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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Let The Next Adventure Begin – The What Next (The System of Me)

After yesterday’s blog post, I guess today’s the one everyone has been waiting for. Myself included. For a good number of weeks, I have been having lots of conversations on the side with plenty of people, where I have been hinting what I will be doing next and while, all along, I have been trying to disguise my excitement about the next adventure(s), and what the future may hold from here onwards, it’s now the time for me to unleash what I will be working on from here onwards. A system of me, Luis Suarez, a.k.a. elsua.

Before I go on and explain what I mean with that system of me, please do allow me to share a story over here that would help explain why I am choosing those words carefully in terms of what I will be doing next. You will see how, once again, serendipity has done its magic into setting up the pace of how things will happen from here onwards. It all started with IBM Connect, IBM’s premier conference event around Social Business, that takes place, in January, every year in Orlando, Florida.

This year I was scheduled to speak at three different sessions, including the rather splendid and big hit Pardon the Interruption Social Business Hot Topics (Part Deux) my good friend Louis Richardson kindly hosted again doing a superb piece of work, along with both partners in crime Luis Benitez and Matt Ridings. Alas, as you can imagine, things didn’t work out and, eventually, I couldn’t make it. Matt graciously covered for me though pretty much nailing it! Thanks for that, Matt! Nice work! So, since I couldn’t be there in the end, I turned myself into the Livestream option (along with catching up with it over the various different streams). And BOOM! There it happened. 

On Day 2 of the event, on perhaps one of the most inspiring keynote sessions I can remember in years, that I am pretty certain I would be able to cover in upcoming blog posts, there was one keynote speaker that totally blew me away and, judging from the lifestream itself, the live audience, too! Scott Adams (the father of Dilbert) was on stage talking about failure and the critical role it plays in helping you succeed in the long run. 

You can watch a replay of the livestream of Scott’s speech over here or hit the Play button on the embedded code below. It would be totally worth it the 30 minutes of your time, I can guarantee you that, to say the least: 

 

Without spoiling it too much, Scott gets to talk about three main key points that I thought I would share across over here, as teasers, to entice you to watch through it in its entirety: 

  1. “Goals are for losers
  2. Passion, totally overrated 
  3. Luck can be manipulated”

He gets to talk about how goals no longer cut it in today’s constant world of change. Just the sheer complexity of it all makes it almost impossible to cope with them and still make sense. Instead, he talks about trying a system. “Something you do regularly that improves your odds and makes you more valuable (ideally)”. A system where you get to build further along a lovely set of complementary skills that would accumulate over the years by putting them into practice on a regular basis so that it will keep improving those odds of becoming successful, regardless of what criteria you may want to use to define success.

He also has got a very interesting and noble approach towards replacing will-power with knowledge, towards replacing that same will-power with habit. And the examples he mentions are true golden gems most folks out there would be able to relate to. 

He then gets to talk about how passion is totally overrated. How while it may get you there, that very same passion may as well be the main cause for your many failures over the course of time, and, while not neglecting it, after all, he still thinks it’s important and relevant to be passionate about what you do, he mentioned how it’s probably much more effective to not just focus on your passion, but focus on helping boost your personal energy. Essentially, become physically and mentally more alert instead. WOW! Just brilliant!

Finally, he gets to talk about luck and how it can be manipulated. How people who consider themselves “lucky” have, most probably, a wider field of perception, meaning that they would notice opportunities others wouldn’t notice. And embrace them. Essentially, you get to define and provoke your own luck, based on what you perceive and build further on over the course of time. 

His major conclusion? An inspiring, rather thought-provoking and mind-blowing one liner that certainly has stuck with me ever since I heard it a few days back and that, I am sure, will define my life from here onwards and whatever the career path(s) I may get to choose:

“Use systems to boost your odds, passion to get energy, and luck to change the game”

That’s why I am very pleased and rather excited altogether to announce that after 17 years at IBM, working as a Knowledge Manager, Community Builder, Social Business Evangelist and Enabler, it’s now time for me to go independent and embrace that system of me, Luis Suarez, a.k.a. elsua

Yes, that’s right! After 17 long years working in the largest corporate IT environment there is out there at the moment, and having had a blast all along, it’s now time for me to embrace both the unknown and the uncertain: to become an independent, a free spirit, a solopreneur, a provocateur of sorts, a change agent, a free radical, an outrageous and true optimist hippie 2.0 aiming at wanting to change the world, for the better. 

Oh, and I won’t be alone, in case you are wondering…

That was the much needed change that I guess my inner self was looking forward to over the course of the last couple of years, where hint after hint, you start seeing it coming and, in the end, there is nothing else that you can do other than embrace the change and try to make the most out of it; and while I certainly looked into other potential opportunities of working in other large corporate environments, I thought this time around was probably going to be the best timing to go ahead and rediscover myself to find out who I really am, what I really want to do, how I can help others become better at what they do already and, eventually, change the world. 

See? The true spirit of that free hippie 2.0 kicking in again.

But “how are you going to do that?” I am pretty sure that’s what’s going on in your head at the moment while you keep reading this article, right? Well, that’s where the system of me idea kicks in. Instead of focusing on a single goal and work really hard towards achieving it, as part of that new adventure of going solo, I am going to try to keep as many options open as I possibly can, and let that focus, purpose and meaning I mentioned earlier on, in another post, decide which one(s) would be a failure I can learn from, move on and stick around with the one(s) that will help me progress further in my life-long learning experience(s) with that new round of complimentary skills.

In a way, you could think about this next stage on my (work) life as an opportunity to rediscover myself, reflect on what I have learned and applied over the course of the last 17 years and see if there would be an opportunity to apply them in a completely different environment from that one of the big corporate world: that is, the freelance economy. A recent article under the suggestive heading of “How Freelancers Are Redefining Success To Be About Value, Not Wealth“, pretty much nails it for me on what I feel, rather strongly, is the workplace of the future, if there ever was a brilliant one, that would be it. And, somehow, in whatever form or shape, I quite enjoy both the challenge and the opportunity of being part of it. 

Now, I do know, and fully realise, that it’s not going to be an easy ride. I don’t expect it to be. Quite the contrary. It’s going to be full of uncertainty, facing the unknown in most cases, and experiencing plenty of new scenarios that I never thought, in the recent past, I would had the bravery and courage to face, like the prospect of no longer having a secure job or a fixed monthly income at a time when, where I live, in the Canary Islands, Spain, the unemployment rate is over 33% of the total active working population. Yet, somehow, I feel it’s also a good time for me to see if I can put to the test all of those acquired skills over the course of the years and put them to good use as an independent freelancer. I bet it will be quite an interesting self-discovery experience altogether as well, don’t you think? 

So, at this point in time, and perhaps to close off this longish article for now, you may be wondering what are going to be the main focus areas I will be working on from here onwards as an independent freelancer, solopreneur or autónomo (Spanish), right? Well, like I mentioned above, and in order to unleash the system of elsua to help increase the odds of opportunity and success, here are some of the areas I will be working on: 

  • Social / Computing Business and Open Business evangelism
  • Social Business Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultancy
  • Social Business Enablement and Adoption / Adaptation (Including IBM Connections)
  • Knowledge Management, Learning and Org. Change Management (Org. Design)
  • Online Community Building and Facilitation
  • Digital / Executive Coaching
  • International public speaking 
  • Freelance writing
     
  • English teaching (See? I am still an English teacher with a passion for teaching and learning and that’s not going away any time soon!)

And, finally, Life Without eMail. Of course, I couldn’t let this one slip out, just like that, right? After all, it’s what most people still know me for out there and have been thinking that if I have managed to successfully survive in the largest email driven IT firm in the world over the course of the last 6 years, it’s now time to enter a new phase, a new challenge altogether: live a life without email as an independent freelancer / solopreneur. And see whether I am capable of pulling it off or not, moving all of my interactions into social networking tools. At least, as many as I possibly can, just like I have been doing for the last few years in the corporate world. 

I know most of you folks may be thinking that there are perhaps too many different options out there that I will be working on from here onwards and everything and that, maybe, I will be spreading too thin, but all along I have been thinking that this whole new experience is pretty much going to be shaped not only by what I do and learn along the way, but also by how I would be interacting, conversing and learning with my networks across the board. Because, if there is anything that I have learned over the course of the last 15 years that I have been involved with social networking is that you are never going solo. There is an entire network of people who care, who surely know and understand what you are good at, and what not, and, as such, they would become your helping hand and invaluable source of feedback to keep you on track of how you are helping that very same network become successful at what they already do.

After all, we are living in a Network Era and there is no turning point back. And do you know what’s the one single ah-ha moment that I will be enjoying the most from this brave new world of (hyper)connectedness and conversations that I am about to enter from here onwards? Well, that, all along, and over the course of the last 17 years, I have been preparing myself to become a freelancer for life, always nurturing my networks, no matter what.

And I won’t be alone…

Let the next adventure begin! Unleashing the system of we!

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