Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Much has been made of President Barack Obama’s attachment to his BlackBerry. At the end of a long period of struggle and compromise, he is able to keep a portable device that will let him stay connected with friends and colleagues as well as news of interest (rumor has it -White Sox scores). This means that Obama has become the first president to use e-mail while in office. There are many restrictions imposed on the President and his use of the device, but at least he is able to maintain some measure of connectivity.

 

MSNBC recently carried a story that said, “Barack Obama is the first wired president, ready to exchange e-mail with close friends and advisers. When do the rest of us get to read them?”

 

Give the man a break already! He has been in office for just a few days and people are already trying to poke around in his presidential records? Beyond the natural nosiness of people, what reason is there for starting this discussion so early in his presidency? Read the Presidential Records Act and move on.

 

Reference: Yost, Pete. “Wired President: Obama creates an e-mail trail.” MSNBC. January 23, 2009. Available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28816112/.

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I came across an interesting article on CNET: On Inauguration Day, will my cell phone work?

The gist of the article is that with the huge number of people expected in D.C. for the inauguration, the local cell networks will be saturated with users. The wireless congestion is expected to be so great that users may experience dropped calls, delayed text messages, and possibly a system so overwhelmed that they may not be able to make or receive calls. Add to this the number of smartphone users who may be trying to use data services for e-mail or web browsing and the problems multiply.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, but I think the thing that most interests me is the recommendation from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The association is advising attendees, "Text, don’t talk." Text messages are easier on the network than voice calls and data-intensive applications, so the recommendation makes sense from a technological standpoint.

From a people perspective though, it just fuels a trend that is of increasing concern to me: the depersonalization of communication. Remember in the old days when we used to get letters? Remember how nice it was to hear some news from an old friend? E-mail, instant messaging, texting, and other forms of near-instant communication are convenient, but something is missing. When you read "This is amazing!" in a text message, it just doesn’t convey the emotion you would hear in someone’s voice. But the preference increasingly seems to be for electronic communication. I see it more and more in the workplace. People prefer to send an e-mail message rather than just talking to the person in the next cubicle. A generation of youth is growing up preferring to send text messages rather than actually speaking to their friends.

It reminds me of an old FAQ we received when a new voice mail system was implemented at our university. One of the points dealt with why some people are resistant to voice mail, and it highlighted the fact that some people used voice mail as a way to hide from direct communication with people trying to contact them. Increasingly I think people are using electronic communication in much the same way.

Perhaps it’s a pointless bias simply due to my generation, but I can’t help wondering why people don’t want to talk to each other anymore.

What a Great Meeting!

Posted: September 15, 2008 in communication
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I know of few people who would say “What a great meeting” after a first-thing-Monday-morning meeting, but this one really was outstanding. We tried to work through a couple of things through e-mail and over the phone, but it was finally just time to get together face-to-face.

I met with a couple of people from Campus IT today. We’re still refining the database report that will produce the patron data I pre-load into our catalog. We’re working steadily towards removing a few little glitches (such as duplicate records), and it really feels like we’re in the home stretch.

But why the effusiveness over a Monday morning meeting? Several reasons!

1. We all went in with the common goal of solving a single problem.
2. We each learned a little bit more about how the other unit operates.
3. We each learned a little but more about the other unit’s data considerations.
4. We each came away understanding the needs and limitations of each unit.
5. We all participated as equals in the discussion.
6. We were all free to share ideas that contributed to the overall solution.
7. We talked through several scenarios to arrive at the best possible solution.
8. We considered “unique cases” to determine whether the report would erroneously include or exclude any patrons.
9. We evaluated the viable options.
10. We decided on a solution.

Sounds like a lot, but isn’t that really how all meetings should go? You go in to solve a specific problem, everyone contributes, everyone leaves with more knowledge, and the group arrives at a solution. Simple enough, so why is it usually so difficult? Never underestimate the power of a GOOD meeting!

We’ve all seen those increasingly annoying signs forbidding cell phone use. (In case you don’t have one, take your pick here.) I’m starting to see these in more and more places. Yesterday I had to get my driver’s license renewed. When I walked through the outer door, there was a handwritten sign forbidding cell phone use. As I walked through the inner door, there was another one signed by the highway patrol. (I suppose the entire highway patrol department is in agreement on this policy.) Later I was sent into a waiting room and left to amuse myself with the three-year old magazines. This tiny room had “no cell phone” signs on every wall.

What exactly are they afraid of? I can understand not wanting a lot of loud talkers shouting to be heard on their phones. I can understand not wanting someone simultaneously talking on a cell phone while explaining to the “customer service” agent what they need. Of course libraries come to mind when I think of signs saying “no cell phones”. Libraries love to plaster these signs about. But again, what exactly are libraries afraid of?

There is an obvious balancing point here. Unfortunately most organizations don’t look for it. It’s easier just to put up a sign saying that cell phones aren’t allowed. I think most places could survive if patrons/customers were allowed to switch their phones to silent. Text messaging, surfing the Internet, and reading e-mail aren’t inherently noisy activities, and most people can accomplish them pretty quietly.

It’s definitely time for a new range of signs. We need signs that encourage people to use technology in the appropriate ways and in appropriate places. Libraries are perfectly appropriate places for using a cell phone to look up information and exchange text messages. We need to keep in mind that while certain behaviors are annoying and disruptive, those behaviors are exhibited by some people, not all. Most people choose to use their technology responsibly, and we shouldn’t declare a wholesale ban on technology to regulate the behaviors of a few problem patrons!

Travelers have won a small victory with Delta Airlines’ recent announcement that all domestic flights will now offer Wi-Fi access. For business travelers (or for those who just can’t bear to remain unplugged for the duration of the flight) this is undoubtedly a welcome announcement. However, like everything else on airlines today, there will be a fee. (Remember when buying a ticket meant that you could actually take luggage on your week-long trip?)

Delta’s initial announcement shows that the charges will run $9.95 for flights of three hours or less and $12.95 for flights over three hours. Of course one expects to pay a premium for services while a captive customer of the airline, but these charges rival the Internet service charges in many hotels. At least in a hotel you get the full 24 hours! I probably won’t bite. I can generally get by with an iPod and a DVD or two for long flights.

While Wi-Fi access will be a boon to some, they’ll still have to live without their cell phones in flight – at least for the foreseeable future. I’m actually pleased about this one. Anyone who has sat beside a loud cell phone talker will know exactly what I mean!

Well, at least they can enjoy their Wi-Fi.

Time for some randomness. A trio of stories caught my eye recently. The topics are vastly different, but there is a loose common theme that ties them all together: restricting or opening access to information.

Libraries are all about open access to information. Libraries have tons of great content, and they want to share this content with the widest possible audience. The very title of Meredith Farkas‘ blog emphasizes this: Information Wants To Be Free. However, librarians will readily admit that there is some information which should not be freely available. (Patrons choosing to opt-in on book reviewer services is another matter.) Patron reading records come to mind. Patrons’ reference questions are also taken to be private and confidential with libraries taking great steps to anonymize all questions before analyzing their service quality.

I guess this dual perspective of openness and privacy helped pique my interest in these stories:

CNET: Olympic head: No deal on Internet censorship
CNET: The FCC on Comcast: Confusion in spades
MSNBC: Recordings raise questions about inmate rights

The first story continues the saga of China’s ongoing efforts at Internet censorship. In spite of an agreement with the International Olympic Committee, the Chinese government continues to block access to Internet sites of which it does not approve. International journalists are up in arms about it. This censorship limits their ability to do their jobs, and it simply isn’t what China promised.

The second story deals with Comcast‘s throttling of BitTorrent traffic. Interestingly enough, what Comcast did is regularly replicated on university campuses across the country through various packet shaping technologies. Apparently the FCC’s biggest complaint about Comcast was that the company hid their activities from customers.

The third story highlights illegal eavesdropping on privileged attorney-inmate conversations by the San Diego county jails. Apparently the jails were not only recording these conversations, they were also making them available to prosecuting attorneys. In at least one case, this gave the prosecutor explicit information about the defendant’s trial strategy. The story also reveals that similar recordings occurred in other counties as well. Interestingly enough, in California eavesdropping on inmates’ telephone calls with their attorneys is a felony. I wonder how the state will choose to punish the county?

So here we have a country censoring information that should be open and freely available. We have a company secretly throttling customers’ access to certain types of data streams. And we have county governments clandestinely recording privileged conversations.

In the United States we (SHOULD) treasure our free speech. We (SHOULD) treasure our free press. We (SHOULD) maintain an awareness of corporate practices that impact our access to information. We (SHOULD) actively protect confidential communication from unlawful scrutiny. These stories serve to illustrate that people need to protect their information rights. Without demanding constant accountability, these rights will be slowly, surreptitiously whittled away.

I’ve written before about some of these ideas when I was thinking about multitasking. Multitasking and Internet skimming seem to be two facets of the same problem. In some ways they both combine to reduce our ability to sustain focused concentration over time. I don’t mean to say that they’re all bad. Multitasking and skimming both have their place, and – like it or not – they’re both part of 21st century worklife. I worry though, that that we are rapidly becoming a society of skimmers, and the youngest readers are the ones who are most at risk

So what is the solution to this problem? Libraries have always sponsored reading programs, and that includes some built-in know-how. Combine that with some of the new information literacy programs, and I think a lot of people are on the right track. Teaching people to evaluate information is increasingly important. I think that libraries have a great opportunity to develop solid information literacy skills with the upcoming generation. Adding an Internet component to this is a logical extension. I’m trying to envision a good elementary or jr. high school reading program that combines Internet reading (not skimming) with thoughtful consideration of the content as well as careful questioning of the content’s authority and accuracy. What would that look like? Maybe someone has already built the ideal program and I just haven’t seen it yet.

The New York Times article I referenced in the previous post mentioned one thing that I found to be very encouraging. Many of the teens who are heavy Internet users are also writing a lot. They’re posting on message boards. They’re contributing to fan fiction sites. And if they’re writing on any level, hopefully they’re thinking about their content and how to present it. There is good writing and there is bad writing, but all writing can benefit from practice.

I would even venture to suggest that many of today’s teens are doing more writing than I did at that age. I wrote the papers that were required in classes, but that’s just about all I wrote. The nature of the Internet and particularly Web 2.0 applications drives participation. It demands putting something in – not just taking something out. I do have my concerns about teens’ Internet reading/skimming habits, but more writing is definitely a good thing!