SHiFT: Martin Röll – Time for a SHIFT

How we need to change our thinking and acting to use information technology sensibly.

At these sorts of conferences, there seems to be quest for identity, to find out who we are, and how we shape the word, and how the world shapes us. Thomas talked about hacking language. Stowe will talk about tools, how we shape them and how they shape us. I’m talking about hacking the human operating system, how we live and how we interact.

Two assumptions in the title: we need to change, and that we aren’t using IT sensibly. Lilia thinks we are using IT sensibly, but what I mean is that we are not using the possibilities we have from the things we’ve invented, there’s a lot more we could do, and there’s a lot of tech that’s not useful at all.

The other assumption is that we need to change, and I’m not going to argue that point. But I do think it’s time for a shift and we do need to change, because I see things that we are doing on this planet that I don’t like, but I’m not going to labour the point about when we need to change.

But these points I am going to make are going to work for you no matter if you think the world is going to change or disintegrate.

Wishes don’t work, no point wishing for change. Need to act ourselves. That’s why he used ‘we’. Also, pointless blaming others for our misfortunes, we have to own that ourselves.

Idea of this talk is that when we look at the tech we’ve invented we can see it helps us get more things done. Can access more information, can find things faster, can communicate with more people, can work more effectively. Question is, what are we going to do with all that now? What work are we going to do? Are we going to use it to fight faster and more dynamically, or are we going to come up with some better ideas?

Two things are important:

– the way we interact with each other when we use IT.
– the way we work, the things we work on, and the type of work we do when working for other companies and the way we earn our money.

There are things we get wrong, specially when we access the web for accessing information. We tend to believe that what is in the browser is the world, don’t take into account that it’s a snapshot of the world, and we don’t think about the state of mind we are in when we access information.

So you’ve just got up and haven’t had coffee and are feeling groggy, then a comment on your blog may read as a stupid comment, but later on when you read it you may realise it’s constructive criticism.

Often we mis-interpret things online because we don’t take into account our own state of mind, we no longer see things the way they are, we see our own emotions in the email we get and the information we process. We react to this information badly when you are in a ‘fight’ mode, or a ‘protect’ mode. But have to think about why you are reacting the way you react.

Our information systems are created in such a way as it’s easy to get drowned in information. When we try to absorb too much information we become ineffective.

Once we’ve found out what we want to do, once we have our thinking clear, we have to go on to the acting part. One of the most important things here is what do we focus on. We tend to multitask, think about email, or what we have to do… when we don’t focus on what we need to do, when we are procrastinating we don’t get anything done. But we are the ones that decide where to put our focus, our attention.

There are lots of tools there to help us find what is interesting… but that’s frequently defined as what’s being linked to a lot. But when we do that we get into mob behaviour. We find something on the net, but we don’t know anything more than what we’ve seen. So we amplify what is happening without really it being important or relevant to us.

We should stop doing that. People will not stop reading a blog because I haven’t linked to popular things. In fact, if I stop for 2 weeks, it doesn’t matter. RSS feeds mean that people will stay, they can see when you start writing again. We should blog less about things that suck. What I get mad about when I see what’s happening in my part of the blogosphere – so many people spend so much time commenting on things that we don’t like, or things that suck.

There is so much stuff that sucks, everyone could easily write a list of 100 things that suck, but a blog entry is not going to change it. We should focus on what’s really important to us, what’s positive, what can make a difference. Don’t waste time on criticising politics or business or user-interfacces on a new gadget. We shouldn’t talk about he things that are irrelevant to our own actions.

Also need to be aware of the consequences of what we do, particularly the economic consequences. At this conference, you’ll meet a lot of people who are inventing new tools or processes. We are innovating. This is important for companies because they are hiring us and paying us. But we need to be aware of the repercussions of what we do. We need to think carefully about where we are going to put our new inventions. In the end it will all be freely available, but we are the ones who decide who gets it first, we shape the first behaviour, we help the first users make use of the tools. And by making this decision of how we use the tools, if we are not giving it to some people we can stop development, and by giving it to others we can speed development, so we need to think about where we apply these tools.

We have a duty too to share what we know and what we are developing. Not enough to just talk amongst ourselves, to show the demo to other geeks, but they can find it themselves anyway. If we really believe in what we do and we think that it’s important we need to go out and show it to people who don’t know yet. Most people don’t care about what we do because they don’t know about what we do.

You won’t find them on Google or Skype or IM, but our duty is to go out there and find people to share with. But we are developing stuff for us, not for people who are not at our conferences. We can work effectively but other people don’t, and some people are getting left behind and we should show what we do to other people and let them participate in this new world that we are creating.

I believe we are not using the tools we have developed effectively today. Much of the time we use our computers we are recreating other tools we already have, or engaging in the same behaviours. We need to think more about why we are doing what we do. We shouldn’t confuse the browser with reality. We should be mindful when we communicate with others through the electronic medium. Too often we misunderstand others because we’re not aware of our own state of mind when we are interfacing with the system. We need to co-exist with everyone.

Also need to be careful who we work for, whose money we take. If we aren’t more careful, we’ll just be the generation that made things faster. But if we do, not only can we get more things done, have better communication, but we can also shape a world in which more people can live together peacefully.