Tweetup, penfriends, postcards and bookmarks

Last night I attended my first ever Tweetup, very well organised by tweeting legals – thank you so much for an excellent evening! It was an interesting and fun experience to meet in real life some of the people I’ve been communicating with online for quite some time. I am accustomed to meeting people I have already interviewed on the phone or by email, as this is how I do most of my work, but this was different.

Walking into a room where at first sight almost everyone was a complete stranger – I went with someone and met by chance one other person I had met previously – I didn’t even know their names, to find that among these unfamiliar faces were people I have shared music with, chatted in 140 character bursts late at night, received ‘virtual hugs’ at times of stress and offered and accepted the online equivalent of tea and sympathy. At first, I pondered on this strange experience of meeting and connecting with people on Twitter and then meeting them in person as an extension of social networking, a different dynamic from  meeting people and then connecting with them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Then I realised this was nothing new – it was more like meeting a series of penfriends for the first time. Who remembers penfriends – and the outpourings of teenage angst in letters and postcards?

And postcards – who sends postcard now? I’m not sure whether FourSquare or Twitter really capture the essence of a postcard, mostly because they are immediate. Photos posted on Facebook are your own images, instantly uploaded – possibly having first been manipulated by sophisticated digital technology. A postcard captures something of the essence the place you are visiting – how it sees itself, if you like – and your choice of postcard reflects how you see the place and who you are writing to – and of course whether there’s a reasonable selection of postcards! I always took quite a lot of time choosing and writing postcards. Memories of sitting in a foreign cafe writing some reflections – different ones depending on the purpose of my journey, and whether I was writing to family or friends. They always arrived long after you got back and they made great bookmarks – for books and life. Faded postcards fall out of books; mementos of people and places. When I visited Cuba earlier this year, which was like turning the clock back about 50 years, I sent just a few lovely old-fashioned postcards – they took eight weeks to reach the UK! And I bought some bookmarks.


London calling to the imitation zones

Like many others, I felt I had to write something about the riots in London. This is my city and my home and it’s sad to see it desecrated by the violent minority. I find the looting particularly shameful, because that cannot be excused as political; it’s stealing. Political protestors don’t generally take the trouble to try on trainers and sift through the plasma TVs and smartphones to find their favourite brand. If the looters were truly deprived, they would be looking for essentials, not luxury brands. One tweet described this as consumerism gone mad. 

There has been a lot of comment about the role of social media. Did social media help the riots spread from north-east London across the city and out to the regions? Well perhaps it did, but then other media were spreading news too – TV, radio and internet offered constant live coverage. There have been news items on various media about rioters using BlackBerry to organise themselves. Although this represents some poisonous branding for BlackBerry that must be delighting its competitors, I would have thought the rioters were also using other smartphone brands as well – and since the looting no doubt they have a good selection, and probably iPads too. Did social media highlight the issues that spread the riots across the country? Not sure about that – but all those in the imitation zones had to do was watch the news to see what was going on. They didn’t  need Facebook or Twitter. People who blame social media need to accept that it has simply become part of our society – for better and worse. Actually, the need to follow the news brought me back to the radio after quite a long break – as I could listen and still get on with my work, whereas checking websites (even Twitter and Facebook) means leaving the page I’m working on.

Facebook and Twitter may have spread the news faster but they have also spread solidarity. I have seen – and liked – Facebook posts saying let’s not let this stop us going about our everyday lives. And many of us whose homes and livelihoods remain relatively unaffected are doing just that. Londoners are not staying home – we’re going into work, going shopping, going out. I went to the hairdresser yesterday and it was buzzing – yes, Londoners are still looking good!

There are Twitter hashtags and Facebook pages devoted to the big clean up. Twitter reported on the worst affected zones before other media – giving the rest of us a chance to find safe routes around the city. People from all over the world were checking Facebook and Twitter to make sure their friends and family were ok. Before social media, we relied on getting decent mobile reception during an emergency, and anyone who has tried this will know how frustrating and worrying it can be. All we could do then was leave messages, wait and hope.

As a Londoner born and bred, I should point out that terrorism and violence are nothing new here. In my lifetime, Londoners have faced terrorism ranging from IRA bombs in the 1970s and 1980s to the horror of the 7/7 attacks. They have been caught up in violent incidents here and abroad. Londoners are resilient. Yesterday evenig there was a strange atmosphere – a kind of post-apocalyptic hush – but the streets were as crowded as ever. London is a big, dirty city. Its diversity is part of its unique character. So is its solidarity and spirit. Yesterday’s news showed communities working together to clean up the aftermath of the riots. Here’s hoping all the other cities affected by riots and looting yesterday also show the same spirit and pull together to repair and recover.

Having written an upbeat post, my thoughts are with people in London and in our other cities whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the riots through no fault of their own – just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope they get all the help and support they need to get back on track.

Where did I get my headline? All credit to The Clash – London Calling – from 1979




Pinkberry – how many people thought it was a phone?

I saw a tweet asking how many people thought Pinkberry- popular US brand of frozen yogurt – launched in Selfridges on Wednesday was a phone. Ok, internet geekery saved me from embarrassment, but I did think it would be a cute name for a pink smartphone until someone suggested it sounded rather rude… here is some more information about Pinkberry – haven’t tried it yet but I’m sure it’s delicious



IT’s all grown up

I have been thinking and writing about the consumerisation of enterprise technology: the trend for people to use their own devices for work purposes and bring the latest cool gadgets into the workplace. The fact that cutting-edge technology has become affordable and hits the shops before it reaches the enterprise has led businesses away from a ‘nanny state’ mentality whereby IT departments chose and distributed smartphones and laptops and blocked people from accessing social networks via work PCs to what could be perceived as a free market in workplace technology. Nowadays many organisations encourage people to use their own devices and develop and leverage social networking connections for business purposes.

Of course, workplace technology isn’t actually a free market. Businesses are required to protect their corporate data and comply with rules and regulations so it is only reasonable that people who use their own equipment are required to sign up to a usage policy. This commonly includes the ability for the business to remotely wipe smartphones and other devices in the event that they are lost or stolen, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who backs up regularly, and to monitor communications sent and received on their behalf.

The upside is that IT departments are increasingly supporting people who wish to use their own technology for work. This can take the form of helping people access the system via Citrix, virtualisation or an app. It can involve establishing/hosting a user community – a collaborative space where people can share their experiences and collectively resolve common issues as they arise.  

Consumerisation can be a win-win situation, where sophisticated users (geeks?) who replace their equipment more often than is practically possible for an entire enterprise and who always have the very latest smartphone or tablet are in effect a pilot study for the rest of the business. Sometimes a trend will catch on; sometimes it won’t.  IT decision makers can use these ‘power users’ to help them make sensible purchasing and leasing decisions for the rest of the business while keeping an eye on the future.

Much has been written about the potential security implications, focusing on legal and illegal monitoring and hacking, particularly in the light of recent headlines. For businesses, this comes down to managing risk, and there are plenty of data security consultants out there.

But the greatest risk is careless user behaviour, and people who have invested their own time and money in the devices they use are more likely to take care of them and use them effectively, just as people who are trusted to choose the devices and collaboration platforms that best suit the way they work tend not to abuse this freedom, but rather to live up to the expectation that they will use them responsibly. 

A significant positive outcome of consumerisation is the shift in the relationship between IT departments and users from a (strict) parent-child relationship based on making and enforcing rules to a grown-up partnership based on mutual respect. IT’s all grown up.

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