According to VersionOne’s 2013 State of Agile survey, Business Analysts rank as the least knowledgeable about Agile.
I sort of understand this, but it really shocked me when I saw it. As you can see in the image above, the ScrumMaster is judged as being most knowledgeable. That makes sense to me. The Project Manager is ranked as the next most knowledgeable. More so than the Developer. That was news to me. From what I have seen, its the Developers that have been embracing the Agile concept with passion, and a lot of this is filtering upwards.
To read that the BA was at the butt-end of the list had me break out in a cold sweat. I can imagine that, because the Business Analyst has been traditionally involved in the big “document it upfront” way of doing projects (aka Plan-driven), that there is quite an adjustment to move into a change-driven approach.
Also, a lot of the Business Analysts knowledge is very BABOK 2.0 -based. And the BABOK 2.0 didn’t even mention Agile until they published the “Agile Extension” in 2013. (Fortunately, IIBA will be releasing version 3.0 of BABOK soon that takes a completely new look at the Business Analyst and how it fits into the real world).
But is this a valid excuse for being listed way down at the bottom of “most knowledgeable”? I think not. There are plenty of resources out there that help even the most documentation-addicted Business Analyst become a little bit more knowledgeable about this philosophy.
Why do you think Business Analysts know so little about Agile? What else can be done to improve this situation?
Having recently “discovered” CATWOE, I found this to be an excellent article.
Originally posted on The science of enterprise—and doing good.:
This is a real life example (has to be anonymous) that shows how defining the core-purpose of your business enables you to define and understand the essence of the value proposition. First up is what the owner described as a manufacturer of coated parts, but what was the value proposition? You’ll need to remind yourself of what CATWOE is here, and my interpretation of what must comprise the value proposition.
1. Hermann Engineering Ltd
Herman Engineering Ltd (HEL) was founded in 1890 by two partners James James and Robert James. It started its long life near Cardiff in South Wales. It was set up originally to provide a service to the local steel industry, which started to go into heavy decline at the beginning of the 1970s. The company’s principal activity had always been the surface treatment of metal components. Surface treatment involved a variety of processes including, simple…
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HQ have put up a great presentation on Slideshare, It that encapsulates some very important factors that must not be forgotten when designing for the web.
I encourage you to have a look…
Agile: a set of software development
methodologyprinciples in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
Agile software development is very popular at the moment. It offers a responsive way of developing, and companies are adopting it at a rapid rate.
I’m not going to talk about the benefits of agile – a simple Google search will tell you more than you need to know.
What I do want to touch upon is a comment that someone made to me - “Agile is too much like a cult“.
So, let’s have a look … is Agile a cult?
Definition of a cult
- a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous
- a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much
- a small group of very devoted supporters or fans
Looking at the above definition, it is obvious that Agile does not fit into the first explanation. What about the second one? (Or the third?)
The Cult Checklist
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. published an article in which he describes patterns found in cultic environments. Let’s see how Agile measures up…
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
I’ve got to admit that I have met lots of Agilist that are of the opinion that anything non-Agile (aka: Waterfall) is inferior and wrong. In fact, any discussion on “Agile vs Waterfall” can turn quite heated with those supporting Agile to be very … passionate about the “truth”.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Refer to my comments above.
- Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Umm…haven’t seen any evidence of this. (Unless you can consider the “weekend Hackathons” that are often held by ‘self-organising teams’, as a debilitating work routine.)
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
Hmm … I have detected a certain “elitist” tone when Agile supporters talk about their passion. I’ve even hear someone say “We are Agilist – we don’t believe in …”. How well this fits the description…you decide.
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
Definitely a polarized us-versus-them mentality. primarily when discussing non-Agile development methodologies. But, to the best of my knowledge, this does not cause conflict with the wider society.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
It’s is true…. However, not even relevant.
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
I burst into laughter when I thought how Agile could fit this description …
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
- Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
Umm… Not really
- The group is preoccupied with making money.
Aren’t we all … ?
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
See my comments above on Hackathons.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
If this is happening, I feel that I have missed out. No one every encouraged me to live and/or socialize with other group members…
- The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Well…I know that the Agile “true believers” are unwilling to consider anything that is non-Agile. To even mention the phrase “fully documented requirements upfront” would result in being feeling the true wrath of the Agilist. (Note – this is not something that I am even recommending. It can be dangerous). However, most Agile supporters that I have met do not fit this description. (There is no fear of reprisals.)
So – is Agile a cult?
Yes … and … No.
Looking at the Mirriam-Webster definition, Agile is something that people admire and care about very much (or too much). True Agilist are very passionate about the Agile methodology, and often have disdain for anything that isn’t Agile. You see more Agile “groups” than with Waterfall (for example). And there seems to be a need to identify with each other, and promote Agile to both “non-believers’, and well as to those who already are followers.
However, Agile certainly does not have all the characteristics that Langone describes in his essay. There is no “mind control”, or strict, unquestionable, rules.
All-in-all, I think we can all sleep safely in the knowledge that our children are not going to be dragged off to some Agile compound somewhere.
In fact – just to make you feel even safer, here is a picture of a cute kitten.
What do you think?
Do those promoting Agile seem a little over-enthusiastic (albeit zealous)? Or is it just healthy passion for something that is a good idea? Leave a comment below.
Other similar posts
- Cargo Cult Agile (http://www.jamesshore.com/Blog/Cargo-Cult-Agile.html)
- 5 reasons Agile is like a cult (http://williamgill.de/2011/11/10/5-reasons-agile-is-like-a-cult/)
Time: Friday evening, 23 August 2014
I clicked on the link to my blog to discover ...
Aarghh … Wordpress had suspended my blog due to a breach of their Terms of Service.
I went through the terms with a magnifying glass. There was nothing that I seemed to have blatantly ignored. Maybe there was something that I had accidentally infringed…
I quickly found their response form on their site, and asked for more information.
And … it turns out that it was a mistake …
Using social tools within the enterprise is a valuable thing. It lets people ask questions to a bigger audience than just those sitting within hearing distance of their desk.
I’ve discussed this in earlier posts (ESS (Enterprise Social Software) – user adoption, and Let’s share!). It’s incredibly valuable to be able to draw on the knowledge of others. That’s why it’s good to be able to ask questions. The answer given helps not just the asker, but can help others, and at the same time, others can add to the answer creating even more value.
Where I feel this all falls down though is that, often, there is no real way to capture that knowledge that came about from the questions asked. And so, what happens, is that the same (or a similar) question is asked again. Maybe a year later, maybe two years later. And often because new participants in the conversation appear, and the original participants move on to new things.
End result – same question, asked again.
Is this bad? It certainly has an up-side…asking that question can create a whole new conversation, the outcome of which can enrich (once again) the knowledge of the participants, and allows for the building of new relationships, but this is not efficient. Essentially there has been no “forward momentum”.
Simple – a way to “capture” the knowledge. But further to that, a way to easily allow the knowledge to be retrieved. And not as part of a silo, but in a way that allows people to easily surface this knowledge in a “serendipitous” way. And by this, I mean, in a way that the individual doesn’t really have to think about. One central place where a click on a keyword, or the typing in of a natural question, will draw this information to the individual’s attention.
Has this already been done?
I think, in fact, that this has already been done…by Google. But this is outside the firewall. Now to get the same effect inside… And this is something that many large search companies (MS, HP Autonomy, etc) are working on. I’m curious how this will work out. The sooner we can grab answers to questions that people ask (and even the ones they don’t ask) we’ll stop asking the same question.
What’s your opinion? Are there already solutions that solve this problem? Do they work?
Kudos to ProjectTimes.
The Internet is a global thing. This means that anything that you publish on it could be read by pretty much anyone in the world. As a result, it is incredibly valuable to offer times, dates, et cetera, in a way that can be easily “localised’.
Project Times promoted a webinar, and were good enough, with the time, to add the offset to GMT. This meant that I could easily calculate what that time was in my time zone. (Rather than having to try and google a translation.)
My only grumble with this, is that UTC should be used rather than GMT.
However they are both aligned so it’s not that bad.
Thanks to CollegeHumor
So there he was. Charlie had been assigned as lead BA on a project with an external client. “Cool” he thought, but still felt a bit nervous. There were others in his department that had been in the game longer, and he was still reeling from having the proverbial “slap in the face” in an earlier project that had turned slightly pear-shaped..
As such, Charlie decided to ask some of his colleagues for help. They were most forthcoming, and decided to hook in other expertise. “All fine” he thought, “the more experience available in this, the better.”
Charlie drew up a elicitation plan, and scheduled several high-level interviews with the various stakeholders from the upper echelon of the company. On the agreed upon day, he headed on down to the client. He was joined by another BA (with a different skill-set), and the lead designer. Charlie was confident that, together, they would be able to get a deep understanding of the business objectives, business drivers, and expectations of the client.
The interviews went extremely well. Because there were the three of them, each with a different background, and understanding, the notes gathered during these sessions were richer, than if Charlie had been on his own. Charlie was really chuffed. “This knowledge and understanding gathered today will be really valuable, not just for understanding the client and their expectations, but also when holding the lower-level elicitation workshops.” Charlie thought to himself. It was all good…
Until he got back. In his enthusiasm, Charlie had not actually thought about telling the Project Manager that there would be three people involved. The PM was furious. The two extra people meant that the man-hours used had just increased by a factor of 3. The project had already gone over budget. Charlie tried to explain that this meant better requirements had been gathered, and that it was going to help in the future, but this didn’t really help. The PM ended up having to have a very uncomfortable meeting with the client, and the project ended up coming in way over budget.
This story was inspired by a post on the ProjectTimes site titled A Business Analysts’s Best Friends: The Project Manager The key points from that post are:
- The PM wants timely information from the BA.
- Top-notch BAs
- keep the PM informed.
- ask for help when they need it
- stay connected to other BAs
- build great relationships with stakeholders,
- build trust and ease users into changes.
- Top-notch BAs have a broad vision. They can focus on the detailed requirements, but they understand how their piece of work fits into the larger project and organization at large.
- PMs need to given firm estimates and implementation dates.
- Successful PMs deliver projects on time and within budget.
Looking at Charlie’s story, you can see that he did do some things right. He asked for help, he focused on detailed requirements, and he worked hard to see how they fitted into the customer’s larger goals, and objectives.
At the same time, Charlie made some big mistakes. He didn’t keep the PM properly informed. And the consequences of this were quite serious.
What are your thoughts on this? Did Charlie really screw up royally? Or was he actually doing the right thing?
In a recent ProjectTimes article, Kiron Bondale described the oft-seen misalignment between Project Managers and Business Analysts.
In his article, he lists some comments made by each about the other…
From the business analysts, common complaints about project managers include:
- Appear to be focused solely on cost or schedule constraints without also embracing the criticality of having good quality requirements
- Demonstrate an unwillingness or inability to provide assistance in ensuring that stakeholders are attending and contributing to requirements gathering or review sessions
- Don’t bother to read or understand high-level project requirements documents
- Support or initiate scope change decisions without proactively engaging the business analyst
On the other side, I’ve frequently met project managers who complain about business analysts who:
- Appear to have no sense of time or cost constraints when producing their deliverables or appear unable or unwilling to provide effort or duration estimates for their work
- Produce requirements documents which are unusable by other project team members or which don’t address the customer’s stated and unstated needs
- Appear to forget that the second word in their job title actually implies the task of analyzing, distilling and refining requirements as opposed to just parroting what’s been received from stakeholders
- Become unavailable for the remainder of the project’s lifetime as soon as their requirements documents have been signed off
A lot of these comments see very familiar to me. As a Business Analyst, I have often felt that the interests of the Project Manager weren’t always in the interest of the customer. More or less exactly what the comments above describe.
I guess because, often, the BA is the one that is talking with the various stakeholders (from Management level through to the people performing the business tasks each day), that it the BA feels that they “really understand” what the real users want, as well as understanding their pain points.
As a professional, also, the BA wants to ensure that they have correctly, and thoroughly captured the users needs, and business/technical requirements, so that these are reflected in the final outcome. This sometimes takes more effort than planned for, or expected. And this can cause issues with the PM’s expectations who, while also wanting to provide a good solution, is also concerned with things such as costs, ongoing impact, etc.
Does this “misalignment” occur because PMs are from Mars, and BAs from Venus? That because they come from different “worlds”, they have different views on reality? If so, realising that the PM is the one that is “in charge” of the project, would it mean that a BA with a better appreciation of the world/ideology/background of the PM be of more value to the project?
And … does this mean that the BA certification offering from the Project Manager Institute, is going to play a bigger part in projects in the future?
Your thoughts … ?
Why earn your PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)? (Project Manager Institute)
The PMI’S Professional Business Analyst Certification: Competition or Collaboration? (BusinessAnalystTimes)
In a recent post (“Is being Socially Connected online really that damaging?“), I discussed a response to a video on YouTube that preached the sadness of the way people are constantly online.
I’ve just discovered another response to “Look Up”. This one is called “Look Down“.
And here’s the link to another good one:
Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:
I had been holed up for six hours in a dark conference room with 12 managers. It was a group-coaching day and each executive had 30 minutes to describe in detail a cross-cultural challenge she was experiencing at work and to get feedback and suggestions from the others at the table.
It was Willem’s turn, one of the Dutch participants, who recounted an uncomfortable snafu when working with Asian clients. “How can I fix this relationship?” Willem asked his group of international peers.
Maarten, the other Dutch participant who knew Willem well, jumped in with his perspective. “You are inflexible and can be socially ill-at-ease. That makes it difficult for you to communicate with your team,” he asserted. As Willem listened, I could see his ears turning red (with embarrassment or anger? I wasn’t sure) but that didn’t seem to bother Maarten, who calmly continued to assess Willem’s weaknesses in…
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Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:
Consider this situation. A good friend of yours calls you one day to pick your brain about an innovative business idea. He’ll only consider pursuing this opportunity if you give him a positive review. This particular friend is unemployed at the moment, and he plans to invest most of his savings in the venture. So there’s a lot at stake for him.
On what grounds would you base your opinion? Would you trust your gut? Your past business experience? Look for examples of similar ideas you’d seen elsewhere or that have worked in the past? Try to find parallels from other industries that might also work in this case? Maybe you’d start by digging into a ton of data to confirm or refute your true opinion about the venture.
Clearly, there are many ways to evaluate an innovative business opportunity. But at the end of the day, whichever way…
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I’ve just finished Module 2 of the MOOC Data Journalism course (that I mentioned in an earlier post).
The description for this module is:
“This module deals with the range of skills that journalists use to obtain data. This includes setting up alerts to regular sources of information, simple search engine techniques that can save hours of time and using laws in your own and other countries.”
And (like all the other Modules) is made up of four parts:
- Setting up ‘data newswires’
- Strategic searching – tips and tricks
- Introduction to scraping
- Data laws and sources
In Part 3, I learnt to do some basic data scraping. This, essentially, is a way of grabbing content from lists, and tables, on web sites.
We covered a few tools that make this possible. The one that did surprise me was that you can use a spreadsheet created in Google Drive.
The command is IMPORTHTML(url, query, index)
Just as a practice I used it to scrape the list of Titanic passengers from Wikipedia.
Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Titanic_passengers#Survivors_and_victims
And here is the Google spreadsheet that I imported the data to: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1g_ngM049ZgAPh25UXMmwWwMDlvGY_nD6aGbFLhBJwXo/edit?usp=sharing
It was my first scraping, and nothing fancy. Also the data does need a bit of cleaning (in one case, there was extra info in the HTML that the scraping pulled in).
Also, this functionality is not just available in Google Spreadsheet. I have read that Excel can also do this. If you know of any more, please let me know.
This is the another post in my “Today I read …” series where I aim to summarise. or recapitulate, excellent, and educational, articles that I have read. (Or in this case, a webinar that I have seen).
Today I followed the webinar on the IIBA site: “Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders: Why It Counts”, presented by by Wayne Eckerson.
While it became evident later in the presentation that Eckerson was talking a slightly different language than the audience (he used the term “business analyst” to mean someone In his presentation, Eckerson, president of BI Leader Consulting, and an “Expert Blogger” at TDWI, discusses four main topics:
- He surfaces key points to running an effective BI and analytical program.
- He discusses an Analytical Success Framework.
- He profiles the seven people that he interviewed to get the key points mentioned in 1.
- He goes into detail about Managing a BI team.
Although he was coming from a BI perspective, everything he mentioned was valuable and can be used in all facets of a business.
1. The key points to running an effective BI and Analytical program.
Eckerson interviewed seven BI professionals who have run successful BI and analytical programs, and asked them “what were the secrets or the keys to running an effective BI and analytical program?”
From the answers he distilled out four key themes:
- Deliver value fast
- Partner with the business
- Manage change
- Be a purple person!!
He expands on these as follows:
Deliver value fast
“You can have the most elegant architecture, the greatest processes, the most wonderful tools, but if you’re not meeting the business needs as fast as they want them met, then all is for naught because they’re going to look elsewhere for data and information and insight.“
This applies not just to BI, but to all sort of things. I’ve known of departments that are unable to get the right type of help, or support, from IT department, so they start doing things “under the radar. think of “social tools”. Social tools are supported by the IT department, so little groups of individuals go and finds ways of using these themselves (Yammer, etc). There’s no official way to easily share documents, so departments find ways (usually resulting in little silo’s of content). Or, for the biggy, think about customer service. If you’re not responsive, the customer will start looking elsewhere.
Partner with the business
“To deliver value fast, you really have to partner with the business. You just can’t sit in your team in the IT department and expect to work effectively with the business. You really have to collocate with the business and sit side by side with them and be really one team instead of two teams.“
This is something that I have been saying for awhile. Again, this doesn’t just apply to BI. The best way to really understand the business, is to be part of it. (Some of my previous posts that touch on this can be read here, here and here.)
“Any time we introduce new technology or introduce new information or display it in a different way, it forces people to change the way they absorb information and make decisions.“
Yes! Yes! Yes! Change is not always productive. There are many ways that this can be handled. And change has got to make sense. Upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft office needs to be a business decision, not an IT one.There has to be a reason for the change. One that will either solve a problem, or add real business value.
Be a Purple Person
A “purple person” is someone who can easily walk in both the worlds of IT and Business and feels totally at home. They’re savvy businesspeople, yet they’re also exquisite technologists.
2. Analytical Success Framework
BI is like an onion. It has layers – Culture, People, Organization, Process, Architecture, Data.
Eckerson points out that BI and IT teams focus on the inner layers – process, architecture, and data. Where the focus really needs to be is on the outer layers – organization, people, and culture. You need to get these three layers right before you concentrate on the inner three.
3. The People He Interviewed
This part of the presentation held a lot of great gems. To come up with his key success factors Eckerson had talked with seven people. He describes the role each person had in their company, and what they had done to make their BI teams successes.This was really valuable. The people he talked with were
- Dan Ingle, from Kelley Blue Book – Dan put a lot of effort into self-organising teams (think Scrum) that were functional (as opposed to dysfunctional).
- Amy O’Connor, from Nokia - Amy was instrumental in bringing together all teh various data sources so that it could be useful. This involved breaking up the silos, and make people feel uncomfortable. Amy tackled this by creating small groups of like-minded people whose enthusiasm spread.
- Darren Taylor, from Blue KC – Darren came from the business side of things and was put in charge of the BI unit. Identifying that each department had set up their own data silos, and each had their own tools that worked differently from the other departments, Darren worked to get standardization of both data, data models, and applications.
- Eric Colson, from Netflix – Eric decided that the quickest and best way to have one person do it all. They had to be the right sort of person, and they did everything from gathering requirements to testing the software. These people (who he called “spanners” as they spanned right across the BI stack) would be placed in each department in the business.
- Tim Leonard,from USXpress - Tim was the driver behind a BI Excellence Centre. He introduced governance and standardization.
- Kurt Thearling, from CapitalOne – The thing that is most important to Ken, for BI, is that the data scientists have clean, consistently defined, readily available data elements that they will use to build their models. (This is something that I have heard from the BI bods that I have dealt with.)
- Ken Rudin, from Zynga – Ken didn’t like the way that all the analysts sat in their own section of the building. if the business had a question, oneof the analyst would go down and talk to them. Ken was a big advocateof having his BI staff working “in” the business. Sitting with them.
4. Managing a BI Team
Eckerson describes some very common scenarios:
This is where most of the BI request come down from casual users who want standard reports and dashboards that give them the correct information so that they can manage and manage their area of the business.
This is where the requests for data are more ad-hoc. less standard. These people just want the data that they want, and dump it into a spreadsheet so that they can do what they want with it. In each of these areas, BI can be broken down to:
Enterprise BI – enterprise production oriented reports, usually cross-functional. These are produced by the corporate BI team.
Divisional BI – BI teams that are working just for that division with their own silo of information, and their own methods and models.
This can cause many inefficiencies. To counter this Eckerson proposes Federated BI Teams.
With a federated team, BI staff are embedded in each business division. They work alongside the business, and are, essentially, on the same team. In each of the business divisions there is also a “Relationship Manager”, this is someone who knows the business inside-out, and can be alert for improvement opportunities. Not just as an “order-taker”, but someone who can offer insight, and suggestions. (Essentially the role of a BA/Consultant). These Relationship Managers (from each division) report back to a central, corporate BI office that coordinates the work being done across the whole business.
As mentioned, this presentation had a BI focus. However, there were a lot of really great gems in it. I frequently found myself nodding my head, and saying “I’ve seen that in other areas.”, or “I know where I can apply that.”
Eckerson was promoting his book “The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders.”
Note: these are accessible only for IIBA members
If you like this post, feel free to share. If you have comments that you’d like to make, please go ahead and use the comment box below.
Thanks for reading.
On the Scientific American website, the other day, I came across an excellent article that discussed some of the common grumbles that people have about being socially connected online. (“I don’t care what you had for breakfast.”, “How about talking to some real people!”, etc.)
The article was written by Dr. Elizabeth L. Cohen, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, and Dr. Rachel Kowert, an Associate Researcher in the Department of Communication at the University of Munster.
The article was in reaction to a video that talked about the damage that being socially connected has.
I really liked the article because I also feel that being socially connected is not bad. Or wrong. It is just another way of being social.
I have been in touch with Dr Cohen, and Dr Kowert, asking them if I could reproduce their article in my blog. They have graciously agreed…
In his viral video, Look Up, Gary Turk emotionally appeals to viewers to unplug from their social media (just as soon as they finish watching the video, of course). Cell phones, online games and social network sites are all depicted as distracting us from intimate human contact and a cause of loneliness.
The video, which has racked up more than 37 million views on YouTube, appears to have struck a chord with many people feeling disillusioned with being constantly connected. But before you get all sentimental and throw away a perfectly good iPhone in a pool of your tears, let’s take a step back for a minute.
Current communication and psychology research paints a much more complicated picture of how these technologies affect our social well-being. A full refutation of all the arguments implied by the Look Up video would be worthy of a dissertation, but inappropriate for the scope of this blog. Instead we’ve picked seven claims to compare against current research.
Claim 1: We are connected to lots of friends on social media, but we don’t really know each other.
Truth: While it’s true enough that we can’t know everybody that we are digitally connected to intimately, we don’t think that’s the point. Social technology plays an important role in helping to maintain our strong-tie relationships with people we already know. Social network sites also enhance our weak-tie connections and raise our social capital, which can lead to a number of positive outcomes such as improved health and civic engagement.
Claim 2: We share frivolous bits of ourselves on social media, but leave out anything meaningful.
Truth: This is the classic, nobody-cares-about-what-you-had-for-breakfast complaint. But why should you care? Because what we had for breakfast is valuable, potentially meaningful social information. One status update can be frivolous on its own, but over time, these seemingly insignificant bits of information about what people are doing, what they like and where they are can coalesce into a sense of others’ presence, providing a peripheral but intimate awareness of that person.
What’s more, posting status updates on social media isn’t just valuable for followers, it’s also good for the posters. Experimental evidence suggests that just the act of leaving a status update can make people feel less lonely, presumably because posting reminds us that we are part of a larger network.
Claim 3: The community, companionship and sense of inclusion provided by social media are illusions.
Truth: The community companionship and sense of inclusion provided by social media are real. A recent study found that people who use social network sites to interact with existing friends felt a greater sense of connection to them and reported a greater sense of belonging than those who don’t. Our own research also provides preliminary evidence that simply monitoring other people’s activity on social media can help fulfill basic human needs for belonging.
Claim 4: Online games are socially isolating and not a worthwhile way to spend time.
Truth: Our research suggests that online game players are often stereotyped as being anti-social, reclusive and isolated, but online gaming is actually highly social, requiring players to interact with, coordinate, lead and compete against hundreds of other players in a shared space. In many games, socializing is actually rewarded because player coordination eases the difficulty of in-game tasks. Research also indicates that gaming can support pre-existing relationships and help people develop new relationships.
Claim 5: Kids don’t play outside any more because they are always on their technologies.
Truth: Nobody can deny that digital games can be more fun to play than hopscotch at the park. But is staying indoors to play really so bad? These days, digital games promote exercise and social interaction with others.
But social technology might not have anything to do with kids staying inside. In her new book, It’s Complicated, danah boyd discusses the influence of technology on teens and “tweens.” Her anthropological study suggests that the real culprit behind the empty playgrounds after school has more to do with parent culture than it does teen culture. Over-scheduled and over-protected children don’t have much time for free play outside. In fact, connecting through social media is sometimes the only way kids can connect with their friends outside of teacher and parent supervision these days.
Claim 6: It’s become abnormal to talk to strangers on commuter trains because people are too involved with their personal technologies.
Truth: For those of you who can remember riding a train, bus or elevator when people didn’t have mobile devices, ask yourself how often you remember looking up, making eye contact with strangers and talking to them. The truth is, it’s always been taboo to talk to strangers, and as long as there have been trains, we’ve found things to look at besides other people.
Claim 7: If you look down, you could miss the love of your life.
Truth: Perhaps. But if you don’t also look down at your online dating profile you can also miss the love of your life.
Of course, Look Up didn’t get everything wrong. Never looking up can be both rude and dangerous. Because our technologies develop more quickly than we do, we definitely have some catching up to do on developing social etiquette and public policies that will keep us courteous and safe.
Still, suffice it to say that we think the video stretched the truth about how damaging media use is for our relationships. Turk’s fears are nothing new, though. Virtually every technology innovation has been met with some trepidation about how it will affect our social well being. Even the Walkman was accused of making listeners more narcissistic and detached from other people. But in the long run, it was nothing to be frightened of. We’re willing to bet that your iPhone is probably safe too.
What do you think of that? Do you agree? Don’t agree? What are your thoughts?
If you browse through the posts in this blog, you’ll see that there are several that are related to “telling a story”, “using pictures to present data, and similar:
- The Power of Comic Books!!
- Infographics – Have they gone too far?
- Infographics – some examples of REALLY good ones (maybe)
- “Infographic Thinking”
Because I want to be able to present data graphically, in a proper way, I have started an online course titled: “Doing Journalism With Data: First Steps, Skills and Tools“.
It’s a 5-module online (MOOC) introductory course that “gives you the essential concepts, techniques and skills to effectively work with data and produce compelling data stories under tight deadlines.“
Awfully exciting stuff! It’s actually being taught by 5 tutors (one for each module) from Britain, America, and France. Here are the five modules:
Module 1 – Data journalism in the newsroom
Module 2 – Finding data to support stories
Module 3 – Finding story ideas with data analysis
Module 4 – Dealing with messy data
Module 5 – Telling stories with visualisation
You can read more about the course here.
I’ve just started module 1 (
along with 21,280 other students), and I’m keen to work my way through the rest of the modules.
At the end, I’ll give an idea what I thought of the course along with any real gems that I got out of it.