On a mailing list of which I am a member, a poster asked if Twitter can be used as a broadcast medium. Definitely not a broadcast medium, in my opinion. "Conversation" is a
buzz word, but it's a buzz word for something big. My personal take is
that these tools are facilitating a paradigm shift that is causing
similar change management issues in the nonprofit and for-profit
worlds. Specifically authority is shifting from institutions to
individuals, and organizations are a little afraid of that, even while
hoping to embrace "social media."
In the very recent past, certain boundaries were firm. If you
wanted a job reference, for example, you turned to your boss. If you
wanted to know what was going on at a local nonprofit, you subscribed
to their newsletter, whose content was scrutinized by people "in
control" of the messages. If you wanted to do certain research on your
job, perhaps you accessed the company's physical library or shared
drives. As a customer, you were reliant on the word of a few of your
friends - if you even happened to know that your friend used that
product or service.
Nowadays, you can connect with coworkers on LinkedIn and use those
recommendations (whether or not the company told you to ask for
references "only from the HR department.") You can get on Facebook and
find that friend of a friend who works at a nonproft; that person might
have the scoop that the party line fails to include. Buy a product such
as a Mac computer, and you may find hundreds of other customers talking
about the product on forums - maybe even forums sponsored by the
Certainly there are drawbacks: rumors, gossip. Unvetted material is
a problem, but censorship and misrepresentation by organizations have a
bit of a check now. People "in charge" have to share the power and the
I think a small, grassroots organization can do a lot with Twitter
and Facebook, even without a Web site. The catch is that it needs to be
PERSON-centered. Trusted individual to trusted individual. Party lines
and top-down announcements and pronouncements fall flat on Twitter and
Facebook. Constituents and clients and community members get to respond
back; no more whitewashing of the organization's problems or hiding
that bad press coverage hoping it will blow over.
If you haven't guessed, I am happy about these changes. I have
encountered many managers, in my limited experience more in the
nonprofit world than in the for-profit - but definitely in both places,
who are a bit more authoritarian in personality type than I am! Those
types are usually the ones who want to "broadcast" information and get
real nervous about commenting, open conversation, or authentic staff
input. I am engaged in some activism online, led by a nonprofit
is extraordinarily tech-savvy and, evidently, very much interested in
sharing rather than hoarding power. She's got blogs, Facebook, Twitter,
and uses them all well. It works because she comes across not as "the
official spokesperson", but as an individual.
Twenty-five years ago, I learned to program in BASIC. The school library had a single computer, tucked under a beam near the entrance to the room. There it did not disrupt the aesthetic created by the rows and rows of books and a quiet area where students settle in on couches and plug headphones into consoles that played vinyl records. The unit in BASIC came courtesy of the principal, who doubled as an honors math teacher and had an eccentric fondness for these machines.
By the end of college, I had abandoned programming: I walked away from my CS 105 assignment with the unfinished code on the screen, called my friend Maria, and told her I’d be joining her on the trip to the Southern California run of Dead shows after all. Upon return to school on Monday, I officially switched into a “computers for humanities majors” class.
It wasn’t that I believed programming was “not for girls.” Rather, I thought, “What’s the point?” I had a professor who gave an exciting promise, apparently directed as the geekier young men in the audience: “Twenty years from now, you’ll be able to really impress your dates by pulling out a computer and selecting the best wine to go with the dinner you’re about to eat.”
So…the woman in tech I admire today: Caitlin Kelleher, co-creator of Storytelling Alice, an educational tool for imparting programming skills to middle-school girls in the context of writing stories. In other words, she adopted the premise that the root of girls’ fabled disinterest in computers is not that they can’t dress them up or something … it’s that young girls may not be so captivated as boys by the prospect of tinkering for its own sake.
Dr. Kelleher writes at her faculty page for Washington University in St. Louis:
“As my thesis work, I created and evaluated a programming system for middle school girls called Storytelling Alice that presents programming as a means to the end of storytelling. Storytelling Alice includes high-level animations that enable users to program social interactions, a gallery of characters and scenery designed to spark story ideas, and a story-based tutorial. To evaluate the impact of storytelling support on girls’ motivation and learning, I compared girls’ experiences using Storytelling Alice and a version of Alice without storytelling support (Generic Alice). Results of the study suggest that girls are more motivated to learn programming using Storytelling Alice; study participants who used Storytelling Alice spent 42% more time programming and were more than three times as likely to sneak extra time to work on their programs as users of Generic Alice (16% of Generic Alice users and 51% of Storytelling Alice users snuck extra time).”
I pointed my ‘tween niece to Storytelling Alice. She’s been writing screenplays and comics since she was 6 or 7. Child of the media-saturated 21st century that she is, she comes to me for advice on getting her scripts into the hands of television producers.
In preparing for this post, I asked her mother how she liked it. The response: “She did it all the time for a few months, created a bunch of stories. But she says it’s too simple … she thinks it’ll get much more interesting after their integration with the Sims.”
For more information on the Alice project, visit its site.
People are surprised when I say I am dyslexic. The stereotype of a dyslexic says that we cannot read. While severe dyslexics may struggle with reading, we "high-functioning" dyslexics struggle with something else: detail.
One of the reasons I love computers is because I am wholly dependent on them for organizing myself. The more "advanced" computer technology gets, the more it allows for the abstract thinker to "outsource" dealing with individual details, the more useful it becomes. Today, I am drowning in a sea of email. I am involved in a collaborative effort with non-dyslexics. The emails and forwards are flying fast and furious, as are the phone calls (fantastic NOT! - another auditory processing task.)
My mother used to marvel at the way my father reads. He susses out the structure of the book, skips around, and hangs detail on the skeleton to synthesize a meaning. I read this way, too. I have gained the reputation as a "voracious" reader. Although it takes me weeks to finish a single title, I am very good and finding the connections in the ideas, structure, and greater discourse surrounding multiple books. Don't ask me about a particular scene, though. Forget characters' names.
So - here's a tip: If you ever meet a super-busy, super-engaged person who falls apart when put in charge of "managing" something, PLEASE have mercy and let 'er use a Wiki. Reducing a dozen emails that must be gleaned to a single document (with logical organization, not just a random outpouring of bits of data) will make all the difference.
Sometimes, when an organization bows to the pressure to introduce technology, it holds onto the very procedures the technology was designed to eliminate. I recently looked at the new Website a past employer (who shall remain nameless.) They used a Content Management System (CMS) for the upgrade. A resource library on the site contains about one hundred documents - PDF and Word files!
One particularly strange choice: they maintain an online referral directory of graduates of their certification program. The link for students to update their information in the directory leads to a Word document, which instructs readers to send the new information to an administrator's email address. Updates, we are told, happen monthly. Monthly.
Put simply, the organization spent tens of thousands of dollars to select and install a technological solution that would allow people to enter information, let the system format it, and let an administrator approve it with the touch of a button. Yet they use this the power of this system only to post a Word document while retaining the data entry burden.
Technical fixes work best when accompanied not only by training but also by deliberate attention to operational change management.
I have a fascination with the wild Pre-Code era, Hollywood movies. I just watched the documentary "Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood." Interesting how big a role technological change plays in the evolution of movies. Apparently:
The silent films required actors to express emotion with gestures and facial expressions. The advent of sound shifted the emphasis to dialogue. At first cameras that stood still enforced another limitation, though: relatively little motion. In the early 30s, boom microphones and moving cameras followed the actors around, letting loose movement around the sets - shoot outs, car chases, fisticuffs, and even a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza labeled by one of the commentators as an "orgy" scene, a drunken/drugged party on a Zeppelin.
My niece got a Wii for Christmas. She explained to me, with the authority only teenagers have, that she plans to exchange her trumped Game Cube at the game store. Technology that becomes obsolete before it wears out and marketplace activity based on interactivity - for my parents, a sign of decline; for me, a source of consulting opportunities; for the next generation - just the way things work!
Today I received one of those chain emails that always leads me to Snopes, which vets internet and email rumors, as my next click. This one was about the recall of a "pimple ball" toy that has severely injured some dogs tongues. It turns out, this story is true. Chai, a Lab, had to have his tongue amputated after it got stuck in a small hole in this toy. The company took the toy after the market; apparently there had been numerous past complaints.
Fifteen years ago, email was the a pretty sophisticated tool for sending around this kind of information - assuming the people to whom you wanted to transmit it were on email. Today, there are much better ones!
1. Even if you send an email, link to the blog, Website, or news site where you found the item. This saves people having to check the credibility of the story - or simply deleting it because it walks and quacks like another rumor email.
2. Get into the habit of using a site like Google Reader or Digg to compile stories. Again, these provide direct links.
3. Post the links to a social media site, such as FaceBook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, where your friends can read it and actively share it.
4. If you are one of your community's influencers, a go-to person, set up your own blog!
I've spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend on Facebook, having struck clusters of Rye Country Day School and Stanford friends. Psychologically it's interesting. Friendships that were once private or intimate are revived in public. I keep hearing "there is no privacy anymore," but I don't know that the person(a) that has no privacy ever existed before these tools existed.
In my day-to-day personal narrative my high school and college years, the separate circles of friends I had there, various work lives, and neigborhood friends do not sit juxtaposed. Even time shifts in the online world - of course my high school friends and my college friends are the same age, but it is strange to see us that way, all of us with gray hair or kids the same age or resumes that demonstrate about similar amounts of amassed experience and tag us as members of a particular generation.