Posts tagged “relationships”

Stories behind the themes: Relational Connections

Welcome to the next installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. Today we are focusing on the relational role of technology as a facilitator, participant, and obstacle. This broadly encompasses relationships between human and technology, humans and other humans, human with self, and even technology with technology. The nature of our relationships are changing, as our the tools that are available for us to make meaning of the data that they embody and generate. The items below begin to unpack this tangled web of interconnectedness along with rituals that arise and recede in response to progress and its discontents.

The tribesman who Facebook friended me [salon.com] – Really astonishing piece, especially since the whole “picture of a Kalahari desert warrior on a mobile phone” images became totally overdone in our field 15 years ago. Very intriguing characterization of the limited exposure to ideas this tribe had and in a very short time they are on Facebook. This article implicates technology in the evolution and revolution of relationships with (and within) tribes that hitherto were characterized by a lack of interaction with the rest of the globe.

But, what I am here to tell you is that it’s happening now.¬† We now live in a world in which a tribe that had not even heard of a feathered arrow until two years ago, can access every idea in the world.¬† For the first time in history, humanity is truly open-access.¬† Our entire species is “logged in.”¬† Should we mourn the passing of a phase in our history when bands of human minds still lived in isolation, or rejoice that we are finally all on the same page?

Life in the Age of Extremes [theatlantic.com] – The internet (which he seems to conflate or equate with processing power and computing capabilities) enables extreme reactions and responses that have great destructive potential. The author argues that interconnectedness via the internet amplifies feedback loops and therefore catalyzes extreme states and transforms the value of individual contributions within these collective contexts.

Optimists have long dominated the cyber-landscape, firm and vocal in their belief that the Internet creates a more transparent world, and that the quick and easy access to information it provides is bringing the global population together into one enlightened chorus of harmony. I have been deeply concerned that the Internet has created a centrifugal force that has the potential to tear us apart. The Internet’s reinforcement of uncompromising positions during acrimonious budget debate in Washington, the Internet-facilitated, high-frequency trading driving volatility in financial markets, and the use of Twitter to organize the recent street riots in the UK brought to mind Eric Hobsbawm’s 1994 book, The Age of Extremes. The book is about the extreme historical events of what Hobsbawm called “the short 20th century.” But he could just as easily have been writing about the 21st century, the Internet age.

Pew Internet Research Report [pewinternet.org] – Results of a recent study about cell phone use. Ironically, of the 2,277 interviews conducted about cell phones, 1,522 interviews were conducted by landline phone, and only 755 interviews were conducted by cell phone (that’s about 33%). So here we have a study that evokes questions about how we relate to others via technology and how that very relationship facilitates the study of the relationship. Is this relational research recursion?

83% of American adults own some kind of cell phone–and these devices have an impact on many aspects of their owners’ daily lives. Half of all adult cell owners (51%) had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27%) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.

When Roommates were Random [nytimes.com] – How technology is mitigating the influence of serendipity and randomness. Fueled the conversation of X before Y, i.e. how did we do X before Y came along?

It’s just one of many ways in which digital technologies now spill over into non-screen-based aspects of social experience.¬† I know certain people who can’t bear to eat in a restaurant they haven’t researched on Yelp. And Google now tailors searches to exactly what it thinks you want to find. But this loss of randomness is particularly unfortunate for college-age students, who should be trying on new hats and getting exposed to new and different ideas. Which students end up bunking with whom may seem trivial at first glance. But research on the phenomenon of peer influence – and the influences of roommates in particular – has found that there are, in fact, long-lasting effects of whom you end up living with your first year.

The Rebirth of the Ringtone [theatlantic.com] – A little ditty about the rise, fall, and rise again of audible cell phone rings, alternatively about the rise and fall of ‘vibrate’ setting. Begins to track some of the rituals of taming technology to comply with social norms and how our personal (i.e. ringtone) choices are reflective of our relationships and (in some cases) responsible for them.

I rarely hear a phone ring these days. Hell, I’m lucky if I catch a stray beep. Only those without much experience in the wireless world continue to derive pleasure from hearing “Achy Breaky Heart” every time an acquaintance calls. A phone on vibrate gives you a slight informational advantage over the people around you, but at the cost of your public identification with a kind of music. Somehow, putting your phone on vibrate seemed politely self-interested, not just plain sneaky.

Does The Internet Make You More Or Less Connected? [npr.org] – There are two sides to the coin of constant connectedness. The distraction from immediate social situations is real, but so is the fact that connections with people can be more frequent and relationships can blossom using technology.

The distractions play an even more aggressive role when it comes to my connection with myself. Most of the moments once reserved for a little alone time have been infiltrated by the realtime Internet. I never just wait for a bus, or just stand in line at a bank, or even just sit and think as I sit stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At these moments, I pull my phone out of my pocket faster than a gunfighter pulls his weapon out of its holster.

Information Consumes Attention Focus In The Age of Abundant Stimulus [boingboing.net] – The paradox of focus and how it can be improved by meditation and pleasure. A lovely little respite that suggests strengthening our relationship with the present moment and our Self in order to better navigate the influx of attention-grabbing information.

The most promising solution to our attention problem, in Gallagher’s mind, is also the most ancient: meditation. Neuroscientists have become obsessed, in recent years, with Buddhists, whose attentional discipline can apparently confer all kinds of benefits even on non-Buddhists. (Some psychologists predict that, in the same way we go out for a jog now, in the future we’ll all do daily 20-to-30-minute “secular attentional workouts.”) Meditation can make your attention less “sticky,” able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them. It has also been shown to elevate your mood, which can then recursively stoke your attention: Research shows that positive emotions cause your visual field to expand.

Love in the Time of Robots: A Duet With Siri [theatlantic.com] – Interview with creator of the viral song/video duet between human and iPhone. This delightful little duet touches on how we derive meaning from our relationships with our devices and gets us wondering about artificial interpersonal communication.

Do you think humans will actually fall in love with their robots one day? Is it happening already? OOOOOOh. Yes. I’m really infatuated with the idea of machines eventually being capable of love. I think it’s kind of inevitable, but I don’t really expect to see it in my lifetime.

 

 

And then there were themes: Secondary research results

We read quite a bit on a daily basis here. Once we embarked on the Omni project, everything crossing our screens seemed to relate to the topic at hand. We created a secondary research database to document and collect various articles, blogs, video, blurbs and stories about the role of technology in our lives. We commented on them. We tagged them with keywords. We talked about them. We thought about what we’ve learned from years of doing fieldwork and being curious, and attending conferences and meetings. As they will, patterns and themes began to emerge, which are helping us to ground and organize our thinking as we move forward into our first phase of primary fieldwork.

We’re excited to share some of what’s occupying our thoughts based on that work. Disclaimers and caveats: we are deliberately not including links to all the articles that informed us, to avoid being overwhelming. We’ll post that detailed bibliography next week. We have, however, added a link or two here and there to give you a glimpse into from whence our ideas came.

We noticed a powerful, overarching effect: the discourse about how technology is experienced has been characterized by a remarkably strong polarity. We are either becoming dumber or smarter. Being threatened or enabled to greatness. Dehumanized or globalized. Diseased or cured. If we were to think of this as a personal relationship, we’re at a crossroads. What is gained and lost by this alliance? We are making a list of pros and cons as a culture. Some entries in this ledger are tangible and physical, others are emotional and spiritual. We project our fears and our dreams onto our technology-based interactions and experiences. We are inspired and terrified. Some of us want to break up with technology, others are ready to commit.

Example: Bill Davidow in the Atlantic: Life in the Age of Extremes

We hear a lot of chatter, and have a lot of questions about…

…the notion of our own personal exposure. We put our identity (or identities) out there, and our behavior gathers around it in a massive snowball effect, which defines us in this context. So, that’s done then, to a greater or lesser extent. How do we protect ourselves? From who/what? Is it possible to be safe, or have we ceded control of our personal choices and activities in return for participation? The consequences of participation are unclear. We no longer have a clear mental model about the trajectory of our roles. It’s difficult to preview the positive or consider an exit strategy. The fate of our digital lives after our physical death is an example of this uncertainty. How will more exposure resulting from more access, inter-connectivity and integration of our technologies add to the hullabaloo?

See: CNN Money/Fortune’s Review of Jeff Jarvis’ Book Public Parts Internet Privacy: Is it Overrated?

…the broader relational aspects of our technology-enabled interactions. One:one, one:many, one:technology, tech:tech. The oft-pondered question: are we now closer or more isolated from other people for all this? Are we more or less human as a result of these interactions? Who is serving who, or what? The data we generate can be seen as more interesting than the content (even to our own “friends”). We are forced to analyze and qualify relationships in new ways. How many friends do you have? As magical as the tools and tech we interact with are, our relationships with each other even is more complex than it can support. We don’t have the inner social tools to deal with technologically fueled communication. New tech-driven awkward situations arise, or olde-tyme situations, such as break-ups, take on another layer to navigate. What are strategies help deal with all our connections and interconnections, both with human and non-human actors? When do they fail?

Check out: Jonnie Hughes on Salon The Tribesman who Facebook Friended Me

…the constant state of transformation we’re in, fueled by the rapid and endless development cycle for both experiences and hardware solutions that utilize new tech. We have to first unlearn, then learn and relearn ways to do both common and exceptional tasks on a daily basis. The way I note something on my calendar, for instance, has become orders of magnitude more complex than it used to be. Reinforced behaviors and habits are in a constant state of flux, and complicated by the fact that we are interconnected and affected by what we are doing, relationally, with other people and objects. People, of course, have different levels of comfort and patience with these transformations, thus early adopters vs. laggards. Behavioral change is a notoriously difficult charge for innovators, so how do we address the fact that we are thrusting people into such challenging zones on a regular basis?

For instance: Cathy Davidson in the Chronicle of Higher Education Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age

…the physical effects and experiences with technology. Sure, it’s virtual, but it’s also tangible, and is becoming biological. Consumer technologies that intersect with our bodies and minds are increasingly available, allowing us to quantify ourselves. Different poses and postures are being impacted and invented through devices and interactions. Handwriting is on the decline, finger-typing is passé, thumb-typing is prime, gesture and NUI are on the rise. What are the implications as we think increasingly of technology as part of our brains, biology and environment? How are our bodies and environments evolving to keep up?

As in: Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times Magazine The Cyborg in All of Us

…the onslaught of information/data/content/feeds/streams/news/media which we are thinking of as a wonderland, in the manner of Alice’s rabbit-hole. The Faustian bargain is on – do we revel in the delight of access or cringe under the burden of the onslaught? Apps (Siri, Evernote) and strategies (in-box zero, digital holidays, gamification) abound to manage.

No link here… you’re soaking in it!

Tech relationship similes

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed some of the ways folks in the media frame and express our relationship to entities we interact with on the web. There’s something odd about the murkiness of roles and power dynamics. One thing is for sure – it’s gone far beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

To Daniel Soar of the London Review of Books, with Google, users are like teachers. By interacting with Google we are unwittingly instructing the machine, giving it lessons on human behavior. I like to think Google, the distributed Google-monster, finds us fascinating, an enormous virtual Andy Warhol.

We teach [Google] while we think it’s teaching us. Levy tells the story of a new recruit with a long managerial background who asked Google’s senior vice-president of engineering, Alan Eustace, what systems Google had in place to improve its products. ‘He expected to hear about quality assurance teams and focus groups’ – the sort of set-up he was used to. ‘Instead Eustace explained that Google’s brain was like a baby’s, an omnivorous sponge that was always getting smarter from the information it soaked up.’ Like a baby, Google uses what it hears to learn about the workings of human language. The large number of people who search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and also ‘pictures of puppies’ tells Google that ‘puppy’ and ‘dog’ mean similar things, yet it also knows that people searching for ‘hot dogs’ get cross if they’re given instructions for ‘boiling puppies.’

To Matthew Creamer of Ad Age, with Facebook, we are like disgruntled, unpaid employees. A more pointless, powerless role may not exist!

Some things are lost with each one of these Facebook changes, but they are not only matters of usability, navigation, privacy and other factors in our part-time but ever-more-involving jobs working as ad impressions for a rich company in Palo Alto, Calif. The stuff that inconveniences you in the short-term may make you rage with a hotness that, if spotted by an alien scout, would either send the visitor whimpering back to Zebulon or alarm him onto war footing, but it’s only so important. You will adapt. Or you will leave.

So, have they got it right? Are we teachers? Employees? Something else? Have you noticed other examples? How would you describe your relationship to Google or Facebook?

See Steve’s recent related post on Facebook changes, in which the above Matthew Creamer quote is cited as a comment.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Why Evan Williams of Twitter Demoted Himself [NYTimes.com] – [Creating a small but deliberate interaction – say, logging onto a computer – that serves as an engine of culture change in an organization] Twitter’s executives talk about the “Dunbar number” — the maximum number of people, generally believed to be 150, with whom one person can have strong relationships. This effort, mind you, comes from a company with a business model that fosters a multitude of ever-growing — and largely glancing — interactions among Twitter’s users. “I’ve never seen a company so focused on avoiding the Dunbar number,” says Adam Bain, who recently joined Twitter from the News Corporation as head of global revenue. “You can tell Ev planned it out.” Each time employees log on to their computers, for instance, they see a photo of a colleague, with clues and a list of the person’s hobbies, and must identify the person. And notes from every meeting are posted for all employees to read.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Homeless World Cup – [An interesting reframe of sporting championships and an interesting reframe of 'charity'] The Homeless World Cup is an annual, international football tournament, uniting teams of people who are homeless and excluded to take a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country and change their lives forever. It has triggered and supports grass roots football projects in over 70 nations working with over 30,000 homeless and excluded people throughout the year. The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.
  • [from steve_portigal] In Scholastic Study, Children Like Digital Reading [NYTimes.com] – “I didn’t realize how quickly kids had embraced this technology,” Ms. Alexander said, referring to computers and e-readers or other portable devices that can download books. “Clearly they see them as tools for reading — not just gaming, not just texting. They see them as an opportunity to read.”… “The very same device that is used for socializing and texting and staying in touch with their friends can also be turned for another purpose,” Mr. Chen said. “That’s the hope.” But many parents surveyed also expressed deep concerns about the distractions of video games, cellphones and television in their children’s lives. They also wondered if the modern multi-tasking adolescent had the patience to become engrossed in a long novel. “My daughter can’t stop texting long enough to concentrate on a book,” said one parent surveyed, the mother of a 15-year-old in Texas.
  • [from steve_portigal] Get a Geek in Five Easy Lessons [AMD at Home] – [AMD tries for humor on their corporate blog but ends up with an awkward, dated, false, sexist and generally alienating tone. Was this wise?] It’s hard to find a good man, but not impossible if you’re willing to make a little effort. Working in high tech, I’m mostly around guys all day. And I can tell you that – in general – technical guys are pretty cool. If nothing else, they will always be able to fix the TV, your PC, and the sprinkler system in a pinch. Yes, they have way too many gadgets, but come on, how many shoes do you have? How about just the black ones? So, if you’re single and find yourself at a TweetUp chatting with the cute geek in a backpack, here’s how to speak his language, appreciate his hobbies, and potentially snag a date at Fry’s. (Leslie Sobon is corporate vice president, product marketing at AMD. Her postings are her own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions.)

Transformers

Most companies would like their products and services to be something consumers have a relationship with; more than just a consumable good. Emotional relationships between people and things are one of the holy grails of product development.

Yet, in our research, we hear over and over from people that they simply don’t think this way about many of the products in their lives (particularly electronic goods).

Cars, however, are different. Cars get discussed fondly, wistfully, and passionately. They get named. They have histories.

As testament to cars’ tremendous resonance, look at the popularity of the Fast and Furious movies. And of the new Transformers film, which features vehicles as both heroes and villains, and which just bagged the highest weekday opening gross in movie history–despite being described (before the opening) by many in the media as a bad movie.

A number of factors about cars–perhaps the way they contribute to our personal histories, the level of complexity that lends them “personality,” the patina they acquire over time–transform them for many of us from mere objects into relationship material.

camaro-t_shirt
Camaro t-shirt, official licensed GM product, bought for $7.50 at Crossroads Trading used clothes

But products that are more towards the consumable end of the spectrum can also evoke emotions and create a sense of relationship. I think about Topps Bazooka bubble gum from my childhood–one of the most literally consumable products–and how evocative it remains, many years after I’ve ceased being a “user.”

bazooka-gum
Topps Bazooka Gum, photo by Sarah Lillian on Flickr

What’s it like for you? What are the ingredients that differentiate between just using something, and having a richer type of experience?

Related posts:

Object Love, Object Lust…
Packaging Surprise
Rage With The Machine
Miata Farewell

Station to Station

Today about 15 minutes apart I posted, “Digging in to a day of reading transcripts for one project and laying out findings for another” on Facebook and, “Wondering how many things I can do simultaneously before my head explodes” on my Twitter account.

Seems like a contradiction: one describes a deep dive and the other a multitasking frenzy. Yet both are true–each post represents a different way of looking at time and the meaning of “now.”

With all of the channels we have for letting each other know what we’re up to, there is a huge range of options for what to say where and to whom. And each channel and tool suggests different approaches.

There’s no doubt that these modes of communication are and will affect our ways of writing, starting and maintaining relationships…even our way of conceptualizing time.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • What is the deal with Jughead's hat? – This is something the Internet is truly great at: as an archive for the exploration and explanation of the obscure aspects of the familiar. What will future anthropologists make of the Internet of our generation?
  • Karachi, Pakistan manufacturing firm produces corsets and fetish wear (for export) – The brothers said Pakistan’s “stone-age production” worked to their advantage. The country, they said, lacks visionary product development. “Everyone’s still making the same products,” Adnan said.

    Then, they discovered a kind of straitjacket online. At first, they thought it was used for psychiatric patients, but it quickly led them to learn about the lucrative fetish industry.

    Today, they sell their products to online and brick-and-mortar shops, and to individuals via eBay. Their market research, they said, showed that 70 percent of their customers were middle- to upper-class Americans, and a majority of them Democrats. The Netherlands and Germany account for the bulk of their European sales.

    “We really believe that if you are persistent and hard working, there is an opportunity, in any harsh environment, even in an economically depressed environment like Pakistan,” Rizwan said.

  • Average frustrated chump – for what's a subculture without its jargon? – Often abbreviated "AFC," is seduction community jargon for a heterosexual male who is unsuccessful at finding sexual or romantic relationships with women] This person seeks attraction and longingly desires intimacy, but only finds cordial friendship and platonic love with women. The term AFC is pejorative, and is attributed to NLP teacher Ross Jeffries.
  • Seduction? Yeah we've got a group for that – The "seduction community" refers to a loose-knit subculture of men who strive for better sexual and romantic success with women through self-improvement and a greater understanding of social psychology. It exists largely through Internet forums and groups, as well as over a hundred local clubs, called "lairs" Supporters refer to the subculture simply as 'the community" and often call themselves "pickup artists." Origins date back to Eric Weber's 1970 book How to Pick Up Girls.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Essayist Joseph Epstein Exposes Friendship – "Some aspects of friendship had changed, he averred. Women and men could now meet in non-sexual friendship in a way they could not in his father's generation. And through email, chat rooms, and technology, "techno friends" could be friendly without requiring personal presence."
  • Susan Roane – Small Talk – Keynote Speaker – Business Networking Techniques – Susan RoAne is the leading authority and original expert on how to work a room. Her best-selling books, popular interactive presentations and media interviews help companies and organizations successfully develop, build and manage client relationships that increase business growth.
  • Podcast: Susan RoAne, author of the book Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World – RoAne is an author and speaker on communication but she's blissfully ignorant that the issues she's addressing (When do you email vs. make a phone call? Should you use your laptop in a meeting? Can you wear a bluetooth headset at the opera?) are social norms that are evolving rapidly as new interactive media take hold. What kind of expert proclaims "If you are twittering more than 5 times a day, you should get a life"? Especially in the same breath where she declares it as her new addiction. While she's a champion for the value of real personal connection and considers some of these technologies as excellent ways to enhance those relationships, she also has a top-down view of what's right and wrong without really addressing that sometimes our interpretations about new behaviors are arbitrary (i.e., the act of wearing a Bluetooth headset has no inherent moral value, it's only in the way our society at this time consents to interpret it).

What values do you tie your brand to?

rescueme_1.jpg
Every week we sit down for humor/drama/angst/sorrow/disbelief with Rescue Me (starring Denis Leary as a substance-abusing, sex-addicted, post-9-11-traumatized death-wish-harboring fireman). Every week Match.com runs an ad that tries to link their brand to the Rescue Me brand.

Yes, Match.com. The site that says “Last year alone, more than 500,000 singles found meaningful relationships through Match.com’s online personals and singles ads.” Meaningful relationships? Have they ever watched Rescue Me? Here’s some of the “meaningful relationships” that the show has dealt with

  • Denis Leary’s character (Tommy Gavin) lives across the street from his estranged wife, and does some very nasty stuff to sabotage her relationship (I seem to recall the man being framed for some credit fraud)
  • Tommy’s brother takes up with the same estranged wife, and Tommy seems to rape her (but maybe she’s willing?) in response (oh, and the brother is killed and the wife has his baby)
  • In parallel, Tommy takes up with the Sheila, the widow of his cousin (killed on 9-11) and they are on again and off again (violently) when she shacks up with a physically abusive lesbian
  • Tommy gets involved with the woman who teaches Sheila’s son, who is also having sex with the son
  • After finding his wife in bed with another fireman, one firefighter decides to “rescue” a prostitute from the life, only she scams him for his life savings
  • He becomes an alcoholic, then gets involved with a nun who is leaving her calling but ends it when he can’t keep up with her voracious and unemotional sexual demands

This barely scratches the surface. The storylines move far and wide, but you no doubt get the point. How does this really fit with what Match.com is offering? Match.com could be a way to avoid having your life turn out this way, but that’s not how it’s presented.

Seems like stupid advertising to me.

More, well, like a friend, a really really good friend

Much of user research hinges on unpacking words that mean one thing to one party and something different to another. Now we bring science into the picture, using MRI.

The research team found that while the same words were being used to describe people and products, different regions of the brain were activated when subjects were talking about one or the other. The fMRI scans detected that there was a greater neural response in the medial prefrontal cortex regions of the brain when applying the adjectives to people. But when focusing on brands, like Wal-Mart, Starbucks or Ben & Jerry’s, the left inferior prefrontal cortex was activated, an area of the brain known to be involved in object processing.

In other words, you can call it love, but fundamentally, we process the emotion differently depending on the object.

[via MIT Advertising Blog]

Love your test participants more than yourself

Wonderfully passionate blog entry about making that all-important connection with another person in a user-research setting. This would be great fodder for the workshop I’m leading at EPIC next month.

Last week, after a long long time I had a chance to conduct user interviews again. I loved any minute of it. There is nothing more rewarding (for me) than spending two hours with people I never met before (and probably I will never meet again) trying to understand the world from their point of view.

In those two hours and from the first few seconds, my attention is totally focused on the other person. I observe how they enter the room, how they look at me, and how they shake my hand; I need to understand anything I can about their personality, their level of comfort, and their communication style to be able to be in synch with them. The entire session is a dance, where I ask and listen, probe and observe, with the only purpose of gaining insight in somebody else perceptions, thoughts, and expectations. It’s always a fascinating journey.

….

But I believe that the magic of understanding another person is not just a technical issue. It requires to suspend for a moment our ego-centered way to interpret the world and open up to a different interpretation. In a way, it’s about love.

There is something wonderful in experiencing somebody else’s world. You understanding expands, you suddenly see something you could not see before. And there is no going back.

Series

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