Friday, December 02, 2022

the world of not being able to finish anything

We were down the pub this week talking about being in the middle of micro-sub-divisions of technical tasks. Quality assurance, error testing, version control. Passing chunks of developing digital infrastructure back and forth without bloating, ballooning or dropping important functions out through suddenly compromised bottoms. Of the peculiar, impossible joy of building on skittish foundations that upgrade and sidegrade and downgrade around you, endlessly.

And then back to work, like you do, and trying to figure out how to break into a useful webinar that you've certainly signed up for and that will be useful because the ideas in the public-private-academic sphere this year will wash up on the operational-functional-design shore next year, or likely sooner.

This combination of booking system and delivery system had been playing nicely last time I used it, but today was just offering a momentary glimpse of a light grey square, vanishing into whitespace. I tried again a few times, like you always do, pavlov-trained by the sometimes-that-works effect.

Then I noticed that someone had rapidly edited the last of the four invitation emails to include a directlink to seminar. Great. I swifted through the hack-run needed to access this particular video conferencing tool from inside secure virtual network and arrived only half a sentence late.

The following day I got a rating email, and mistaking this for being from the organisers, filled it in and submitted it, at which point I was taken to a page on the booking website, where I could fill it in and add a comment, and at the end of this process I was given this message:

Thank you message provided after completing a feedback questionnaire on a popular events website
The rating system was as detached as everything else. Not, I suspect, that you couldn't set it all up to work seamlessly and tidily, but that's not in the bare minimum needed to make it work; and if it was, that would mark a fall-off point, a too-much-bother moment for the person who absolutely, yes, could work out how everything works given will enough and time.

And then, today, back to work, like you do, and signing up for a conference via a terrifying sawn-off, hacked together e-booking system full of more red flags than a rebound date with a problematic ex-partner. Because, you know welcome to the world of not being able to finish 


Tuesday, September 06, 2022

slippery concepts and time displaced interactions

Digital Wellbeing is a slippery concept, but a very useful one. I think. From the physical impact of increasing levels of sedentary and screen-moderated work to the psychological impact of the unbounded online task space we are in a zone now where digital wellbeing is a core self-care skill at every age. 

Digital needs vary throughout lifespan, also. Right now, the pioneers of the ubiquitous online digital space and presence are starting to move into a life stage where they need to define the needs of older people online. This will need a move from a digital deficit model to one of digital enablement, sensory support and less of the constant upchurn of new irrelevant system learning. 

At the other end of the agespan, children online need to move from a behavioural approach defined by fear of online risk to one which embraces online possibilities and asserts digital rights. Children (and teenagers, especially) need space to experiment, learn, construct identity and make mistakes. You don't get to that in a tediously constant risk environment.

For many adults the endlessly spawning nature of online digital administration has created online work, education and home administration spaces of dystopian intensity where tasks proliferate, endlessly and boundlessly. Not least among these task-spawning areas is wellbeing, where bots, apps, tasks, calendars, to-dos, alerts and more all cluster around the increasing task space of maintaining happiness and optimism in a complex modern world.

My digital wellbeing task list includes three social actions for each hundred comments read

I scan the comments section. People are talking about: peace of mind and safety; navigating wellbeing; reducing their use of digital activities to increase their wellbeing; information and relatable sources.

Five useful tips for getting the most out of your course

Interested to see the five useful tips essentially reduce to: self identify, interact, follow, bookmark, record and resist the urge to lurk. The same basic rules of interacting on forums. 

The potential unfamiliar term here, lurking, is a concept that has been around since well before the online social space. Group-created magazines and resources such as APAs (amateur press associations) and Zines (amateur produced magazines) used the term RAEBNC (pronounced ray-b-nik or rayb-nich in conversation) to stand for "Read and Enjoyed but no Comment" for exactly that moment in time when you have completed viewing the information item but have nothing to add. 

In physical space training (I train in both environments) there is a body language equivalent of RAEBNC - eye contact, a nod, a look, it varies student by student. The urge (expressed by some of my fellow trainers and most of my fellow managers) to have everyone "turn on their cameras" during sessions, meetings, etc. may come partly from that need to feel that the information you have shared has landed. 

The Teams/Zoom/etc. thumbsup 👍 is sometimes seen used in this way during group learning or sessions, but feels comparatively vague and unreliable. 

and.... where are you from?

Questions to start a conversation is a core part of online course building, of course. Why have you decided to join us on this course? is a classic up there with Well, what do you do?

Hm. I am procrastinating by doing this course. I actually need to be building an online course. But I don't want it to contribute the heavy exhausting online digital task burden we are all labouring under constantly at the moment. I want it underpinned by principles of digital wellbeing. So I'm starting by gathering ideas about how to do this. 

That probably has covered most of my key learning aims for completing this course, although there is another; I am recovering from illness and building up my speed at both reading and writing. Ideally I ought to be doing this as an exercise, a bit a day. That has not really happened. 

Final question is as ever: How will you use the information you get from this course? Well, the course is linked to my area of work, but this is coming from a very different angle from my usual work task space of social care's preoccupation with digital risk and safeguarding and online child protection. 

This library and information studies approach of providing core information and enabling the individual to construct their own actions and solutions is very crucial in Early Help practice, and a space I hope to develop.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

is there no end to maladaptive helpfulness?

Today I've been partly transferring things from a system where they have been kept in directories to one where the individual files hold metadata. There's a web page tangled up in it and several different versions of versioning. But at least people are agreed on one thing:

We can't go on like this

This is awkward because of course there is no dedicated person resource to put on this. That's normal now. As the joke goes, the person holding the old systems while we are waiting for the new systems to be ready for transfer is never out of work. But at some stage their workloads slide into overflow, and then they really need another system to help them manage the unmanageable build-up of systems. A system system, if you like. Which I probably won't? But one thing is certain: 

There are too many wizards playing with my expectations

Never mind though, because there are a whole raft of wellfullness and mindbeing tasks to perform to keep my panic on the even side of my keel. Some of them can be turned off, others are easier to simply live with. My CBT app, for example, stopped being helpful some time ago. But I find myself feeling awkward about turning it off. I know in the abstract that it's just a set of decision trees that frequently repeat, a non-intelligent-conversational-generator if you like. But it still feels like an inappropriately harsh rejection, to delete. But I probably will. Hm, tomorrow.

can I get to open window zero?

So here I am, frantically closing windows because the working day ended about an hour and twenty minutes ago.  I have too many windows. Too many tasks. Just one more thing. But then there always comes the point at which the working day meets a vanishing point even though the tasks won't, couldn't, wouldn't, and maybe even shouldn't.

References:
XKCD Standards - Print out this comic giant size and tape it to the table under your brainstorm.
Wikipedia's System of Systems page - Currently, systems of systems is a critical research discipline for which frames of reference, thought processes, quantitative analysis, tools, and design methods are incomplete.
Download Woebot App  - Life changes, and so do we, with the help of a non-intelligent database-driven interaction toy
VANISHING POINT: The Curation and Preservation of Virtual Reality - A lecture from the Digital Preservation Coalition at St Martin's College, with lunch and refreshments. Past event, you missed it.

Friday, July 02, 2021

a gentle rain of overgrown hedges, friendly cats and pot plants left by garden gates

Each missive starts with the awkward statement: I am still alive. Didn't disappear into the pandemic or my medical disaster or whatever other crises I navigated when my head was in a difficult place. And here I am and I am back and I am just coming off a day of online discussions, a popular videoconferencing software solution re-envisioning us as Brady Bunch heads alongside social chatter on a variety of different channels and devices, time-sliced through my past and present, a world of buzzes and chimes and lines left hanging. This is the future now, and the conversations never stop, that channel just pauses or you drift off, midsenten

Like a lot of people, I did a variety of things during the pandemic lockdown of 2020-21 to reduce social isolation, with variable levels of success:

  • Joined local community messaging boards. This has lead to knowing some of the names of the friendlier local cats, along with more unexpected results like making banana bread for the first time; 
  • Chatted with contacts and colleagues via various work-based closed messaging services;
  • Folded friends, acquaintances and family into various discrete technologically-enabled closed chat groups, with rich multimedia content; and
  • Experimented with leaving a video chat channel open during work hours. That didn't last!
I might have done more, but I got very ill. The illness had a hard impact on my visual cortex, so my eyes are impacted. This left me struggling with some things. Minecraft motion sickness, visual distortion migraines. It also left me dragging through low energy levels, and nervous about communication.

Through all that the various channels have continued to offer a slow steady rain of news and notices. A gentle dusk-dawn chorus of : here is the news. It turns up in the timeline, like a soft keep-in-touch from your surrounding environment.  .

It's shoddy telepathy, but you never really wanted good telepathy. The mental channels are busy enough with your own thoughts. This is more like tide-washed debris caught in a filter; the detritus and flotsam of the noosphere, the dataspace, the information nation.

Monday, July 13, 2020

if in doubt, do an online course on it

My response, when I'm struggling with anything pretty much, is to read a book on it or do a course on it. So when lockdown started to bite, I got stuck into a course on FutureLearn on Covid-19.  It was thrown together fast, of course. Everything is right now. But I figured a quickly thrown-up course would still give me space to think, and maybe also some core concepts to help navigate unknown space.

I've been e-learning for a few years now. Delivered some, written some, done plenty. I was expecting this one to be interesting, but hard work. Most people don't participate in e-learning, they just work through the materials. As someone who learns through dialogue, discussion, I'm always being the annoying chatty one in the comments, often answering myself in a void. I'm aware that lots of learners aren't being silent - they're finding ways to discuss things with a person instead of a computer. I remember the slightly humiliating experience of discovering that other people on my distance learning course had been regularly calling the tutors to discuss things by phone; something I had not even considered, even though we'd been given phone numbers.

That was before lockdown, and before the entire world turned attention starved. The comments under this course were so numerous and fascinating I had to confine myself just a limited number of pages, or risk losing days in them. They were full of personal stories, ideas, reflections, insights. They were thoughtful and constructive. They were from all over the world and from many different experiences and backgrounds. Some were confused, some showed signs of grieving. The responses to these were compassionate, kind and careful. Don't read the comments is a nostrum of the internet now, but this was the opposite of that. It was read the comments, the action is in the comments.

For this reason alone, it was a real privilege to do the course. the content was good, it was very work relevant, lots of good ideas, some clear steers, overview of existing research into effects of quarantine, effects on the micro and macro scale, all that. But it was also an opportunity to be online in a group large enough (or attention starved enough) to comment without fear of social anxiety or overexposure, yet closed enough (or shocked into seriousness enough, or inexperienced with the dominant discourse modes online enough) that the comments weren't a mess of bangs and bashes and actually-you'll-find and oh-my-opinion and shut-up-you-shouldn't-be-talking-noob and oh-I-didn't-realise-honest-push-button-rants, and cruelty-because-I-can-and-to-prove-that-I-can and all of that other dull, tiresome, boring stuff that clogs up the signal, endlessly, depressingly.

Sharing without fear. I'd say it reminds me of the old days on the web, but the old days were only sometimes open and kind. People like to say that it's only since we opened the web up to everyone that so many jerks turned up. Not true, that's just rose-tinted screens. They were here all along. Kind and constructive voices were too, of course. But check the old usenet logs before you categorise the early web as a place of polite conduct. You'll find plenty of people racing to see how low they can go.

The course described the group of people who normally socially support an individual, who protect, help and nurture them, as a "supportive container". This container allowed the individual a space to make mistakes, experiment and explore ideas without being attacked, undermined, or socially (or indeed physically) damaged. It wasn't an uncritically accepting area, it was socially negotiated, and that includes discussion and appropriate challenge. But that challenge started from a position of social support and respect for the individual.

The course described the pandemic as a serious disruption to this "supportive container", particularly those parts of it that were not online, and not in the household. My experience has certainly supported this view.


Friday, June 12, 2020

getting human voices into my working day

One of the things I have noticed about lockdown is the lack of human voices. Of course, I don't live alone, and there are kids and dogs and neighbours shrieking/barking/having fun in the back gardens (I live in a terrace) and workmen and dog-walkers and daily health walkers doing their job and business out front, but it's not the same as someone in your workplace gently discussing a problem five desks away, far enough to be screenable if you need to concentrate, close enough to tune in if you lack interest. Work had a music to it; the undernoise of the city centre (buses, weather, crowds) the intrusive squawks of buskers and vehicle alarms, the soft clatter of blinds, ventilation, machines and the sound of people talking to themselves, concentration humming, foraging for tea and biscuits, chatting, discussing, swearing gently at recalcitrant technology, hmming, aha-ing, tapping, typing and generally making the sound of working.

In its absence, I've struggled to concentrate. At work, when things get too noisy, or the tinnitus shrieks, I use that Youtube Classic, Ten Hours of Pink Noise. At home, that just makes me feel more isolated. So I've taken to listening to work-related seminars and short videos. But everyone overperforms and is too exciting, too groundbreaking, too sincere. I don't belong to the Youtube generation. This pitch and intensity is so needy, I can't do other work while it's going on.

In my quest to find someone calm enough, I turned to the motherlode of mindful narration, Sir David Attenborough. I can't listen to him during the working day, as the subject matter is always too thrilling, but the calming, measured tones approximate the professional sounds I am familiar with. My species' morning chorus, if you like. So I let him talk briefly through an observation or two (Life Stories is good) while I check my morning emails and meeting schedule, pick up yesterday's lists and reminders and sketch out the work of the day.

It has to be audio only, of course. Try to listen to David Attenborough on Youtube and he'll mention something you just have to look at. Don't take my word for this. Try playing this video in a hidden tab. You'll look, I promise.

Friday, May 08, 2020

the joy of random newsletter subscriptions

I've spoken before about my love of municipal building supplies newsletters (fruit of a period of time I shared a name and city with someone in the business who got me onto lots of mailing lists), but for sheer excellent read-this-during-the apocalypse, which-apocalypse?, doesn't-matter-just-pick-one value, nothing beats my newsletter subscription to the the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER).

I don't know how I got subscribed to them. Maybe I knew someone working there for a while (it's in one of the home town constellation cities) or maybe I saw a news story; maybe I took part in a survey or some online research. I am, after all, apocalypse-interested. In case you're unclear about what they, do, they are an interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study and mitigation of existential risks, and in case that is not clear enough for you, they are in the business of the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse.

They're often quite focussed on AI, but this month the CSER newsletter has linked through to a big list of 313 potential non-medical methods for reducing transmission of Covid. Some of these are very bleak:

  • Discourage unnecessary speaking when people are in close contact.
  • Constrain ‘long’ connections between people in different social groups who seldom or rarely interact.
  • Split and separate teams doing key work in case one team gets infected.
  • Design system so doors automatically shut once numbers exceed a given threshold as detected by phone signals.
  • Individuals queue online and are told when their turn is to leave house, office or desk for e.g. doctor’s appointment or lunch.
  • Encourage or enforce walking clockwise around shared spaces.
  • Eat at own desk where possible.
But others are intriguing and imaginative, narrowing in on the CSER's central premise; that the fear of impending apocalypse is a great motivator for creative problem solving.
  • Create convention that different people touch different areas of objects, for example design refuse bins so collectors touch different areas from householders (e.g. centre element of handle red and marked “do not touch” or designed with separate handle)
  • Store items that could be contaminated (e.g. shopping bags) so the one stored longest is taken first.
There are also a few in the can't-believe-this-isn't in-place-already area such as:
  • Encourage or require people to stop spitting in public places.
But lock-down traffic silence means that the sound of people spitting is carrying quite a way, and I can confirm that I have regularly heard people spitting in public places during the pandemic, and I really wish that they wouldn't. We have no "No spitting" signs in the UK as local social convention prohibits spitting in any case, but maybe we need to come up with some wording?

"We appreciate that you would never under normal circumstances consider spitting in public, but should you find yourself in a position where this is impossible and you absolutely have to spit (for example while jogging, or as a result of hayfever) make sure you carry a suitable receptacle and dispose of it in safely, your household rubbish."
Reassuringly, the rest of the CSER newsletter is the same tone as usual; how to make AI "trustworthy", biosecurity issues, alternative food production (algae!) to reduce carbon footprint, antibiotic resistance, and generalist doomsday pathogens.

Sounds intriguing? Sign up here.