Pukehina Beach is a strip of sand-dune lined coast in the Bay of Plenty where several of my wife’s uncles and aunties live year-round. We recently packed up our family and drove down there for a four-night stay, and with naked eyes we could see the outline of the stricken container-ship Rena stuck on the Astrolabe Reef near to Motiti Island, leaking oil into the sea. On our first night there i took some pictures with my phone and shared them on Instagram, pictures like this one:
On the first morning of our stay i went with my daughter for a walk along the beach. The tide was high, so the waves were breaking close to us and fizzing their salty lemonade wash through our feet and right up to the edge of the dunes. In a moment of carelessness, while holding my daughter’s hand as we jumped out of a rushing white tongue of bubbling wave-froth, my mobile telephone popped out of my pocket and landed in the water. Instantly, instantly, it was gone, it was simply taken in by the champagne of the ocean and it disappeared. The force of the retreating waves was tumbling football-sized rocks and large pieces of driftwood. After cussing loudly at the sky, i removed my trousers and dug like a lunatic into the wet sand beneath the water, searching for the phone… but it was gone. At the low tide i returned with a stick, and not without some hopefulness, but there was absolutely no trace whatsoever of the device, which had probably been drawn down fairly quickly deep into the sand.
The purpose of this post is severalfold:
- Grief: the depth of distress and grief that i felt at being disconnected was palpable. In an instant i had become cut off from my work email, from my personal and my professional Twitter networks, from the ability to send text-messages to anybody, from being able to take a phone call from work if somebody needed anything from me. In short, i’ve developed a strong dependence on being connected, and on being connected all the time, and through multiple channels.
- Embarrassment: losing my work-provided mobile phone was really embarrassing, not least because i needed to get back up and running quickly, because we have two-year lease cycles and i wasn’t close to the point of being able to break the lease without penalty, and because the release of an updated version of the phone was imminent, so there would be scope for the unscrupulous to question the extent to which the loss of the device was an accident!
- Convergence: once my emotional response started to fade i started thinking about public/private convergence, and that the lifestreaming and real-time nature of our private-life social relationships has a sense of convergence with our working-life event streams, though they still tend to be dominated by email.
- Lock-In 1: when we returned home i tried hard to use another brand of smartphone, principally because it was available immediately without presenting an unplanned cost to my employer. This other phone was adequate for all the traditional work basics, in that it was capable of basic integration with enterprise email and calendar systems, important contact and telephone-book details adequately, and worked as a telephone. However, it was really clunky and its Twitter client was horrible and there was no Instagram client available and the web browser was deficient. i’d become locked into a particular vendor ecosystem, so now, now that i have another identical replacement for my old now-in-the-sea phone, i’m planning to reduce my dependence upon this ecosystem.
- Lock-In 2: the positive side of lock-in is that when the new replacement handset arrived i simply connected it to my desktop computer and synchronised it and there, within just a few minutes, was the spirit of my old phone restored into a brand-new body, a body with the same name as the old phone, the same mobile applications, the same music, and the same photographs. i had to re-enter a few new passwords, but i lost nothing save for a few photographs taken on the beach, the last of which never made it off the old handset, because it was taken only about sixty seconds before it was engulfed by the sea.
From an architectural perspective, there is something change-friendly about the separation of layers involved between the content, the applications, the mediation layer afforded by the desktop synchronisation/backup, and then the operating system and the physical handset itself. Although this really isn’t any kind of loose coupling (because everything was on the phone itself), there is an abstract sense in which there are parallels here with virtualisation.
i’m glad to have the old phone back, albeit in a brand-new body.
i’m providing up-to-half-of-full-time enterprise architecture consultancy to a major effort that will see the really-old PeopleSoft Student Administration 7.6 environment at my site upgraded to become the latest-available really-new PeopleSoft Campus Solutions 9.0, and it’s a large project with about sixty people working together in one spacious floor of a commercial building that housed previously a call centre, so there are lots of windows, and it’s quite open-plan, and there are network ports everywhere (but the network is really slow).
In some ways i’ve struggled with the transition from long-running core-relationship mode to project-context mode, and i’m wondering if some of the resistance from the wider project team to the mention of social networking tools like Twitter, Yammer, wiki, blogs, and Google Wave is more about the shorter-term scope of the monstrous and pressing tasks the team faces.
Where a community is unaccustomed or resistant to social networking (and the individual reasons range wildly from fear of recrimination for saying something silly, to not understanding anything of the value proposition, to feeling too busy to participate, to outright believing it’s a waste of time) i’m unable to rely upon the ambient intimacy that informs many/most of my relationships. This also means that core messages, and core advice, are being sought through and are able to be provided by only traditional channels such as email-mediated and meatspace-mediated interactions, neither one of which is:
To address this, today i spent the first of my at-least-half-a-day-a-week working in-person on the floor, seeking to establish and engage in the watercooler interactions that are missing in this context. It’s a broad open-plan workspace, and it’s very different from the small and quiet and intense and ordered office of ten people where i normally perform deskwork. The experience was interesting:
- the dividers between desks/cubicles are at least a foot lower than i’ve experienced before, so i found myself for the first hour or so working with my head forced down near my laptop, avoiding exposure and eye contact and trying to give others privacy
- there’s a lot more noise than i’m accustomed to, though most of it is the sound of industry, and it felt kind of good to be exposed to it, though it felt simultaneously like i was trying to work in a cafe or an airport lounge
- there’s a lot on my plate at the moment, and it’s hard to knuckle down and be productive and concentrate on and plough through pressing work (and, as a visitor placing myself in the environment in order to be more directly accessible, it wasn’t appropriate to do the headphones thing)
- talking with people is very productive, and can resolve/explain/mentor/correct/demonstrate/challenge/assist much more quickly than with traditional remote interactions…
- …but there’s nothing left behind, so behaviours such as the email-to-wiki pattern are invalidated, not least because we no longer enjoy a strong story-telling oral culture
i’m going to spend a lot more time up there on the floor within the big project team, and i’m left with the feeling that the limitations and downsides are chiefly my own, and it’s something of a personal challenge to overcome them, at least for my half-day-or-so each week in the environment!
Hundreds of people currently attending Oracle OpenWorld are using Twitter to keep their followers up to date with the presentations and discussions happening up there right now in San Francisco. Lots of these people are using the tag “#oow09” for their OpenWorld-related Tweets, and a near-real-time feed of recently Tweets tagged that way can be seen by visiting: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23oow09 The carbon, financial, and opportunity costs involved in sending people to an event such as OpenWorld are not insignificant, and having this feedback to the home community is extremely valuable — and whether it’s done with Twitter or Yammer or the wiki or blogging or YouTube or a daily email to colleagues is irrevelant: it’s the connectedness that matters most here, and the deterritorialising powers of social media make, in my view, this style of reflective and streaming participation more or less compulsory in this new age of always-on ambient intimacy. Two of the people i’m especially enjoying on Twitter from OpenWorld include:
…and here’s a fantastic mapper showing trending #oow09 Tweets from around the World: http://trendsmap.com/topic/%23oow09 — predictably, the centre is San Franciso!
Immediately we raise the possibility of having an open blog service we start having to consider the governance and social-media policy aspects of doing this kind of thing, though a reasonable perspective is that it’s merely a new channel for doing the same old stuff, so it’s one that maybe doesn’t require a whole new lot of governance and a whole new lot of policy — though that’s not to say users don’t have to be aware of some differences between blogging, emailing, being interviewed by a newspaper, and appearing on Radio New Zealand National.
A colleage at La Trobe University recently posted a link via Twitter to this great resource containing about eighty social-media governance documents from real organisations:
…and there’s (evidently) a book coming from those people too.
Another instalment in the social-media-policy-examples domain that came through on Twitter recently is a pointer to this Mashable article:
…which offers up these three examples:
- Kodak for transparency
- Intel for moderation
- IBM for social media value
Elsewhere, there is information available from existing policies such as:
We’ve started looking at social media governance policies, and it’s certain that some aspects of this will be challenging — but once they’re resolved and we look to the experiences of other institutions that have embraced blogging and other styles of conversation with The Collective (in this, i’m thinking of Monash, MIT, Pittsburgh State, and loads of other universities) we’ll be very much the richer for the engagement.