Archives for category: Overcoming Overload

Do not worry about overdoing the mince pies. Chances are you are doing something very healthy this month-long celebration of Christmas, a “festive Season” in which most of us get to come off social media more than usual and are forced to be actually social. Call it face-to-face in a Facebook Age. 

In April my new book about what I call Social Health will be published. Fully Connected: Surviving & Thriving in the Age of Overload looks at the whole business of connection and its discontents in modern society. In organisations, in culture, in everyday life.

Fully Connected takes as a starting point the idea that people, be they wearing professional, personal (or indeed party) hats in their lives, have far more coping strategies and tactics around physical and mental health than around anything to do with their connected health. We need a system, and that system I’ll be publishing, is Social Health.

But you can steal a march. Start by making an early 2017 New Year’s Resolution to treat your diary as your body and aim to control 80% or more of what goes in it….start to notice over Christmas who you see because you love them, or who you reconnect with because you like them, or who you meet who tells you something interesting and who you feel you trust. Start to think about what you do and don’t read, watch, hear, because you are overloaded. Start to think about ways you can bring some order to your department or organisation just like you do with any other kind of New Year’s Resolution.
And start, whatever you do, to get off Facebook, or ay social media you overly rely on as your main way of connecting to other people with for a bit. Never mind the echo chamber, the reinforcing of stereotypical ideas, the algorithm-chosen messages and advertisements. There is no substitute – and I mean no substitute, even if Skype is an adequate proxy when needs must – for face-to-face contact.

Using your 5 senses to smell, see, touch, taste, hear in the company of another person, other people, to experience them fully and not in 140 characters or in carefully edited picture postings, or any other kind of ‘sharing’. That is one aspect of Social Health.

Hexagon Thinking….coming soon in my book Fully Connected

This Christmas, this party season, whoever you hang out with, be yourself with them, not an off duty avatar. Bring yourself to the party and don’t overshare the pictures afterwards. In other words, be Fully Connected.

In the new year you can see where I will be speaking about the book on @juliaconnects on Twiter.

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Good Health is good for you, we all know that. A quick high intensity exercise burst at the gym, or a run, or a good night’s sleep – these all do ourselves ‘ the power of good’. Up until the middle of the last century having good health really meant staying alive, and not dying young: the “Spanish Flu” pandemic 1918-19 which killed many more millions than the First World War itself showed how a common bug which has low mortality can rocket around a population weakened by poor nutrition, bad sanitation, the spreading effect of mass mobility and a factor like war. 

But in 1945 after the Second World War something changed. The UN was created and with it a new body, The World Health Organisation. They wanted to create a world which was healthy enough not just to survive life but to thrive in it. The original definition is interesting, not least because it still stands today:
“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of injury and disease”.

One word stands out for me: the word “social”. We have come a long way to understanding and practicing good physical and mental health and well-being, but social well-being? Today we have not just a physical obesity crisis – 20% of the world is on course to  be clinically obese by 2025 – but we have a different kind of crisis and deprivation: Information obesity, time poverty and network blockage. 

We are officially in the Age of Overload. Those in control of their schedules and diaries are regarded as infinitely richer than those who are not. Networks are for many people an overwhelming tangle comprising work-related and purely personal databases, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp in a permanent cacophony of addictive sharing rather than a set of trusted relationships who can guide us through the thickets. The MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle has written about how conversation is being sidelined by a new condition: “phubbing: the art of talking to other people but with your eyes on your phone”.
The modern fitness revolution was kick- started by the actress Jane Fonda in 1982 with her famous workout video. Something interesting happened the same year: TIME magazine named ‘The Computer’ as its celebrated ‘Person of the Year’. This year, next year, we need a new kind of fitness, one which has been made necessary by the very computerised technology which keeps us all connected – fully connected – all of the time.

We need to know how to switch off, how to manage information overload better, how to connect better face-to-face in a Facebook world, and how to build networks which are not a tangle of virtual tubes but real relationships. We can start with learning how to treat our diaries like our bodies – only putting something in which we feel is good and healthy for us.
Here, then, is my definition of a new kind of health: Social Health: “To maintain a balance of activity, mindset and connections which enhance well-being and productivity”. 

I’m writing what I hope will be the blueprint for Social Health in the home, the office, the corridors of policymaking. Our behaviours have changed substantially around physical and mental health. The next big push needs to be Social Health. 

“Fully Connected: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Overload” will be published by Bloomsbury early 2017.

Well, it’s been a busy year in the main day job. It’s the tenth anniversary of my company, Editorial Intelligence, or e.i. Back in 2005 internet had begun to transform ‘old’ media and no-one knew what was what was coming. No-one could have predicted the current state and if they had no-one would believe them. Twenty four hour TV was one thing: Mobile media intermediated by anyone and everyone was entirely another.

I cannot say I saw all of it coming but I did imagine some of it. I was coming to the end of more than a decade in PR and was thoroughly fed up of being ‘His Master’s Voice’  – although doing PR for Maya Angelou at Virago remains a highlight of my life, as was fielding calls from a then journalist Sebastian Faulks in a telephone box (a telephone box!) outside the white male Revd Toby Forward’s house in Brighton as he was about to unmask him as the anonymous Asian woman writer ‘Rahila Khan’. That was a story and a half. Sebastian was infinitely polite to me that day (“Julia, I’m afraid I am going to say that Virago has published a white man instead of an Asian woman. May I have a comment?”.

I always slightly revered journalists. I still do. In a free press you must have journalists who have the right to be wrong. Without a free press you lose the cornerstone of freedom itself. Journalists are supposed to be buggers of course. Good journalists do say ‘why is this bastard lying to me’ whether they do it online or on paper or on air. Good journalists mock and poke and insinuate and gossip, too. The public likes that (even if the subjects don’t always!)

Whilst I did not know what was coming for journalism (neither did journalism) I did have a strong instinct that news would become ubiquitous and that the stock would therefore rise of one type of journalist the public could not be: The longform Commentator. The one who sets out a view, an argument, an opinion over anything between 600 words and 1500 words or, as is the odd but interesting trend, ‘The Long Read’ we see not just in The New Yorker and LRB but in the newspapers themselves. Newspapers need renaming, of course: Comment is now threaded through them. The Economist, made up entirely of anonymous comment, is one of the major publishing success stories of the last decade.

So I have to say that instinct I had about Comment being important and likely to stay important, proved correct. Good to call it right in business when you always also call it wrong (at least I have done, many times over). My business has had many changes over the decade, is as much a content event business as an online publishing business, but it has always consistently supported Comment. The daily morning inbox

eiDigest which is free and which summarises UK Comment & Opinion has seen a spike in popularity this year: People are so overloaded they like capsule summary information more than ever. They like quick-read emails. Newsletters are back.

And the Comment Awards are what every industry needs: Their Oscars. I started them on a hunch 7 years ago and they work because we read great Commentators like familiar friends even when they are strangers. Good commentators define the day, the moment, they translate life. They may outrage us, infuriate, or make us feel they understand us because they explain so brilliantly what we think and feel too. Good journalists communicate with their readers. They criticise and critique this increasingly difficult complex, frightening, intense world and they never, ever bore.

Here is a snapshot of those Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards and some contributions at the end of 3 minutes from some of these Commentators, some of them whose writing is familiar to you I’m sure.

Ten years! Well, it is a nice round number. Ten is “a thing”. And I feel that so is ‘The Commentariat’, a phrase coined by the late great former Editor of The Spectator Frank Johnson but one we ended up bringing into popular parlance.

In 2016 I see ahead more comment, more narration, more explanation. The world does not draw breath and neither will the commentators.

 

Just over a quarter of a century ago some big changes happened in culture. The movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ opened and word of mouth spread like wildfire, due to it’s risque and infamous ‘Orgasm Scene’ in which a young woman simulates having a climax in the middle of a packed deli in New York, prompting a middle aged woman to point at her and order from the waitress: “I’m having what she’s having”.

Sexual candour has changed in 25 years but so has much else. In 1989, when that movie was made, the Internet took it first steps out from the military and academic shadows into more public availability. Suddenly, the world joined the social era. The rest, as they say is history: the 1990s saw the arrival of 24/7 media, email, the World Wide Web itself, Google and this was followed in the noughties by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, all propelled by the advent of what is simply called ‘Mobile’.

Today’s When Harry Met Sally would obviously have its own Twitter campaign. Given that 6,000 tweets a second are currently being posted globally that is a lot of social sharing, and a lot of data. We are living in what the Oxford Internet Institute academic Professor Luciano Floridi calls the ‘4th revolution’ after Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, in which the world is dominated by ‘the infosphere’ or information and communications technologies (ICTs).
Britain is currently ranked 9th in the world by the World Economic Forum’s annual Networked Readiness Index’ which assesses how well 150 economies around the world leverage technology and networks to boost not just competitiveness, but wellbeing.
This is interesting because we cannot really understand the networked economy without looking at wellbeing, or a sense of well-ness and how the era I would describe as ‘fully connected’ impacts on this. As The Economist noted on 6th June 2015: “social integration is more important for well-being than income”.
Social integration in an era of social media has to be driven, I think, by a set of behaviours, a system if you like that I’m calling Social Health. In which we use technology to gather and spread information, but to support human activity on the ground, and to foster greater intellectual and emotional connection. Knowledge really is power. The ability to connect, to network, is powerful.
For instance, take a look at the UAViators, http://uaviators.org, the global volunteer network of professional civilian drone operators who band together over earthquake zones to pool data and hotspot knowledge; or the Minnesotian mixed-race Marnita Shroedl who styles herself as the ‘world’s first social capital incubator’ by connecting the powerless and the powerful in her community over dinner, literally, at her house http://marnitastable.org

The fully connected age is a social age but it needs to be more healthy than unhealthy. That means knowing when to disconnect, when to be offline, and how to curate what you know and who you know to avoid drowning in overload. 
Healthy practice takes time to develop and requires big cultural shift. Twenty five years ago many of us smoked, drank and had no gym membership or fitness regime. Now even in America, the cradle of the obesity crisis, over 50 million people are members of a health club or gym.

At the end of World War Two, on 22 July 1946, the World Health Organisation defined health for the newly free world for the first time as a state “of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity”. 

It is time to get our heads around social health and who knows, we may even end up having what she’s having. 

Julia Hobsbawm is Honorary Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School, London, and Honorary Visiting Professor in Business Networking at UCS Suffolk. She is the founder of the knowledge networking business http://www.editorialintelligence.com. This article appears in the Editorial Intelligence tenth anniversary newspaper which you can download here: http://www.editorialintelligence.com/_uploads/index_44_3096290166.pdf
  

The clock ticks towards the calendar end of the year. Time dominates the waking thoughts of working people: Not having enough of it, spending it productively. In fact, the American consumer – about as good a bellweather as any – is reported to have spent a 119% increase on productivity apps in just a year – you know: PocketList, Wunderlist etc.

Time hurtles forwards and yet goes backwards: New research shows that the more time we spend online (billed as the great time-saver it has often become the great time waster) the less fulfilled we feel.

And time stops: Each year we mourn the passing of those we love whose lives end suddenly, or predictably, or brutally, or slowly. But no amount of futurism can extend life beyond a certain point.

So we live with the promise and expectation of infinity but we cope with limit: The twenty four hour day is, stripped of time to sleep and eat and do living things which cannot easily be combined with multi-tasking the 168 hour week shrinks to around 60 hours of *productivity* at a push.

So I say this as the year winds down to a close and the offices around the world and the schools all contemplate a tiny bit of time which is “off” for the holidays: Spend your time wisely. Use your time to feel engaged, energised, helpful, hopeful, and productive: Because time marches on. And then it ends.

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