Digitalization is Dividing and Undividing the Human Race

I was at the Seattle airport waiting for my flight back to Chicago. I had come into town to give a talk on the awesome power of emerging, disruptive technologies to a group of seasoned IT leadership and to meet with customers and coworkers. While sitting by my gate, I was doing my usual bit of multi-tasking; responding to emails, connecting with people on LinkedIn, skimming through some new articles on HBR and MIT Tech Review, looking at web analytics on my Word Press App, asking Siri about the weather in Chicago and downloading the latest research documents to my Box folders so I could have them for offline reading on my 4 hour flight, while charging my MiFi hotspot in my battery-powered ‘smart’ bag and sipping on my espresso pick-me-up. This was a regular day for me, and the normal way most of us high-tech road warriors live while on the go.

Then suddenly I get a dose of reality. A very nice elderly Army veteran sat next to me, squinting at his paper boarding pass (I only say ‘paper’ because I’ve been using digital passes for over two years now). He looked pretty stressed out, because he wasn’t sure why the LED sign above the gate said Chicago (he was going to San Fran). So after eavesdropping some more, I asked him if he needed some help finding his flight. He said he wasn’t sure why his gate said Chicago. I of course, knew there could have been several reasons for this, primarily being gate changes, cancellations etc. so I quickly pulled up the info on my iPhone and figured out that his gate had indeed changed. Did the airport announce it? Probably, but the gentleman clearly had a hard time seeing/hearing, so that could have been the reason why he was in the wrong place. I shared with him the info, he was very thankful and off he went. I then boarded my flight with my digital boarding pass and wrote this blog entry on my iPad.

We live in a digital world, which is something we don’t think about anymore; most of us are wired digitally. We are connected in more ways through social, cloud, mobility and sensor-based networks than ever before. We have washing machines that talk to us, plants that tell us when they need to be watered and glasses that help us consume the growing world of augmented reality. We have our own personal digital assistant on our smart phones, wave with gestures to change channels on Samsung Smart TVs, know where each other are at all times and have beer taps in bars that tweet to millions of people worldwide in less than a second. And in many ways, we’re just getting started. But, what happens to all the folks that are still analog and unconnected? How do we make sure we continue to make technology that is easy to use and accessible for not just our elderly citizens, but also for those who have a disability or impairment? This is a tall order to ask for, but I certainly hope tech and non-tech firms are thinking of both the positive and negative impacts to mankind.

Earlier in the week, I read a couple articles about a few TV channels that were debating on ending broadcast TV and going straight to cable. The US has an estimated 50 million people still using broadcast tv, but cable and satellite subscribers are almost 3-4 times that and I’m guessing that broadcast systems can’t be inexpensive, so this could be a cost reduction tactic. Whether its the right or wrong thing to do, it’s hard not to quickly think about the folks who use broadcast TV because they can’t afford cable/dish, live in remote areas or are elderly and still use a tube analog TV with bunny ears. We saw some of these issues when broadcast went all digital a few years ago, in spite of all the free conversion kits being supplied to the masses.

I recently tried to sign up for a new intuitive video conferencing service called Rabbit but couldn’t do it because it required a Facebook account to get started. Really? Are new tech companies going to stop offering authentication services and just redirect or outsource their authentication exclusively to Facebook? If you’ve been reading my posts, you already know how I feel about Facebook privacy issues. This really irked me, but it makes sense for Rabbit. They don’t want the additional cost of managing people’s usernames and passwords, and by being connected to Facebook, they can get a ton of information about their users. It makes you wonder how Big Data Analytics, Social and Mobility will together drive certain technologies, or perhaps not drive them at all.

Now let’s use the Army veteran, “Mike” as an example. He is probably someone’s Grandpa. What if his grandson wants to call him using Rabbit(let’s make the assumption someone got Mike an iPad Mini)? Well now you have to get Mike on Facebook just to be able to download and use Rabbit. And let’s face it, have you seen how your parent or grandparent navigates Facebook? I’m sure you’ve seen messages posted on the wrong thread or on the wrong photo or even on the wrong person’s wall. I’ve even seen messages posted on the wrong social network saying “oh sorry, i meant to post this on the Facebook system, not GoogleBook.” This connected social thing is very difficult to grasp for most of the Gen X and older; some can barely do email, and you can forget about texting, tweeting and walking around squinting with Google Glass while clicking buttons on your iWatch.

Our world is changing immensely. I happen to love most of it because I feel like I’m in the drivers seat, but that’s not for long. Someday I will be in Mike’s shoes, and will be so frustrated with the world around me. All we can hope for is that organizations continue to build products and services around great, intuitive interface design using natural language controls and factor in important things like age demographics, accessibility, etc. Also, I hope they find a way to make it easier and cheaper to connect us into the matrix (yep, that’s what the Internet is turning into) and avoid getting folks lost in this continuous sea of change. It’s a tall order alright, but we have to try and connect even the unconnected or the divide will continue to get larger.

Ironically, I just had a related, dividing moment. My United seat had its own large LCD screen with Direct TV programming, and I just spent a few minutes clicking on the screen, swiping trying to get to the main menu, only to have an 8 year old next to me stop me and point me to the controls on my armrest that I have to use in order to control the system. Then he took off his Beats headphones and said “yeah, this thing is so old right?” I rest my case.

PS: I realize ‘undividing’ isn’t a word, but shouldn’t it be? 🙂

Selling your soul to the devil and trying to get it back. Sigh.

I feel like I sold something to a shylock, decided to buy it back, only to find out the price is now 30% more; a hard pill to swallow. Today, I deleted my Facebook account. Oh right, you can’t delete it, u can only deactivate it. (Boo)

I finally realized that I had made a deal with the devil. I invited a ton of people to share useful (but mostly useless stuff) that went on in my brain and life, getting addicted more and more to the Facebook style of constant communication. When I finally came out of the blurry haze that enveloped the last few years of my life, reality hit me. Holy crap, did I really have 75 videos and thousands of photos posted to a social network whose privacy laws have always been kinda iffy? Do I really post check-ins as to where I am (like anyone really cares), how great or crappy the weather is, or my opinion on whether Google Glass is uber cool or not? Do I really check FaceBook 30-40 times a day on my phone? Does it really matter if I have 50 friends or 5,000? (I always kept it under 100, which meant monthly governance and mass deleting)

I got sucked into this black hole, just like millions of other people. And part of it was my own fault, which I call Social Addiction and pure idiocity (think Ratatouille). Many friends of mine including my own spouse don’t use a social network today and don’t ever plan to. I used to make fun of them, and now realize they were right the whole time. There, I admitted it; please don’t gloat, you’re better than that.

So what made me come out of the haze?

First of all, we’re now in a data driven age. Big Data is upon us and we are consuming gigantic amounts of information on a daily basis, only because social networks and online communities are producing a ton of content for us. More information is a good thing, at least for me, since I love to learn. However, we now have tools that are available that can be used to exploit how people purchase or plan to purchase things. Some call this sentiment analysis and many software packages exist where you can very easily, in one search engine, find out all the goods, bads and uglies that someone said about your product and service. Oh that’s great for product development and customer service, but what we don’t all realize, is that we’re now leaving a significant bread crumb trail all over the Internet, a Social DNA of our thoughts and behaviors, if you want to put it that way.

Facebook (and others) use this to their advantage to help sell stuff. For example, I went to a Metallica concert in 2009 and probably posted pictures on Facebook. Now, I get solicited when a new album comes out, or a cool T-shirt is available or when they are in town near me. That’s right, they are using big data technologies to hone in around all the stuff about you, including your likes, what status updates you’ve done that contain matches to products, artists etc. While this isn’t as annoying as it sounds, there is no way to turn this ‘auto-matching’ off per se, because it is part of the free Facebook user experience package. However, the fact that they now have this Social DNA of yours that is made up of so many personal things you’ve shared online should start making you pretty
uncomfortable.

The first thing that you should do is limit who has access to your stuff, via facebook’s privacy settings, which I might add, aren’t granular enough IMO. But even after you lock it all down, delete creeper friends etc. and delist yourself from being found, you’ve still got a few things to worry about.

Umm, so what happens if Facebook gets hacked and your Social DNA is stolen? Lets see, they have all your information, your birthday, title, where you work and what you like to read etc. You don’t need hacker skills to figure out almost all of the passwords you use for your bank, home security and other critical stuff just from your Social DNA. Oh yeah, this can happen very easily. Why do you think so many people get hacked?

The one thing that really makes me mad however, is not so much Facebook or how they store their data. The one that makes my blood boil are the friends that I have on Facebook that have never changed their password in three years or have a password so simple that you can guess it in your sleep. I’m talking about the classic passwords that include the name of your cat, son or birthdate. That’s right, birthdate; you probably know someone that is guilty of doing this and may even have it in their email address. And if that’s not bad enough, the password may actually be written on a Post-it note or in a journal sitting in plain sight somewhere at home. I know quite a few people who have this style of password management, and i’ll bet you do too.

Ok, so why do I care about my friend’s passwords? Hmm, lets see. How about because they have access to all my information on Facebook? My birthday, where I went to school, what my cell number is, the fact that I’m on a plane right now and my house is just itching to get burglarized? This is a huge issue. HUGE. Do you know how good your friend’s passwords are? Do you know if they have Facebook setup on a tablet and the password is stored so they don’t have to enter it everytime (everyone does this)? Do you know if that tablet has a password lock on it so that a random person can’t pick up their iPad and go to town on your Facebook account? The answer is no; you don’t know and there is NO way you can enforce this today.

These are many of the reasons why I decided to take a break from Facebook. But getting off of it was harder than I thought. First of all, I had a lot of stuff on there, 76 videos and 35 photo albums to be precise. The videos, I had to delete manually, one by one. There was no ‘Erase all my Data’ button on Facebook, which really made me mad. This reminded me of Hotel California, but I had made up my mind. I was going to find a way to leave. So I sat at the airport this morning and deleted every video, manually, which took FOREVER.

Then I got to my Photo Albums which was a little easier. I still had to delete them one by one, but it sure beats deleting photo by photo. But wait, when you get to wall posts, mobile uploads, profile pictures and cover photo albums (the core Facebook albums) you are SOL. The only way to get your photos deleted are to delete them one by one. That took forever as well.

At a turtle’s pace, I was slowly deleting my breadcrumb trail of Social DNA. I know it is probably backed up somewhere at Facebook’s data center. Actually, it might be in more than one data center, but over time, the data will get overwritten, at least I hope so.  Man I hope so!

However, I’m not done. I still have to untag myself in other people’s photos, of which there are hundreds if not thousands; so I know what I’ll be doing all weekend long. I also plan to delete all the friends on my list. Why? Because since your account isn’t actually deleted but deactivated, if you login later on, all your friends and their data is still intact. If for some reason my deactivated account gets hacked and someone comes online pretending to be me, they can now have access to all my friend’s information. So in a way, I’m trying to protect everyone else’s information which should be part of your responsibility.

I haven’t talked about Facebook integration yet. You know you can use your Facebook credentials to login to other services and sites; this isn’t a new idea and has been around as far back as Microsoft Passport. But wait, when you integrate with a service like that- the service now has access to certain stuff on your Facebook profile and that link is (drumroll), permanent. Do you even remember how many sites you logged into with your Facebook credentials? Well I don’t, but luckily, you can go into your Facebook account settings and see who has access, and delete the associations. This is very scary because once again, if your account gets hacked, they can now use your Facebook credentials to log into a bunch of other sites and create new associations without you knowing.

Social Addiction is interesting and unlike any other kind of addiction, they really try and tempt you to stay. For example, when I started the account deactivation process, it went to a page where it shows you 4-5 friends and goes one step further by saying “Are you sure? Steve will miss you, George will miss you, Melissa will miss you” while showing a pic of each person. What is this? A guilt trip? Is there an Irish Mum running the Facebook retention department? (I have a wonderful Irish MIL that is great at this)

You’d never see a guy selling booze outside an AA meeting or rehab center, would you? While not the same kind of deadly addiction, I think we all need to recognize the dangers of sharing ‘too much’ and Facebook needs to make things easier for those who want to stay or leave. Here are a couple things I’d like to see:
1- Single click to delete ALL your private information, photos and videos etc. from Facebook.
2- a Security risk analysis dashboard for each friend – a make up of how strong their passwords are, how often they change them and how much they post/download. This will enable us to choose friends wisely based on how responsible they are.
3- Reminders on when to change your password regularly.
4- PIN code lock for Facebook Apps, or a security mode that requires you enter in your password every time, once a day or once a week

This is just a start. I’d also like to know where my data is at any given time; is it in Seattle, or is it replicating to Japan?

It’s inevitable that I will once again fall into an addiction pattern, but I’m going to try and do my best to limit my breadcrumb trail, and you should too. After all, they say the devil is in the details.