Unexpected Use for Twitter

I found the reason Twitter is useful to me. I knew there had to be a reason to the insanity of giving myself one more online venue to update. It isn’t because I’m producing any life-changing tweets. It isn’t because I’m following any vitally important tweets. It’s because in that moment I decide to update Twitter, I must answer the question “What am I doing?” which makes me pause and reflect.

What am I doing in that moment? Is it what I sat down to do? Have I even touched the thing for which I came to the computer to work? I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at the happily blinking cursor that awaits my 140-character illumination and not had an answer to that question. Or sometimes my answer surprised me.

This is a multi-tasking society. I am supposed to be knowledgeable, powerful, successful, organized, tidy, all the while making sure my family is fed, has clean clothes to wear, and arrives at their scheduled events on time. I need to review a document, check Client A’s website, finish a report for Client B, reply to my email, schedule car service, feed the cats, walk the dog, and clean the baseball uniforms for the next game. Before lunch.

Having a mile long to do list means I find myself perpetually stuck with what I refer to as “one more thing” syndrome. I say to myself I will start that project timeline after I do just this one more thing. Then after that one thing I find another, and another, until the day is through and I’m trying to recall just what I did today.

In that moment of updating Twitter, I am forced to be honest about what I am doing. In fact, in that moment, I may leave Twitter without posting and get back on track.

Update 5/22/08: If you would like to follow my tweets, go to http://twitter.com/lifeafterweb.

Technology in the College Classroom: 1998 vs. 2008

As my step-sister marches toward her high school graduation next week and prepares to set off to university, I have been recalling my own university days.

I spent second half of the 1990’s in college, where spiral bound notebooks and three ring binders were staples (and yes, we needed staples, too). The only students who brought laptops to class were a few re-entry students (generally 10 years older than the rest of us and lugging around a company issued machine). Now laptops are required by an increasing number of universities.

Mobile phones were just becoming mainstream in my college years. I would estimate less than half of the students had mobile phones at that time and those who did turned them off before class. (Though, I remember being appalled when one fellow student answered his cell phone during science class.) I suspect classrooms are now filled with musical ringtones, texting, and photo sharing.

Most of us were using email for the first time on the old two color terminals at the computer lab. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter. Sure the Internet was there, but most of us were just learning how to use it. We could go online to see a syllabus for most teachers’ classes, but they still gave us handouts on the first day assuming that most students didn’t have easy access to the Internet.

It wasn’t until my senior year that the university library made its search software available online. I was ecstatic to be able to see what books were available from afar (without lines) before hustling to the library to beat any others who may be searching for the same study of supernatural occurrences in Shakespearean literature. If only they had enabled that “place on hold” functionality before my departure… oh cursed spite.

If you really want to boggle your mind, just think of what a change my college experience was from my father’s! I think he double majored in practical applications of fire and the physics of wheel creation. (Just kidding, Dad!)

The point is college classrooms are changing rapidly. Until today, I had not thought about how different my step-sister’s experience would be from my own. So, what can she expect? The following video, created by a cultural anthropology class at Kansas State University, paints a vivid picture of college in 2008.

Happy graduation, Sis! Teach me how to effectively use Facebook before you leave for college, please. I’ll bring my notebook.

Second Place in Local Photo Contest

I tried something new: I entered a photo contest.  I submitted two photos to two different categories for the local Council of the Arts competition.  As it turns out I took second place in the Pets category with the below photo.  Not too shabby!  

Special thanks to my fiance for imagining the caption: A cat’s position on global warming.

A cat\'s position on global warming

It’s Who You Know

Almost everyone has heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This adage is often uttered after someone lands a great job or scores tickets to a sold-out show. The important key here is building relationships.

I was rather shy growing up and still am to a certain extent. Lately, I have been trying to step out of my comfort zone and forge new relationships, as well as strengthening existing ones.

In my community, I became more involved with little league and have met some really nice parents during the last few seasons. I am now one of those people that runs in to people I know at the grocery store or the gym. Speaking of the gym, I plant myself right in the middle of the room rather than retreating to the back corner. While waiting for class to start, I might strike up a conversation with someone nearby. Rather than perfect strangers, these women become friendly faces.

My family has always been spread out around the country, so even those relationships have been distant. To remedy this, I frequently call or email my parents, even if I don’t have any news to share. I started making brief, regular phone calls to my grandparents. I tracked down cousins with whom I have not spoken in years. How? Facebook. I even have plans to visit one of them soon.

Professional relationships were a bit easier for me. When you work with someone every day, you get to know them pretty well. When I was laid-off in January, I was able to quickly arrange work through former colleagues. Vendors I used to work with offered to recommend me. What could have been a harrowing experience turned into my dream of a full-time freelance career thanks to my professional relationships.

Knowing people isn’t just about getting in. It is also about feeling more comfortable because, no matter what happens, you know people, and if you don’t, you will meet people. All of those relationships will make life more enriching. Rather than being the shy, quiet girl for the rest of my life, I want to be one of those people who know people.

Yeah, I know people.

Good Advice in Google Design Principles

Google is a powerhouse basing its work on a neat list of 10 design principles. In reviewing these principles today, I was struck by how appropriate they are not just for technology design, but for life in general.

Take, for instance, number one: “Focus on people—their lives, their work, their dreams.” Life is made better through the relationships we have, but all too often our focus is on work or errands or worrying how you’ll accomplish all your errands when you work all the time. How would your relationship with your spouse, kids, friends, or colleagues change if you spent some time learning more about them? What is going on in their lives? What are they dreaming about? What is important to them at the moment? People love to talk about themselves, so give them an opportunity. You’ll become closer and get a respite from the stress of worrying about your to do list.

Number three on Google’s list is “Simplicity is powerful.” Simplicity can be added to almost every aspect of everyday life. Decluttering your home will not only simplify your cleaning, it will create a calmer atmosphere and perhaps wow your guests. In communication, a simple “please” and “thank you” can make another person feel appreciated. By taking a minute to make your bed in the morning, you will likely lessen your stress as you crawl into bed that night. Where can you simplify?

“Be worthy of people’s trust” (number nine) goes back to strengthening relationships. I remember years ago hearing a speaker who encouraged a group of sales people to “be light to lift.” By trusting people and being able to be trusted, you become someone who others like and are willing to help. If you want to move up in this world, it certainly helps to have people who will back you up or lift you up. Being worthy of people’s trust makes you lighter to lift.

Last on Google’s list is “Add a human touch.” Few things are as powerful as the encouraging touch of a fellow being. A hug may be just what someone needs to brighten their day. Taken less literally, focus on being emotionally connected to the present situation, rather than running around on auto-pilot. You are a human, not a machine. Act accordingly.

At the very least, these straightforward principles have helped Google become a household name. Try applying them to your projects and your life and see what results.