Stop the Self-Inflicted Pain | Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let others do it to us?

Do two posts make a series? Anyway, this is second post looking at some modern-day frustrations where we look inside things that we do that are daft and dangerous. Some of them you may not realise are doing you damage, others probably already drive you a bit loopy. Part 1 is here: Stop the Self Inflicted Pain | How Much Better Could Your Life Be?

We have three more topics for today:

Devices in Meetings

What is the purpose of a meeting? Do you know? In almost every case, the addition of screens into that meeting is harming that purpose.

Most meetings that I attend, if I attend in person, are based around a large table. The table is littered with laptops, phones and tablets. People join the meeting with every intention of contributing wholeheartedly to it, but within minutes they are distracted. They don’t mean to be, but they are powerless to stay away from the distracting movements that are occurring before them.

“But” I can hear you say…

“But, what if I want to take notes electronically?” If you are far more disciplined than me, then perhaps you can have a powerful, internet connected, multi-skilled device there in-front of you and only use it to take notes. If that is you, then I take my hat off to you, but it’s still not as good for you as writing notes.

“But, what if I need the material off my laptop to inform the meeting?” That may be a perfectly valid point, but it should be limited and clearly understood in the objectives for the meeting, often it’s an excuse.

“But, what happens if someone needs to contact me?” This is the ultimate expression of the problem. If you take a device into a meeting because you think that someone may need to contact you, then you will be spending a significant amount of time in that meeting distracted by the potential that someone is going to contact you. “Has my phone run yet?” “What’s was that email that has just come in?”

Multi-tasking

One of the main reasons that devices in meetings is such a bad idea is that it draws us into multitasking and we are very poor at multitasking.

There are numerous experiments that show our inability to task switch, but perhaps we need the kids to show us how it is (not) done:

There’s also growing evidence that the impact of persistent multitasking is lasting harm. You’re less effective while you are multitasking, but you are also permanently numbing down your brain.

Aside from the impact on our brains there are situations where multitasking is downright dangerous. Those of you who still think you can text and drive are kidding yourself:

It has become normal many of us to multi-screen in front of the TV every night. Even if we are only using our tablet or phone while the adverts are on, we are still expecting our brains to multitask. Those advert may be annoying, but rather than picking up a screen we would be much better standing up and having a stretch.

This isn’t a new subject for me, but we still have a very long way to go before people listen.

Open Plan Offices

Once the darling of every office manager the open plan office is a disaster for productivity.

You don’t need to look any further for evidence of this than this invention from Panasonic:

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These are a pair of blinkers for the office, for those times when you need some peace and quiet to get your job done! Seriously!

Again, I hear that “but” word entering into your head. The primary “but” for open plan offices is: “But, doesn’t it improve communication between teams and enable more creative interactions?” Let me put it as simply as I can: “No.”

Open plan offices drive down interactions:

The results were stark: after the shift to an open-plan office space, the participants spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while their use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

Most people spend their time in an open plan office with headphones plugged in which makes it difficult to know whether they are one a phone call so it’s normal to instant message them, even if they are on the next desk.

How many more things?

That’s eight different areas that we’ve covered in two posts, I wonder how many more there are? Imagine if each one improves your productivity, or wellness, by just 2% we would have improved our lives by at least 16%!

Posting to My Facebook Profile – No More

I’m no longer posting from this blog to Facebook. It’s not because I’ve decided that I no longer want to post a link to Facebook. It is because Facebook have decided that they want to take away the ability for services to do that posting to my profile on my behalf.

I used to use the publicize features WordPress to send an update as I published a new post straight to Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, but Facebook have removed the capability to post there. I’ll still post to LinkedIn and Twitter.

Previously the way to do this was through a service like IFTTT, but they were using the same API and no longer work either.

There is an alternative, and that is to create a Facebook Page for my blog and to get the posts published there. That would require everyone I know on Facebook to also subscribe to my Facebook Page and I think that they probably have better things to do.

I could, also, click a few buttons and do it manually, but life’s too short for that.

So, for now, there will be no updates from my blog onto my Facebook Profile. But, if your normal interaction with me is via Facebook this post probably makes no difference to you, because you don’t know it exists, because this post won’t get posted on my Facebook Profile either. You won’t know what you don’t know.

“When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.”
George Bernard Shaw

Update: As others have reminded me, Buffer is also impacted by this change, so any updates I would have posted from Buffer won’t be coming from that route either.

I’m Reading: “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy” by Cathy O’Neil

We are surrounded by algorithms. We are constantly being evaluated by criteria that is invisible to us.

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What I see on Google is different to what you see. What I see on Facebook is different to your perspective and not just because I have access to different thing to you.

I pay for insurance for a number of things, the cost of that insurance is governed by a set of parameters that are unknown to me; many of which I can’t change or even validate whether they are correct.

Weapons of Math Destruction explores some of these algorithms and their impacts on individuals and society in general.

Statisticians have known that many statistics have a dark side creating unintended consequences and perverse outcomes. As we increasingly use data, and the associated statistical algorithms, we need to understand the dangers of the perverse outcomes that we are creating.

Cathy O’Neil uses examples to illustrate the challenges that we are facing. The bulk of the book is examples of Weapons of Math Destruction (WMD) that already exist. There are examples for algorithms being used for politics, employee candidate selection, criminal justice, insurance, education ratings and advertising, to name just a few. The extent of these algorithms means that it’s unlikely that you haven’t been impacted in some way by one of them, but how do you know that the assessment of you is fair, or even accurate. How do you know what parameters have been used to calculate your insurance premium?

In many of the areas outlined in the book the unintended consequences lead to significant mistreatment of individuals and whole people groups. Many of these people groups being the same people groups that have been mistreated by society for generations – the poor, those living in certain neighbourhoods, ethnic minorities and women being particularly negatively impacted.

The book talks about a lot of examples and raises a lot of questions and concerns, the book doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring the potential resolutions to the issues raised. There are a few great thoughts in that direction but it’s not that primary topic for this book.

I’m quite sure that we don’t, yet, have the necessary regulatory framework in place for these algorithms. I’m also convinced that we will make progress towards the right framework, but in the interim, damage is being caused.

I read this book in the middle of a political and media storm about an organisation called Cambridge Analytica who collected data from Facebook on 50 million people. This story was pioneered by The Guardian with a lot of coverage on 17th March 2018 quoting whistleblower Christopher Wylie, but it’s worth noting that Cathy O’Neil’s book was published in September 2016 and contains many of the same details about Cambridge Analytica that we now regard as shocking. Perhaps news doesn’t travel as quickly as we think it does.

I was first prompted to read this book by Cathy’s TED talk which will give you an idea of the WMD that she has collected:

YouTube is now your Mum/Dad/Practical Friend

One of the things that fascinates me is the social change that is driven by the internet and internet services.

Once upon a time we would answer practical problems in one of two ways:

1. Ask someone we trusted

The question would normally be to our mum or dad or to that a practical friend who knows how to do anything. Their proximity would allow them to show us how to do something in person, or talk us through it over the phone. Sometimes their answer would be to talk to someone else that they know who is practical in a particular way: “Talk to your grandma she’s really good at buttonholes.”; “Ask Eddie he knows how to protect a Koi pond from herons.”; “Ask Mary she’s good for advice on home automation systems.”

As a result our wisdom was limited by their knowledge, or the knowledge of the people that they know. What’s more we only knew if their knowledge was any good when we tried what they suggested. We had to decide whether to try what the suggested by judging their level of confidence in their knowledge. I suspect we’ve all had friends who’ve confidently told us to do something that has later turned out to be the last thing we should have done.

This was the normal way of finding out how to do something.

2. Go to the library or take a course

If we needed to know something outside the knowledge of the individuals we trust we may go as far as to do some formal research. This research would have mandated a trip to the local library and wading through reference manuals and the like. In extreme cases we may even take a course on how to do something, but this was only for the truly dedicated.

This was not the normal way of finding out how to do something, it was only used in exceptional circumstances.

Along comes YouTube (other video sources are available)

For many YouTube has now replaced your mum, dad and practical friend. it’s even replaced the library and training courses for some.

I’ve had two situations recently where this was the case:

Windscreen Washer Failure

It’s been an interesting winter here in the UK with different whether each day, switching from warm and wet to bitterly cold. Windscreen washers have, therefore, become a vital part of road travel, when the washer in the car that my wife drives failed it was important that it was fixed.

My first instinct was that it was just a fuse problem so opened up the in-car manual to see which one, only to discover that the windscreen washer wasn’t listed. Fortunately YouTube had most of the answer – someone called Andy Robertson had experienced exactly the same problem and posted a video. I say most of the answer because the fuse box that Andy shows isn’t quite the same as the one that’s in our Polo, but it did allow me to know that it was a 7.5 amp fuse and following a short process of illumination to find the one that had blown.

iPhone Charging Problem

I’ve been struggling to charge my iPhone recently – I’d plug a lightening cable into it and leave it, when I came back to it later the cable would be slightly out of the socket and no charging will have taken place. Having tried a number of different cables I realised that the problem was with the socket in the iPhone itself, not the cables. Going to the Apple Store to get it fixed sounded like an expensive proposition so I took to YouTube for help. It wasn’t long before I found a set of videos from people all telling me that it was likely to be dust and/or lint in the mechanism and simply to get a pin and dig it out. Putting a metal thing into a charging point didn’t sound like a good idea, but the basic idea worked a treat and now my phone stays plugged in.

I’m not sure which of my practical friends would have known to do that, mu parents certainly wouldn’t.

The New Normal

These are a couple of personal examples of what I think is the new normal way of working out how to do something, but it’s not just me. The car fuse video has been watched over 27,000 times, the iPhone one nearly 700,000 times. A friend recently used another YouTube video to work out how to get a broken headphone jack out of an iPad. Another friend gives overviews of his allotment that people use to get advice on the technicalities of an allotment and allotment life.

I wonder how many of the 1 billion hours of YouTube video that is watched every day is so helping people with their how do I questions?

Can you please take 5 seconds and check? It’s a simple 4 step process.

Here’s a fabulous quote from Viktor E. Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

We live in a world were so many people don’t recognise that a space exists, they respond as soon as the stimulus has arrived.

One of the areas where this is most prevalent is in social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, they all suffer from it. People see the stimulus of a post and respond immediately.

I don’t think that a day goes by without me seeing re-posted content that doesn’t pass the space test. People talk about fake news and fake media, but the primary creators of these phenomena are us and our inability to use the space to validate the stimulus.

Whether it’s the global re-writing of the news (or non-news) about Donald Trump and his ability to feed Koi Carp, or the latest “URGENT: Tell all of your friends…” on Facebook we all need to learn to use the space.

The space doesn’t need to be very big, just a few seconds is all you need to check whether you are responding to something genuine or just creating digital noise.

These are the 4 simple steps:

  1. Recognise that whatever the stimulus says, there is always space.
  2. Filter with suspicion. Most of these things only require a modicum of suspicion.
  3. Check your suspicions. There are numerous ways of doing this quickly.
  4. Choose your response. You have the freedom to choose.

1. Recognise that whatever the stimulus says, there is always space.

It’s not urgent, it might say it is, but it’s not. Anything on social media, or on email that says it’s urgent isn’t so urgent that it can’t wait for a few seconds. If it really required an immediate response then it wouldn’t use email, Facebook, twitter, etc.

You have space, use it.

2. Filter with suspicion. Most of these things only require a modicum of suspicion.

Certain things should always make you suspicious, others are probably fine, the tricky ones are the grey ones.

If it’s too good to be true – it’s suspicious.

If it says it’s urgent – it’s suspicious.

If it says it comes from an organisation with which you have financial ties – it’s suspicious.

If it come via that friend who always re-posts this kind of thing – it’s suspicious.

If it’s out of character – it’s suspicious.

If it says it’s urgent and comes from an organisation with which you have no dealings – it’s beyond suspicious and should just be ignored.

3. Check your suspicions. There are numerous ways of doing this quickly.

Google is probably your best friend when it comes to checking your suspicions. Copy and paste a short extract from the re-post or email and it’s likely that you’ll get a flood of search results along the line of: “Amazon email hoax…”; “Egg Windscreen Attack…” and “Win a $1000 Amazon Gift Card” Facebook Survey Scam

If you want to be a bit more targeted there are specific hoax sites like Hoax-Slayer and fact checking sites like Snopes. This is quite regularly the content that Google is highlighting at the top of the search results.

Once you check you’ll probably be surprised by how long the scam/hoax has been floating around the internet – I’ve seen the Egg on Windscreen one recently, it was first reported in 2009!

4. Choose your response. You have the freedom to choose.

Once you’ve checked you can choose what you do in the light of that checking.

Sometimes the right thing to do is to post a response informing your friend/acquaintance of their foolishness. Be careful doing this, you are, after all, telling someone you know that they are twit and people don’t always respond well to such helpful prompting.

Quite often the best response is to do precisely nothing. It’s not always worth posting anything to correct the friends and acquaintances. The chances are that whoever is going to re-port the re-post has already done it anyway.

Those response are assuming that what they have posted is a verifiable hoax/scam. Another response is to create more space and wait a while. Just because there isn’t any public information to say that something is a hoax doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Give it a couple of days, check again, and your suspicions may well prove to be valid.

The final alternative is, of-course, to re-post whatever it is that someone has asked you to highlight. You only have to do this if you really want to, remember: “In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

What do the “Millennials” think about the future? | WEF Global Shapers Survey

Each year the World Economic Forum surveys young people, targeting those aged 18 to 34, for their views on five areas:

  • Economy and global outlook
  • Governance and civic engagement
  • Technology and innovation
  • Values and society
  • Business and the workplace

This year over 31,000 people took part globally.

50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30. While they have a powerful voice, they are not being listened to by decision-makers. Here is what they have to say.

As with previous years, this year’s survey shows some interesting results:

I’m primarily interested in the technology and innovation and the business and the workplace answers, but before I dive into them I need to point out:

For the third year in a row, “climate change/destruction of nature” is ranked as the most serious global issue with 48.8% of votes.

I’ll leave that hanging there, it doesn’t need any more comment.

Moving on to technology and innovation:

An overwhelming number of young people think technology is “creating jobs” (78.6%) as opposed to “destroying jobs” (21.4%). This is consistent with the results of the 2016 survey for the same question.

I hope they are right, time will tell. My personal leaning is also towards that view, but I am concerned that those jobs will primarily benefit the rich and educated leaving behind whole sections of society.

The survey also shows that young people have a sophisticated approach to information sharing and also the quality of information that is being shared:

Although for young people the internet and free media are essential to feeling empowered, they value it to the extent that the content and information they are exposed to is factual and trustworthy. In times when fake news lends itself to being shared on social media, it is reassuring that youths feel responsible for changing such practices and ensuring factual information is circulated.

It’s not surprising that an age group that has grown up with the internet have built up a healthy caution about the content that is being pushed at them.

The rapid changes in technical capability are having a massive impact on business and the workplace:

I personally don’t like the term millennial, even though I used it in the title of this post, it carries too much baggage and stereotyping to be of much use (I’m not sure that I would class someone who is 34 as a young person either, as this report does). One of the stereotypes that the millennial term has propagated is tackled in the survey:

Young people feel that they are perceived as lazy, impatient and entitled and, as they are known as the “job-hopping generation”, are perceived as caring little for work. Our data, however, has so far drawn quite a different picture of who this young generation is.

The report goes on to explain that young people regard work as a key part of life, that they care about corporate responsibility and that they want to work on something that has a purpose amongst other insights. All attributes that are not too different to previous generations.

When I see surveys like this one I have a lot of hope for the future.

The survey report is below:

Why do we complain about free things? I can think of some reasons.

Facebook is free.

Twitter is free.

Instagram is free.

Google is free.

WhatsApp is free.

Skype is free (for most of us)

Yet, when they don’t do what we expect them to do we complain bitterly, it’s as if they were part of our monthly utility bill.

Why do we do that?

I think that there are several reasons.

  1. We are invested in them – Even though we haven’t paid cash for these services we have invested in them. We’ve invested our time and energy into the content that we’ve placed on them. We’ve invested time in understanding how to use them. We’ve changed our life to fit them in. That investment gives us a right to complain when things go wrong.
  2. They are charging us – There is a charge for each of these services and the charge is attention. Most of these services are subsidised by advertising which takes our attention. However good you think you are at ignoring these adverts you are kidding yourself if you think that they aren’t taking some of your time away. If you could put a value on that time what would it be? We secretly know we are being charged and that gives us a right to complain when things go wrong.
  3. They are selling you – As well as charging your attention these services are also selling your information to someone. We make a contract with them that enables them to do this on the understanding that the service stays free. We know they are selling us and that gives us the right to complain when things go wrong.
  4. Entitlement – The cost of something rarely defines our feeling of entitlement to it. When someone promises to do something for you, even if it’s for free, we get upset when they don’t deliver. These free applications have promised to do something for us and now they aren’t. If you are entitled to something you have a right to complain when things go wrong.

I’m pretty sure that there are more reasons, but I think those are the main ones.

I apologise if this free service didn’t live up to your expectations, please feel free to complain. Please be assured that reason 2 does not apply to this blog; I don’t think reason 3 applies to this blog, I don’t sell your information to anyone, but I can’t be sure that others in the supply chain don’t; I’d be amazed if reasons 1 and 4 applied to your use of this blog :-).