Finding Balance

A week or so ago I was browsing the videos from the Cocoaconf Yosemite conference that was held at Yosemite Lodge earlier this year. It was a conference I’d hoped to go to but my schedule didn’t align — but they’ll be back in 2016 and I’m seeing if I can make things work.

One of the talks given there this year was by Serenity Caldwell of iMore titled Thinking with Pictures.

The talk just blew me away. It’s full of heavy things I didn’t expect to find in it.

One of the big issues she talks about in the talk is about finding the right balance. So many of us are carrying cameras today, and our phones make all of us photographers. What pictures do you take? Which pictures do you leave untaken? When do you share them and to whom? What information do you put on them and do you share that information?

Are you even aware of what and how much information you’re sharing? I’ve talked about the need to think about this when I wrote my piece on Geofencing, but Caldwell puts the entire complex challenge into perspective wonderfully.

The confluence of the rise of social media with the improvement and portability of digital photography has caused significant changes to society and how we interact with each other — and how public we are.

How public should we be? How much should we share? The answers to that are very personal and difference for each person and we’re all still sorting it all out. It’s an important thing to sort out, and Caldwell is one of the best explanations of the problems and challenges I’ve seen. Please take the time to go take a look and hear what she says and suggests.

One of the things I’m going to watch with fascination is how the kids adapt to this. Change is generational; us old farts struggle to come to grips new technologies and new technology changes and their impact on us and we tend to fight to shove them back into the comfortable and familiar. People growing up with these as part of their lives simply see them as tools and opportunities and they build their lives and attitudes around them. For those of us who are older, understanding and recognizing that is crucial for trying to understand these changes as part of the larger society and an aspect of staying relevant in a world that’s going to move forward with or without us.

I first realized this many years ago when I was working at Apple and I became one of the lucky ones who got to play beeper duty. For the kids out there, beepers were things that existed before cell phones so that someone could contact you and let you know they needed to talk to you, and then you could go find a phone and call them to figure out what’s going on. I hated being on beeper duty because it meant I could never get out of contact range.

At the time, I worked with a real young and bright kid, maybe 22. He also wore a beeper, and it went off 2-3 times a day, only his beeper wasn’t work, it was his friends. The device I saw as the ball and chain of The Man that locked me down to work — he and his friends saw it as a way to connect and network and keep each other informed of what’s going on. I griped about the intrusion, they built their social structure around it seeing the opportunities. As he told me one day, of course he wore a beeper, because otherwise his friends might decide to do something and he’d miss out on joining them.

That discussion completely changed how I view these things. It was — and I was maybe 30 at the time — my first recognized instance of what I call Get Off My Lawn syndrome, and I immediately realized that to stay relevant in the high tech industry you had to adapt to and understand both the technology changes and the social changes that they were going to drive, and those changes were going to drive out of the people growing up with those changes, not us old farts trying to define how the kids should want to think. Ever since, I’ve tried to keep myself open to change, to re-thinking and re-inventing, and to trying to watch and understand how those without the history of time holding them back were taking on these new technologies and making them their own (and if they aren’t taking them on, they probably are going to fail).

So today, I look around at my life today, with my iPhone and iPad with LTE and email clients and instant messaging and a freaking watch that can answer telephone calls and a home network that’s 24×7 wired in to work and…. And I kinda laugh at how things have changed and how comfortable I’ve become with the digital tethers. Perhaps a bit of hollow laugh, but still…

It’s not always easy or obvious, but I think it’s important. It’s a core question of Caldwell’s talk — How public am I comfortable being? — and why that talk blew me away. For those of us who take pictures, she raises questions we all should answer, but there’s a bigger aspect that it’s got me starting to look at.

Social networks and the online life so many of us live today are in many ways in direct conflict with our privacy and more importantly, our comfort levels about what information is public about us or that we share — and who we share that. Many of us who are older are quite uncomfortable with how much information is being gathered about us and how it’s being used — remember when I wrote a couple of weeks ago about finally deciding to use an Ad blocker?

What it’s got me wondering is how the kids growing up in this environment are going deal with this. In many ways, it’s clear this genie is out of the bottle and not going back, and while we can manage it in some ways, the future is about finding our comfort level with this, not preventing it. I’m now very curious how the younger generations are going to integrate all of this into their lives — this is research I’m just beginning to dig into in my spare time.

I think privacy as we older people view it is done, and the kids are going to grow up with an entirely different mindset about public and private, and I’m fascinated to see what that means.

I admit it, I carefully edit what I put online, it’s a subset of me. I don’t PLAN this any more, it’s second nature. There’s a specific version of me I offer to people that is in some ways an idealized version of me,a nd in some ways a marketing representation of what I wish I was. But it’s still at the core me. And I think that’s important aspect of it – you can tell the people who play a false game or refuse to invest in themselves online, and I find robots sad and boring and uninteresting.

One other thing Caldwell points to during the talk really struck me as true. It was something Jason Fried wrote back in April comparing Twitter and Instagram:

Every scroll through Twitter puts at least one person’s bad day, shitty experience, or moment of snark in front of me. These are good happy people – I know many of them in real life – but for whatever reason, Twitter is the place they let their shit loose. And while it’s easy to do, it’s not comfortable to be around. I don’t enjoy it.

Every scroll through Instagram puts someone’s good day in front of me. A vacation picture, something new they got that they love, pictures of nature, pictures of people they love, places they’ve been, and stuff they want to cheer about. It’s just flat out harder to be negative when sharing a picture. This isn’t a small thing – it’s a very big deal. I feel good when I browse Instagram. That’s the feel that matters.

This, to me, absolutely nails the problem with Twitter today that they need to solve to fix their current problems. Until they do, all of the other issues they’re grappling with won’t really solve the core problems of the service and the company.

Please take a bit of your day and watch this talk and browse the other Cocoaconf talks (I can happily recommend Jason Snell’s Enthusiasm for instance). If you look at the videos published from this conference, you’ll see it’s not your typical developer’s conference, but that’s awesome.