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An Experiment: The psychic impact of our connected lives

redalertDuring the past week I conducted an experiment in digital empathy.

Background

As many of you are aware, I am obsessed with the potential of enabling and integrating our digital 1/0 lives into our human emotive sides.

I don’t just want a quantified self I want a qualified self.

Giving me more numbers and graphs and charts can be helpful but providing me with more things to compete over does nothing to enhance my joy and presence with others or provide me with the tactile and unmeasurable benefits from getting a hug or whacking a table with a boomwhacker [as I recently observed when over 200 geeks gleefully demonstrated at YxYY].

We have a long way to go in how we think and design tech to enhance our lives, maybe it’s a silly and impossible goal and we shouldn’t even try. However, as someone who loves, lives and breathes tech and believes that the stuff we can’t often measure is where the human spirit lives, I think it is worth a try.

Situation

Three major events pulling me in a roller coaster of emotion.

Two weeks ago my Facebook feed become ground zero for demonstrating the psychic and emotional schism of our connected lives. My feeds where filling up with comments, conversations and reactions from three very distinct events:

  • YxYY: Enthusiastic preparations by over 400 geeks and creatives as they anticipated the second year of YxYY. As one of the co-founders of YxYY, my heart swelled as I saw all the amazing projects and enthusiasm about to be unleashed over three days in Palm Springs. I was proud and excited and content.
  • At the same time, the turmoil between Israel and Gaza was picking up and my friends and family in Israel were running for cover from rockets raining down on them. As I read each post, my heart sunk. I was angry, sad depressed and frustrated – feeling impotent in how to empathize from so far away with my second home and also filled with the stress and fear, anger and sadness that accompanies living in a state of war.
  • World Cup – a distraction an emotional release with a beginning, middle and end to each match – cathartic and global and physical and fun. Particularly, because the matches this year demonstrated great sportsmanship between players and the best the sport has to offer the world. There was even a running joke on the day of the Brazil vs Germany debacle on how ‘Israelis are calling Brazilians to see if they are OK’.

Post YxYY the turmoil in Israel was a full fledged ground war and for every beautiful photo and post I liked and commented on from new friendships born at YxYY, there was another post on a funeral, someone called up to fight and the moral debates and toll of civilian deaths in Gaza. My world had gotten very small and very dichotomous. It was an extreme example and observation of what we all live in the midst of on a constant basis as we each deal with the mini “emotional yeahs and neighs” that fill our digital lives in a constant stream.

Experiment

So, I did the least logical thing – I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool and I downloaded the Red Alert app. [Red Alert was created for Israelis to warn them of rocket attacks. You can find plenty of stories about it around the Net]. I wanted to see if I could feel a different sort of empathy – an in the moment sense of what living under rocket threat and war feels like. Could this app – stripped of the physical boundaries it was created for impact me and how? For the past week, I have gotten all red alert notifications on my phone.

Observations

  • I was stressed. At first, it was traumatic – every 30 seconds another notice – my stress level went through the roof even as I sat alone on my couch in San Francisco. What would it be like if I lived in Ashkelon and had to physically run for my life this often?
  • Would an app like this be helpful to the media in this or other situations? It is always difficult to report on “non-events” if reporters not in based in Israel had Red Alert would they understand the impact without the ‘death/injury numbers?
  • Can we design other apps that enable empathy and catalyze people to action in other ways?
  • This experiment was also a cautionary tale. By the end of the week, I started to get a bit numb – with no real impact on my life, the alerts became an annoyance [of course part of this is the design of the app – needs more finesse – even my israeli friends had to turn it off.
  • The app highlighted a need for those from afar to connect to thos e in stress. I want to be able to connect and reach out to specific friends, people – to engage them during hard times not just empathize alone on my couch

Takeaways

What does all this ‘connectedness yet oddly disconnectedness’ do to us on a regular basis – this may be an extreme moment in time for me personally, but we are all constantly managing this state of being – no wonder we often feel stressed and at odds. This is not simply about ‘Information Overload’ or ‘Getting Shit Done’ or ‘Inbox zero’ – it is about the type and nature of the information that flows passed us.

  • When news and information are not just an intellectual exercise, how do we handle it?
  • Are we psychically wired to deal with so much and such radical shifts in our emotive state?
  • How can we build better tools to help us deal with this in positive proactive ways?
  • Can we build these tools with a knowledge of not just empathy but action and emotional connection and support?

Ironically, during my experiment, I read that the Yo! app built as a joke [think of it as a global internet based “poke”] that I often made fun of as a sign of social media jumping the shark – is potentially integrating with Red Alert. Amazing. The fact that a lightweight joke app designed to ping a friend can integrate with a practical highly functional app like Red Alert so that I can send a supportive note to a friend thousands of miles away in a bomb shelter, is a good sign indeed for the future of our psychic connected selves.

In emergencies my coping mechanism is action, I am a problem solver and a doer and it helps me deal with the emotion – I need to act. This experiment had given me pause to think about an entirely new area of apps – call em – digital empathy catalyzers. These tools not only enable us to connect but perhaps to feel and act.

I am hopeful. I have no other choice.

Originally posted on my blog

[Note: This post is meant to take a look at emotional dichotomy and its impact on our digital lives, it is not a forum for political discussion. As I have stated online numerous times, I rarely post about Israel because the situation is complex and I don’t think the Net is the best place to have civil dialogue on a complex topic fraught with emotion And yes, I am conscious of the irony of this as it relates to this post].

Tummelvision 98: Back from hiatus. SXSW, Mike Daisey and sexism in tech

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Episode Notes

We’re back. Heather, Debs and Kevin talk about the tummeling stories we’ve missed over the last month.

Here’s the chat transcript in full

Some related links below:

SXSW 2012:  A decidedly different show – PR attendance up a whopping 30%

Mike Daisey vs Journalism: Ethan Zuckerman, Director of MIT Center for Civic Media [Tummelvision guest Episode 71]on the Mike Daisey Apple in China media vs journalism vs truth kerfuffle

Sexism in tech – yes, that topic again. Where we are “shocked, shocked to find sexism in tech”. Charles Arthur  of The Guardian used storify to brilliantly summarize the latest uproar

 

 

TummelVision 95: Amy Muller of Get Satisfaction on accidental start-ups, community managers, social CRM and what it takes to “get it”

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Episode Notes

This past week celebrated the third annual “Community Manager Appreciation Day“.  As I saw the tweets roll by, I realized I have become increasingly frustrated and worried that the roll of Community Manager is not yet defined as strategic and is often viewed through a singular marketing/support lens.   I worry that if we don’t elevate the conversation, the role of Community Manager is endangered of going the way of the Webmaster in the 90’s – relegated to a support position.  The Webmasters of yesterday are the innovators and digital thinkers of today.  These uniquely talented folks that are community managers posses many of  the skills of the Tummler.  When Kevin, Heather and I started Tummelvision, we specifically chose a new word because we strongly believe this is not a role but a way of thriving in a networked age.  It requires design, tech and human skills and can live anywhere in an organization.  Tummlers and tummeling embody the future.  In a world that is no longer command and control – everyone needs to understand “the tummel”.  As we see things, the role of the CEO is that of a “community manager”!

With this is mind, we invited Amy Muller (@amygsfn) to be this week’s Tummelvision guest.  Amy is what we call a natural Tummler. Connecting people and companies is pretty much akin to breathing for her.  In her current incarnation, Amy is co-founder of Get Satisfaction where she helps to lead the charge of building relationships with customers through Community. She also trains and educates those same customers on how to effectively grow and manage their own customer communities. She has been in the trenches and understands that ‘designing for community” is not just about launching a facebook page or twitter account – it’s an attitude.  Just take a look at the groundbreaking Company Customer Pact and you know that thriving in a networked world is territory she understands.

We specifically send a shout out to the world of hardworking folks known as community managers so we can start building some conversational bridges that broaden and deepen the discussion around catalyzing and connecting people in a networked world.

TummelVision 55: Juliette Powell on how to tummel, collaborating across disciplines, leaderless revolution, and Dutch schoolchildren

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Episode Notes

The guest this week is Juliette Powell, media strategist, author of 33 Million People in the Room and co-founder of The Gathering Think Tank.  Juliette is a natural-born Tummler who catalyzes  ideas and people across business, media and culture.

Juliette and the gang offered some practical tummelling tips, discussed collaboration across disciplines, leaderless revolution, and the social dynamics Dutch schoolchildren (really).

Check out Juliette’s recent  discussion on the impact of the social web on the Middle-East revolution[s] with Internet skeptic Evgeny Morozov on BBC’s WHYS blog. Bonus: She is a fellow Canadian along with Heather.

TummelVision 50: Umair Haque on tummeling our way to a new kind of capitalism

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Episode Notes

This week on Tummelvision Umair Haque talks with us about his book The New Capitalist Manifesto, the imbalanced state of the union, Silicon Valley’s disruption deficit disorder, and much, much more.

Umair is an old pal of the tummel-crew. Four years ago when I first met Umair  we both had a meeting of the minds on the fundamental shifts impacting business and culture in a networked world.  Our major rant at the time was that this is much bigger than new technology and a new distribution channel.  People were missing the point that social software and the social web are changing the rules – they are empowering individuals and groups and slicing into old economic models. This still holds true today.  Most businesses are still trying to slam the proverbial square peg in a worn out old round hole while missing the fact that the hole is not round anymore and the peg – well it is now comprised of lots of little pegs [ok -done beating a dead metaphor].

Umair  has been shaking things up with his great blog over at HBR and has just published his new book The New Capitalist Manifesto where he lays out many of these fundamental changes. We are proud that Tummeling fits right into the midst of it all.   Please join us this Thursday for our live chat and podcast where we discuss Tummeling Capitalism – two words that many people might think are at odds with each other when in reality they go together like peanut butter and chocolate!


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