July 16, 2010

Technology gives us new ways to express ourselves

Computer technology has created new ways for us to share our thoughts and feelings.

There are pre-made products for us to use like animated greeting cards, electronic ‘gifts’ on social networking sites.

But there are also very simple tools out there that we can use to be creative and make something with our own hands. Well, with one hand, one finger even.

Video and audio editing software, photo editors, graphic design programs – all of them serve as time and space-saving electronic versions of paper and glue and enable us to create a piece of our emotion, a digital one that is.

And the greatest thing about it is that that digital piece of our emotion can be shared with the person of interest, you guessed it, digitally. We don’t even need to be near them, or see them.

Imagine if you’re traveling or just don’t have the opportunity to see each other and you get something made for you by someone who cares about you?

Here, for example, I posted a video that I made myself from several images I found on Google images and a good old Freddie Mercury song.

It didn’t took me long and I used a simple consumer editing software. But wouldn’t this be a great Valentine’s day or anniversary day greeting?

Of course technology can’t replace home-made meals, freshly baked cookies and guitar serenades at her door. (OK, fine, scratch the guitar serenade).

But I think it is a great digital alternative to them. And yet another way to show that you care, with personal touch.

July 14, 2010

What saved my relationship with my own mom

We used to be best friends. Talked about everything, went shopping together, asked for each other’s opinions, cooked together, all the things best friends do. My mom didn’t treat me like a daughter, she asked for my advice and actually, sometimes I felt like I was her mom. She lost her mom very early on in life, so I guess it was comforting for her to have someone to rely on.

And then I moved. Very very very far. To another country, ten plane hours away and eight time zones apart.

And it felt like we were universes apart in terms of how distant our relationship became.

No, we haven’t stopped communicating. No. quite to the contrary, we have talked on the phone every single day, way more often than back when we lived I the same zip code.

I couldn’t get it. Our conversations were boring, cold, impersonal, as though I was talking to another person. We would even have fights – we rarely had fights before. And now we even hung up on each other several times.

I was upset but at the same time I was trying to understand why our relationship changed so dramatically.

I know the move and the distance.

Interestingly, when I went to visit my mom, we slipped in our fuzzy loving and caring roles in no time. The moment I picked up the phone to call her from home – it was as though a bucket of cold water was poured over our hearts.

I sensed that is was not just about the distance, there was something about the phone as a vehicle of our relationship that was not working.

That tragic and painful phenomenon went on for several years.

But the mystery was resolved overtime.

Ok, I kept you waiting for long enough to find out what it was.

Thank you for reading, by the way.

Skype fixed it all!

Yes, Skype, the video calling tool has saved my relationship with my mom.

It also pretty much destroyed my weekend afternoons, because now I spend hours chatting with my parents. But it is totally worth it.

We are back to normal – chatting and laughing, showing each other our new shoes and clothes. Cooking together, eating together. Celebrating each other’s birthdays and much much more.

The thousands of miles between us are gone. We haven’t been physically further away from each other and our relationship has never been stronger.

Thank you, Skype!

Texting etiquette

Is it just me, or is it really easier to text people that we don’t know well than calling them?

In a flirty or a friendly situation, I find that it is safer to text a person. Not sure if that is an illusion, or just a trick my mind pays with my insecurity. But I guess that having this sort-of direct and sort-of indirect communication is distant enough, but still provides an instant result.

But is it rude to text people before you get to know them well?

Say, it’s a first or second date and you need to pick out a restaurant or a movie to go to. Or if you are going camping with a friend of a friend – is it OK to just start texting that person without a proper in-person introduction? Or is it rude and impersonal and lame?

And in general, what is appropriate and not appropriate to do via text.

I mentioned earlier that I was once broken up with via a text message. Was that cool? Or offensive?

There are some interesting suggestions about texting Do’s and Don’ts out there on the web.

Here are some that I like:

The Dos and Don’ts of Text-Message Flirting

The Do's and Don'ts of Texting In Relationships

The Art of Text Messaging (SMS) – DOs and DON’Ts for Couples In Love

I don’t agree with all of them and I don’t suggest adhering to all of them either. Guidelines are there to be broken sometimes.

But I have a couple of principles that I follow myself religiously:

I try not to shorten words at all. I like sentences to look like sentences and not line a collection of assorted letters. I think it shows to the receiver of the text that I respect them and take the time and make an effort to spell every word. I also try to capitalize the letters that require capitalizing – names, titles etc. For the same reason basically, to show the person on the other side of the conversation that I respect them.

I try not to discuss important matters. If there is an important decision to make, or if there is a sensitive subject or situation. I try to wait to see the person face-to-face or of that is not possible, to call them.

I also try to never pick fights or express my emotion over texts. That is really hard to do, because it is so easy to write a nasty little acidic text that would provide instant gratification to my anger at the time. So stopping myself and putting it off till later is hard and frankly, I don’t always succeed at it, but I always try.

On the other hand, I love texting. I love sharing my thoughts and excitement with people I know and who care about me.

When in a relationship, I love sending and receiving texts. They create this thin line of communication that makes me feel like the person is with me all the time. Although I am very careful about not overdoing it. Sending one or two nice messages a day is more than enough.

I think it is very useful to text when making small plans, like picking a restaurant, because there is no need to memorize anything, the record stays in the phone, easy to reach for.

And as for breaking up – for me it is a HUGE no-no. I actually am quite old-fashioned and think that breaking up warrants a personal meeting. It is very unpleasant, but respectful of the other person. I’ve been in phone break-ups too. Those are more acceptable if the relationship wasn’t long. But texting or emaling – never never never.

July 13, 2010

Can’t handle your online identity – pay up and it will be done for you

I have talked extensively about how important it is for our personal and professional lives to watch after our digital identities – the kind of photos and information that we post online about ourselves that can harm our reputation if a prospective employer or a date Google us and see it.

But as time goes by and we leave our marks on more and more websites, it is getting harder and harder to keep track of our online activities. And it is not even about being organized, I think it is getting practically impossible to know exactly what and where is posted about us or with a picture of us. New social networking sited come around, we sign up for them and then forget to close the account. And generally, whatever we do online can stay there indefinitely. It is not like a human memory – it is digital, sometimes it doesn’t fade. Information gets duplicated and copied and can live in many instances in the WWW forever.

So there is a paid service that would do this hard work of keeping track of your online presence for you. It is called the Reputation Defender. They can do everything you want them to – from checking for when and how your name comes up in the digital universe, to cleaning out things that you don’t want to be there, to monitoring the web for new information about you.

We never know what future has in the works for us. What if later on in life you decide to run for a public office, or become a celebrity, or fall in love or apply for a job of your dreams? Do you want your voters, fans, date or prospective employer see what you had to say when you were a college student, or see when you were having fun at a party or… (fill in the blank) If not – this service is worth checking out.

July 12, 2010

Don’t communicate more, say more

We communicate more than we ever did before. With all the easy to use tools literally right at our finger tips, we can reach and be in touch with so many people – our family, friends, colleagues - all the time. We start communicating the minute we wake up and the conversation doesn’t stop till we fall asleep.

But even though we communicate that much, are we really saying a lot? It looks like the ‘oh so old’ question of quantity vs. quality question to me.

I started talking about how technology changes our relationships earlier in the blog with Vivian Bader, a clinical social work therapist with 22 years of experience. So I think it would be fair to bring her back to advise us on what’s going on with all this abundance of communicating and on how to deal with it.

As a practicing therapist, Vivian says she’s been witnessing the change in how we communicate first-hand: “it’s changing a lot and it’s changing fast. The new technology helps people be more connected, but it often leads them to communication less. Technology shortens their conversations, they start talking in soundbites, therefore a lot of substance and nuances get lost.”

Come to think of it, she is right. I wrote here about the fight I had with my friend by text messages over of nothing – the entire incident was a misunderstanding that came out of us misinterpreting the texts.

So how do we deal with this new reality – technology is sure not going anywhere, if nothing else it’s going to become more integral in our lives. Of course, there is no one solution. Here is what Vivian recommends:

“In most situations, communication is key, so make an effort to talk more in-person, especially if you need to discus an important matter or make a big decision. Definitely avoid emailing, texting, facebooking or any other electronic mean of communication in the heat of anger. Waiting till you see each other face to face can be very beneficial by letting you both to cool down. Don’t use the text message lingo or jargon, write the way you would talk in real life, that would make it sound more like you.”

July 9, 2010

Lights, camera, action! We are always on camera, so smile and be decent.

Everybody has a digital camera and everybody takes pictures all the time and those pictures can end up on the internet whether you want that or not.

I know this is a maximalistic statement, but it is better to believe that than be ignorant of the fact that we don’t have control any more over our own image, digital image that is.

And no, I’m not being paranoid here and I don’t think that government agencies or aliens are watching us.

This is just our new reality – people often carry small digital cameras with them, they have them in their blackberries and phones and they snap, snap, snap. Sometimes we don’t even know that we are in their picture until we see it tagged on their Facebook page.

And I say that we should just be mindful of that. Of course it’s OK if your friends see you having lots of fun, enjoying a drink or two (for example). But what if your prospective employer Googles you and sees that photo and decides that you were having too much for his liking.

Allison Hemming, a founder and president of The Hired Guns talent agency, author of “Work It!” and a career management expert, whom I already introduced to you a while ago chips in:

“When it comes to the internet and social media you're always on the record. You have to decide which network is personal vs. professional and stick to it -- setting appropriate privacy settings as you go. And even still, before you post things like crazy pictures or comments, think to yourself -- if a future employer sees this would it impact my hirability? Companies are digging into social networks for background checks, and to not consider this is foolish. Job offers can and will be rescinded.”

I asked her to give us an example of how a wrong choice of photo on a social network negatively affected the candidate’s chances of being hired and she had a perfect one:

“Within the last year, we had a job offer rescinded by an ad agency of a web designer that we were working with. The company did a background check and found a rather promiscuous picture of the web designer. He had reset all of his privacy settings on Facebook, and had a very professional twitter feed. As it turned out the post in question was on Friendster, a social network he hadn't used for years and that he had forgotten all about.”

And here is your takeaway from Allison:

“Don't be willy nilly about profiles. If you're going to test out new technology keep track of where you're doing it, particularly if you want to cut loose on those networks.”

And from me – be careful and mindful of other people taking pictures of you. They are taking them home and posting them on Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Picasa and such and they are tagging you. You have no idea of who they’re friends with and what their security settings are. So think twice before doing that crazy topless dance on the bar table. Cameras are on.

July 7, 2010

We spend more time on social networks than ever

According to The Nielsen Company research we spend twice as much time on social networks than we did last year. How much, you would want to know? A whopping six and a half hours a month (an April 2010 example).

Interestingly, The Nielsen Company considers Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia and blog sites all as social-media. I guess there is no one definition of what social media is, so everybody’s free to define it they way they see it.

Facebook is still growing rapidly in it’s popularity. Despite the fact that 62% of all active internet users already belong to Facebook, it is still the fastest growing social networking site. It gained 69% of unique audience over last year.

Surprisingly or not, the losers of our attention online are Myspace and Classmates and even LinkedIn. I guess we only have one pair of eyes each and social networking sites will have to fight to get them on their pages.