The Herding Instinct


Organisations and governments spend millions and millions of pounds every year on advertising and marketing. Trying to communicate to people their message. Over the last few days here in the UK we have seen an example of the futility of all of this compared to the power of word-of-mouth.

A bunch of activists threaten fuel protests. The government and industry says – “you will not have any problems getting fuel during the fuel protests that are going to occur over the next few days”. That’s alight then, we can all sit comfortably and just get on with our lives – apparently not.

I’ve sat back and watched it all happen, but apparently we have filled our cars with a weeks worth of fuel on just 24 hours. The herding instinct has well and truly kicked in. I’m not sure quite what the mechanics were but I imagine it was something like this:

  • Some people didn’t believe the government so went to full up there car.
  • They then told others what they had done and why.
  • All of the others they told thought “well there can’t be any smoke without fire, there must be something in this” and joined the queue.
  • Other see the queue and think the same.
  • Before you know it everyone is sat on a garage fore-court filling up.
  • The government and industry experts give endless interviews on radio and television to say that it will all be OK but to no avail.
  • A short-term fuel shortage is created.

I am absolutely convinced that most of these people won’t use up all of the fuel they have bought for another week at least. I’m also convinced that most of these people will also be very embarrassed that they bothered. Of course I could be embarrassed when I’m shown to be wrong; but I don’t think so.

It would probably do our environment some good if we all stopped using our vehicles for a few days anyway. It would do some waistline a lot of good to actually do some walking.

I work in customer environments when one of our most difficult issues is communicating with people. This story just goes to show that people will listen to whatever they choose to listen to; it doesn’t matter how much money you spend.


Trough of Bowland

FlickrTagFight is great. In usefulness terms it is completely useless, in entertainment value is great.

FlickTagFight is a sight dedicated to comparing the number of photos with different tags in a fight.

You know when a site is becoming part of the mainstream when it is becoming extended by the masses, and those extension are aimed as much at entertainment as at usefulness.

Interesting ones:

  • Graham 2888 – Sue 2262
  • CSC 313 – EDS 644 – IBM 1369
  • Australia 84705 – England 75426
  • Microsoft 2456 – Google 3674

See, completely useless, but great fun.

Even Geeks Need a Breather


Another interesting article from Regina Lynn in Wired Magazine touching on the social impact of all of this communication technology.

She says:

All week, I’ve been burned out on technology. I haven’t wanted to read e-mail, much less answer it. I haven’t felt like logging into IM, despite the clients and friends who expect me to be there. I haven’t even wanted to pick up my phone.

In my job, I can’t boycott technology for a day, much less a week. I’ve been forcing myself to bang out e-mails and make the necessary phone calls.

But when I’m done working for the day, I’ve been flopping on my bed with a novel in hand and the phone turned off. No social e-mail or chatting — there’s not a keyboard in sight.

I even wrote this column the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

I’m sure this is familiar to you. If you’re reading Wired News, it stands to reason that you spend a lot of time at the computer. All geeks burn out on tech once in a while, and even gamers need the occasional break from the controls. (Really.)

But how many couples confuse technology burnout with relationship burnout? You start projecting the anti-IM sentiment onto the person on the other end of the dialog. Or you resent the friend calling you when you suddenly can’t stand the sound of the polyphonic ring tone you paid $2 for.

She then goes on to explain how her relationship is so intertwined with the communication technology available to her that when the technology becomes a barrier it significantly impacts her relationships.

We have made huge and significant changes in the technology that is available to us, this has allowed us to make significant changes to the way that we interact with each other, but we have only limited understanding of what this is doing to us.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Magazine about how we were all getting less sleep. The article talks about the impact to our sleep of the electric light bulb and the change that having always-on light available has made. this is being further compounded by the availability of always on communication.

There has been other studies which concluded that our IQ was impacted by communication technology.

We really need to get studying the social impact of all of this communication if we don’t we are in danger of becoming the next big scare. By this I mean that communication technology is in danger of becoming the next thing that people start to regard as too dangerous to use. This will not necessarily be because it is too dangerous to use, but because we can’t communicate the dangers and the safe practices. Once these worries are embedded within a culture they are incredibly difficult to remove. In the UK a worry about the use the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine has become lodged within the consciousness of many people. Millions of pounds have been spent on advertising and studies to prove that it’s safe; but the worry won’t go away. Even though these three deceases are terrible, people still delay having their child inoculated because of worries. The key issue with these worries has been ‘control’, there is an alternative, but because the government told them they couldn’t use the alternative they felt that they didn’t have control and the worries just increased. Communication technology is in danger of suffering from similar worries because people increasingly feel like they are not in control. We all know that they are, but do they feel it. Do they feel empowered to turn the mobile phone off, do they feel empowered to turn the email off. The feeling of control is constantly being diminished and at some point there will be a rebellion, unless we can make sure the everyone understands that they are in control and that they aren’t permanently plugged in.

(I must find a better word than communication – because none of this technology actually enables communication, it enables the transferal of information that may result in communication. Communication requires somebody to the thing that is being transmitted to them AND to comprehend it. Just receiving the transmission isn’t enough.)

That was close

Maize MazeWas nearly caught off guard this morning. Going through the hundreds of emails from a two week break I came across one from Pay Pal asking me to update my details.

Clicked on the link and was about to start filling in the details when I noticed that lower down the page they wanted my PIN number. Umm, no-one is getting my PIN number on-line.

Did a little more checking and discovered that it was a bogus site. Phew, hadn’t entered anything.

Fortunately I was just about awake enough to notice. I have always been on the guard for such things but have never seen them before, but today was the exception.

Geograph List Expanding

Field Grasses

A little geograph league table for you:

The funny thing is, Dave lives on the canal so took a great picture of the area around the back of his house. Unfortunately, Martin had got there before him.  Anyway they both have pictures against square SD5230.

And I have managed to complete a nice neat little square around my house. It stands out on it’s own at the moment so I think I’ll have to try and expand it a little.

Funny Tale for a Sunny Day

Wall Painting

I’m working from home today, which is nice because it means I get to sit here in my shorts and enjoy the sunny weather. Working from home on a Tuesday can come with a little bit of a challenge as well and that’s our Window Cleaner. He’s a nice guy, but doesn’t seem to understand that I am working from home not here to keep him company.

Anyway, today he came to the door (wanting his money) so I did my usual thing which was to go downstairs and to explain to him that I didn’t have any cash on me and he would (as usual) have to wait until this evening when the cash holder of the family would indeed have some money. And then he started; “Oh dear” I thought, “what’s today’s tale”.

Well it turns out that it’s warm work cleaning windows today, so he had decided to cool himself down by showering himself with the hose pipe in my back garden. Unfortunately the plastic hose pipe had been sat in full sun all day and rather than cooling him down it sprayed boiling water all down the back of his neck. It looked really sore. I must admit to a quiet little chuckle though.