Innovation, Strategic Networks & Social Media: Or Why I’m Here


I suspect that most of my academic colleagues think I’m crazy. They don’t understand social networking, especially not Twitter. And they really don’t understand what I am doing here.

Image of a network

A twitter snapshot created by me with the app Web Pages As Graphs (http://www.aharef.info/static/htmlgraph/)

I could explain why I’m here in many different ways and there are certainly many things I get out of social media (including relationships with some wonderful people). But honestly, one of the main reasons I’m here simply comes down to this: ideas, ideas that drive innovation and allow me to forecast trends.

Innovation and Networks

One of the most valuable papers I wrote in graduate school was a paper on innovation for a course on social work administration. I discovered then that if you want to innovate, then read outside of your field. A Harvard Business Review blog post on the Three Networks You Need confirmed the importance of noting trends outside of your familiar domains. The authors, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, write that managers/leaders need three kinds of social networks: operational, the people you need in order to do your work; developmental, the people who have helped you grow as a manager and leader, and to whom you turn for advice; and strategic, the people who will help you prepare for tomorrow. In other words, strategic networks are key to anticipating changes: “You need a strategic network because the forces that drive change in your field will probably come from outside your current world.” Continue reading

The Impact of the Internet on the Brain: What Do We Really Know?


Almost every week you hear a new report of the dangers of the impact of our new technologies: the internet, various digital devices, gaming…Here’s a wonderfully refreshing video that reviews what the research-to-date actually tells us about the impact of the Internet on the brain. Dr. Paul Howard Jones goes through popular fears about technology and discusses what the research tells us about whether or not those fears are warranted.

Dr. Jones makes many excellent points, including these two: Continue reading

Everyone on the Internet is an Axe Murderer


Axe Murderer

There’s a lot of cultural fear about what might happen if you first connect with people virtually and then meet them “in ‘real’ life,” although I prefer to call this “in physical life”  (IPL) because I think that the virtual is very real. I don’t want to minimize the risks that might be associated with people being exploited or hurt by people they have met online (or IPL for that matter…remember Looking for Mr. Goodbar?)–there certainly are things that you need to watch out for. For example, at least once a month I receive an out-of-the-blue message on Facebook from some attractive man I have never met telling me I have a nice smile, and then telling me his life story and his desire for a real relationship. Pursuing this, or something like this, is not likely to have a good outcome. This is NOT what I will be writing about.

I’ve been fortunate to establish some really good connections with a wide range of people online. Beginning with my LiveJournal blogging days, then Second Life, and then Twitter, I’ve made quite a few friends in virtual spaces. And over the years, I’ve had a chance to meet quite a few of them face to face. @DorleeM once asked me how many people I had met IPL and I was surprised once I actually counted–I first came up with a count of 8, and I’ve never attended one of the major convention meet-ups where people would typically make these connections–those 8 were all personal connections that I made on my own with specific people that I met first online. They don’t include small Tweetups where I have met a group of people at once. Continue reading

Contemplative Computing


As a follow up to my post on Life Skills for the Digital Age I thought I would mention this great post by Klint Finley on Contemplative Computing, the concept that computers might be able to help us increase our focus and ability to think deeply. Included in his post are some links for a paper by Alex Pang on this concept, and a mention of some software apps that can help increase your focus while you’re at the computer. Check it out!

The Six Stages of Post-Vacation Reentry


Man on RocketI really love vacations. But I have to say I really hate returning to work after a vacation. Several years back, I wrote these stages of vacation reentry–since I return to work tomorrow it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit them:

  • Stage One: Denial: refusing to think about the fact that I will have to return to work faster than it emotionally feels like I should.
  • Stage Two: Depression: the low-level blue mood that precedes the actually reentry. The resentment about having to conform to a schedule other than of my own making again.
  • Stage Three: Disorientation: the mental pauses and temporary space outs that occur when I can’t quite shift into a work pattern/task as easily as I did before I left. Probably because I’ve lost the rhythm.
  • Stage Four: Decompensation: feeling overloaded by the accumulate mail, email, and deferred meetings that all were scheduled for the week of my return.
  • Stage Five: Digging In: starting to make some headway at getting through the accumulated stuff, a sense of hope returns
  • Stage Six: Dedicated: Back in my stride, feeling motivated to accomplish good things.

At the moment, I’m in Depression. Stage Six seems light years away. How long does it take you to get to Stage Six? Have I left any stages out?

Photo (Sound Transit ad: Reentry; Ad by Copacino + Fujikado) by Wade Rockett

If The Web is Really Dead, What Have We Lost?


A Wired magazine article recently declared that the World Wide Web (WWW) is dead, noting a significant decline in the last decade in the proportion of Internet traffic that is browser-based. Surfing web sites reflects only a quarter of our Internet use now; the authors report that we are increasingly using of a multitude of apps over the Internet in place of the Web: Skype, video streaming through Netflix, email, file transfers, corporate VPN connections, online gaming, mobile phone apps, etc.

The End of the Wild West

In some ways, the demise of the Web feels like a loss of our wide open spaces, like the end of the Wild West and Westward Expansion in U.S. history.  Instead we are moving to an increasingly segmented (and organized) Internet world, one where you need to join a service, get the correct app, and, often, pay the fee. This specialization and the accompanying fragmentation are not new–it’s part of what happened with television when we moved from having a few shared broadcasting networks to the hundreds that are available through cable television. When this change happened with television in the United States what we lost was a shared dialogue space–a media town square, so to speak. Instead of having 3-4 main places that everyone watched and heard, we now have hundreds, with few (if any–Lost? American Idol?) rising to the level of a shared national focus. The positive side of this change was the increased diversity in what was available (although I still can’t find much I want to watch). The down side is that many of us stopped talking to anyone who was different–we started talking and listening to only those who reinforced our world view. The only time we have a shared focus now is when disaster strikes.

Where Do We Come Together?

I’m not sure that the WWW has ever given us what those 3-4 TV stations gave us: a place for us to listen and hear as one nation. And I know that those 3-4 stations didn’t speak for everyone–they didn’t really promote true dialogues across difference. But I do know that sometimes those dialogues occurred in the wide open spaces of the Web–sometimes we meet and interact with people who are different (in ways other than flame wars). So as the wide open spaces of the Internet decline, I wonder where our open communities will be. Right now, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have become some of the biggest spaces that are available to us. However, all of them allow us to customize what comes our way–the advantage of push technology. And of course, this same feature supports us talking with and listening to only what fits our reality. Sometimes there is content that crosses boundaries (goes viral). But most of the time most of us are talking and listening to those who think like us.

Working in Diverse Communities

As a social worker I know that diversity doesn’t have to divide–it can make us stronger. But for that to happen people need to communicate, understand, respect and learn from our differences. The decline of wide open spaces can decrease the likelihood that we will encounter difference–perhaps what we have lost here is the idea that such places can exist, for they didn’t happen often.  But I don’t think the non-WWW Internet precludes having places to encounter and dialogue across differences; however, it will require that we plan, create, and then disseminate information about such spaces. And to do so requires that we deeply understand these new environments. The community organizers of the present–and the future–need to be able to work in virtual spaces as effectively as they do in neighborhoods and other types of real-world communities. While there are some amazing people are doing that now, I also know that many are still very uninformed about virtual environments, let alone familiar with how to build communities there. The descent of the World Wide Web is a call to action: to work together to create new open virtual spaces–perhaps they will be less wild, but they could still go a long way toward bringing diverse people together.

Photo courtesy of Manual Millway