Digital life is real life

I get increasingly irritated by people who talk about the difference between digital lives and real lives. Tony Wang, the MD of Twitter UK even did it when responding to the furore about trolls and rape threats on Twitter. I think that attitude is part of the problem.

Digital tools are just that. They are aids to communication. Do we talk about our “telephone lives”? No we don’t. And that is because that particular technology (yes, the telephone is a technology too) has been around long enough to be taken for granted. The digital tools which we have not yet got used to using (and I include email which is in this category for some people) just haven’t bedded down yet, but they are incrementally taking over from other forms of communication. What we do with digital tools is a manifestation of what we do when we communicate face to face. The latter is what many call “real life”. But it is no less real than talking to someone on Facebook, where the people doing the communication are (in the main) real people. The tool is what brings them together.

So, why do I think people perpetuating the false divide between digital and real life are doing something damaging?

Well, I think it encourages the view that the digital arena is a different world where the rules of normal life don’t apply. And while it is an undeniable truth that digital tools give the trolls opportunities to hide behind anonymity, I believe that people who behave badly, consistently, online, are those who also behave badly when interacting face to face. But, there are those who make genuine mistakes, whether it be in tone, through insults, or posting inappropriate material, who have been lured into this kind of thing by the aura of difference. Often, they only make the mistake once if it is drawn to their attention or if the mistake has negative consequences for them.

The reality is that social media is just a set of communication channels. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, you shouldn’t use digital tools to say it. But seeing digital as different leads some to forget the simple rules of life, including common courtesy. And the mainstream media is very happy to fan the flames of this kind of negative publicity as part of their campaign to protect themselves from social media’s  power to divert its audience’s attention elsewhere.

And there are also those who see social media like a walled-garden community. They live their “digital lives” like a group of English ex-pats in Southern Spain, refusing to engage with the local culture and ordering teabags and marmite from home. These are the people who only see digital tools as being something you use when sat at a computer and wall these kinds of interactions off from the remainder of their lives. I suspect a lot of decision-makers are in this category, seeing the digital realm as being the world of spreadsheets and “reply-to-all” emails, rather than an enhancement to life which opens up a world of knowledge, entertainment and new contacts.

Smartphones and tablets are growing in popularity every day, and they are allowing people to be connected via digital tools wherever they are. This is not some kind of robotic world of connection to the digital brain, because the digital brain is all of us. The people we are connecting with are real people. Why do so many forget that?

Be Excited and Really Care

This is a very brief post inspired by something written by Helen Reynolds in her post “Three Ways To Get Cool Stuff Done Quickly At Work“, a guest post on Paul Taylor‘s blog. The post is full of fabulous tactical suggestions for getting good stuff done.

What really caught my eye was Helen’s third point “Be excited and really care”. I think this is my new mantra. I’d say to everyone, when you wake up in the morning check if you are excited about what you are going to do today and if you really care about it. If not, then what can you do about it?

Social media really IS changing the world

Delivering a training session this week I put up quite a useful infographic on burgeoning social media use, which just happened be be titled “Social Media is Changing the World”. In this context, it wasn’t a particularly helpful headline, as it immediately raised the hackles of the majority of the room who were, at that early stage of the day, still mainly social media sceptics. All that was to change, radically, as the day went on, but at that moment it mainly served to feed their early scepticism.

There is much hyperbole in this topic area, but there are some undeniable truths about how social media has had an impact. The Arab Spring, where people making connections with each other via social media gained the confidence that there were others who felt like them and who were prepared to act, is one very prominent example. It also hard to see how Jimmy Savile would have got away with his years of abuse if victims had been able to find each other online and compare notes.

When I am advising people about social media use, I increasingly find myself talking to them about much wider issues about who to talk to on Twitter or Facebook. Social media is opening up the workplace, allowing people to express their personalities, opening up practices and methodologies to scrutiny, and encouraging the sharing of knowledge and information. One of the key considerations I always ask people to bear in mind is that most people use certain forms of social media primarily for doing fun things. It follows, therefore, that what people post about their work also needs to adopt a tone and approach which is in accord with the light-hearted, fun nature of how people normally interact online.

And I always think it is common sense that content is king on social media. You need to have interesting things to say and interesting activities to report if people are to engage with you. So I find myself discussing with people the basis of the way they work. If they are not doing interesting things, then they will find it hard to provide engaging social media content. I contend, therefore, that social media challenges working practices, and can encourage people to change the way they work, introducing more fun and play into the working day.

All this relates back to my strong belief that we need to make work enjoyable in order to have an engaged workforce in which everyone is contributing willingly to corporate objectives. Social media is changing the world in so many different ways. I welcome its potential to make the world of work a better place to be.

A story for Yorkshire Day

Happy Yorkshire Day.

Have you ever noticed how many different names there are for the humble bread roll in different parts of the country? Barmcakes, breadcakes, cobs… those are just some of them. It makes asking for a sandwich in different towns a bit of a lottery.

Where I live (as a relative in-comer of less than 20 years) they call them “teacakes”. This seems to be confined to an area around Huddersfield and Barnsley. Anywhere else in the country, a teacake is a sweet bun with currants in it. In this part of West and South Yorkshire, they are what you wrap around your lunch.

Someone from Huddersfield told me that, on a recent visit to London he insisted on asking for a ham salad teacake, despite being asked several times if a teacake was what he really wanted. He then objected to being given a currant bun with a ham salad in it.

And they say Yorkshire folk don’t always believe they are right.