Tuesday, December 13, 2011

That Very Old Fashioned Idea - 'Truth'

I came across a story today (in an AFCEA Intelligence blog) that relates to an abiding interest: Language, Context, and Meaning. Here it is:

A biker is riding by the zoo, when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage. Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents. 

The biker jumps off his bike, runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch. Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the biker brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter has seen the whole scene, and addressing the biker, says - Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I saw a man do in my whole life.

- Why, it was nothing, really, the lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger, and acted as I felt right.

- Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, you know, and tomorrow's papers will have this on the first page. What motorcycle do you ride?

- A Harley Davidson. The journalist leaves.

The following morning the biker buys the paper to see if it indeed brings news of his actions, and reads, on first page:


The headline is ‘accurate’, but totally misleading.  Accurate and misleading! The problem is with the representation (or rather misrepresentation) of the data.  Context is lacking, but knowing the context of the event was a zoo wouldn’t really create a more truthful picture. Looking at the wider context of modern journalism and the newspaper industry might give us a little more insight, but not much. 

The problem is that we are all at the mercy of those who create the representations. This is why my skepticism antenna go on full alert when I hear a term like evidence-based. You’re going to have to tell me a whole lot more about why the data was collected, who funded the project, and how the data was gathered. You might need to let me see and explore the data for myself without your contextual spin.

The root of the problem is that we live in the Age of Propaganda. Spin is not limited to politicians, but is rife throughout our culture. Misrepresentation and hype are not the sole province of PR, advertising, marketing, and pseudoscientists, but are endemic in human relationships. In so many of our business – and even personal - communications we have adopted the language of ‘strategy’, ‘tactic’, and ‘technique’.

And so, in our collaborations let’s not just be ‘accurate’, but truthful (if that sounds old fashioned to you, we should talk). Let’s not waste time and effort in playing language games. Let’s challenge doublespeak (“language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words” - source – Wikipedia), hyperbole, manipulative phrasing, important sounding – but meaningless – jargon, bias, euphemisms, and manipulatively emotional allusions that give us credibility by association – whether deserved or not.

The story about the biker could be read as a joke, and as such, it’s a pretty good one. It could also be read as an object lesson for us all. Am I being na├»ve? Sure, but naivety can open up spaces in which we can freshen up our thinking and conversations; spaces that experience would ignore because they are ‘unrealistic’.
One final word: When I did a web search about the joke, it was interesting how different groups had shape-shifted it to fit their own agenda. Instead of just a biker, I saw “republican biker’, a ‘right wing biker’, an Israeli, a US Marine, and Canadian soldier!  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fascinating Look Into The Connected World

Cisco published the results of a survey back in late September which has only just bubbled up to the surface of my world - The Cisco Connected World Technology Report. Those surveyed were 1,141 college students (age 18-24) and 1,412 employees (age 21-29) from 14 countries: US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, India, China, Japan, and Australia.

Getting Information and News
The largest proportion of college students (45%) say their laptop is their primary way of getting information and news. This is followed by the desktop at 22%. For college students in Spain the Smartphone is the primary source (36%) compared with 10% for the total survey population.

The largest proportion of employees (36%) say that their laptop is their primary way of getting information and news. This is followed by the desktop at 26%. More than 1 in 4 of employees in France get what they want from TV. Only 4% in China use TV as their primary source, compared with 22% in both Japan and Russia.

The Internet as a Necessity
55% of college students say that they could not live without the Internet - it is an integral part of their lives. That number rises to 71% in China, and falls to 30% in Russia.

62% of employees say that they could not live without the Internet.  That rises to 78% in China, and falls to 38% in Russia. The US (73%), Brazil (75%), and the UK (73%) are also high scorers.

Importance of the Internet
32% of college students say that the Internet is as important to them as water, food, air, and shelter. That number rises to 81% if you add students who say that it is not as important, but pretty close. 65% of college students in Brazil, and 64% in China say that the Internet is as important to them as water, etc. Only 13% of French students take that view.

32% of employees also indicate that the Internet is as important to them as water, etc. This rises to 69% for Chinese employees, and falls to 6% for those in the UK.

Most Important Technology in Daily Life
46% of college students say their laptop is most important to them in daily life. That rises to 66% in China, and falls to 24% in Italy. More than one-third of college students in Spain (40%) and the UK (36%) say that their Smartphone is most important in their daily life.

37% of employees say their laptop is most important to them in daily life. This rises to 51% in China and India, and falls to 15% in Italy (the desktop is more important to students and employees in Italy). In Australia (42%), the US (37%), and the UK (31%), the Smartphone is seen as more important in daily life than the laptop.

Internet vs. Social Activities
College students: What is more important in daily life, the Internet (40%), going out with friends/partying (25%), dating (13%), or music (10%)? Clearly, the Internet. France is the only country where college students place a greater importance on dating (54%) than the Internet (7%).

Internet vs. a Car
64% of college students prefer to have access to the Internet than a car. That number rises to 85% in China and 84% in Japan. In Russia (63%), the US (54%), France (53%) most students would prefer access to a car.

Facebook vs. Social Activities
39% of college students say that spending time with friends is most important on a typical day. 27% of college students, however,  put keeping up to date on Facebook above dating (10%), listening to music (10%), and going to a party (2%). College students in Spain (54%), Brazil (50%), India (45%), and China (41%) give most importance to keeping up to date on Facebook.

Social Media Distractions
43% of college students admit to being distracted or interrupted by social media, IM, phone calls, or a desire to check Facebook 3 or more times in a typical hour. That rises to 54% in Italy and falls to 12% in Japan.

For old baby boomers like me, some of the results can seem mysterious and strange. Some can give rise to concern (e.g. the levels of distraction and putting checking Facebook over dating a real human being), but I'm not going there. It's nearly Christmas, and I'm looking forward to playing with a new iPad and Smartphone (maybe). I'll start worrying about the future of the human race again next year.