A 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?”
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.
It has been nearly two weeks since the last post that I put over here in this blog, so I am sure that plenty of you folks out there may have been thinking I have been on holidays, or taking the typical summer break, and that at some point in time I may well be coming back to blogging on a regular basis, along with picking up my external social networking activities. Well, not really. I have just concluded, and be dealt with for good, I hope, what I think is the first time ever in my 13 years of social software exposure what I never thought I would be confronting: a week of denial of the Social Web.
Goodness! That was intense. Indeed, to the point where it nearly broke me apart and made me gave up on the whole thing altogether. Those who know me well, specially, fellow colleagues, know that the last two to three weeks have been incredibly emotional at work and with quite a draining toll that I don’t even have the energy just yet to write about. And those two last weeks of July finally paid off with this last week of denial for the Social Web where I just basically withdrew from the whole thing. And it was painful. Very painful. And it was ugly. Very ugly. With the end result that at the end of the day I just had to bounce back. That’s just what passion does for you, I guess. It lets you go through your odd moments of weakness, so you can do plenty of thinking and reflection on what’s going on with you, your surroundings and whatever else you may be interested or rather passionate about, to then help you re-focus and bring back the phoenix in you, restore the faith, restore the commitment, the urge, the purpose and meaning of wanting to still make a difference and, in a blink, just like it started, that week of denial is just gone. Gone to never return!
Perhaps what kicked off that week of denial was that article I put over here under the heading “Google Plus – Who Owns the Filter Bubble?“, more than anything else, because my last haven for hope for the Social Web out there just vanished into becoming what most social networking tools are nowadays at best: vulgar and ordinary, just to help us continue being stoned with that digital bliss where it seems to be the only model that works is to have you glued to your computing device(s) hitting refresh constantly, so that you wouldn’t miss a single thing happening from what’s delivered to you by those so-called social networking providers that keep claiming they know better than yourself what you need, when they themselves refuse to engage or provide you with support, thinking that, after all, you are just that, the mob. And you know how it goes. We don’t talk to the mob. We just keep it entertained and hooked, so that we can get away with our own agenda(s). Well, I have got news for all of you. Enough is enough. It’s time to wake up, everyone! There is just a whole lot more in life than just being an ignored product of the system. Life is too precious to waste it just like that.
See? The reason why all of these social networking tools are so popular with 2.0 practitioners is not necessarily because of the technology, which is, as I have said above already, rather vulgar, ordinary and miserable, if, as a result of it, your own health is at risk. It’s actually the people who keep dragging us all into the whole thing. Vast majority of practitioners don’t really care what features a social networking tool may well have or not, if the community is there. You stick around because those people who you have built wonderful personal (business) relationships with over the course of time they keep coming back, just like you do. That’s actually one of the reasons why I haven’t been actively sharing content across, but I have been observing how my networks have been interacting during that week, without me, and, interestingly enough, things have changed quite a bit and not sure it’s for the better. But I think I may know why that’s happening, because I am starting to see it at work as well. And it’s not pretty.
A couple of days back, I celebrated my fourth month on the new job as a Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM and it just feels like such a long long time ago already. I guess time flies when you are still having lots of good fun enjoying what you do the most: enabling and helping practitioners adapt to a new way of working where collaboration and knowledge sharing through social technologies take a new meaning by becoming more open, trustworthy, public and transparent. Essentially, more effective and productive at the same time by understanding that the corporate world is no longer ruled by the scarcity of knowledge stocks but by the abundance of knowledge flows through multiple social networks.
The thing is though that, while I have been getting more and more involved with the new job, where scalability has taken a new meaning for me, I have had a chance to witness, and experienced fully!, how the 2.0 bubble I may have lived in for the last 6 to 8 years may have already burst. For good. Why? Well, for multiple different reasons that I am going to be blogging about over the course of time, but mainly because of a single one to kick things off: knowledge workers are no longer allowed to Play, Learn, Work, as my good friend, Harold Jarche blogged about beautifully just recently. No, they are not. They are just told, advised, and encouraged to just carry on their work into exhaustion, as if they were androids. And what would you expect they would do? Indeed, they have, eventually, become commoditised robotic entities that do their work and once those resources are no longer deemed helpful or relevant they are easily disposed of.
It’s certainly, extremely worrying, how all of that passion, enthusiasm, energy, and huge effort by early adopters and first thinkers on helping set the stage, act as pathfinders, provide the initial roads to get started with that wonderful journey of becoming a Social / Open Business are now things of the past. That’s what I have been noticing these past few days while going through that stage of denial of the Social Web. You see? People nowadays are just putting check marks on their massively ever growing to-do lists that they have tweeted, plussed, facebooked, linkedined and what not, so that they can move back into their real work: the one that doesn’t require critical, constructive thinking, engaging, conversing, caring, or helping others and so forth for that matter. Essentially, people are back to what has gotten them to the stage of being androids: their meetings and email Inboxes. Those wonderful hide-out places where you can just get by, good enough, pretending you are working, when you know you aren’t. But, hey, that’s what your boss wants you to do, right? Why change? Why bother? Why trying to look for new, better, more effective ways of working if your boss and your senior management / leadership team(s) keep accumulating fatter and fatter bonuses anyway? You know, you are just sitting inside of your own little mental cubicle, your own comfort zone, that one that doesn’t require you to think much in order to go through 12 to 14 hours of hard automated work each day for who knows what business value.
It’s really interesting to see what you get to learn when you start questioning everything you have believed in over the course of the last 13 years, in this case, for me, around social networking, but even more interesting when instead of going into broadcasting mode, that is, that industrialisation of your social activities, just like everyone else is doing, you decide to pause and reflect and see how people really interact. Don’t worry, you won’t have to look into it with much detail. Actually, people just don’t interact anymore. They post whatever they have been told they need to share across, or, even better, they scheduled it all, so that they don’t have to leave their Inboxes and really important meetings, then they place the check marks on their to-do lists and the whole thing dies. Right there. But, you know, that’s all right, because they have done their work already, that is, put a check mark in their lovely spreadsheet, so that it all shows lovely green even though no-one else would be looking into it anyway.
You see? This is what’s happening right now. And not just externally, but also internally, behind the firewall, with all of those Enterprise Social Networking tools and across the corporate world. We have defaulted to stop learning, to stop with all the play and, eventually, we have stopped to do our real work more effectively (The work we are truly passionate about), when we all know we can deliver and so much more, but, yet, we don’t, because we no longer feel engaged employees anymore and our managers, bosses and senior leadership teams are right there ready to remind us through our monthly paychecks and bonuses what happens when you are not heads down supposedly.
Exhaustion and overwork, but, specially, fear (I will be blogging plenty more about this one, not to worry), are not helping people go out and play with other fellow social networkers, in order to promote and engage on meaningful conversations to get work done. Instead, people just keep putting on more and more hours of work, just because they want to keep up with those extra work pressures that have been imposed on them, as they wouldn’t want to lag behind their colleagues. See the trend? It gets better. Managers and senior leadership only care about how much money you have made for them today. Anything else is redundant and they will keep reminding you of it, in case you didn’t deliver the fat bonuses to their front door. So when they come to you telling you you need to be social they all make it look like it is, yet again, another spreadsheet to fill-in, put the checkmarks in place and move on. It’s easier to manage individuals as exhausted and overworked androids than to treasure and nurture powerful networks that thrive in free flows of knowledge where the hierarchy is no longer the one that calls the shots anymore. You need to earn both the merit and your reputation with total strangers. Every day. Every single day of the year. Year in, year out. And that’s pretty though, you know, specially, when you are not used to. So what do you do?
Very simple. The same good old thing you have been doing all along, except that at the moment you have got a new spreadsheet with a bunch of to-dos where it says “Be social or else. Spread around my own messages, so I don’t have to do the homework. Represent the brand according to the corporate branding guidelines, never mind your own personal brand, we don’t care, and, above all, ensure our customers know about our same good old messages, because we still know more than they do“. Whoahhh! I know! That’s what I keep seeing, more often than not, when I hang out on both internal and external social networking tools nowadays as I watch, learn and observe how people pretend to interact on the Social Web.
My goodness! Where did we go wrong?!?! How could we possibly waste 6 to 8 years of some wonderfully inspiring 2.0 thought leadership that we knew was going to change the business world for good? Where did we get off the train? Why have we stopped this absolutely inspirational journey to go out there and keep making a difference? And instead go back right into our comfort zones, our spreadsheets, meetings and email, where little thinking is required and minimum action is encouraged so managing things still is relatively easy.
Exactly, that’s why I needed to finish off with my own week in denial of the Social Web. That’s why I needed, I wanted it!, to bounce back. I had enough of it. It was just killing me to witness how all around me, both inside and, most worryingly outside!, over the course of the last three weeks, I have spent far too much time experiencing what that exhaustive, overworked, under pressured work mentality can do to the corporate world. To all of us, me included. And, in essence, it’s managing to do one thing very well: kill all of our passion, all of our critical thinking skills, because we just want to fit in, all of our motivation and purpose to want to do interesting and relevant things, and, eventually, become, at long last, an engaged employee.
That’s why instead of giving up on it altogether and move on with the flow (with that rather dangerous inertia of just wanting to blend in, not being noticed) I decided, over the weakend (while I have been on full recovery mode from some rather exhaustive and emotional work experiences through multiple interactions with the business 1.0 world, but equally inspiring and rather thought provoking – I am really looking forward to blog some more about) to … bounce back!
To keep up the fight. Because, amongst several other things, there can be no resilience without transformation. And this is what it is all about, folks: transformation and our ability to shake up everything we have been experiencing and living over the course of the last 150 years and realise that in order for us, knowledge workers, to survive in today’s corporate environment, the sooner we adapt to living the values and philosophy of Social / Open Business and how they apply to how we work, the sooner we will finally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live. And that’s just so important.
Why? Well, because since a few years back it’s a matter of our own mere survival: that one of the Knowledge Web Worker, finally, fully embracing that digital transformation we all keep talking about, but that we keep seeing slipping away from our fingers time and time again, because we refuse to change.
Change is hard, I think we all know that, but it’s now time to take a new grip. And don’t let go. Play, Learn and Work like you have never done before! It has always been part of our human nature, an integral part of who we are, so we might as well awaken ourselves and embrace what’s inevitable: our very own human digital transformation.
Boy, I am game. And you?
After having just returned from another business trip to the US (Westford, MA, this time around, to participate on a client workshop on Social Business and Knowledge Management to figure out whether they could blend and become one and the same, but more on that one later on…), I guess it’s probably a good time now to share another blog post over here on that progress report around Life Without eMail, specially, after my last article on the topic, where I was mentioning what it was like going back to basics through that massive hard reset I experienced earlier on this year. I am sure plenty of folks are wondering where I am with it today and whether I am back on track, or not, right? Well, yes, I surely am! In fact, today’s entry will be about a Newcomer Challenging for King eMail’s Crown.
If you would remember, about a month ago, I put together the last progress report to date where I was indicating how for the first 20 weeks of year 6 of Life Without eMail I was noticing a rather steep increase in the incoming number of emails received. Nothing to do much with the fact I moved on to another job (Although it contributed as well somewhat!), but, essentially, that intriguing trend of how both my social networking activities, as well as my incoming email, grew up further along hand in hand highlighting perhaps another interesting trend I have noticed as of late: over-sharing of information and knowledge all over the place, just for the sake of making yourself visible and ensure everyone knows you are out there, working really hard, whether on social spaces or in email, so that people would not jump into the wrong conclusions of you slacking off while at work. I guess tough times and work pressures are kicking in stronger and harder than I ever thought they would.
And while email seems to be Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online (Very worth while reading Wired article, by the way, on the power of email in terms of its successful conversion rates vs. what social networking tools out there are doing), we should not forget though how emailing gives us all a false sense of progress. And if there is anything that I have learned during the course of the last few weeks from year 6 of having ditched corporate email is that realisation that I am now more convinced than ever about the paramount role that social networking tools will play in a business context in terms of how we share our knowledge and collaborate helping accelerate both our innovation efforts and our decision making processes, to the point where email still is a massive disruptor of that free flow of knowledge and information across the board. And it shouldn’t be.
Indeed, email fosters closed, private, secretive interactions amongst a few people, what I have been flagging all along as sharing your knowledge across on a need to know basis vs. what social networking tools do, which is promote that wonderfully inspiring mantra of default to open. It’s been rather interesting to note as well how email is pretty much used nowadays as a way of managing your employees and your knowledge workflows vs. perhaps walking along the virtual aisles of social networks to find out what your team members are doing in terms of opening up the conversations, narrating their work or working out loud. And all of that without having to even ask a single question once. Somehow the latter approach sounds so much more of an effective use of our time than the selfish, egotistical use of email just to fit our own individual purpose(s).
So while that transformation keeps taking place I am sure you may be wondering what has happened in the last 4 weeks since the last progress report I shared over here, right? Well, like I hinted above, at the beginning of this article, things are slowly, but steadily, coming back on track. As you can see from the attached snapshot, after the massive peak of email activity for Week 20, with the highest amount of incoming emails for a single week that I can remember in years!, there has been a steady decrease on the amount of emails received for the following four weeks, which I can think can only be, but some really good news. For a moment, I thought all of that hard work of over the course of the last 6 years around Life Without eMail was just gone! Well, not really. We were just having a break, apparently…
As you can see, the average amount of incoming emails is still sitting on 31.2 per week, which is pretty much the very same volume of incoming email that I was receiving back in 2009, but the good news is that over the last four weeks you will see a decrease on the total amount of emails received, and that is a good sign that things are going back to normal, the new normal: a Life Without eMail.
Yes, this year it may well have been a bit of a bumpy road, but that’s a good thing, because, amongst several other things, it’s allowed me to revisit, review and reposition the whole movement since I started it, and, if anything, I have also learned that I may have gone back to levels of email activity as I had them in 2009, but I have got plenty of years of first hand experiences of how to turn it back on the right track, once again, by living social, by living Open. And I know I am not just ready yet to let things go away like that forgetting everything we have done in the recent past. There is still a good fight out there to go for. One where we transition from closed systems of record into open systems of engagement. One where we continue walking the talk, leading by example on what really matters: a much more purposeful, meaningful work where openness and transparency through social networking tools help us all become more effective and eventually more productive at what we do, i.e. get our work done collectively as teams, networks and communities. And that can only be a good thing for businesses that want to promote sustainable growth as their primal reason for survival in today’s Knowledge Economy. After all, when was the last time that you could do your job without the help or support from your (extended) team(s)?
And talking about that Openness and Transparency, I just couldn’t help closing off this progress report post sharing across a recent article I had the privilege, and true honour, of writing it for The Times where I basically shared some additional insights in terms of how king email’s crown is getting more and more challenged by the day by a certain newcomer that’s transforming the way we work: social networking for business. Indeed, over at The Social Business report, pages 12 and 13, you would be able to read “Newcomer Challenging for King Email’s Crown” where I mentioned the larger impact all of these social technologies are having around how we get work done in a business environment nowadays:
“Social sharing, when occurring in the workplace, is becoming more focused, purposeful and is making a meaningful contribution to productivity. […]
Knowledge workers are more comfortable with sharing work-related items in the open, but they are also encouraging transparent working. There is an understanding that the more business-related information available out there for practitioners to benefit from, the better the decision-making. It is increasing the ability to share responsibility and accountability“
Yes, I know, I just couldn’t help teasing you all with a couple of paragraphs from that article, so that, if you would be interested, you could have a look and read on, specially, if you are keen on finding out plenty more how that openness and transparency are challenging the traditional role of management, decision making, knowledge sharing and, eventually, executing work. Resulting, all in all, in helping us address what I still think is the number #1 business problem of today’s corporate world: employee engagement.
Because, after all:
“Socially integrated enterprises have been empowering happy employees to create delighted customers, all through the clever use of digital tools. Social technologies have just become the new overlord. It’s about time.“
[Oh, and before I forget, here’s a friendly reminder, in case you may want to find out further more, to come and join us at the Life Without eMail Google Plus Community where a bunch of us (Including the coiner of the well known mantra I have been reusing for years > “eMail is where knowledge goes to die”) have been having some rather interesting, refreshing and thought provoking conversations of how social technologies are reshaping the workplace by helping email repurpose itself into better things…]