Last week I spoke at the User Centred Design Conference in London. The theme was humanity in the digital landscape. There were plenty of sessions to listen to and lots of people.
Our ability to connect online has certainly changed the way we design products and services and there is so much to learn and explore. My talk was about some of the questions people ask me about life online that I publish as part of my social media Q&A column.
The background to the column is my own frustration. Every time I meet someone and say that I am a social media speaker and expert I get asked a ton of questions.
So far I've not met many people who don't have doubts, thoughts and deep questions about our online lives. I act as their unpaid 'social media therapist' helping them to find clarity.
People have manifold questions about our connected online lives and this prompted me to put them together in a column that I hope will become a feature in a newspaper and maybe a book in the future.
For a while I put off going to networking events because I got asked so many questions. Sometimes it got a bit much for me to handle. I wasn't too comfortable discussing all the issues people had with life online. Maybe it's my good listening skills that lined me up for this role. I'm not sure, but now I'm better at setting boundaries (it's a work in progress!).
Social media affects human beings hugely whether we take part in it or not. If you live in the modern world, where we are all connected, digital life is imposed on us; there are no opportunities to opt out. Many relationships are maintained over social media, governments are working on getting all services online and we find new ways to connect and evolve our network using digital tools.
Social media and all online information have their pros and cons, as does everything in life.
Compare social media to the Tube and train lines in London. The train lines compose a very efficient transport system. It's thanks to them that the whole city has been able to expand the way it has. On a good day the system runs smoothly and you feel at ease, but the next day it's congested, there are people everywhere and it takes forever to travel a short distance. We both love and hate London's transport system. Social media is the same.
We can be sure that life will continue to be connected and confusing, both online and offline, and we have to manage it as we do all the other things in our lives.
In my talk last week I made four points:
I spoke about identity on social media and dating sites and the lack of verification processes on most online dating sites. Why the lack of security? Is it because the developers are men and they don't bother about that? The idea I shared was that you can still use your 'username' but be seen as a verified user in the backend and get a small verification badge next to your profile picture.
I know that the women-only dating app Her asks its new users to verify that they are who they say they are. Apparently, many men have been trying to get themselves an account on Her in an attempt to fulfil their erotic dreams, so the app needs this process in place.
I also talked about the myth that social media has made us lonelier than ever before.
People often make the following assumption: Problem in society + we use social media and the web more and more = the increased use of social media is to blame for all kinds of issues.
There are other factors that make us lonely, working too much, living far away from our families, maybe having too many shallow relationships and many people suffer from different kinds of addictions. (There are undoubtedly numerous other factors that also cause loneliness.)
In the nineties there was a big study done about the web. It was published in 1998 and one of the researchers was Robert Kraut. It's called the Internet Paradox and it shows that people feel lonelier when using the web.
Of course, back then, when nobody was online, you felt lonely when you were on the web. Did you use the internet a lot in 1994-1996?
I mentioned how we now share knowledge differently when we access the internet. We are not memorising things in the same way as we did in the past. Digital comes from the Latin word digitus, meaning finger. So, having information at the tip of your fingers now has a new meaning.
My last point was based on my own experience. This year I trained my memory using some brain-training apps. I spent hours doing it. Then I found out that there is no proof that they work and that you are not developing any transferable skills by using the apps. What a waste of time! I could have attended one more memory training course or read a book. If you are a marketer or designer, don't sell your products on false, manipulated research.
The web is a very complex machine and technology moves fast and humans slow, so there is a big knowledge gap to be filled.