The Ten People You Meet on LinkedIn

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Which one are you?

The salesperson: Hello, I’m contacting you because as a leader in the field of leading leadership, I think you’d be very interested in the digital transformational AI blockchain solutions offered by our team. When would be a good time for a meeting with us and your VPs Chuck and Melissa?

The former co-worker: I can’t believe it’s already been 12 years since Friday drinks with Jilly and Mo and the Sales Team. We should go for a coffee some time! Narrator: It would never happen.

The person who knows a lot of the same people you do: Maybe we’ve met, maybe we haven’t. If you’re good enough for Chuck and Melissa you’re good enough for me.

 The recruiter: Their algorithms found you through the buzzwords in your profile, and they’re super stoked about what a great fit you are for the role. You’ll send an updated CV so they can arrange an interview with the hiring manager, and you will never hear from them again.

The curious colleague: Has basically the same job as you and knows that some day the company will realize they only need one person to do it. Checking out your CV to see who’s better.

The brand-builder: Posts one to two inoffensive stories a week about new technologies or McKinsey’s latest epiphany, just in case their boss or a potential employer looks at their profile. If you like their posts, they’ll like yours.

The informational interviewer: Would like to get your insights on the industry you work in and the fascinating career you’ve had within it. You’ll have coffee with them even though you assume they’ve mistaken you for someone else.

The active member: People who turn up in your feed because their posts get a million likes. Usually stories about people who were authentic and got promoted instead of fired, or 5 Things You Can Learn From a Golden Retriever. Also influencer or thought leader.

The phisher: A stock photo of a middle-aged Asian man named Guy Buckingham wants to add you. He is President and CEO of Gan-wai Steel Corp, a company with no on-line presence.

The person who doesn’t use LinkedIn: Haven’t updated their profile since Friendster. Possibly dead.

Why kids should be on public transit

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North Americans generally tolerate rather than embrace public transportation.  It’s often crowded, slow, and inconvenient,  an option of last resort for those who through disadvantage of age, infirmity, or credit rating don’t drive their own vehicle.

The pain-in-the-ass factor is is multiplied with kids; go to any subway station in Toronto to witness stroller-pushing parents fruitlessly searching for a elevator, or swaying on the bus, whimpering toddler in their arms, while commuters feign sleep or stare dead-eyed at electronic devices. It’s even less appealing in the suburbs, where transit ridership is normally an indicator of financial hardship or Kanye-level eccentricity.

As result,  except for the occasional Santa Claus parade or similar child-friendly mob scene where parking is impossible, those who can afford it mostly stick to the family SUV.

And yet public transit is exactly where kids should be.

Michael Chabon wrote that his was “the last generation of children to be left alone – mostly – by adults.” Mine too, I think. We’d get up on a summer morning, hop on our bikes and spend the day in parks, playgrounds and streets, playing with kids we knew, and kids we didn’t know, no grown-ups in sight. Games were spontaneous and chaotic and sometimes dangerous, but that’s how we learned to live in a society.

Public transit is like that.  It can be dirty, noisy, and uncomfortably populous, but it’s also the way to somewhere new.  When my friends and I starting taking the bus downtown, it was a rite of passage, that ability to travel miles from home without parents,  and to feel the liberation and the danger of being on our own among strangers. But we trusted ourselves, and we trusted each other.

Finding your way out of the bubble of friends and family, exposed to a more diverse world, is important when you’re young. And public transport does that.  The world and the people in it aren’t what you’re used to, but that’s fine. And better than fine – educational.

My son is almost six, and though I’m not quite ready to send him on the subway unaccompanied, he loves travelling on it with me. He’s so proud when he marches down the aisle, steadying himself against the rocking of the car as well as any grown-up, and calling out the names of the stops ahead of time.  It’s a confidence he won’t develop strapped into a car seat.

Not living life on autocomplete

By | Food for thought, technology | No Comments
When does technology top assisting our actions and start directing them? And what can we do about it?
A while back, Gmail started suggesting responses for me. They’re generally pretty solid – when asked if I can make a meeting, it offers up “Sounds good, I’ll be there!” and “Sorry, can’t make it” as options;  a document for review triggers  “Got it, thanks!” and “These are great!” (Gmail-bot is unwaveringly enthusiastic and considers exclamation marks the default punctuation for ending sentences).
All this is super-convenient, especially if I’m punching out a reply on a mobile device with my stubby sausage-fingers while walking down the street carrying a hot beverage. But it’s also insidious.
Communication is about more than just responding with the fewest possible clicks. It’s about tone, feeling, and personality. It’s about connecting.
When we let an algorithm answer for us, we save time. But what do we lose? What would that response look like if it were human? Are there questions that could be asked, or social niceties beyond “thanks!”?
And remember, regardless of how the product people at Google pitched it, features like this aren’t added out of altruism. If Gmail saves me keystrokes, I’ll use it more, meaning Google can scrape the details of my virtual life more effectively, the better to follow me around the internet with advertising for variable rate mortgages and dad jeans and other non-needs that occupy my online time-wasting.
Still, all in all, pretty harmless. and if I eschew  a personalized “Hey, Marlene, thanks for the feedback,  do you still have that cottage because I’m free all summer” reply in favour of an automated “Great! Thanks! This is the best thing ever!” it’s not the apocalypse.
So to cycle back to the original question, should we worry about this?
Damn right we should, because it will own us if we let it.
Want to buy a thing? The machine will help.  It will use all that it knows about you – which is a lot, because even if you don’t Facebook, Google, or Amazon much, your friends, family and demographic cohort do – to guide you through the online maze and make sure you land on products and services that you are predisposed to buy.  The machine will serve you the ad, tell you where to buy, and if you need the thing RIGHT NOW and can’t wait for next day delivery, it will point the way to the store.   When you leave the house, the machine will turn off your lights, play soft jazz music for the cat, then queue up some TV for you to watch when you get home. Hell, it knows you so well that you’d be crazy NOT to do what it suggests.
Meanwhile, it’s recording all your responses and storing them in a massive server farm, the better to flesh out its predictive model.
The machine knows the things you want it to know (when’s my next meeting?) and the things you wish it didn’t know (once your spouse walked in unexpectedly while you were creeping your ex’ Facebook page and your heart rate spiked like a triathlete in the final stretch) and the things that you don’t even know yourself (last month you spent more money on wine than you did on books and clothing combined).
And it knows how to make us do what it wants, because like any good boss, it aligns its needs (to sell stuff) with our own (to fill the aching void in our lives with consumables.).
While it’s unclear just how much free will we have anyway (some science suggests that our brain makes decisions for us before our conscious mind is aware of it), it seems preferable to have decisions taken by our own neural synapses rather than the great porn and bling vending machine that is the wired world.
But let’s face it, we’re not going to sacrifice this kind of convenience, anymore than we stopped using the bags from the grocery store just because we saw a picture of a dying sea turtle belching plastic.
So what can we do?
There’s been a lot of excitement about mindfulness in the corporate world over the last few years, with everyone from professional nerds to jocks jumping on the neuroplasticity brain train all the way to meditation station.  And while it’s sometimes oversold as a grand panacea that will keep your employees healthy, cheerful, and efficient for the cost of an hour’s training and a few yoga mats (it won’t), there are tangible benefits that are helpful in making peace with our digital overlords.
Mindfulness isn’t just crossed legs and chanting, although you can do that. Just as important is learning to live in the present moment, to be always aware of what you’re doing, and not dwelling on mistakes of the past or fears of the future. To be thoughtful. To be awake.
And that’s the key to managing all your polite but pushy devices and the algorithms behind them. Ask simple questions: is this really how I would answer an email? Is bingewatching seventeen hours of Peaky Blinders really the best way to spend my Saturday? Do I really need a samurai sword and a year’s worth of freeze-dried lasagna?
All these and many others are reasonable questions that if asked and answered honestly, can help us reap the benefits of technology without becoming simple commodities to be exploited.
The machine is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. We forget that at our peril.

Welcome to Guesswork

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The overall purpose of this site – blog sounds too 1990’s – is described under Bio, so I won’t repeat it.   I’ll post content on topics that appeal to me, which in no particular order are sustainability, science, technology, philosophy, family and absurdity. I may occasionally write and post fiction, which I started doing recently and enjoy, though I claim no great skill.