Time flies – eventually

Last week I had an evening trip down to London. As it was after work, after a full day and with the travel, well I felt like skipping it… it would be easier to stay local.

However, a casual unrelated, comment “it is always much better to meet in person” – set a seed and made me change my mind… I’m glad I did; they were right. Sometimes is better to take the more difficult path in the end and meeting in person does make the difference.

Yet, in my rush to get out at 5pm, to make the train, I forgot my spare phone battery. Imagine my horror, too late I saw my battery percentage at 24%, it was not ideal.

No Battery, Nothing to do?

With a phone now being the Swiss army knife of the 21st century, I needed it to both communicate and find the meeting location – running out of battery juice was not an option. So as I sulked back into the seat on the train, I resigned myself to having to eke it out and strictly ration its use. Glumly I starred out the window for the rest journey.

You see these days killing time is not normally a problem – grab a coffee, maybe a pain au raisin, and a quick surf of the news, it’s enough to fill an hour. But without a phone or online access? what then?

So arriving ahead of time I was stuck with dread. I head to Pret (of course) with 40 minutes to kill… and nothing to “do”.

  • First 10 minutes. Felt very self-conscious, didn’t fit in. (everyone else – on their phone). Found myself staring at passers-by and trying not to look too much like a weirdo (I’m not sure I succeeded, and I apologise to those who noticed). Time passed slowly.
  • Next 10 minutes. I thought… “I can do some thinking”… “now where is my pen?”. I had forgotten a pen!… Checked watch 20 times, time did not seem to move.
  • Next 10 minutes… Some strange stirrings in the brain… a few interesting things to think about… ideas started to pop up… how would I approach this, think about that?… I was definitely checking my watch less now!
  • Then… time to go… hang on, where did the last 10 minutes go? I ran out of time, lost in thought and now needing to hurry.

It was an interesting experience, just stopping and thinking. There were some surprising results.

If our lives are filled with noise, can we actually hear ourselves think?

In all our busyness, doing, being active, and need to feel busy (which the phone is great for by the way), how much critical thinking time are we actually missing?

In today’s world we are so reliant on our devices, yet as this (enforced) exercise really illustrated, these devices also feed yet more busyness.

Had my phone not been almost out of charge, I would have spent a pleasant 40 minutes doom-scrolling the news or watching TikTok (mainly of Excel spreadsheet functions these days, it seems!). It most certainly would have passed the time; I may have learned something and would have at least felt ‘busy’.

Yet I would not have had as much in the way of new big ideas, nor been able to use my rational, conscious, brain to think things through.

Is our modern world shutting down our ability to think, instead training us to scroll, shortening our attention spans? Is it forcing us to rely on our unconscious, automatic reactionary decision-making centres in the brain instead? It feels like it may and this may not be a good thing, at least all the time.

Fortunately, not all is lost; and although difficult at first, with a bit of practice, we can get these skills back… and maybe some new ideas too. It is worth a try, at least for 45 min.

So this week, my resolution is to put the phone down a little more… maybe pick up a book, or just stare into space again. You never know it may be worth it.

Posted in Opinion | Leave a comment

Track to the Future

It was only a quick question… “if I forward an email, can other people see that I have done so?”

‘Pretty straightforward’, I opined… yet on further thought, it was a much smarter question than I gave credit for… and one that illustrated a couple of underlying truths or trends.

No Slacking

Now I am someone who has grown up with email… I have a fondness for Outlook, and dare I say, Lotus Notes and ccMail too!

But, rather than taking this perspective let’s view it from the perspective of someone (likely younger) who has grown up with social media, Slack, or Snapchat as their primary forms of communication instead.

Here, everything is tracked; You can instantly see if a message has been delivered, read, or forwarded. And, from this perspective, the question suddenly makes a lot of sense. Why, of course, should a forwarded email not be visible?

Now for most of us in the world of work, and especially for those over 30, we know the answer – forwarding an email is not trackable – generally speaking at least. That is the way legacy email works.

But, taking a step back, and despite the actual answer, who in fact is making the safer assumption and is better prepared for communication in the 21st century?

Is it those in the email paradigm, with assumptions around communication is not being tracked, or the (younger) part where a base assumption is that everything can be tracked, and visible, somewhere where you need to be careful?… all of a sudden, I feel old!

Recently I have spent a fair bit of time discovering and discussing cybersecurity, and it’s been quite concerning.

It is not only what we see, but also what’s going on under the surface (the stuff that we are not aware of) that is troubling. New technology, hacking techniques and even social engineering is increasingly being used.

Yet the level of awareness, for most of us, is really not where it needs to be.

It is easy to be caught out, get surprised – all of which can result in a lot of complications that need to be resolved. This can happen even more easily if our paradigms of how the world works are stuck in the past too.

The Open Ocean

‘The old days’, where we worked in smaller communities, knew people, trusted and (dare I say) had even met them, are fading fast… it was a warmer but smaller pond back then.

Now it seems we are increasingly being thrust into the global ocean, cold, dark and less explored. Undoubtedly possibilities seem endless, yet the dangers are more ever-present… and our guard needs to be up.

Despite this, the underlying truth from the question was actually something quite reassuring.

Younger generations are far more prepared for swimming in this new reality than someone, like myself, who finds some of this unfamiliar.

They have the sense to ask the right questions and be cautious by nature. By doing so, they are much better prepared to take advantage of all the opportunities out there.

For the rest of us… it is not quite time to close the spreadsheets and put the permanent out-of-office message on just yet… but as ever it is worth listening and observing the little things to see how things are changing. It helps us be flexible and adapt.

Remember not all is lost; we can change our paradigms too… 🙂 Now, where are my slippers?

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Posted in Observations | Leave a comment

It’s dark outside

This past weekend, I spent some time on YouTube catching up on talks and stumbled across an excellent concept from Maggie Appleton and her talk at the FFconf conference in Brighton relating to the Dark Forest theory and our interactions on the internet.

The internet is getting shady

The concept of the “dark forest theory” is one borrowed from astronomy, really as a response to the question… ‘if there is intelligent life out there, and the universe is infinite, why when we listen do we not hear anything?

An answer… is that we live in a hypothetical dark forest, and in a dark forest, there are many scary predators. Signalling loudly ‘I’m here’… is just not, well, a great idea… CHOMP.

A scary thought… yet putting this aside we can think about what would be our logical human reaction to this?

Most likely, if true, our immediate action would be to keep our heads down, stay in the metaphorical burrow, and hope to not be noticed. (probably making lots of Hollywood movies about how we the plucky human race fought back and brought pizza to the universe again).

So how does this relate to the public internet and to our widespread use of AI/Large Language Models?… well there is an analogy here.

The internet is getting shady

Outside of any concerns we may personally have around bias in AI and the quality of the output, what these new models have done is fundamentally change the speed at which content can now be summarised and created.

It has gone from days to seconds, at the push of a button.

It is amazing, and for those of us looking at large amounts of information can be a great way to wade through the vast sea of information to find ideas and distill the data points you are looking for. Yet this same tool is also making the problem worse.

Never have we had more content, articles, or podcasts it seems, and they are all vying for our attention.

If you really want to get noticed, it is all too easy to play the volume game, forget quality, and just publish more… so pressing the AI button to generate another 50 articles on the same topic is too easy.

The argument is, that this is already starting to happen and starting to pollute the open nature of the internet.

AI bots are watching and if you step out of your corner, waving I’m here, it is a signal to be bombarded by offers, articles, and spam, vying for attention… and if they can personalise or make this interaction even more human to more likely you are to respond…. BAM

Now it is starting to sound a little like the dark forest theory… and consumers are responding as you may expect… at least for now retreating to trusted spaces or into hiding.

Growing groups and walled gardens

By way of example, I see this myself. Yes, I still look at social media, but it tends to be increasingly one-way, people telling me information, or me putting information out there, rather than a two-way discussion…

This two-way interaction happens in chat groups, such as on WhatsApp, on video calls, on webinars with video on, or simply in person at live meetings or events.

In some ways, it feels like we are retrenching from social media to these walled gardens. It is somewhere we know everyone is human and interaction is genuine, or at least can be better judged.

So what does this mean for us at work?

Undoubtedly, in public information spaces, there is an impending virtual arms race between mass content providers and content readers. AI is being used on both sides to generate and filter content. I don’t think there is much we can do to stop this and to do so will put us at a disadvantage (at least as a reader).

Yet we are also going to look for trusted spaces or sites, where we know quality information is available, or for customers where there is trust around interaction and how they receive, and send information.

In some cases, we are going to want to know when we are talking with a human (and also when we are not). This is not to say that we won’t find AI interaction/content useful, just the need to be aware, linking to the trust factor, is going to be crucial.

Lastly, there will still likely be a role for human-to-human interaction (or as they termed it ‘meatspace’). In some instances, this may become paramount, and meeting someone directly will be the last line of defense to guarantee you are speaking with an actual human being. This will be especially valued in some areas.

What can be done, today?

So as someone who does use AI to summarise content… podcasts and those lengthy articles into key bullets… this discussion really got me thinking, especially about transparency.

Recognising this (and as a nod to this talk and these ideas) I’ve started using a new logo “AS AN AI”. This is to reflect when a piece of content has been largely AI-generated, and if possible always with links back to the original article.

I can of course not guarantee the original was not written by an AI… but hopefully this is a start, to support the lean towards greater transparency more generally.

Why ‘AS AN AI’… take a look at the video, I do thoroughly recommend having a watch.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Posted in Opinion | Leave a comment