Cisco Connected World Techology Report

Over the last few years Cisco have produced a report on the changing attitude of people to being permanently connected.

This years report – 2012 Cisco Connected World Technology Report – has just been released. The report is based on two surveys, one looking into the attitudes of Gen Y, and the other looking at the attitude of IT Professionals.

At the heart of this year’s study is the smartphone and the constant connectivity it provides to work, entertainment, shopping, and friends. There are 206 bones in the human body, and the smartphone should be considered the 207th bone for Generation Y. They view smartphones as an appendage to their beings — an indispensable part of their lives, and yet they are concerned about data management and Internet security.

Who knew that 43% of British Gen Y always check there smart-phone as part of their morning ritual alongside brushing there teeth? It wasn’t much of a surprise to me having seen how many of them check their smart phone while stood at the latrine at work! The French are far less bothered about such things with only 29% always checking. It’s interesting that women are significantly more driven to be connected with 85% of them being compulsive checkers; it’s only 63% of men.

There’s a fun visualisation that enables you to calculate your data footprint, I apparently have a highly connected lifestyle. As you might expect there’s also a report highlighting some of the statistics and drawing some conclusions along with the seemingly mandatory set of Infographics including an interactive one showing the results for the different countries that took part.

The world is changing fast, there are a lot of people who don’t realise how fast.

The Observer: 'I feel more fulfilled without the internet'

This weekend The Observer carried a really interesting article from Jake Davis who was banned from using the Internet because of his activities under the banner of “Internet Feds”, “Anonymous” and “LulzSec“.

If you are a reasonably regular visitor to this blog you’ll know that one of the themes that we return to quite regularly is the impact of modern technology on our brains and information addiction.

Jake has been banned from using the Internet and has been away from a keyboard for 12 months. His observations in the article are very interesting for anyone who spends a lot of their time using technology:

I’m often asked: what is life like without the net? It seems strange that humans have evolved and adapted for thousands of years without this simple connectivity, and now we in modern society struggle to comprehend existence without it. In a word, life is serene. I now find myself reading newspapers as though they weren’t ancient scrolls; entering real shops with real money in order to buy real products, and not wishing to Photoshop a cosmic being of unspeakable horror into every possible social situation. Nothing needs to be captioned or made into an elaborate joke to impress a citizenry whose every emotion is represented by a sequence of keystrokes.

It seems clear that Jake’s life was highly immersed in his Internet world and that removing the connection has allowed him to find a more serene place.

He goes on:

For it is our attention spans that have suffered the most. Our lives are compressed into short, advertisement-like bursts or “tweets”. The constant stream of drivel fills page after page, eating away at our creativity. If hashtags were rice grains, do you know how many starving families we could feed? Neither do I – I can’t Google it.

I’ve noticed this effect in my own attitudes and the attitudes of others. My ability to read for long periods has become severely impaired, and I have to make huge efforts to remove all of the distractions from around me if I’m going to focus on one particular thing.

In conclusion Jake says:

I hope, then, that others in a similar situation may decide to take a short break from the web (perhaps just for a week) and see if similar effects are found. It can’t hurt to try.

I try to make my holidays Internet free, but it’s increasingly difficult, it’s a practice I recommend to others, but see an ever-increasing number of people who find the disconnection too much to cope with.

Many years ago we recognised that using a keyboard too much and in the wrong position gave us RSI. In the UK we responded to this by implementing regular assessments of people’s workplace to try to avoid the physical problems. I wonder whether, in the future, we’ll do the same for the impact on our mental state.

"Companies need to help employees unplug"

This is a quote from Ndubuisi Ekekwe in the Harvard Business Review talking in an article entitled Is Your Smartphone Making You Less Productive?:

Companies need to help employees unplug. (Of course, every business is unique, and must take its own processes into consideration. But for most companies, giving employees predictable time off will not hurt the bottom line.) In my own firm, when we noticed that always-on was not producing better results, we phased it out of our culture. A policy was instituted that encouraged everyone to respect time off, and discouraged people from sending unnecessary emails and making distracting calls after hours. It’s a system that works if all of the team members commit to it. Over time, we’ve seen a more motivated team that comes to work ready for business, and goes home to get rejuvenated. They work smarter, not blindly faster. And morale is higher.

Give it a try in your own company. As a trial, talk to your team and agree to shutdown tonight. I’m confident that you’ll all feel the benefits in the morning.

How do you try to create shutdown times and unplug?

(May I apologise for my ramblings last week, there was way to much information in one post, I promise to be get back to my normal approach of little and often)

Post 1000: Thinking about thinking, the brain and information addiction

Today is my birthday, it also happens to be the day on which I have reached 1000 posts, so it seems like a good time to reflect a bit on previous post themes.

Morecombe Bay SunsetWe are currently going through a revolution that is being fuelled by technology but is primarily a social and economic change.

I first posted about this back in 2006 when I started with a couple of posts:

Both of these posts put forward the view that the people we are going to need in the new economy are people who are versatile generalists and people who are creative. In other words we are going to move from a left-brain economy to a right-brain one, at least in the traditional developed economies. This, in turn will make the brain ever more important.

I have a nagging fear and it’s this: The brain is ever more important yet we make people work in ways and subject them to technologies for which we really have no idea of their impact. In other words, I worry that we will, in years to come, see employees suing their employer for the damage that they have received through the impact of current technology much like we have seen mine workers receiving compensation for the impact of their chosen trade on them.

I worry that the millions of people constantly being interrupted by Facebook and Twitter are doing themselves unseen and yet to be understood damage.

We are already starting to know about some of the impacts and they are concerning.

It’s already accepted wisdom that people’s attention span is shorter than it used to be. In a post from 2010 Nicholas Carr stated that The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.

There’s impacts such as information addiction are starting to be documented, researched and understood. But we are only at the beginning of that journey. I know of a number of young people who rarely leave their bedrooms and think nothing about putting in 10 hours solid on a particular game. I know of people who can’t go for more than a few seconds without having to check-in to one or other of the social media networks. Anyone else heard the phrase Facebook widower?

Then there are impacts such as the drive to multitask even though we are awful at it and it causes us all sorts of problems. One of the more popular posts on this blog is entitled

“Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy”. I wrote that post back in 2008 and then Walter Kirn estimated that workers wasted 28 percent of their time "dealing with multitasking related transitions and interruptions". Multitasking has become a huge epidemic everything from the woman who was driving behind me yesterday while on the phone (in her hand) and doing her lipstick through to the conference calls which you know would only take 10 minutes if everyone just concentrated.

There is immerging evidence to show that the brain of digital natives is different to that of digital immigrants like myself, but do we know that’s a good thing?

There’s also the physical impact that I know a number of people are already experiencing, I explain my experience with in blogs about Tension Headaches. There’s also the current conversation and research on the dangers of sitting for long periods of time.

It’s time to look after ourselves and especially to look after our brain.

(I was amazed how much I had written on this subject once I started looking into it, but I’ve kept the post short because I know how short an attention span you all have Smile)

I left for a while

I took a short sabbatical from twitter and facebook over the last two weeks – no updates and only the occasional message checks.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictIt was an experiment in focus. What would happen if I put it to one side and focussed those cycles on something else for a while?

When I started out on this experiment I was just going to ignore the updates, but I soon realised that I needed to be a bit more proactive because the lure was too great. This was particularly true when I was sat somewhere and my itchy fingers would get going on the BlackBerry. In the end I deleted all of the clients from all of my devices, this made the break much cleaner – and easier.

While two weeks isn’t long enough to really change habits it did help me to see areas of my life where things needed to get back into focus. One particular area was my abuse of thinking time. I hadn’t realised how much I had filled up all of the pondering time with stuff – checking twitter, reading facebook, etc..

You might have noticed that I’ve written more on this blog in the last two weeks than I have for a good while. It’s not the writing that takes the time when blogging, it’s the pondering. No pondering time meant no writing time. Creating pondering time resulted in a creation of the writing time.

My last two weeks have felt a bit like going on a nice long walk – time to think, and cogitate.

It also felt a bit like going through a form of detox.

I will be back, but I’m not sure in what form, and I may well leave again.

The New Work-Life Balance

A few weeks ago I wrote a post describing how Friday was no longer the end of the working week.

Well it’s also true to say that 5:30 (or 6:00 or 6:30) is no longer the end of the working day.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictFor most people, myself included, the end of the working day is not marked by the point at which you leave an office or walk away from a screen.

However much we’d like to be able to put our life into little boxes, we don’t work that way. I can’t make myself only think about work things at work anymore than I can make my brain only think about leisure things when I’m not working. I try to minimise it by making notes, or adding things to lists, so that I can focus on the area that I need to be focussing at a given time, but I can’t completely compartmentalise.

I don’t have a big switch in my head that turns it from work mode to home mode “Engage work mode” “Work mode engaged”.

Keeping a work-life balance cannot be about hours, it has to be about focus and attention. When I’m “working” I’m focussing on my work, when I’m not I’m trying to focus on something else. Focussing on something else, of course, requires me to have something else to focus on – that’s the lesson of cognitive surplus.

The level of focus is now the way that I measure my work-life balance. Too much focus on work and it’s a problem. It’s not the volume of hours, it’s the level of focus and attention. I can cope with my mind reminding me of something I was supposed to do at work, or even of fashioning a good idea in my leisure time, but I’m unlikely to let myself get dragged deep into research on  the thing I’ve thought about.

Just this weekend I thought about a good way of visualising a problem I was trying to get my head around. I took out a note pad and pen scribbled it down in a few minutes and then forgot about it until today. I could have taken the idea and built it into a fully fledged resolution to the issue, but I wasn’t going to let my weekend be dominated by it.

Like many companies my employer requires me to book my time to particular activities. Fortunately I only have to book my time on a day-by-day basis, I don’t have to account for each bit of each day. If I did it would like quite odd, and very random with 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. That’s the nature of my job. If there were a good way of measuring focus it would be a better way of measuring my contribution.

Personally I don’t measure the hours as part of my work-life balance – I measure the attention. Too much attention on work and I take steps to make sure that I have other attentions outside of work.

Being a bit of an information addict, I need to recognise that focus requires me to remove the distractions. You’ll have noticed, if you were watching, that my twitter activities have dropped off significantly (almost to nothing) over the last week. They had become a distraction and needed tackling, my contribution may increase, but for now I’m keeping away.

Stress and Information Addiction

I read an interesting definition of occupational stress yesterday which was in a summary of a book called Brain Rules:

Jimmy and Granddad Twittering on the BlackBerryThree things matter in determining whether a workplace
is stressful: the type of stress, a balance between
occupational stimulation and boredom, and the condition
of the employee’s home life. The perfect storm of
occupational stress appears to be a combination of two
malignant facts: a) a great deal is expected of you and b)
you have no control over whether you will perform

I suspect that, to some extent, information addiction is born out of people wanting to control stress by trying to stay one-step-ahead. But if you look at the definition for perfect storm for occupational stress it’s more likely that information addiction will cause stress rather than alleviate it.

Let me explain what I mean.

Stress results from high expectations with no control over outcomes.

I’m sitting at my desk and checking my email every few minutes and every few minutes another email comes in and gives me something to deal with. Each one of these emails represents an expectation.

I’m available on my IM client and it keep flashing with another new message. Each flashing message is a another expectation.

I’ve now got more than enough expectation for anyone to deal with.

Here’s where the definition comes in.

My behaviour towards the messages means that I am far less likely to deal with the expectations in an effective way and soon I will have lost any control over the outcome.

It’s a bit like trying to move water by filling a bucket from running tap. The most efficient way of moving the water is to turn the tap on, fill a whole bucket, turn the tap off and then transport the bucket to the place where it’s going. The least efficient way of moving the water is to put the bucket under the tap and then to keep turning it on and off; transporting little bits between the turns. Following the little bits method we will soon feel out of control.

All of us know how to deal with the water, so why don’t we do it with the messages.

We all know that messing about with the bucket just leads to stress.

(Incidentally, the extract was from “Rule #8: Stressed Brains Don’t Learn the Same Way” which outlines how bad stress is.)

(Through a scheme at work I have access to the summaries from, it’s a great way of understanding the essence of a document without having to read the whole thing.)