The glacial pace of change

Today is my Twitter Anniversary – 13 years. I’ve been blogging for coming up 19 years and been on LInkedIn for coming up 17 years.

And yet not so long ago I had someone tell me about this really cool site they had found on the internet – called Linkedin! Recently someone I know, when unable to use a very basic functionality of her phone, replied – “Oh I don’t really do IT”.

Add to this a conversation yesterday about how little of their phones’ functionality most people use and I am reminded yet again of how slowly in some ways we are adapting to this “technology revolution”.

And yet it is happening around us, it is happening to us. Adopting an “I don’t do technology” stance is such a cop out. Even if you don’t feel drawn to fully embracing all of its potential, at least understanding it enough to make informed decisions about its use, both as an individual and in your organisations, is essential if we are going to ensure that we have a say in how society adapts to our inevitably more technological future.

Dark Materials

I have just finished listening to His Dark Materials on Audible (an excellent version, read by the author with dramatised characters). I was keen to finish it before seeing any of the current BBC adaptation so that the images I had of the characters weren’t replaced by the TV ones. I wanted to retain some influence over how I saw the fictional world that the book was creating for me.

I read so much “non-fiction” about how we see the world, different philosophies, different religions, different approaches etc. that I found myself listening to the book as if the cosmology created by Philip Pullman was real.

In that previous sentence I put non fiction in quotation marks because so much of what we are presented with as the truth, in terms of philosophy or religion, are simply “just” other ways of looking at the world. In fact having just got around to reading Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat I was reminded of  just how wobbly so much of what we take for granted as true is – including our own perceptions of the physical world around us.

No one but me knows how I experience the world, and even that changes on a day to day basis. We all have our own “dark materials”, personal and societal conditioning, flows of perception and energy that change throughout our lifetimes, and indeed moment to moment, that bend and shape our reactions to the world around us. We would do well to remember this as we encounter others whose grasp of reality is as tenuous as our own.

Shared emotions

OK, so I’m a big softy.

I have seen Pretty Woman more times than I can remember and still blub when Richard Gere serenades Julia Roberts at the end.

Every Christmas I go on about what an awful film Love Actually is but always blub when Colin Firth turns up at the Portuguese family restaurant to ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage.

And last night, watching the beautifully done dance sequence in honour of Remembrance Sunday on Strictly Come Dancing I blubbed again.

It fascinates me how we are programmed to be triggered in this way. Some deep instinct to empathise with others, to engage with their emotions and share in them.

It defies logic, and probably because of that, I find it deeply reassuring.

Knowledge Management, arses and elbows.

It’s funny to be here in Washington on my annual pilgrimage to KM World and to hear yet again what are sadly predominantly conversations about Sharepoint.

For me the purpose of KM was to make it easier to have useful conversations with people who knew stuff that you didn’t. Somehow it became all about information and document management, enterprise search, and on and on…

As someone who now works “on the shop floor” of many different companies in my role delivering their goods to customers, I am always in the position of needing to know stuff, different stuff for each company, again and again. I need to know how to do things, I need to know how to keep myself and others safe, I need to know how to do the paperwork and logistics.

I am invariably handed a pile of documents, some of them well written some of them not, some of them up to date some of them not. Sometimes I read them, more often I don’t

But guess how I really learn the ropes? Through the kindness and patience of others who are willing to take the time to have a chat with me to ensure that I know my arse from my elbow.

A new anxiety dream

You know what it is like when you are anxious about doing something significant and intimidating the following day and you dream about a challenging event from your past? Well until now I have had two.

The first was of turning up for my final exams in Lower College Hall in St. Andrews, feeling smug about having had so much fun, and doing so little work, and getting away with it. Then I see all these people waiting outside the exam room holding books I have never seen in my life and being filled with terror at the ordeal I was about to face.

The second was of being about to go on air with a live transmission at The BBC World Service (usually for the Latin Americans for some reason). I’m keyed up but in control until I try to put one of the longer, larger, 2400 1/4″ tape spools on a tape machine. The spools require a plastic centre to localate them on the spindle and these things were always in short supply. There wasn’t one, and I’m desperately trying to get the tape to stay on the machine. As I do so the spool evaporates and hundreds of feet of tape start spilling onto the floor.

Last night, feeling anxious about moderating the opening session here at KM World in Washington, I had a new anxiety dream!

I had arrived at the conference driving a large truck. I was late and I was getting more and more stressed at having to navigate it down tight city streets to get to the event. I had to go the wrong way up a one way street and ended up having to park it somewhere I shouldn’t and had to keep nipping out of the event to check it was OK.

I suppose I should be grateful to have a little more variety in my deep psychological and emotional scars!

Dealing with authority

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I have a hard time dealing with authority Especially the kind that gives people I have never met the “authority” to unpack all of my bags – twice in the same day.

The guy in Heathrow was a nervous trainee so I reigned in my grumpiness. The officious TSA subcontractor in Reykjavik didn’t get off so lightly. Thank goodness the border official in Washington was cheery and pleasant because otherwise I might have ended up head butting someone.

Getting grumpy doesn’t help but just giving in to increasing control by “the state” doesn’t feel right either. Control in the name of protection is a slippery slope. Making people afraid of perceived risks and then being seen as the ones to protect them is the way to snatch increasing power from the unwary. Blindly trusting people in uniform to do the right thing is a dangerous way to live.

But the nature of authority is that the more we resist it the more they enforce it, the more we question it the more we are seen as marginal or troublemakers.

We need to find some sort of balance between holding the state to account and maintaining our individual freedoms, especially in a world where the decisions about us and what we are allowed to do are increasingly encoded in systems that few have access to or control over.

Being grumpy with a hapless official may be pointless but satisfying. It is impossible with an algorithm.