Is “Rich” iPresence Possible?

By Deborah Vrabel

Books relevant to the topic of Rich iPresence have been central in my reading this month. I just finished four that affirmed the concerns I expressed about fragmentation but also made me examine this project more critically.

The books:

  • Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen (2012)
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr (2010)
  • You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (2010)
  • Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans by Simon Head (2014)
  • The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in A World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (2014)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle (2011)

Each of these authors warns that we underestimate the extent to which information technology shapes and controls our minds, individuality, relationships, economy, and culture. Reading them made me question whether iPresence could be rich at all.

Andrew Keen is an early Internet entrepreneur, the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, and the author of The Cult of the Amateur. He says we are trading our precious privacy and solitude for the empty status symbol of social media visibility. Heavy social media users, he says, are like “lab rats, constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” Those who are adding content to Facebook are not the site’s customers, he says. They are the product it sells to advertisers and marketers who want the personal data we readily provide for free.

Lanier is a pioneer in the field of virtual reality who has witnessed the rise of Silicon Valley firsthand. He says the predominant digital culture marginalizes authorship at the cost of individuality and creativity. He says the Web is dominated by “derivative expression” instead of work that is “genuinely new in the world.”

Carr is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture. He says heavy use of online media reprograms the brain making it better at scanning and surfing but diminishing concentration, depth, memory. “When we go online,” he says, “we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.”

Head is an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford and a Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His focus is on the systems being used to monitor and measure workers, but he also spotlights how technology is being used to devalue the capabilities and experience of workers and middle managers, increasing economic inequality.

Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and a licensed clinical psychologist. Her central idea is that we are reaching a point in history she calls “the robotic moment.” People are gaining emotional and philosophical readiness to “consider robots as potential friends, confidants, and even romantic partners,” a time when “the performance of connection seems connection enough.”

Harris is a journalist (or, as his magazine began to call him as it shifted from print to digital, a “content creator”). He calls attention to the fact that those of us born before 1985 will be the only people in history to know what it was like both before and after the Internet. Therefore, we are responsible to ask “What will we carry forward?” and “What worthy things might we thoughtlessly leave behind?” His central answer to the second question is that we may end up paying a high price for “the loss of lack, the end of absence.”

These thoughtful, well-researched works challenge me to think more deeply about how I and others who see the Web as an opportunity to express original ideas, engage in complex dialogue, and learn can counteract the negative side effects the authors reveal. Making iPresence “rich” may not be the road to fame and revenues, but I now believe it’s a worthy endeavor.

Brain Management

By Deborah Vrabel

Meeting deadlines and achieving goals demands effective use of time and resources. When we look at our workload, we reach for the calendar, the timeline, budgets, and other tools for ensuring that we have what we need and do the right things at the right time. We don’t assume that the resources we need are unlimited and available whenever we decide to use them. We don’t treat our pool of resources as something we can stretch at will to double its original size, and we don’t squander our most valuable resources to accomplish the things that matter least.

Many of us need to follow those common sense guidelines when we allocate our most precious resource–our capacity to think.

I’m not talking here about doing brain workouts like the games sold by Luminosity or practicing mindfulness. Neither am I referring to dietary supplements, exercise, rest, and other health practices that are good for the brain.

Instead, I want to try adapting the tools we all use to manage our time, resources, and productivity to the needs of people whose work spans an array of complex issues and requires versatile use of mental processes and people who are finding their way–whether that means exploring or reassessing career directions, working on a dream and a job simultaneously, or rebuilding and recovering after loss and upheaval.

Think Pond members: Let’s see where this takes us! How might considering flow, mental energy requirements, aesthetics, and social needs help us make better use of thinking time?

Creativity Springs

By Deborah Vrabel

For awhile I thought about naming my business Creativity Springs. I imagined the different reactions of everyone I’ve encountered professionally. Some people would relate to it and automatically assume that I’m a very creative person. Others, especially those with project management responsibilities, would politely try to move the conversation onto a less metaphorical plane where the “real work” gets done. Those who haven’t seen that I can easily switch to an analytical, goal-oriented mindset when needed might be less inclined to hire me or hesitant to work with me.

But I liked the way Creativity Springs can be read as either a sentence or a proper noun for a place. I liked the image of adding some pure, cool water for my readers as they evaluate a grant proposal or a position statement I’ve written. When my work needs to be distinctive and compelling, I like the idea of this mysterious undercurrent we can all bring to light if we make a habit of looking for its shimmer and take the time to let it bubble up to the surface.

My clients don’t pay for the time I spend in Creativity Springs. To me, the opportunity to go there is its own reward and the paid work is all about making something clients can use. Still some of the projects I’ve supported through my writing have benefited greatly from my trips to Creativity Springs.

  • The creative titles or metaphors I find there have helped committees renew their focus and energy for the work during a long or contentious deliberation process.
  • The element of story I weave subtly into the work helps the intended users of a report or technical guidance document to understand more clearly or to see themselves in the implementation.
  • The words and images I find there lead to better illustrations and cover design and can reduce the costs and iterations of the design process.
  • The research or intense observation that fueled the analytical writing yields insights about how to increase visibility, broaden readership, or determine next steps.

Whatever you do in work and life, I encourage you to make a trip to Creativity Springs a part of your journey. Like Narnia, Wonderland, and other mythical places, it’s not far from you–but it will change you.