Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where do you spend your mind?

From Microsoft Office Images
I'm teaching a special topics course on Nonverbal Communication this semester. We're using the text by Richmond, McCroskey, and Hickson, Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations, 7th ed. In the text, Chapter 10 is about how we communicate with our use of time. For instance, we can communicate a person's status perceptions by whether they can dictate our time or we can dictate theirs. We also "tell" a person how important they are to us by how much time we give them or whether we are prompt for an appointment with them or in reply to their text message. How we use our time and other people's time communicates.

But it's also about how we view time. Are you polychronic, where time is fluid, socializing is more important than clocks, and schedules are suggestions rather than written in stone? Are you monochronic, where clocks are our friends and appointments are taken on schedule, one at a time? I just finished a conversation with my wife wherein I was chastised for informing her of my afternoon plans, at the last minute. I know better, but the procrastinator in me didn't figure it out quickly enough. Not that I'm a total monochronic, I prefer to handle one thing at a time and dislike multitasking. In the US, my culture of origin, we tend to be monochronic, but I think individuality plays a large part as well. My wife shared she had just been in a meeting about dealing with other people causing you stress. Her supervisor gave an example of two daughters, one who gets projects started and finished as soon as possible, while the other waits until the last minute (YES!). It's fun to see when two students are in a group project together and come from those two very different time orientations.

In the textbook mentioned above, the authors also share several other facets of time orientations. The first set they offer comes out of Hall's work regarding psychological, biological, and cultural time orientations. In the psychological section three variations are given: past-oriented people, present-oriented people, and future-oriented people. Each bent reflects where a person spends most of their thought life, hence this post's title, "Where do you spend your mind?" Do you frequently look to the past for insight and direction? Are you stuck in the past? Are you still fretting over what has already passed? Are you living for the moment? Are you saving for the future? Are you planning ahead?

As complex creatures we cannot be pigeon-holed into only one option. Our orientations towards time vary sometimes by the second, or by the context or issue. But we may have a natural inclination.

So when you have time to think about it, ask yourself, is it more important to ask where you spend your time or where your spend your mind?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Slobbery Signals!

Ivan Pavlov would be pleased and feel vindicated, or maybe dismayed, with today's world. The man known for his salivating dog experiments that demonstrated a conditioned reflex could have easily predicted the current era of cell phone autonomic responses.

Image of Pavlov from Nobelprize.org
If you've ever heard the idiom "Pavlov's Dog" referring to someone automatically giving a reflexive response to stimuli without thinking about it, then you get where I'm coming from. Pavlov's dog was conditioned to start slobbering (salivating is the clinical term) when he heard a bell, chime, whistle or other stimulus that the animal had learned to associate with dinner.

Over and over again I've noticed how people seem to be unable to stop themselves from checking their phone whenever they hear a familiar beep, ring, song, or sound effect. We even customize them to different contacts. One person I know has a submarine alarm klaxon for his wife's ringtone. Make of it what you will. She knows about it and is ok with it!

Often in class a chime or buzz will indicate a new text message and the student, regardless of what is happening in the classroom, is driven with a lemming-like force to at least look at their phone. It's as if they can't help themselves. It is such a conditioned part of their psyche that it never occurs to them that this is rude or inappropriate.

A Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, accessed at TLE Travels.
The concept is nothing new. Pavlov figured it out over a hundred years ago, without a computer, a smart phone, or Wikipedia or Google. Even as a teenager working in a fast food joint 30 years ago I quickly learned to distinguish between the different alarm sounds that let you know when to flip the burgers, drop the fries, and pull the fish fillets; more than half a dozen different sounds all going off at once. 

We're good at it. The brain can process up to four times as much info as the ears can take in. And we learn to automatically respond to a signal without even thinking about what we are doing. Now we have these wonderful smart phones to bring this conditioning into every part of our life, rudely or not. Consciously or not. Willingly or not!

Apparently I'm not the only one feeling this way. Another blogger makes a similar post. She also points out that we are so conditioned to interact and respond to our smart devices, that we fail to respond personally to people. She is feeling so connectd with her phone that she is disconnect personally. If you've ever watched the Disney-Pixar movie, WALL E, you can see where this conditioning (and lack of physical conditioning) could take us!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dumbell's #

According to the Wikipedia entry, "Dunbar's number is suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person." And since it's on Wikipedia it must be true! ;). The average number of these integrated social relationships is 150.

150 friendships.

I like to get students thinking about this in class by having them tell how many contacts they have in their phones and how many 'friends' they have on FB or other social networking site. Many have noted that they feel they have a much smaller number of relationships that would count as part of Dunbar's concept. Others point out that you may have 150 or more, but you do not associate with all of them constantly. 

It definitely should cause you rethink how Facebook has redefined for us what a "friend" is.

But that's not what this post is about.

I propose a different number. Dumbell's Number.

This is the number of passwords for apps, programs, devices, accounts, etc. that a person can possibly know. And I think it's about two (2), especially if the second one is a derivation of the first.

I am so sick and tired of having to come up with another password every time I turn around! And good security advice is to never write it down. Don't put it on a Post-it on the back of your computer or inside your desk drawer, or under the stapler. Any half-way decent hacker knows every place you would think of to hide it.
And of course every new password must be longer, more convoluted, use absolutely no recognizable terms, blah, blah, blah.

So what's the solution? Well, if I told you that, then you'd know my password!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Digital Fingertips

What's the next big thing in UI (User Interface)? Is it a 3D touchpad? Is it a Minority Report virtual screen that reads your gestures? Thought control?

Image Courtesy of Microsoft Office
You know what I've decided? We haven't come very far in the last 6,000 years. We still think in 2D. We still work in 2D. At least when it comes to technology interfaces. Even with the touch screen revolution of the past few years our fingers are only working like a pencil or a stylus on a 2D screen. And that cool virtual interface used in Minority Report, and that is making it's way into the mainstream world, is still a basically flat surface that we connect with.

Perhaps technologies like Wii and Kinect are visions of how we will use our laptops, mobile phones, and pad computers in the near future. But, it's still hard to beat the versatility and joy of a pencil and a scratch pad.

We do so much of our communicating on a flat surface that I think it is hard for us to get beyond that. I remember in my graduate studies classes that it hit me one day that most of the theoretical models for our discipline were trapped by the parameters of two dimensions. Fancy xy grids and diagrams lacked a true three dimensional aspect. Those statistical charts that did incorporate a third, z axis tended to blow our minds and were hard to comprehend.

What if we let sculptors and other artists design UI technology?! How would they envision getting in touch with electrons through digital fingertips!?

Dr. S.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teaching an (sorta) old prof new tricks

I’ve always been stuck between generations. My generation got stuck between the Baby Boomers and the Baby Busters. My generation got stuck between PCs and Mobile Computing. My generation got stuck between newspapers and Twitter.
Am I complaining? No. Just in a fog at times. I’m not hooked on social networking. I do love the Internet and all it offers, but fear we’re waaaayyyyy too self-disclosive. I don’t get the blogging thing. So why am here?
Old dogs sometimes have to learn new tricks. Like when your workplace says, “Make a web page for yourself.”
As a professor in today’s marketplace and social spaces, a Communication professor at that, I get it. Everyone’s online reading everyone’s stuff. Young people (and their parents) want to see that you are a real person and not just a mug shot on a boring standardized institutional website.
Doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it. At least not yet.
Ok. I know enough about this online presence thing to realize I’m bordering on ranting. :)
(Do you see that?! That’s an emoticon! Ooooh! I’m up-to-date now!)
Photo: Mitzy, the rolling robot dog. A new old spin on our "best friends." Art by Will Wagenaar. Learn more at GizmoWatch.com.