Tag Archives: social networking

How important are the 3 Rs for business?

“Spelling mistakes cost millions” according to an article on the BBC News web-site.

An on-line entrepreneur said analysis of website figures showed that a single spelling mistake can cut on-line sales by 50%. Would-be customers are put off and may be suspicious of the website’s credibility given their experience with mis-spelled spam and fraudulent sites. First impressions are important on the internet when users might only browse for a few seconds before moving on.

He also complained about the poor quality of job applicants. He says too many job applications contain spelling mistakes and poor grammar with some even using textspeak. And when they tested some of the applicants whose applications seemed OK it was apparent that they relied on spell checkers.

The CBI has long complained about the quality of school-leavers’ levels of literacy and numeracy –  and not surprisingly given that one in three children are leaving primary school unable to read and write properly. The CBI says just over 40% of employers are dissatisfied with basic reading and writing skills of both school and college leavers and half are having to invest in remedial training.

Misspellings and textspeak may be acceptable on social networking sites but not for job applications.

And in America (reported in the Times 12 July 2011), some schools and colleges will no longer be focussing on the “3 Rs” but the “3 Ts”texting, tapping, and typing.

So far 41 states have adopted a curriculum that doesn’t require children to be taught how to do handwriting, it’s just an option.

The argument is that writing is of limited use in this digital age and that keyboarding skills are more important. Which may be true but some experts think that learning to write by hand improves the way a child’s brain develops. It also encourages children to write in more complete sentences and researchers have found that children can compose essays faster using a pen rather than a computer.

So will handwriting be another of those things our grandchildren find hard to believe we actually learned to do and that some of us took great pride in our penmanship? Will pens and pencils be treasured artifacts for future archeologists? Lazlo Biro will be turning in his grave.

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Tweets mightier than the sword – maybe not

In my last blog, on informational warfare, I asked the rhetorical question; “is the tweet mightier than the sword?” citing Libya (a week is a long time in politics), China and Iran, as countries which had curtailed the impact of social networking.

Catching up with my reading I found a recent article in New Scientist titled Dictatorship.com written by Evgeny Morozov. The author clearly makes the point that using tweets and Facebook makes it so easy for (all) governments to monitor traffic and for dictators to crack down on dissidents – the internet as a tool of repression.

It used to be that regimes would just block traffic and web-sites they didn’t like, or censor it as China did with Google. Now they have more tools available such as malware to spy on unsuspecting computer users, or distributed denial of service attacks. Russia allegedly used that to bring all the Estonian web-sites crashing just to remind them who their near neighbours were. Many of these attacks are believed to come from former soviet republics where no-longer stated-employed former KGB technology experts turned their hand to “private enterprise”.

The American and UK security services regularly warn about cyber-attacks on western companies. And let’s face it many of these come  from countries where we do business. Advice I saw for people doing business in China included buying a new laptop and a new phone with no personal data on it. And a friend tells me that when he visited China in 2002, whilst there were computer shops  they didn’t sell printers.

No sooner had I posted this when Google complained that China was interfering with its g-mail service. The interference is so sophisticated that it look like it is a fault at Google with people not being able to log on. The Chinese government has not commented.

And a couple of weeks after I wrote this James Dyson was accusing chinese students at UK universities of stealing technology secrets and even leaving behind software to continue the process after they have returned to China.

But it seems we in the west are just as culpable in other ways. The Egyptian government was able to monitor and intercept traffic passing though their networks thanks to “deep packet inspection technology” sold to state-owned Telecomm Egypt by US firm Narus. Narus is owned by Boeing, that well-known US defence contractor so I may have read too many spy books but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those US 3-letter agencies hadn’t slipped in a little piece of software of their own.

The shock for me was learning that Nokia Siemens had sold censorship and surveillance technology to Iran for which they were condemned by the European Parliament. I used to hold up Nokia as a values-led company but not any more. And then it appears that Ericsson sold technology to suppress political dissent to the oppressive regime in Belarus. Not a good track record for the Nordic countries.

And then of course there is facial recognition software, tagging all your online friends. Political refugees from the Soviet Union would often change their names once abroad so their families might be spared punishment. Once tagged there is no point in doing that.

And thus to Facebook and Twitter. Despite bragging about their contribution to democracy, neither have signed up to the Global Network Initiative, a group of companies,civil organisations, and academics committed to upholding human rights and freedom of expression. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all joined. Facebook even systematically deletes accounts because the users use pseudonyms (no good for marketing I guess).

Perhaps we should go back to the cold war approach when Radio Free Europe sponsored by the CIA broadcast  news and “decadent” music to the Soviet Union to show them what they were missing. Modern music wouldn’t do the job but we could swamp the dictatorships’ systems with tweets. My choice would be the top most self-obsessed ones; Stephen Fry (narcissistic would-be lovey), Sarah Brown (loyal but deluded wife of our last Prime Minister), and Richard Bacon (irritating BBC Radio 5 presenter). And you could include Sarah Palin as she’s sure to confuse them with her grasp of global politics.

Multi-tasking addiction makes you stupider than smoking pot

60 years ago Carlson carried out the first empirical study of what managers actually do but it was another 20 years before Henry Mintzberg’s study of Chief Executives, published as: The Nature of Managerial Work”, made people realise that, among other things; “managers’ jobs are characterised by brevity, variety, and fragmentation”.

And from that study came the message that managers rarely spend more than 15 mins on any one task at their desk before being interrupted. A finding that has been more or less replicated by other researchers since then.

However back then there was no internet, no e-mail, no social networking sites. In his latest book “Managing”, Mintzberg again examines the work of senior managers (he eschews the notion of leaders) and comes to much the same conclusion with e-mails etc just being a means of reinforcing the characteristics of what managers do anyway – and they were already spending 40% of their time on communication back in 1973.

Office workers however may only have 3 minutes on a task before they are interrupted by e-mails or callers. It can actually become quite addictive e-mailing and texting and waiting to see if people have replied – almost like playing a slot machine, and 15% of people even admit to checking for e-mails in church. And according to John Freeman, author of The Tyranny of Email”, because we spend so much time checking our inboxes or refreshing Twitter pages, we are less productive because our attention spans are shattered into tiny fragments.

Microsoft found that it can take 25 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail even though it might only take your brain a minute to recover your train of thought. We also get anxious thinking through the consequences of sending a message and waiting for a reply. We may not realise that checking our e-mails every 5 minutes adds up to over 1 day a week but we end up juggling at least two things at once. On the phone whilst checking e-mails, checking messages in meetings, tweeting during union negotiations, driving whilst texting (result ing in over 6o0,000 crashes a year).

It wasn’t that long ago that women claimed they were better at multi-tasking, it was their natural skill set. Now we are all at it. And some of us feel if we aren’t we are wasting our time. But how annoying is it when you are on the phone to someone and you can hear them working on a keyboard.. I recently had a conversation with my NatWest business advisor on the phone and his mobile phone went off 3 times but he wouldn’t turn it off even when I asked him to.

Yet it turns out that multi-taskers are less effective. According to research at Stanford University they focus on irrelevant information and everything distracts them. They remember nothing and get less done. They actually take longer to switch between tasks because they think about what they are not doing. They like to be scanning for and flooded with new information rather than deal with what they already have.

It’s estimated by the University of California, San Diego, that we receive 100,000 words, plus images adding up to 34 gigabytes of information a day. The result of this is that our attention span is being chopped into smaller pieces and we are losing the ability to think more deeply. It may even eventually change the structure of our brains. Edward Halliwell, a New York psychiatrist, believes that people have never had to process as much information as they have to nowadays.

He has coined the term “screen sucker” to describe people who spend so much time in front of a computer screen, mobile phone or Blackberry (sometimes referred to as a Crackberry because of its addictive nature). One study showed that when knowledge workers were interrupted by e-mails and phone calls their IQ dropped by 10 points – twice the drop reported for marijuana users. And he too thinks people are so busy processing information at a superficial level that they are losing the ability to think and feel and are losing the ability to connect with other human beings.

Students today are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times (29/5/10). Today’s “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy. Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and  having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems.

A month ago Times columnist Sathnan Sanghera was moaning about the difficulties of working from home with all the inherent distractions – although spending 3 hours on social networking couldn’t have helped. He then found the same problems working in the office but some of that was down to actually having social interactions with colleagues. But that can only be a good thing!

Updated 23 August 2010: