Archives for category: Social Health

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.

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
  

What connects Ebola, SONY, Facebook, and coffee houses in 2015?

Civilisation and networks. How networks operate and behave define modern society. Networks on which we live, travel, connect, create, communicate and share are now embedded in every aspect of how we live, everywhere in the world.

In 1615 the precocious teenage painter Anthony Van Dyck painted ‘Portrait of a Seventy Year Old Man’ just as the culture of civilisation flourished in the new coffee houses of Europe: In 2015 we still will want to talk, share, exchange ideas, be culturally rich and diverse.

Except that this teenage century has unprecedented levels of technology which create epic levels of choice, volume, and a landscape which needs constant navigation and curation in order to simply understand.

A healthy person and society enjoys good physical health. Good psychological health. And good social health. Lonely? You don’t have good social health. Unable to get offline and meet people face-to-face? You are out of balance. Limited in your ability to filter information and know what is good and bad intelligence? Another kind of poverty.

All of this is what I call Social Health. Nearly fifty years ago the World Health Organisation identified health as being the triptych of Physical, Psychological and Social Health http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html. I believe that it is time we understood what ‘social wellbeing’ means in the context of modern networks, social networks, and a mobile world.

SOCIAL HEALTH and GENERAL HEALTH

Networks wind around us more tightly than ever before. As I said in the series of short programmes I made for BBC Radio 4 in 2014, ‘Networking Nation’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l0gdl networks are everywhere.

EBOLA AND LIMITING THE NETWORK SPREAD OF DISEASE

We can see the patterns in how we live, work, socialise in network science, no more so than science itself. The spread of Ebola conforms to network science behaviour of the so-called ‘spreading rate’ and the exponential increase in hosts behaves just like an internet virus on another ‘free scale network’ http://www3.nd.edu/~malber/sem_un/Project%201/Ebola.ppt.

I gave a short presentation about Ebola and the spread of information and disease at WPP Stream in Greece which you can see here: Stream Global 2014 // Editorial Intelligence’s Julia …
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp5lP_kIvT8

Ebola is largely confined to Western Africa, where communities have had to adapt to a huge changes in behaviour in order to stop the spread: They have had to stop and limit physical contact.

The social impact on society in West African countries affected by Ebola – the devastation to the surviving communities – is far less publicised than the medical implications for the developed economies whose media focus on spreading fear of contagion.

SOCIETY AND THE HUMAN NETWORK EFFECT

The cognitive psychologist Professor Matthew Lieberman puts it so well in his stunning book, Social: Why We are Wired to Connect http://www.scn.ucla.edu – The human brain is fundamentally geared, anthropologically, to focus on connection and social relationships. If you diminish or kill the ability to make relationships you cause huge damage.

Humans build networks of relationships which all mimic the family, the closest human network bond. It turns out – research famously conducted by Professor Robin Dunbar – that far from human networks being as vast as social networks would suggest, they are in fact small: a nucleus of between 7 and 11 connections, rising to a maximum of 150.

So we need to rethink how we connect ands how we manage and absorb our networks in our increasingly blended work and home lives, if we are to successfully have good social health around these networks.

Part of this will mean letting go of the fantasy that having hundreds and thousands of friends, followers and connections is ‘better’ than having a few. What matters is reconnecting to the quality of relationships, not the quantity.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: KILL OR CURE?

To my surprise I found myself gravitating back to Facebook at the end of 2014, having spent three years happily tweeting on Twitter several times a day.

Something about Facebook attracted me. The postings were made by people I know, whose faces and voices I could recall. Being face to face in a Facebook world is something I have talked about before. I realise it matters when you use social media that you can summon up the person you are communicating with more often than not.

Mobile and technology social networks do mimic face to face connection well: Robin Dunbar’s research shows that people find Skype a good proxy when you are geographically far apart.

And I hear my youngest son on his headphones on the Xbox not just playing with someone he has never met but having a friendship with him: He recently asked if I could organise a meeting with this kid (to which I replied: “Only when I speak to his mother!”

But we know the dependence on networks, the alternative reality which intrudes: When hackers recently took down Playstation and Xbox causing ‘denial of service’ to millions of users connected to their networks it exposed a new reality in our lives: We are so dependent on networks that we mimic them: When they ‘go down’ we go down, unable to function or socialise easily.

PRIVACY and its PRIVATIONS

But network inflitration also causes problems, as SONY discovered, not so long after Edward Snowden revealed that the rest of us are monitored daily in ways we still cannot completely imagine.

I was just as keen as anyone else to pore over leaked emails showing just how venal and crass movie executives are when they think they are not being ‘overheard’ electronically. But of course what the intrusion of privacy represents is complicated and not at all straightforward.

In 2014 we understood that the price we pay for internet access and ‘freedom’ to connect on social media or use mobile phones is also intense surveillance. Getting that balance of personal privacy versus state security and commercial viability right will affect our discussions about networks and how much we want to be on them – or asked to be on them.

SOCIAL HEALTH AT WORK

We have a productivity crisis in Britain at work. This is partly due to to pure economics but it is also affected by behavioural economics. How people at work behave and absorb the tremendous changes and challenges of technology and the Social Age – and with it their Social Health – will affect the bottom line and with it workplace wellbeing.

As I wrote recently in HR Magazine, management attitudes to health and fitness need to change and absorb the latest thinking on social health and the ability to manage networks and knowledge and time effectively and efficiently http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1148575/networking.

In 2015 we need to rebalance our use of networks and how we live on them.
Human behaviour, not technology, is often the central key to change. We need to look at our social health – our use of networks and our behaviour on them – as much as we do our physical and our psychological health.

In the meantime my recommendation is this: Get face to face with somebody and go and see some wonderful art. Be friends on Facebook with someone whose face and voice you recognise or get to know them. Focus on developing strategies for your social health as you head out, new year’s resolutions in hand, to that other place of health: The gym.

ENDS

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