Posts filed under “Blog”

DECODED wins Gold Axiom Award!

I’m delighted to announce that The Decoded Company has won a Gold Axiom Award for best 2015 business book in the Business Technology category. We tied for first place with Walter Issacson’s The Innovators, which is a huge honor!  To see the entire list click here.

 

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From the website:

In August of 2007, Jenkins Group launched the Axiom Awards, “designed to honor the year’s best business books and their authors and publishers.” Now, eight years and 3,000 entries later, we announce the winners of the eighth annual, 2015 Axiom Business Book Awards, honoring the year’s best business books, their authors, and publishers.

The Axiom Business Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary business books and their creators, with the understanding that business people are an information-hungry segment of the population, eager to learn about great new books that will inspire them and help them improve their careers and businesses.

 

Keynote: The Digital Culture of Cities

In February I was invited to keynote at the Dallas Festival of Ideas. I spoke about the “Innovative City” within the context of Digital Culture. I wanted to explore how technology was empowering municipalities and citizens to better organize, communicate and collaborate with each other, improving the day to day quality of life of residents.

In this talk, I focused on three main information exchanges that occur within cities: from governments to citizens, from citizens to governments, and between the citizens themselves. The sum of these exchanges represent the health and vitality of a city’s digital culture. You can watch my presentation below!

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The Twighlight Zone for the Digital Generation: Black Mirror

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

I recently fell in love with a television series called Black Mirror. It’s a British television show created by Charlie Booker that explores some of the darker themes around the influences of technology on our daily lives. Ironically, I found out about Black Mirror via social media. The show was actually created in 2011, but since it’s availability on Netflix in late 2014 it has enjoyed a huge surge of popularity. The first season contains only 3 episodes, each  focusing on one aspect of our technology-obsessed culture. It’s one of the only shows on television taking a frank look at how the lines between online and offline have blurred and the dangers that lurk ahead. It’s scifi enough to entertain, but grounded in a near enough future to have you worried.

 

We Are Enslaved by Our Screens:

In the first episode, The National Anthem,  the UK Prime Minister is given a bizarre ultimatum by terrorists: have sexual relations with a pig on live television or a member of the royal family that they are holding hostage will be killed. Yes, the premise sounds outlandish, but Booker does a fascinating job of making it all seem unsettlingly plausible. Egged on by the fickle opinions shared on social media, twitter polls and Internet comments, the politician grapples with a decision that highlights how fixated we have become on the screens in our lives that we’re not aware of what goes on around us.

I’ve already stopped bringing my cellphone into my room at night, since I hated the habit I’d developed of looking at it right before I went to sleep and first thing when I woke up. Are notifications really that important to my life? 

 

What is Reality?

The second episode, Fifteen Million Merits, places us in a post-peak-oil future where people generate energy from stationary bikes and earn a currency called Merits. The daily grind is tedious and the only way to cope is through escapism – in this case a collective obsession with reality television shows. The people in this world are constantly bombarded with advertisements. In one powerful scene, the main character is lying in his screen-lined room and an advertisement comes on. When he closes his eyes to avoid it, the screens start beeping that his vision is obscured and he has a choice of either watching the ad or paying a set number of merits to skip it. The other thing that struck me about this episode was how consumerism had shifted towards digital goods, people spend their merits accessorizing at their digital avatars with hats and sunglasses, further blurring the lines of reality and identity within the online sphere. 

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Always On:

The last episode, The Entire History of You, we’re in a world where everyone is implanted with a “grain”, a device that enables you to record and then replay your memories. This process is called a “re-do” and can be done for an individual or projected on a screen for a wider audience. Considering everyone is always recording everything with their iPhones these days, I found this episode to be very fascinating. What would happen if we lived in a society where recording and sharing was extrapolated to this level of cultural normalcy? How would it impact your relationship with each other, yourself and information in general? With PEW reporting that 90% of Americans own a cell phone and 67% check their phones even when they don’t have a call or notification, Black Mirror makes this premise seem not only realistic but also inevitable.

This is not a happy show, but an unflinching examination of our co-dependent relationship with technology. We love to broadcast our feelings, even when it makes us feel isolated. We love snooping in the lives of others, even when it makes us feel bad about ourselves. Despite the privacy risks, the dishonesty and over-curation, we are incapable of logging off, unable to resist just one more quick scan of our newsfeed or timeline. It’s this look at both the good and the bad that makes Black Mirror both chilling and compelling in equal measures.

 


I highly suggest you add it to your watch list!

 

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Thy Pound of Flesh – Public Shaming, Moral Codes and Other Dangers of Cyber Vigilantes

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

In my last post on cyber-vigilantism , I wrote about the three elements needed for such acts to take place:

  • The violation of a social code
  • The lack of traditional accountability
  • The need for tangible consequences.

In this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper and take a look at three implications Cyber-Vigilante behaviour and it’s impact on our digital culture.

1. The People Have Spoken – Too Soon

Once a social code has been broken and an outcry has been made there is always a huge rush to try to track down the suspect. In China, when individuals collectively work online to unmask an individual it’s called the “human flesh search engine,” and it moves crazy fast, often within a few hours or days. This speed sometimes comes with a cost: accuracy.

Often, when the event in question is unfolding at breakneck speed, mistakes are made in the rush to identify the guilty party. The most notable example took place in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Reddit users erroneously named Sunil Tripathi, a missing student, as a suspect in the attacks. In the chaos of a breaking-news event, his name was picked up by online sources and eventually, even the mainstream media. By the time the Police unequivocally absolved Tripathi from any involvement in the case, his family had already received death threats and hateful messages.

It turned out that Tripathi had committed suicide prior to the attacks, and sadly, his body was recovered from a river about a month later. By then, the damage to the Tripathi reputation had already been done, adding unncessary suffering to a family in mourning. There are several other cases of people who are falsely identified by a mob intent on delivering justice, many with tangible consequences for the poor individuals involved.

It is an interesting clash between our trusting assumptions that reported news has been appropriately vetted and the speed at which information about developing events is available to the public. That last part has two implications: One, the information received by the public from the media isn’t always accurate, and two, sometimes the public bypasses the news completely and conducts their own investigation. 

 

2. Controversial Social & Moral Codes

At first glance, having cyber vigilantes hunt down child molesters, drug dealers and animal abusers doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, I share the collective satisfaction experienced by many other web users when such an offender has been caught and punished. But the problematic nature of this unchecked vengeance becomes more apparent when the social codes being enforced are of a moral nature instead of a gap in the law.

Take the 2010 of Jesse Slaughter, an 11 year old girl who experienced the wrath of the Internet first-hand.  It all began when Slaughter, an active Tumblr user uploaded a video to YouTube to address her haters. (Have I mentioned how delighted I am that none of these platforms were available to me when I was 11? I don’t know how kids today cope.) In the video, Slaughter is confrontational and aggressive saying things like “If you can’t stop hating, you know what? I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.” The video found it’s way onto /b/, a free-for all message board and regular hangout for internet pranksters, jokesters and trolls, who responded by revealing Slaughter’s real name and address and issued a call for their members to harass her. She was the victim of endless prank calls, and hateful messages including demands that she kill herself. Unfortunately, her father tried to intervene by filming his own response video which only amplified the momentum of the movement and resulted in the creation of several memes which brought more attention to the drama. Slaughter was placed in protective custody due to the numerous death threats that she received.

 

Jesse Slaughter exercised her freedom of speech to upload some questionable content on the Internet. She didn’t break any laws and yet was the victim of the wrath of a cyber-mob because she violated an unspoken code by issuing a threat to her haters, which attracted the attention of another subculture who revel in responding to such challenges. She violated an obscure social code that she probably wasn’t even aware of. Also, regardless of what she said or didn’t say, I’ll reiterate this point for the millionth time: she was 11.

More recently, issues like the harassment of feminist blogger and media commentator Anita Sarkeesian in 2012 have shown the troubling, dark side of punishment for behaviours that aren’t a crime. Sarkeesian’s offence was creating an online video series discussing the most widely used female tropes that exist in video games.

 

Apparently, daring to raise awareness of some of the misogynistic elements that exists in gamer culture (and by the way: a lot of other cultures) was a violation of a social code that justified a campaign targeting Sarkeesian with hate mail, death threats and hacking attempts on her social network. She received bomb threats and the harassment escalated to the point where she was forced to leave her home. Once again, Sarkeesian’s views might have offended some people, but she did not commit any crime, was not spreading hate, did not do anything that would justify her life being threatened.

It’s fascinating to see that for many people the lack of traditionally accountability (normally used within the context of a legal response) is being interpreted as a violation of a moral or social code. And because neither woman committed an actual crime, a subset of the population felt that they both needed to be “punished” through public shaming and other online vigilante behaviours. It’s one thing when a group of citizens take action against an illegal threat – their actions might be questionable but at least rational in some sense. It’s another thing completely for people to use the web to launch private vendettas against those they simply don’t agree with.

 

3. The Normalization of Public Shaming in our Daily Lives

The most common aspect of cyber-vigilantism is public shaming, and I believe that through repeated exposure, this behaviour is becoming normalized in our digital culture. Shaming itself is a behaviour that has been embedded is practically in every culture since Adam and Eve were shamed into wearing clothes. Not all shaming is bad, often shaming is used as a social mechanism to deter unwanted behaviour (This 2006 BBC article recalls how a Sudanese tribe  punished a man who was caught copulating with a goat by forcing him to marry the animal in a public ceremony.)

What I find interesting is the unpredictability and widespread reach that digital platforms add into the mix.

More and more frequently I have been spotting the emergence of sites that want to publicly shame people, even if their real identities are not revealed. This is the more benign end of the spectrum, but one that is becoming more common nonetheless.

  • Passenger Shaming is an Instagram account where airline employees and passengers shame people who act inappropriately while traveling.
  • Men Taking Up 2 Much Space on the Train is a tumblr blog that shames men on public transit for taking up too much space. This is now also known as “manspreading”
  • Pet Shaming is a site where owners upload photos of their pet along with confessions of shameful behaviour. (This one is pretty funny)
  • Kid Shaming is a similar behaviour except instead of pets, people upload pictures of their own children. Personally, I find this creepy and unfunny.

 

This is an ongoing area of research for me, so I’ll definitely be exploring some of these themes in  more depth in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Essentialism the Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This post, is a part of my thinking and research for my new book, centred around the tensions between productivity and creativity. You can follow other related entries here

 

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noted that I tend to be interested in a million and one things.  In the past, having a broad (and random) knowledge base has come in handy on client projects or in my writing, but  it has also been  a huge detriment to my productivity. I want to try and do so many things that I get overwhelmed and end up not making progress on anything. Last year, I stumbled upon a book called “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less” by Greg McKeown and it has had such a big impact on my life that I wanted to share my top three take-aways.

From the back jacket cover:

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn who to do less, but better, in every area of their lives, Essentialism  is a movement whose time has come.

 

The book guides you through a process that involves three phases: explore/evaluate, eliminate, and execute.

  • Explore/Evaluate: Essentialist give themselves the opportunities to explore a wide variety of activities and ideas before they narrow down to their final selection. They never commit to anything without first thoroughly analysing how it fits within their goals and objectives.
  • Eliminate: Identifying the things you want to work on is not enough, you have to then  eliminate the activities that don’t make the list. This includes unnecessary meetings, social obligations, or other projects. Greg recommends focusing only on the “vital few.”
  • Execute: The last part of the process involves actually doing the work. Essentialist have the discipline to stick to their focus and refuse to be sidetracked by unexpected requests or opportunities that will distract them from their goals.

I found the model to be helpful and easy to implement. My brain is always racing with so many ideas that it’s easy for me to get caught up in something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I realized that if I was going to accomplish anything substantial, I would have to cut a lot of other stuff out – even if they were fun activities.

 

 

1) Create the Space to Think

One of the most important lessons I took from this book was to schedule in blocks of time to think, evaluate, and explore. It today’s productivity-obsessed culture it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to fill up every minute of the day with work or social activities. In my group of friends everyone is running around so much that the term “so busy” has become a joke. Every week, I go over to my favorite coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on my reading, write morning pages, and just take some time to think about how everything is going. That time has become extremely valuable in gaining clarity about the things I want to pursue- and those I have to let go.

 

2) Prioritize Your Life or Someone Else Will

Unfortunately, we live in a work culture that has trained us to be hyper-reactive to all communications, meeting requests, and projects. People expect instant responses to their requests, even if that means interrupting your work on something important. For this reason, establishing clear prioritize for yourself is essential in getting things done. For me, hitting my daily word count and with working out are two big priorities. I will try to complete those before tackling emails and calls. That way, I always know that I’ve made good progress on the things that matter, without getting caught up meetings and requests.

I have stopped saying that I am “so busy.” Tim Ferris has said that a lack of time indicates a lack of priorities and going through the Essentialism process, I now wholeheartedly agree. If you don’t make time for your dreams, your health, your friends and your family – you’ll definitely pay for it later. (Coincidentally, ignoring those things are the most common regrets of the dying.)

 

3) Embrace the Power of No

It’s completely liberating to say no. Saying no to the things you don’t want to do is easy, the real hard part is saying no to the things you actually want to do because there are other things that are more important. For me, finishing my novel last year was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. To do so I had to be very realistic about my limited free time since we were still writing and finalizing The Decoded Company. So I said no to a bunch of other stuff I wanted to do: spanish lessons, drawing class, learning the ukulele – I love all of these things but writing my novel was more important. It was cutting those stuff out that allowed me to focus and push through and write nearly 100,000 words in my spare time.

This year, I have a few projects around digital culture that I’m toying with, not to mention I want to write another novel, so I’m forcing myself to really evaluate how much time these projects will take before committing to starting them. Ultimately, this book has been a big in deciding what to pursue and what to let go. Prioritizing your dreams is a hard exercise, but an essential one if you want the chance to truly pursue them.

 

 

Bonus: Download a free copy of Greg’s  “12 Myths that Lead to an Unfulfilling Life,”