Recently, I’ve been spending time listening to interesting TEDtalks. If you aren’t familiar with TED, here’s a description from their own website:
“TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with the annual TED Conference in Long Beach, California, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Program, the new TEDx community program, this year’s TEDIndia Conference and the annual TED Prize.”
In TED’s blog, they recently had a list of 10 suggested lectures to listen to for the holidays. One of the lectures I listened to was by Stefana Broadbent, titled, How the Internet enables intimacy. Here is Broadbent’s bio:
Stefana Broadbent is a visiting researcher at the Department of Anthropology at the University College of London. Between 2004 and 2008 she was responsible for the development of the User Observatory at Swisscom. The Observatory runs ethnographic studies on the evolution of users? practices with information and communication technologies in Switzerland. Previously, she was in the Management Team of IconMedialab a multinational digital consultancy listed in Stockholm and was in charge of the human computer interaction competence.
Here are some of the interesting nuggets I took from this speech:
- Broadbent’s research suggests that the Internet (and other forms of modern communication like text messaging and IM) is helping in what she calls communication intimacy. In environments such as work place life, the factory, and life for immigrants and how they can stay in touch with family back home.
- In traditional office environments and communication was limited to within the workforce—spouses couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to their wife or husband at home, parents wouldn’t talk to their children, etc. The office environment and factory was isolated.
- Broadbent’s research suggests that today, people are using their cell phones and their internet to have that dialogue, as brief as it may be, with those 2-3 people that humans generally communicate with regularly. Increasing the intimacy in a society that is becoming increasingly focused on deep dialogue with fewer people. Perhaps with their own cell phones and the Internet, they feel the bounds of company communication guidelines can be broken. The most common time that e-mails are sent are at 11 AM suggesting that communications at work even for personal use is common.
- Broadbent research suggests that even with the advent of social networks and the number of ‘friends’ that people are connected to, people really only frequently talk to 4-5 people regularly on a site like Facebook and only 2 on a site like Skye, even if many typical users have more than 100 friends they are connected to.
- The increased intimacy helps foster increased security and safety which are important human drivers, particularly in these uncertain economic times.
Overall, while this research is not at all unexpected and confirms what I see around me daily in the workplace, it will be interesting to see how the social networks and new forms of communication continue to evolve and more importantly, how the structure and norms of society evolves with it.