The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MogánA little while ago Courtney Hunt, from the talented Denovati Group, reached out to me through Twitter, and then LinkedIn, to ask me whether I would like to contribute to a book project they are working on to go and celebrate the World Wide Web’s Coming of Age, since this year, 2014, we all, collectively, celebrate its 25th anniversary. Yes, I know, I couldn’t just reject such kind, generous and overall wonderful opportunity, as I am sure you would all agree with me on how much we owe Sir Tim Berners-Lee for such life changing invention with a huge impact on each and everyone of us, not just in a work context, but also in our personal lives and our society. I mean, could you possibly imagine a Life Without the WWW today? I know I couldn’t, and that’s why I thought about participating further along to that effort with my humble contribution, as a token of immense gratitude for a lifetime transformation journey from, once being a technophobe, back in the day, into, nowadays, truly loving the enablement power of the Web that’s helping us regain our very own essence: our humanity.

What you will find attached below, since it is already now publicly available at the Denovati Group Web site, is the book chapter that I submitted where I reflected on my own overall experiences and interactions with the World Wide Web from over the course of the last 17 years that I have been actively making the most out of it, day in day out. It hasn’t been an easy task to do, more than anything else, because there have been so many anecdotes, stories, life changing experiences and good overall transformation all around that I eventually decided to just focus on what I feel is perhaps the most profound impact that the World Wide Web has had in yours truly over the course of the last 15 years. Of course, I am talking about the Social Web and I am sure, as you continue to read further along, that you would probably be envisioning what single experience I picked up to reflect further on that would describe that shift from hating technology / computing (back in my high school years) to absolutely loving the WWW for what has done not just for me as a knowledge (Web) worker, but also for everyone else, for that matter. 

The title of the article / book chapter is “The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist” and you would be able to find it as well over here. However, since it has been out already for a good few days I thought I would also take the liberty to reproduce it over in this blog as an opportunity for me to reflect and continue to celebrate perhaps one of the most profound and of deep impact inventions in the history of the human race on this planet. Most probably, at the very same level as the invention of the Printing Press, if not even more significant. 

Thus, without much further ado, here’s the article, on its entirety, reproduced below:

“There was a time when I didn’t quite like technology. Back in my high school years, computing was one of the subjects that I kept struggling with time and time again. Eventually I gave up on it. You could say I was a bit of a technophobe. I moved on to a career in humanities instead. Fast forward to 2014 and today I wouldn’t be able to get by without the World Wide Web. What happened then? Well, transformation is what happened. The Internet changed my life 17 years ago, and my relationship with it is still going strong.

On January 20th, 1997, I started working for the largest IT firm in the world, IBM. From the very beginning, at the infancy of the World Wide Web, I realised that perhaps my high school experiences with computing didn’t provide the best foundation for my relationship with technology, and maybe I needed to move forward and restart with a clean slate. That’s when the transformation journey commenced.

As time went by, I started to get more and more heavily involved with technology. It all began for me with customer service – first the mainframe, then PCs, then ultimately the Internet. It was in 2000, when I was exposed for the first time to something called “wikis,” that I had that aha moment, realising how the Web – the Social Web that was then only just getting started – would change us all for good, whether in our personal or work lives. There would be no turning back.

That was the time when I realised the key, paramount role that technology and the Web would play in helping us collaborate and share our knowledge much more effectively in the workplace. It was that time as well when I realised that, if anything, the main purpose for the Web was to help us connect, build relationships, collaborate more effectively and eventually do our jobs better. The Web as an enabler – a very powerful enabler, reflecting a fundamental shift in terms of how we would get our work done, how critical remote, virtual collaboration would become over the course of time. How hoarding and protecting your own knowledge would be very limited in the long run. And, instead, how sharing it openly and transparently, through the (Social) Web, would give us an opportunity to change how the business world works – and for that matter, society as a whole.

During those early years, as I got more heavily involved with wikis, profile aggregators, blogs, social bookmarks, file sharing, podcasting, tagging, messaging, and various other key elements from the so-called Web 2.0, I continued to nurture the excitement of how technology would have a much more significant impact than anything we may have witnessed over the course of the last few centuries. And so I became a Social Computing Evangelist.

It’s not an easy task to help people understand how they can benefit from the Web, especially all the various social networking tools, but I have learned over the course of time that the job of a social computing evangelist becomes a whole lot easier when you practice what you preach. That’s essentially when people will start noticing the potential impact of the Web, when they can see it working in real day-to-day work interactions not just for the benefit of a few, but for everyone. That’s why, after years of evangelising about the enabling capabilities of the Social Web, I decided to take things to the next level and make it an integral part of my work and personal lives.

Email has been with us for over 40 years, and most people would probably tell you they couldn’t live without it. It’s become so integral to how we share information, stay in touch, get work done, etc. that to imagine a world without email would be probably more of a nightmare than anything else. Well, that’s exactly what I did – I not only imagined a world without email, I lived in it!

In February 2008, after 8 years of evangelising about the power of social networking, both in a work and life context, I decided it was a good time to put my actions where my words were. To help demonstrate what the Social Web was capable of, I decided to tell the whole world that I would no longer use email in a corporate environment to get work done and collaborate with my peers. It was pretty much like that already in my personal life, where the vast majority of my interactions happened through the Web, so I figured I might as well give it a try at work and see how it would play out.

Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. You know, “How are you going to survive in a large corporate environment without using email?” they would say. “There is a great chance that you would end up getting fired if you continue pursuing that unrealistic idea,” they added. Yet I was convinced more than ever that the move would open the door to a new reality of sharing, caring, and helping one another, which is essentially what the Social Web has been enabling all along. And as stubborn as I am, I decided to continue pulling it off to see where it would take me.

Initially, plenty of people thought that I just wanted to kill email, ban it for good, get rid of it, annihilate it from the corporate workplace. I must confess that back then I too had those thoughts. However, things didn’t work out that way. Throughout all of those years of living a “Life Without Email” I realised that I didn’t want to kill the tool, or the system. I just wanted to improve the way we work together, as a team, as a network, as a community. And that’s when it all turned into helping people understand how this movement I founded over 6 years ago had then a single premise: open up to a new world of interactions, of connections, of serendipitous knowledge discoveries that, sooner or later, would affect the way we work and eventually become the new norm: an interconnected, hypernetworked (business) world.

The Web is a wonderful thing, especially the Social Web. We owe a great deal to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for helping change our lives forever. Indeed, all of these social media capabilities have helped us generate that conscious collective knowledge of wanting to do wonderful things, of repurposing and creating a new meaning for what we do with our daily lives: connectedness. It’s developed an ability to regenerate our empathy by caring and helping one another that we humans can’t just deny, neglect or ignore. We have been born with an innate urge to help each other when in need. It’s in our genes. Part of our DNA, our social fabric.

And that’s what makes the Web so special. It’s got that ability to help us humanise ourselves, to remind us all tof our ability to connect, share and build relationships with others no matter where they may be in this world. And that’s exactly the journey I started over 17 years ago, a journey that has proved how an initial dislike of technology (from my high school years) can turn itself into an unprecedented love of technology. The Web is helping us regain our very own sense of humanity: that of belonging to the group, our tribe. The one with which we can make the world a better place. One human at a time. Not just for us, or our children, but for our children’s children.

That’s the legacy the Web will be leaving behind. That’s our legacy: leave this world a better place than we found it. The Internet is us, we are the Internet. And all of that, without using a single email but through the power of the Connected, Social Web.

Hello, my name is Luis Suarez, a.k.a. @elsua. I am one of the billions of netizens out there… Are we connected yet?”

Happy anniversary, our very dear World Wide Web! May you keep flourishing for many, many decades to come!

We don’t need no regulation.
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business, and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua, Google Plus or LinkedIn.

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Gran Canaria – Celebrating the Mini-Continent

Today is a special day for yours truly. A very special day, actually. And I am not saying that because I know how perhaps half of the world (if not the whole world already!) may well be enjoying the various different celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day. So, if you are celebrating it, Happy St. Patrick’s Day nonetheless! Hope you are all having a good time with your loved ones, family and friends. The reason why I am very joyous and rather happy today though is because it’s exactly 10 years ago today that I decided to reboot my life, restart with a clean slate, and make a move to Gran Canaria, where I might find a new home and a new life altogether. That’s right, March 17th, 2004, I took a flight from The Netherlands (Rotterdam, to be more precise) to Gran Canaria to start a new life and 10 years later only thing I can say is that I’m rather privileged and grateful for having found it and for still going strong. 

There are no regrets. None whatsoever. In fact, all along, I have always felt it was probably the best decision I have ever made in my life, next perhaps to the one I have made 10 years later when, just recently, a bit over a month ago, I decided to make a move from IBM after 17 years of service in three different countries: The Netherlands, Ireland and Spain. Interestingly enough, I have always felt a rather close connection with Ireland myself, even more so when I spent a year over there in Dublin on an assignment for some project work I did back in the day. There are just so many things that I truly heart from that country, so when I decided I was moving back home from The Netherlands, I knew I would have to pick up a special date. One that I would remember forever with plenty of fond memories all around. And that date chosen is St. Patrick’s Day. 

Throughout the whole day I’ve been having lots of really good friends congratulating me and wishing me well for my birthday. I guess I have been a little bit of a naughty boy, because it’s actually not my birthday today. It was already in February (Another fellow Aquarian, I know, hehe), so I lied on the Web :-) 

On most social networking tools out there where I keep getting asked about my date of birth for my profile I never put my real one, since with it and a couple of other pieces of data, it’s relatively easy to impersonate someone. I mostly put the year I was born next to March 17th, perhaps more than anything else, because when I came over here it all felt like I was being re-born again, so what a better tribute one could pay to such a special date than to celebrate it as if it were your real (Internet) birthday, right? 

For all of those folks who have been sending along their kind and best wishes I would want to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you for making this day even more special. For helping me get a reminder of what it was like moving over here, to Gran Canaria, to begin everything again from scratch. 10 years later, I am only now just getting started, although it feels like I have been living over here forever. It’s not there just yet. It’s the second longest place I have ever lived in, apart from my family place, back in mainland Spain (León). So it does feel like I have been here for a long long time. 

And, of course, it was time to celebrate such milestone, don’t you think? Well, that’s exactly what I have been doing whole weekend long, including today!, of course :) by spending most of the time visiting one of my favourite places on the whole island: Puerto de Mogán, to just be reminded, once again, why I moved over here 10 years ago: 

Those of you who may have visited Puerto de Mogán at some point in time would know, and probably agree, what a stunning place that little fishermen’s village is to not only just walk out and about, but also to enjoy some stunning scenery that can be, if anything, rather breath taking: 

But not only that. Little Venice, as it is very well known for, has got a lot more to offer, like rather long walks along the harbour enjoying spring in full bloom in almost every single corner of the village making it a true pleasure for your eyes and your sense of smell to be taken away while the rest of the senses are just getting started to experience beauty and charm in equal doses: 

And, finally, the last stroll along the beach that acts as a clear reminder as to why I felt in love with Gran Canaria 10 years ago and why, 10 years later, it is just as strong as ever! Yes, it probably doesn’t get any better than this: 

I don’t know how much longer I may be living in Gran Canaria. Only time would know for sure, perhaps different various circumstances as well, I guess. At this point in time, I am taking each year as another gracious gift that I have been given without asking for anything in return and, as such, the only thing that I have got left is to write down this blog post as a token of immense gratitude for having Gran Canaria make me feel right at home in paradise. Carpe diem, as some of you may be thinking about at this very moment. For me, it’s a sincere Thanks! for changing my life back 10 years ago and for continuing to do so today.

March 17th, 2014! Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone and here’s to many many more years in paradise to come further along! And, remember, if you ever come over to Gran Canaria, get in touch. I would love to share with you all plenty of the hidden, golden gems this gorgeous island has got to offer to every single explorer

Me, included! :-D

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The Trials and Tribulations of an Independent Freelancer – Your Online Bio Profile and Digital Footprint

It’s been a month since I last posted a blog entry over here and I am sure plenty of you folks out there may be wondering what I have been up to and everything, right? After all, leaving IBM after 17 years of dedicated work on topics I am very passionate about can definitely have a certain emotional toll that perhaps would need for some time to go by before moving into greener pastures. Well, that’s exactly what I have been doing in the last few weeks: learnunlearn, relearn, and continue to help change the world of work. One human at a time.

Right after I announced I was joining Change Agents Worldwide, a lot of things have happened, as I am sure you would be able to guess, including my first business trip as an independent freelancer to the Enterprise 2.0 Summit event in Paris, meeting up some pretty amazing people (Old good friends and plenty of new ones!), celebrating my birthday shortly afterwards (@elsua v4.2 upload fully complete now!), and then upon my return back home I decided to go for a break, a detox break. One where I would have the opportunity to spend quality time offline, unlearning from over the last 17 years of big corporate work / life and start pondering what I would be doing next, including executing the system of me.

That break away from everything (highly recommend, by the way, if you are just about to embark on a similar journey) was just wonderful and so much needed I didn’t even realise about it till I eventually came back last week and got things started with my new business. Yes, as you can see, even on my writing I’m still coming to terms with embracing that new language and narrative of being an independent freelancer embarking on a new and exciting adventure. I know that time will eventually help out its fairer bit with the readjusment and everything, so I guess I will just let it play along. And wait. Patiently. 

Interestingly enough, and over the course of that quiet period from the Social Web, I eventually spent plenty of time talking to people in my close networks about the massive change and what it could well mean for yours truly as I move forward into an uncertain, yet, exciting brave new world. And it was remarkable to notice how plenty of those good friends suggested how I may need between 4 months, up to two years!, for that transition to complete and to shake it all off. Whoah! I am not too sure I am ready for that. So I decided to kick things off, instead, and last week Monday was my first official day in the new job. And if there is anything that I have learned, and that I had a hunch for from way before about it becoming my new reality over the course of the years, was the fact that, whether you like it or not, you are the product of your networks and your networks are the product of you. So you may need to buckle up and start acting accordingly.

As simple as that. And right after that realisation I had that strong, big ah-ha moment, while talking to plenty of folks in my network (And many more to come, I am sure!, since I can only fit so many voice / video conversations on a given day!) that I may be successful (or not) as a freelancer on the topics that I am truly passionate about, but the odds increase tremendously when as part of that journey it all becomes a shared success, where one now embarks oneself on that determination to make your networks successful just as much (if not more!) along the way. Why? Well, because if you ever manage to make your network(s) successful, there is a great chance that you would be as well.

And to that extent last week was just incredible! The first couple of potential customer prospects came along around Social Business Adoption & Enablement. I am currently working this week on putting together the proposals for each of them hoping they will get accepted and we are off to some great work coming together. The usual catch up with my close networks brought up some pretty inspiring and thought provoking insights I am hoping to be able to blog about over here in its due time. One of them in particular has changed completely how I view my new work life and that one of others as I keep challenging them to think about that newly acquired insight that I will be blogging about shortly, since it does have a direct effect on my day to day work routines. 

I resurfaced as well back from the dead quiet into the social streams and it’s been quite a surprising and reenergising  experience altogether diving into the social networks while not thinking anymore there is a firewall out there! As a trivia of sorts, last week, as an example, I spent about a day and a half on Twitter alone, where I know that in my previous work life it would have been a whole lot less! And it was wonderful being capable of catching up with people’s lives and work from a far distance, but yet feel so loosely bounded. The engagement has been stunning and, of course, serendipity brought its magic into new heights resulting in having plenty of those same conversations not only about exercises of both clarity and work out loud, but also on finding ways of helping each other continue to grow further along. And that, of course, includes Change Agents Worldwide as well in the mix. Just brilliant!

But not only that. I also had the opportunity to launch the new elsua with its corresponding about.me link ready to go: 


With a new logo, which eventually became my Twitter avatar while I am already working my way towards putting together a Web site with a brilliant designer I know and whom I would be introducing you all to him once we are ready for launch! (Yes, I am going to keep the suspense for a little while longer… He is that good! hehe) 

But there have been some initial challenges as well, for sure. And some pretty good ones, too! Like, for instance the following one that I tweeted about and that I am still trying to figure out how to best work around it. To name:

 

Ha! Who would have thought that after having worked at the largest IT firm in the world for all of those years, doing what I am really passionate about all along around KM, Social Computing, CommunityBuilding, Learning, Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, Open Business, etc., I would struggle this much now to put it all in writing to share it out there with folks. Writing your own biography or profile is not easy, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be in the first place, despite the couple of rather helpful links available out there to guide you on how you could get it done easily.

I mean, it’s been 7 years since I last updated my LinkedIn bio profile (Yes, I know, I know, so much overdue altogether!). It’s been well over a year that I last updated my bio in Google Plus, Slideshare, Flickr, Tumblr, amongst several other different social spaces. The About page, for instance, on my blog (Supposedly, the most frequently visited page from *any* blog, according to some studies) hasn’t been touched for a good couple of years (Even my profile picture will no longer show up!). Goodness! What a mess! Who would have thought having a good relevant bio that talks about your skills, experiences and know-how would be this difficult to put together and then share across, right? 

Well, here’s when your network(s) will come to the rescue for you and help you out where you may need it the most! Right when I was conversing about this existentialist challenge on Twitter about updating your own biography in terms of one’s own digital bio footprint my good friend Esteban Kolsky shared this tidbit: 

WOW! Right there it just hit me. And big time! Right there, indeed, I realised how most folks from my network do not necessarily know me because of my brilliant profile and extended biography, but more because of what I have done over the course of the years around the main themes I mentioned above already, and, perhaps, specially, around Social / Open Business. That’s probably where I should continue to focus on from here onwards, i.e. write about my / our joint work, instead of procrastinating away, day in day out, trying to figure out what to put together for one’s biography. The bio should be a collection of the work you have done over time and that you may well have documented, more or less, through your own Internet blog or whatever other social networking tool of your choice. Anything else is just a bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, it’s been 5 years since the last time that I updated my CV! Yes, 5 years! And no-one ever asked me to keep it up to date. There was work to be done, instead.

But what happens when you need to put something together for those people who may not know you just yet? What would you tell them? How would you describe yourself to them to give them a quick glimpse of what you are about without sounding too much like an elevator pitch (Topic that, by the way, I will be talking about plenty more shortly!)? Well, I gave that one a bit of thought and I eventually put together the following short bio: 

Luis Suarez is a Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business, and has been living, for the last 6 years, a corporate world without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and, overall, smart work. He currently blogs over at elsua.net and can be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua, Google Plus or LinkedIn

And, somehow, it’s sticking along. For how long? I am not too sure, I guess it will be one of those projects on perpetual beta, but I do know for the time being it’s helping me focus not so much on putting together multiple bios for multiple different sites and get the job done effectively while I keep working along on other, perhaps more important, items. Like writing, or creating the new wave of all things #elsua.

Either way, over the course of the next few days, I will be updating all of the various different online bio profiles to include that text or something very similar, while I ramp up efforts for the Web site launch, which will mark the official kick-off of my new work life as an independent freelancer. Oh, and one more thing, since a long time ago I embraced both the working out loud mantra and the various different Open Business principles, I am also hoping to continue blogging over here from now onwards on a more regular basis detailing what it is like this whole new adventure. More than anything else, because I suspect that your learning is going to be my learning. And that’s a good thing, I suppose, don’t you think?

Let’s do it!

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