Friday, December 7, 2012

A Benefit of Anonymous Posting

While I really found the conversation around the ethics of internet anonymity interesting when I was a student, that isn't really the direction I'm going when I say there are times I really enjoy being able to post anonymously.

Every once in a while I feel compelled to write or tell someone about something in response to an article or post on a website/blog, but believe it may be inappropriate to name names, as it were. Or I simply don't want to create a trail back to a private situation, for whatever reason.

Also, there have been times I want to better prepare myself to discuss a sensitive social topic, and see suggestions on ways to tackle a situation I want to handle in an informed, gracious, and thoughtful way. Example: "How do I constructively talk about rape culture and gender inequality with a male friend?"

Forums seem to contain a vast amount of opinions where you can find out what people think on every single possible topic under our sun. If people have experienced/thought it, there's a very good chance someone has written about it. All you have to do is examine Google's predictive search suggestions:
Oh people. The things we want to validate.

Despite the crazy, depressing, hearth-breaking, appalling results you can find out there (sometimes it is hard to have faith in humanity after browsing through internet forums), anonymous posting has created a really interesting tool to exchange thoughts and gather information. Particularly on issues that have deep social stigmas and potential impact on the people in your life.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Adding to the Noise

With my recent dearth in blogging, I've found myself wondering what the benefit of blogging might actually be? I mean, there are some people who have really interesting thoughts and perspectives on a whole slew of topics to share with the world that add value (professional sites such as Advice from a Risk Detective or Wonkblog). Or bloggers are documenting some interesting experience or experiment (e.g. studying abroad or cooking on a budget), or simply humorous findings or topical observations (e.g. A Walk in the WoRds). But what if you're like me? Casually gathering up some thoughts, putting them down, and sending them out into the interwebz with no particular goal (though I suppose we want someone to read these random thoughts). Adding another drop in the information ocean.

Is this type of blogging (that I'm doing just now) just adding to the noise?

In school, students were sometimes encouraged to blog on some topic they were passionate about, in order to build some sort of active, dynamic thought-profile. Some fellow MSIM grads managed to pull it off (Free Range Information and The Turning Grille). That professional perspective has always appealed to me, but I've never quite been able to pull off either the discipline nor the implementation. Perhaps it is because for the last decade, I've been writing 'professionally' - academically from high-school through grad school; now my career requires it daily. Regardless, I write blog posts as the fancy strikes me, sometimes regularly, sometimes with months in-between.

And I don't think I'm going to change. I think I'll always be happy to remain primarily a consumer of blog content, rather than a producer.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Learning All The Time

I love my job.

Man I'm a geek. But truly, it is exciting for me to go to work the majority of the time. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't get to do and learn new things.

Concepts I have gathered more knowledge on this week:

1. VLookups in Excel
2. Financial Ratios, Income Statements, and Balance Sheets.
3. Skiing Facilities
4. Supply Chain Management for Utility Pole Manufacturing
5. MS Dynamics AX ERP system
6. Clay Brick and Concrete Block Manufacturing

For me, this diversity of topics is simply perfect. I don't have to become an expert in any one thing, but I'm continually allowed to expand my knowledge base and be challenged in new ways.

Sometimes I struggle with switching back and forth between topics, but I find I can sometimes work more productively if I do. I'll work for a bit on one projects, and then when I find myself struggling a bit to keep my focus, I switch to a second projects. I have done this with varying results - sometimes there is a definite boost to my productivity, but sometimes I just end up getting trapped in feeling like I can concentrate on *anything*.

Then at that point, I just want to surf the web for pictures of baby animals or something.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wireless for the People But Not the Government

Recently, I spent two days at a Washington State agency down near the capital. It came as quite a shock to me that in the building (and outside in the parking lot) there was terrible coverage for both mobile reception and 3G connection. It made me wonder why any major mobile telecommunications company would fail to provide excellent coverage to key governmental locations? Or was that intentional? Were the majority of the employees on a network other than Verizon Wireless and had no such issue? Whatever the reason, it left me feeling quite disconnected from the rest of the world, as I additionally had no internet connection to use my laptop.

Arguably, it is a separate issue that there was no public or private WiFi network in the building, either – I suppose it isn’t unreasonable since the agency handles sensitive information, and perhaps it is a security concern. But even so, it makes me wonder. Some employees had Blackberries (which were scheduled to be taken back due to budget cuts), but I never saw anyone from the agency in the slew of meetings I observed bring a laptop or tablet (though smartphones were definitely present).

I am definitely a member of the constantly-connected generation. Personally, being without internet for a few hours makes me twitchy. But it is also impossible for me to get work done without an internet connection, as approximately 95% of my job is tied to having access to the world wide web. While I was on-site, I found myself writing a number of work emails on my phone through the web access email portal we have, wishing all the while for one of those magical little wireless network creating USB sticks. Tried to run my work computer off my phone's network, but was informed that I was not graced with those administration privileges. So I just had to accept my lack of internet and move on, thankful I could still take notes in Word and set reminders for myself for when I was back on the grid.

My handwriting, after all, can be pretty dire when taking speedy notes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Is the Internet Closing Minds?

A recent NPR podcast asked people to debate the question, "Is The Internet Closing Our Minds Politically?". It was fascinating, mostly because there were some very different beliefs about information behavior online. The basis was whether or not "we [are] running the risk of getting trapped in information bubbles, where all we read and see falls in line with our political views?"

And while I find both sides have some interesting points, it it worth examining some of the information behavior and access assumptions underlying the two arguments. I understand that I am part of an elite minority with my education and background, but I don't think it is elitist view to say that I don't believe everyone has equal access to information nor equal knowledge about how to seek out information. Perhaps having a degree in information management makes me biased about information behavior, but the internet for many people has certainly changed the dissemination and acquisition of information. The saying "If its on the Internet, it must be true" is usually said sarcastically, but too often it is a key part of decision making. People find information from a source, and based on prior experience, biases and beliefs (or what is said in social circles), the source is given more or less validity. People decide "oh, I know this source is trustworthy" or "oh, this source is a joke". And the more they trust the source, the easier it becomes to assume the source has verified its information (which in an ideal world would be what all news agencies do).

One key thing that I value about being a researcher in a business environment is that it is really, really important that I understand my information sources. While doing economic or industry research, most of the time there are conflicting sources for data I need, whether its employment numbers in a state or the number of operations in a certain industry. If I find a secondary source that analyses primary data, I need to know what data they were including and how they crunched those numbers. I have seen it bleed into other areas of my life, making me all the more curious about where people get their information and what assumptions are based upon.

When sites on the internet such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter engage is social filtering behavior (tailoring search results to each user), that can change what information we are exposed to when we search online. The argument was made that this can be beneficial - crowdsourcing results through your social circle might expose you to new ideas. But is that really the case? Do many people actually surround their digital selves with people who have opposing viewpoints? Isn't one of the more powerful parts of online interactions is that people with similar outlooks and beliefs can more easily congregate, regardless of where they are in the physical world? I'm not sure people need help seeking out others who view the world like they do.

People need help finding information that expands their knowledge, not constrains or limits it. And that is a lot harder to do than filter out and customize results.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Made it Through

So I've now been gainfully employed for almost eight months. A bit hard to believe how quickly things have flown. It feels like from September until December, things were crazy for me because I was trying to learn and absorb so many new things (the 'drinking from a firehydrant' phase). At the beginning of January, the workload increased with the beginning of a major 'busy season' for the firm, which makes sense at an tax/assurance firm. There were some crazy weeks where I really felt overwhelmed, but at the same time quite proud that I was able to manage through it.

Now things have calmed a bit with the passing of April 15th (well, 17th this year). I still frequently have questions, but I'm slowing growing more and more confident in my own abilities to do my tasks well and in a timely manner. It feels as if I've managed to tame the information madness that comes from starting a new job, and have emerged stronger and more adept for the experience.

And sorting through one area of life often makes it easier to tackle others. I've been on a bit of a health bent, working towards a more healthy body and fitness level. Nutritional information and research exists in such an incredible environment. It is one area that you can't avoid in your life - everyone has to eat. And the question of what to eat - and all the tangents that question produces - is answered with a vast cacophany of different sets of data and opinions. I definitely am planning to explore this area further, not just for my own education but because the information behavior around food is incredible.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Someone recently shared a link to a blog, pointing out the comments section introduction:

"Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous."

I thought this was brilliant. I am not someone who comments often on articles or blogs, but I sometimes glance through the comments when I finish reading. I primarily browse through the online versions of BBC News and the Seattle Times, for world and local news, respectively. The Seattle Times commentators certainly fit the above statement a little too closely for my liking. It frequently seems to be a free-for-all to see who can come up with the most idiotic or unsubstantiated content, belittling others and generally presenting themselves poorly. People seem to sometimes react to the feeling anonymity in the digital realm by behaving in very different manners than they would in-person.
Photo by Stian Eikeland

In my information ethics course, we discussed the pros and cons of anonymity from both an ethical and policy perspective. It isn't a clear-cut, black and white issue, but it is an important area to consider as new technologies and information behavior continue to emerge and evolve. There are cases where anonymity can facilitate more honest feedback, particularly when there are power disparities that hinder people from feeling completely able to voice opinions otherwise. Employee engagement/feedback surveys are a good example of this.

But for something like social media or other by-choice dialogue, I wonder if anonymity is the best choice. I understand the comments on cute kitten pictures at don't often take a serious tone, and I wouldn't argue that a site like that requires full name disclosure. But on a newspaper site like the Seattle Times? I think that it is a little too convenient for people to say outrageous things on an issue, throw out all sorts of data that they do not back up, and do it all rudely.

In terms of social media, I was really disappointed with the newest development by Google on their most recent foray into social media, Google+. Google initially instated a policy that required users to use their real names when signing up for Google+. I seemed to have missed most of the commentary and "controversy" over that, but Mashable recently reported that Google would be relaxing that policy to support pseudonyms and nicknames. Seems like that move will dilute the community-concept (including knowing who your neighbors/'friends' are) that Google was going for. Ah well. Maybe I'll go post an anonymous comment about my concerns.