI will continue making inroads into our societies in ways that we aren’t yet prepared for. Personally, it’s amusing when what got me into software engineering for a living as a young man increasingly becomes a reality 2 decades later. In fact, it’s the only reason I code these days, and coding itself as we know it is in it’s twilight.

While blue collar jobs have always been what has been worried about as far as ‘machines taking jobs’, there is a clear bias to deal with expense. Where technology can make things cheaper, it does, so those with high salaries and jobs that can be automated will be increasingly put on notice. This leaves us with the dilemma of how people will earn a living, a real problem in a world where bureaucracies have demonstrably been slow to react to these changes, where politics around the world has somehow become more palpably connected with fear, where people see things faster, and where our ability to use technology to communicate dwarfs our ability to do so.

Renewable energy has gone beyond being a novelty – even here in Trinidad and Tobago, when over a decade ago my father tried to sell the government on solar powered street lights, the local electricity company – state owned T&TEC – announced in late 2017 that they’ll be doing stuff with it. Technology lags in countries around the world, and 2018 will continue increasing that divide – but a nation’s ability to use technology does not define it’s advancement, as economic policies on a global scale have the developed world in for a redefinition. BRIC is a reality, and network power continues to make them powerhouses.

I think of my nieces in college, my nephews about to start college, and how their education can be made worthwhile by simply being relevant over the next few decades of their lives – but their lives will be redefined by things larger than the education systems that they will be indentured to. We are on the precipice of change that we cannot possibly understand the implications of until we’re on the other side of it.

And 2018 will be increasingly about that.

The Introverted Network

Introvert / ExtrovertHidden in one of his posts (Measuring your real net worth) John Hagel welcomed some thoughts:

“…I would welcome advice and insight on how introverts (and others) can be more intentional about cultivating the kinds of personal networks that I’ve described above…

 

As a round peg that fits in many square holes, I do have a few things of value I can toss out there. John later mentions writing – writing has always been an asset for me. Photography came into play later on. Speaking for myself, with my own unique set of circumstances, I have certain guidelines for my networks I have created over the years that I still adapt to.

My guidelines are largely for attenuating my network, squelching noise and finding actual signal out there. In some ways, I feel like SETI.

Authentic.

My. Word.

In an age where everyone can communicate, it’s disheartening to see how many people aren’t authentic – they are showing who they want to be; these are the people who wash their cars and don’t do maintenance or have it done on their pretty little machines.

To find someone who is authentic is difficult enough…

Interesting?

I’m someone who ‘lives’ at intersections, always bridging one thing to another. I look for people who are not just specialists – in a world full of specialists – but also generalists and people who have something to offer other than something regurgitated from a newsfeed.

Thoughtful?

I appreciate a thoughtful read, particularly if it opens me up to a perspective I am unfamiliar with that is communicated in a thoughtful way – not the hollow expertise that has become rampant in even the most modern methods of communication. And when communicate back, I expect a level of thoughtfulness in the replies. If the response boils down to, “because I said so” or something similar, I’ll show my way out.

Cross-cultural?

This has become more and more important to me – and while it derives from ‘thoughtful’, it is a true gem to find. When people can communicate effectively across cultures, first they reach a larger audience with what they are saying. This, unfortunately, also means wrong information can spread across that cultural bridge – but oddly, I’ve found that most information I get from people who live at these intersections is pretty well thought out and open to discussion – even, sometimes, starved for it as someone gives voice to things and is heard.

Lines.

I draw lines.

First and foremost, if people get into my personal ‘space’ for no real good reason, I tend to squelch them. This is completely alien to some people and I understand that, but understanding that doesn’t mean I need to tolerate intrusions into my space (I call it my wa, or harmony). But what is this personal ‘space’?

The first time, people typically get a message from me that I’m not one for chit-chat; that I appreciate it all in one message. That usually does the trick. Usually.

The annoying ding of a message that just says, “Hi.” From this, I extrapolate that this will be a tiresome and largely unproductive communication that leads to multiple messages where one message alone would do. When I communicate, I lay it out all in one message.

And yes, I absolutely hate twitter for this. Absolutely. Twitter is good for sharing larger messages encapsulated in a link.

My second line is that if someone has an odd fetish that they post about all the time – for example, if they don’t ‘like Trump and post about Trump all the time – I squelch them. I learn nothing from that. The inverse is true for me as well. That is a form of intellectual masturbation I gave up a few decades ago, and while I appreciate that some have an odd predilection for it, I don’t feel like being near it.

Money

For a certain amount of money, to be negotiated, people can pay me to put up with the above. Never the other way around.

Decisiveness.

I probably could have networks exponentially larger than I have now had I not squelched things. Larger is not my goal. I view a network as something everyone in feeds, and something that feeds everyone.

My Own Counterculture

The typical SEO/social media expert will tell you that you have to put on the Disney smile for everyone. I suppose this is important for corporations who want to appear authentic and alienate as few people as possible. I have never subscribed to this thought for myself, and only over the last decade have stopped trying to make excuses for it or apologizing for it. There is only one me, I am who I am and I am no more and no less.

This is not for everyone, of course, and if you’re paying social media experts to broaden your reach, you need to understand that your reach also has to be managed – and success in this regard can result in cataclysmic failure. Speaking for myself, I deal with the world as I can, and increasingly, as I demand. I see this as a factor of having grown up before the Internet became a ‘thing’, of having dealt with it since it’s inception and having made a living off of it, through it and around it.

Lastly, social media is only that. Real connections with real people trump social media connections. Social media can offer real connections, and I’ve outlined the general rules of how I cultivate those.