A story in the Daily Mail claims that a manager at a ‘busy NYC restaurant’ found that customers constantly using their cell phones were to blame for a dramatic increase in restaurant wait times nowadays.
Category Archives: Observations
The Productivity Paradox
American society is built on contradictions. We worship independence but crave connection. We want freedom, but seek commitment. We venerate efficiency, but chase new technologies that can actually decrease our productivity. I call this the Productivity Paradox.
Huh? Case in point: Apple IOS 7. I hate it. Somebody must like it; Apple sure is selling a lot of iPhones and iPads. But to me, most of the changes are a major step backward in productivity. They changed the way features work without really improving their functionality in most cases. The result is confusion that saps productivity. It’s frustrating.
Example 1: The calendar function. The purpose of keeping a calendar is to provide reminders of important events. Apple gave the world a gift when it built alerts into its calendar system. I would be lost without them. But in IOS 7, they actually hid the alert function. I spent ten minutes today looking for it. I was ready to throw my iPhone in the trash when I accidentally clicked on something that didn’t appear to be clickable and discovered where they had hidden it. I’m sure some designer was basking in the afterglow of his simple, elegant interface … that totally baffled the user – me, someone who has never used anything but Apple products for the last 30 years. Duh? Why would you hide the reminder feature in a calendar. Does no one do usability testing anymore?
Example 2: The Map App. This actually works better than it used to … if you can figure out how to use it. In previous iterations of the Map App, you would type in an address, press go and be guided to your destination. Now you type in your address and are confronted with six meaningless, non-intuitive icons which you must press randomly to get into “guide me there” mode.
If these were isolated examples, I would dismiss them. But they aren’t. They’re typical of this so-called upgrade which amounts to little more than an elegant purple fart from one of the world’s great technology companies. Somebody, somewhere has lost their way at Apple. They’ve traded “simple” for the “appearance of simple.” They’ve confused design changes with productivity improvements.
Apple wasn’t the first to try to pass off a new look for productivity improvements. Microsoft has been changing the location of features in its popular Office suite for years without adding much to the functionality of the software. Every time they move functions around, I waste time looking for them.
But Apple has outdone even Microsoft. On top of senseless changes to its IOS, Apple has done away with documentation so that users are forced to figure out these non-intuitive changes on their own. Net net: the 200 plus improvements in IOS 7 that Apple brags about are wasting my time. Somebody please put the adults in charge again.
Why do I call this the Productivity Paradox? Designers and developers must have the freedom to improve their products. But they they need to realize that every time they change a widget, it’s going to force their most loyal users to relearn the software. Developers sell these changes as productivity improvements but they actually decrease productivity.
If there’s a genuine improvement, great. But if there isn’t, please don’t fix what ain’t broke.
Social Networking in the Workplace
A lady named Aria Cahill called this infographic to my attention. “You posted what?!” I find the graphics to be a pretty compelling way to tell a story. Her client is online-paralegal-programs.com. This graphic educates people about the dangers of social networking at work, specifically posting information about one’s employer or manager that may be derogatory. As an employer myself, I can tell you that I work around the clock to provide opportunities to employees and provide the most positive work environment I can. Inevitably, though, people sometimes become disenchanted for one reason or another. When they take their gripes online instead of discussing them with me, it feels as though I’m being stabbed in the back. It “colors” my relationship with the employee. It especially hurts when they do it on company time, using company computers.
This poster discusses how many people use social networks at work; the percent of people who say they’re dissatisfied with their jobs; how people are unloading their gripes online; and how the gripes affect their relationships with employers.
The last section, “Not fired – Note even hired!” talks about how employers check online postings before hiring people now. Personally, when I see someone who has a history of criticizing others online, it causes me to wonder whether they will criticize our clients publicly and cost us business. If I’m forced to make a close call between two candidates for a position, that could make me decide against one and for another.
Infographics like this are very thought-provoking. They underscore some of the unintended consequences of Internet usage … namely, how people can shoot themselves in the foot. My thanks to the people at online-paralegal-programs.com for allowing me to reproduce it.
Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s by Robert Rehak
It’s been a month since I’ve posted on this site. I’ve been busy completing a new book referenced in the previous post. The book is Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s by Robert Rehak. You can now pre-order it on Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com.
The coffee-table-sized book (9.5″ x 13″) will be in bookstores before Thanksgiving. Published by Chicago’s Books Press, an imprint of Chicago’s Neighborhoods, Inc., the book contains 272 pages, 250+ illustrations, plus an introduction and captions that put the images and the place in historical context. For photographers, the book also contains notes about the equipment and techniques used when taking the photos.
Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s by Robert Rehak is a time capsule from 40 years ago. It shows you what life was like in one of Chicago’s most diverse and densely populated neighborhoods. Although the book specifically focuses on one neighborhood in Chicago, almost every large city in America has a neighborhood coping with similar challenges.
When I posted several of the images on my photoblog, bobrehak.com, they immediately went viral. I’d like to thank all the readers who took their valuable time to write me with notes of appreciation and to help flesh out details that make the book a much richer experience. They provided the inspiration for this book.
Viewed as a book, instead of a website, these photos become even more powerful. The images are much larger and higher resolution, revealing details not visible on the Web. The images are also arranged in a more logical sequence – when putting together the website, I was responding to reader requests. Finally, when you see all of the images back to back, as opposed to opening them one by one, it’s easier to see the forces that were shaping this fascinating neighborhood and the way ordinary people adapted to them. Below are two sample spreads from the book.
Photographing in Uptown for four years made me much less judgmental and much more understanding of the troubles other people face. I experienced firsthand the plight of parents forced to chose between shoes and food for their children. I wish every senator and congressman had the opportunity to walk the streets of Uptown in the 1970s. It might have changed some of our national priorities.
Once again, thank you all for all your help. I hope you enjoy the book and am eager to hear your feedback.
From 1973 to 1977, I photographed the people of a neighborhood in Chicago called Uptown. The project was a self-assignment but many of the photos I took there were later published by the Chicago Tribune. Then the images laid in a drawer for almost 40 years.
I recently rediscovered them and posted them on my photo blog, BobRehak.com, not to be confused with this blog at Robert Rehak.com. The response has been overwhelming. BobRehak.com has received 1.5 million hits in the last month. I say that, not to brag, but to introduce the subject of this post, collaborative history.
Many of the people in the images have written to tell me more about their circumstances and growing up in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. I’ve heard from policemen, firemen, teachers, social workers, residents, widows, gang members, writers, historians, shopkeepers and more.
Dozens of people have sent me valuable information that is helping to deepen my understanding of the neighborhood as well as the social and economic forces in play at the time. To put this into perspective, the year I started photographing there, the big news stories were “OPEC Oil Embargo” and “Watergate Tapes.” The embargo quadrupled gasoline prices in a year, threw the country into recession, and caused inflation to skyrocket. The tapes brought down the Nixon presidency within two years.
Lesser stories, including the struggle of working class families to make ends meet among these circumstances, got lost in the fog of time. Now, with the help of the Internet and readers, I am piecing their stories back together again. I hope to have a book ready by the end of the year.
When published, it will be more than a portfolio of my early documentary photographs. It will be a collaborative history of one of Chicago’s most fascinating neighborhoods, made possible through the spread of social media on the Internet. As readers see themselves in photos, they spread the word to their friends who are in other photos. Then they write me with the stories behind the photos.
While the stories I’m discovering do not all have happy endings, they do have important lessons. I learned last week of the fate of a gorgeous young woman. I wrote about her, “If she hadn’t been in Uptown, she could have been in Vogue.” She died young of HIV.
I also photographed a family with three kids. Two of them were in gangs. They always had cigarettes danging from their lips because it made them look tough. According to the widow of one, both moved to Alabama to escape the gang culture in Uptown, but then died from esophageal cancer in their mid-forties.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a Chicago firefighter after I posted a picture of his station house. He informed me that his engine company was the busiest in America during the decade of the 1970s and early 1980s. This helped put the slumlord protests that I photographed into perspective.
I’m finding many life lessons in the emails I get. I doubt the inventors of the Internet had collaborative history in mind when they designed the medium. But the social networks that the Internet spawned have created a tool to do just that.
The Internet and History
With more than two trillion pages of information, the Internet has rapidly become the world’s biggest information archive. From a historian’s perspective, however, it presents several problems.
First, web sites come and go. Pages come and go. An active link today may yield a “file not found” error tomorrow.
Second, file formats change over time. I remember reading a story in the Smithsonian about twenty years ago. The magazine claimed at the time (just ten or fifteen years into the computer revolution), that librarians were worried about the ability to access information stored in file formats that were no longer popular. Prior to the last century, there were just two file formats in the whole of human history: rock and paper. Since the dawn of computers, there have been hundreds of thousands.
Imagine all the information lost for all time because the computing platform, operating system, and application it was created on are no longer commercially viable. The rate of innovation, while a boon to mankind on one hand, is a curse to historians on the other. But the news isn’t all bad.
Having said that, I had a personal experience recently that shows the positive side of the Internet when it comes to history. I published a series of documentary photographs that I took almost 40 years ago in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on bobrehak.com, my photo blog. A blogger in Chicago who specializes in the history of Uptown, Joane Asala, found them and posted a link to them. They quickly went viral.
As a result, tens of thousands of people have gotten a glimpse into the past of a neighborhood that is quite different today. I had pretty good notes about where I took most of the pictures, but they were incomplete in places. So I invited readers to email me if they recognized people or places in any of the images. Numerous people emailed me about themselves or friends, and places in the images.
Yesterday, I received an email from a man who thought he recognized the architecture in a corner bar at Buena and Broadway. So I went to the street view in google maps. Bingo. The same building was still there. Everything around it had changed. Signs and trash that once littered the street were gone. They were replaced by trees. The contrast was striking. You can see it for yourself by going to the image and clicking on the link embedded in the caption.
Tools like Google Maps were intended primarily to help people navigate. But they have an unintended and quite positive consequence. They can be used to give people a wealth of information about then and now. They can be a boon to historians trying to explain the how and the why of change.
Viral Communications and the Internet
So, we’ve all heard about viral communications … as with those videos that someone posts on YouTube. Someone sees it, tells their friends, who tell THEIR friends, who tell THEIR friends and so on. It’s kind of like in the days before the Internet when “rumors would spread like wildfire.”
Robert Rehak’s Own Mini-Viral Communication Experience
Two days ago, a lady named Joanne Asala in Chicago who edits CompassRose.org said that she had come across some photographs that I had posted on BobRehak.com. I took them in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood back in the mid-1970s and the focus of her blog is the history of that neighborhood.
She asked permission to post two of the photos and refer people to my site to see the rest. I agreed. She posted them late Wednesday night. When I woke up on Thursday morning, traffic on BobRehak.com had spiked. My photo site had received 800 visits by 4 am. Within 24 hours, that number had swelled to more than 8000 and the trend has continued today – with each visitor viewing an average of 13 photos.
The point of talking about this mini-viral episode is not to brag, but to point out how valuable a single link can be. Ms. Asala’s post led to several others on Facebook and as news of my “historical time capsule” (as she called it) spread throughout Chicago, my site received thousands of new visitors and tens of thousands of page views.
Ground Zero for Poverty
At one time, in the 1920s, Uptown had been a summer resort and playground for Chicago’s rich and famous. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had spiraled downward. It was ground zero for poverty. Today, it seems Uptown is lurching toward gentrification again. The photos provide an interesting historical contrast.
Many of the visitors emailed me to say how the portfolio brought back memories of growing up in the area. Some felt misty-eyed. Others wanted to purchase prints. Others wanted to know whether I had pictures of their friends in my archives. Still others emailed me about the locations in the photos and told me what they looked like today. (I now live in Houston, not Chicago.)
Positive Side Effects of Viral Communication
Thanks to Ms. Asala, I was able to meet and network with many people online that I never would have been able to meet in real life. Often I talk about the side effects of communication technology on this blog. This is one side effect that was very positive.
From a marketers point of view, viral communications can be a dream – or nightmare – come true. Which it is depends on the content of the communication being spread. Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about viral communications “gone bad.” It was a review of Steven Wyer’s compelling book about Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. His book is called Violated Online. Happily, this experience was all positive.
I took three things away from this experience:
- Viral communications can improve site traffic exponentially. From an average of 100 visitors a day, traffic on BobRehak.com jumped to 10,000 in a little more than 24 hours. That’s a 100x increase from just one initial link!
- Quality content is what keeps viral communication going. Without friends telling their friends, referrals die out.
- Perhaps marketers should spend more time improving the quality of their communication and less time carpet bombing the public with insipid ads and commercials that people ignore.
Internet addiction and depression
Is there a link between internet addiction and depression? I have often observed that Internet addicts seem less sociable than others – more focused on electronic interaction than physical interaction. I wonder if electronic interaction is somehow less satisfying emotionally and if that could contribute to depression.
The need for personal connection is one of our deepest needs. But connecting online lacks many of the elements that make physical interaction so satisfying. You can’t see people smile, shake their hands, or hug them. And you can’t smell the cookies they baked for you. Electronic interaction lacks many of the positive aspects of physical interaction. It is better than nothing, but a poor surrogate for the real thing. The electronic interaction, while good in itself, underscores physical disconnectedness.
Recently, I came across articles on two trend studies that brought this issue into focus.
- The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported a 400% increase in the use of anti-depressant drugs in the period between 1988-94 and 2005-08.
- The Pew Foundation reported exponential growth in Internet social networking during the latter period. See chart below.
So I looked for research to see if these two things were, in fact, related.
In 2010, the journal Psychopathology published a study called, “The Relationship between Excessive Internet Use and Depression: A Questionnaire-Based Study of 1,319 Young People and Adults” by C. M. Morrison and H. Gore from the University of Leeds in the UK.
The authors studied the link between Internet addiction (AI) and depression among 1,319 respondents. They found a close relationship between AI tendencies and depression, such that IA respondents were more depressed. Among their conclusions:
Those who regard themselves as dependent on the Internet report high levels of depressive symptoms. Those who show symptoms of IA are likely to engage proportionately more than the normal population in sites that serve as a replacement for real-life socialising.
“The internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side,” said lead author of the report Dr. Catriona Morrison. “There is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities.”
“Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression? What is clear, is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.”
In 2007, Psychopathology published another study called “Depression and Internet Addiction in Adolescents” by J.H. Ha, S.Y. Kim, S.C. Bae, H. Kim, M. Sim, and I.K. Lyoo, and S.C. Cho.
This group studied 452 Korean adolescents. First, they evaluated subjects for their severity of Internet addiction. Second, they investigated correlations between Internet addiction and depression, alcohol dependence and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. They also found that Internet addiction was significantly associated with depressive symptoms and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Their data suggests the need to evaluate underlying depression in the treatment of Internet-addicted adolescents.
This year, Psyopathology also published another study on the subject. It was a survey of previously published academic research called, “The Association between Pathological Internet Use and Comorbid Psychopathology: A Systematic Review.” The authors of this study were: V. Carli, T. Durkee, D. Wasserman, G. Hadlaczky, R. Despalins, E. Kramarz, C. Wasserman, M. Sarchiapone, C.W. Hoven, R Brunner and M. Kaess.
They evaluated all of the studies about pathological Internet use (PIU) on MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES, PsychINFO, Global Health, and Web of Science. They found relationships to depression, anxiety, symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and hostility/aggression.
The majority of research was conducted in Asia. Of the twenty articles they reviewed, 75% reported significant correlations of PIU with depression, 57% with anxiety, 100% with symptoms of ADHD, 60% with obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and 66% with hostility/aggression. The strongest correlations were observed between PIU and depression; the weakest was hostility/aggression.
Could it be that lonely, depressed people self-medicate by socializing on the Internet to make themselves feel less lonely? In the end, do they only makes themselves more depressed by isolating themselves from family, friends and support networks?
The advertising industry trade journal Ad Age reports that:
Time spent with computers has tripled over the past decade among kids age 8 to 18. The bulk of this group’s time is spent on social media, followed by games, video sites and instant messaging. The average kid packs a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into a daily seven and a half hours of media exposure.
Facebook may be a great way to stay in touch with friends, but it’s not quite the same thing as a hug. An email to your brother or sister isn’t quite the same thing as having dinner with him or her. An online role playing game with someone in another state isn’t quite the same thing as a pickup game of basketball down at the local playground. Or playing catch with your dad. Or baking with your mom and watching the smiles as an apple pie comes out of the oven.
An electronic social life is at best a surrogate experience for personal connection. Just like the personal handwritten letters that people used to write, electronic interaction often results in bittersweet feelings: sweet because you’re connecting, bitter because you’re still apart.
This can lead to emotional burn out for Internet addicts. They find themselves going online more and more to get the same sense of connection they once felt. But the emotional mailbox is empty. The increased time they spend online simply underscores their separation from family and friends. Kind of depressing, huh? The answer may not be in pills. It may be in logging onto life.
The Internet and Free Speech
The Internet brought self-publishing to the common man. That may have done more for free speech than the First Amendment. But all that unfettered freedom has a dark side, too. The freedom to lie. The freedom to libel. The freedom to make false allegations. The freedom to bully. The freedom to invade privacy. And the freedom to destroy competitors, ex-lovers, neighbors with yapping dogs, 14-year-old girls having bad-hair days, the cop who gave you a ticket for doing 90 in a school zone, and the overworked waitress who took too long to refill your iced tea.
Having fun yet? Oh, I forgot the freedom to do it all anonymously.
As a writer, I’ve always believed that Free Speech is the most important freedom Americans have. But I’ve also come to believe in recent years that the greatest threat to Free Speech is people who lie and libel with impunity online.
Before the “irresponsibles” spoil it for all of us, we need to draw a line in the sand, Dude. That line is Truth with a capital T. Yes, I know Truth isn’t always black or white. But let’s leave the shades of gray out of this for the moment and consider only one of the extremes. Should anyone have the right to damage you with blatant, outright lies?
Any reasonable person would take a New York nanosecond to shout “NO!” But sadly the answer is “YES” – at least in the free-fire zone called the Internet.
Have you ever been caught in the cross-fire? Sorry, Bucky. You’re collateral damage to a higher cause – Free Speech.
If you want to read a real-life horror story filled with the sad sagas of dozens of victims, read a book called Violated Online: How Online Slander Can Destroy Your Life by Steven Wyer. It should be required reading for anyone with Internet access and a voter registration card. That includes judges and legislators.
Mr. Wyer’s sobering book contains numerous examples of how people’s lives have been ruined by a perfect storm of new, converging laws, technologies and trends, such as:
- Anti-SLAPP statutes
- Internet anonymity
- Social networks that facilitate viral communications
- Anonymous text bots that relentlessly record the location of every piece of information on the Internet whether it is true or false.
- Online information archives, such as the Library of Congress, that dutifully store false allegations
- Search engines that lead people directly to those lies for decades
Want to see how easy it is to damage someone? Just visit any complaint site like RipoffReport.com, AbusiveMen.com, PissedOff.com or DatingPsychos.com. Anyone can start a vicious rumor about someone he or she doesn’t like, such as the poor kid in class who wore mismatching socks, a competitor, or political opponent. The bigger the lie, the faster and farther it spreads. And once it’s gone viral, it’s impossible to stop.
Want to see how long you can keep the fun going? Read the story on Snopes.com about an email circulating since 2005. It lists compensation details of CEOs of major charities. Only one problem: the information is bogus. Who knows how much suffering this email caused by diverting badly needed contributions from those in need!
In Texas, at least one politician has already used the state’s new anti-SLAPP statute as a shield to attack private citizens. Texas courts have upheld the politician’s right to do so. And the Texas governor vetoed an ethics bill last month that contained a provision that would have made it more difficult for politicians to attack private citizens anonymously.
A growing body of research underscores how psychology as well as technology can fuel the persistence of misinformation and “belief echoes.” Most people tend to continue believing misinformation even after it has been proven untrue. Most often, attempts to expose lies actually strengthen belief in the misinformation.
The Internet is like an echo chamber. When social networks pick up the news and the Library of Congress archives all the Tweets about you, you suddenly become a Number One search result on Google, sentenced to a virtual pillory for life without due process.
Your phone stops ringing. Your friends shun you. Even your dog pees on your rug. It’s game over, Bubba. So what if they lied! They got to vent.
Want to clean up this mess? A good start would be to teach kids NEVER to trust people using pseudonyms online. Perhaps someday we could even make the use of online pseudonyms illegal. If people fear they might be held accountable for damaging lies, they might think twice before publishing them to the world.
Advocacy Advertising and Political Debate
Let’s talk about advocacy advertising today. You’ve all seen television commercials attempting to swing public opinion. They’re designed to sway Congressional votes on important issues, such as gun control, abortion, trade, energy, health care and more.
Both sides of important issues employ research in these epic struggles. Typically, researchers read a series of one-sentence “sales” propositions to respondents. Respondents rate each proposition on a scale. Researchers then rank the propositions based on their average ratings.
For those producing and targeting commercials, these rankings reveal which arguments work best among groups people are for issues, against them or undecided. So far, so good. When we get to the next step in the process, however, a dark consequence of advocacy advertising begins to emerge.
Solving Health Care Reform in 65 Words?
The average 30-second television commercial contains just 65 words. That’s about four to six sentences depending on their length. Now you understand why so much effort was thrown into research designed to identify compelling sound bites.
Addressing Multidimensional Issues with Single-Minded Discussions
The medium of television advertising forces multidimensional issues into single-minded “discussions.” Each side hurls its sound bites at each other without ever truly addressing each others’ arguments. It feels like the movie Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray replays the same bad dreams over and over again in an endless series of looping nightmares. The usual results:
- Political stalemate
- Perpetual disagreement
Most advocacy advertising lowers the level of public debate to that of two shrill cockatoos parroting the same soundbites at each other, over and over. We rarely seem to get past the opening volley in the debate.
Progress is the casualty. Frustration is the winner.