while I was waking up…

This post is dedicated in memory of Gil Scott-Heron.

Connectivity, seamless integration, multiple digital devices all connected to my habits and likes. The seamless options to integrate my blogs with my social media accounts…..all provide wonderful opportunities. They simplify many tasks and interactions I deal with on a day to day basis. At times these can get messy and I understand that many of these integrations between the digital devices I use and social media platforms I interact with are still trying to evolve. I believe the future of this convergence of digital devices and communication platforms will only get more seamless and effective, that is exciting. For users the potential is huge in leveraging  these tools and opportunities into our social and professional lives.

and now……

I am noticing something, and it seems in the last few months all this seamless integration of digital devices and social networking media is generating some caution by a few. For me the first odd event was when Facebook suddenly decided without asking me (actually they never asking me anything especially if there are changes) that it would only feature in my news feeds the friends I interact with on a regular basis and not the  friends who I just interact with rarely or periodically…. my news feed narrowed in its diversity of people I could see. Good news you can change this, and I did. The issue is who should make the decisions for us?

I also am noticing with my search results (Google/Bing/Yahoo) that they tend to be little different when I search the same topic as my wife and kids….. the search algorithms seem to learn my likes and dislikes and then provide me with information which falls into my previous search patterns and within my opinion and interest range. Diversity of opinions or information which I do not agree with seems slowly to be pushed away from me, I am reading only what I want to believe .  This seems to be a growing trend as explained in an excellent: TedTalk Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

The Apple Developers conference again showed how our devices, operating systems and virtual worlds are now taking on more tasks without us having to be involved, as a way to increase our efficiencies. Now you do not need to save in OS Lion, if you have iCloud there is sinking of content between different devices automatically without you being involved. Your digital devices in the Apple environment now can be independent of your desktop or laptop, giving these devices the ability to do all the necessary tasks right there and now. These are exciting changes and definitely provide the user with more seamless tasks which we do not need to be involved with. This in someways is pushed even further with the IOS5 function that if you have list or tasks to do there is a geographic locater embedded so when say you drive by a grocery store and in your IOS5 device you have a shopping list it will pop up and remind you of the list and the option of doing this now as it has located a grocery store.

The list goes on…. our technology tools and environments are being equipped with algorithms and (spiders and robots) automated tasks which are becoming more intelligent, and at a level are given more independence to make executive decisions to enhance tasks in reaction to our online behaviors and habits. This is a huge shift, and with this a whole set of philosophical questions and dilemmas arise which delve into privacy, who has ownership, who gets to decide what these tools and algorithms do, and how much independence should they have? I am reading and seeing more evidence of this change, where we are asking our technology tools and systems to think for us and help make decisions. At this stage it all seems useful, helpful and harmless. Who minds having something save everything without you having to remember. Who minds having their devices do in the background of our awareness, updates, sinking, and analysis ? At this time it is useful and a time saver….and to be honest this has been going on for a while with a variety of technology tools. An example is commercial aviation which has been relying on automatic pilot controls for a large percentage of tasks related to flying. There are definitely huge advantages, and at many levels these make the processes we rely on more efficient and seamless .

As we move forward with our digital evolution:  our tools, operating systems and devices are given greater independence to manage our lives. The question I currently struggle with is at what point do we feel comfortable giving up control and let many of these devices  have complete autonomy of certain tasks, decisions, and information we get to have access too. To what point do we let convenience and efficiency erode potentially our own independence to make decision ourselves with these digital environments. There is no doubt that for the companies behind these tools, devices and operating systems, this control and information is becoming a critical commodity to generate information databases which leverage a greater capacity to target products, habits and behaviors effectively to the user. This then generating profits for the companies behind these devices, software and operating systems.

I am like many, I love the seamless integration, the fact that more mundane tasks are being taken over, and me not having to think about them. But when is too much, and when will we suddenly wake up and realize so much has fallen over to algorithms and (spiders and robots) automated tasks that we have lost control and now are having many of our decisions and tasks dictated by others who we have little input with.

As Gil Scott Heron says so aptly ” the revolution will not be televised

John@https://beyonddigital.org

the conversation we are not having maybe…

at the airport in Frankfurt on my way to Rome for a days work with Marymount International School and their faculty on 1 to 1 Laptops. Time to reflect in the waiting lounge about the ECIS IT Conference in Frankfurt last week, a wonderful reminder that it is not about IT but learning. The conference days a good blend of keynotes: Jamie McKenzie, David Warlick and Scott Klosoky, workshops, and informal sidebar conversations. The event and conversations have spiked some good reflections for me. It has been very hectic and intense year, and the last week were at times my tech support team was down to one person from the original 5 due to illness, injury and recuperation from hospital. It is maybe when you are down to one technician that suddenly you are reminded again how critical the systems, and services we set up, monitor, maintain and develop as an IT Department have become to the day functioning of an international school. Information Technology and its associated services that support the day to day functioning of most international schools, have now become mandatory.  Then this sudden shift to an unwritten expectation of 24/7 services and connectivity. Many International Schools have so many of their day to day tasks/work flows tied to IT systems that the non stop functioning becomes a non-negotiable. This topic came back in many of the conversations I had with fellow IT Directors from the ECIS region attending the conference. One thing which is becoming quite clear to me as I have these conversations IT Directors and IT Staff are being stretched more and more as new systems become a non negotiable critical part of the school day. With this a growing cultural expectation of the users and school of  access: anywhere, anytime. There is a developing cost to this for IT Directors and their teams. One is that you start juggling more and more tasks, your team which in many schools tend to be quite small, has to be able to deal with a wider variety of complex issues and integrated systems. A common case especially here in European International Schools, as systems get added, new programs or hardware, no extra people are brought in. So the task lists gets longer, the job description for many of the Technical Support team changes by the minute and somehow extra resources in humans and money tend to be elusive. This too often not by fault but by necessity were International Schools work with small budgets and have often little flexibility to add people. There is a danger that can develop that you start having over stretched IT Departments providing 24/7 services but no organizational structure to support this growth, and then all your eggs are in one basket, hoping the IT Department small as it maybe can sustain and support the pressures and demands long term. Is there a breaking point? Is it sustainable?

I have no clear answer but what I am realizing and in conversations with others, IT Directors are starting to feel the stretch and strain. This comes in a mix of pressures that I personally feel has a cost to the health and well being of the person. As new systems get added, expectations become greater, connectivity and seamless availability of services 24/7 all add up to an intense mix of tasks and workload to sustain. This then becomes the responsibility of the IT Teams and the task of IT Director’s leadership to manage and facilitate these pressures. The IT Director who has to provide guidance, rally the tech. support folks (often under paid and under valued), creatively deliver solutions with tight budgets, and juggle the emotions, personalities and tensions often associated with the change process of integrating or introducing of new systems. procedures or hardware to different stakeholders.

The solution? Each international school has such unique dynamics that I do not think there is one simple solution and answer. The start is maybe having honest and candid conversations with the schools leadership teams and clearly articulating the expectations of services and up keep of systems that support the school day. Thinking strategically what support systems can be developed to ensure if new systems, hardware and 24/7 connectivity and delivery of services are expected how this plays out with your current set up and staffing. Looking for creative solutions to shift services to the cloud, or put more responsibility on the users to independently manage the devices and services they use to support their work day. This of course then becomes an important conversations regarding what professional development support will be provided, expectations of skills and managing a significant cultural expectation of who is responsible for what.

At some point the IT Team and IT Director need to also unplug and regroup, which for many of us is a challenge and near to impossible. Even when we are off campus or away the systems have to be managed, maintained and serviced, and we need to be connected to the various stakeholder groups we support, there is this growing expectation.

…as with any challenge engaging in a conversation, defining the expectations explicitly to all, and being willing to think beyond our own walls and perspectives can be the first step. This then tied to a long term strategic understanding that however essential and critical our schools services are, connected to this is a group of people trying to juggle a more and more complex set of dynamics and expectations.  We need to engage in an awareness that over stretching folks can have a negative impact on sustaining your own systems and anywhere anytime connectivity. I believe there is a potential for a better balance for all.

Let us have this conversation…………..