Thursday, February 20, 2014

What is hyper-connectivity?

While the Economist picked up the theme of technology's impact on jobs at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, the BBC focused on another major concept that seems to both unite and challenge all developed and developing nations.  That concept is 'hyper-connectivity.'

But, what is 'hyper-connectivity'?

In his article, 'When machines take over: Our hyperconnected world,' Tom Brewster of the BBC writes, 'What is hyperconnectivity? A term coined by scientists studying person-to-person and person-to-machine communication in networked organisations, referring to use of multiple means of communication, such as email, instant messaging, phone.'

The stats are impressive, as is the graphic of the 'Hyperconnectivity Range,' which I have posted outside my office door.

- By 2020, the number of smartphones, tablets and PCs in use will reach about 7.3 billion.
- 2 billion 'things' were connected to the Internet in the year 2000.  Today there are 10 billion. By 2020, there are expected to be 30 billion.
- 81% of companies have or are planning to have a machine-to-machine (M2M) initiative; 45% of those are motivated by cost savings.
- 40% of companies have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, but 79% of those have not trained employees about the risks of BYOD.
- 52% of consumers have heard of wearable technology; one in three are likely to buy wearable tech, like Google Glass.

Brewster goes on to suggest that, 'We are entering the age of hyperconnectivity, an era where billions of workers worldwide will have multiple devices plugging them into the internet 24:7. Many of the tech gurus attending the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Cisco boss John Chambers, are raving about the opportunities this ‘Internet of Things’ will deliver for businesses, with machines talking to each other, controlling environments and delivering automated instructions. There are significant possibilities but also risks.'

There are indeed risks associated with hyper-connectivity, which is one reason why defining our era or world as 'hyper-connected' is problematic; 'hyper' means 'too much' and should therefore be associated with the risks of too much connectivity.  The other reason is that, notwithstanding the trends and the hype, not every part of the world is 'hyper' connected.  We still spend a fair amount of time over-coming 'hypo' connectivity (blank spots in mobile coverage, poor Internet speeds, low battery life, fragmented communications infrastructure).

Being one of the social scientists Brewster refers to, my colleagues and I have defined 'hyper-connectivity' as follows:

'Hyper-connectivity means too much connectivity, such as information overload, attention-taxing workflow and interruptions in collocated spaces. … Hyper-connectivity does not necessarily undermine performance, as individuals and teams often cope and some even thrive on constant contact. There does come a point, however, where individuals and/or groups can no longer successfully complete tasks or maintain processes effectively due to the inefficiency associated with information overload, invasive connective media and/or social contact.  We suggest that teams (this article was based on our research on distributed teams) must work to achieve a threshold of requisite connectivity in order to be productive, but simultaneously avoid hyper-connectivity, which can have a negative impact on performance and productivity.' (Kolb, Collins and Lind, 2008, 'Requisite connectivity: Finding flow in a not-so-flat world.' Organizational Dynamics, 37(2), pp. 182-183).

We define requisite connectivity as, 'the state of having robust and reliable communication and/or transportation media/modes, with operable alternative work-around options, so that contact may be initiated or maintained at the rate, richness and intensity that we desire for a given task or social outcome.' (Kolb, Collins and Lind, 2008, pp. 182).

The point here is that, in an era of dramatically increasing connectivity, understanding states of connectivity matters more than ever.  As we have also noted, 'States of connectivity reflect 'how much' connectivity exists in a setting.  As with other resources--say, for example, money--simply noting that one has connectivity or not is generally less informative than determining how much of the resource (i.e., how much money or connectivity) one has at a given point in time.' (Kolb, Caza and Collins, 2012, 'States of connectivity: New questions and new directions.' Organization Studies, 33(2), p. 268).

Given the stats listed above, there is little doubt that connectivity will remain on the agenda of thought leaders as well as the practical folks trying to make sense of a world where sometimes it does feel like 'machines are taking over.'

Friday, February 7, 2014

Facebook turns 10: What will the next 10 years be like?

As Facebook turned 10 years old this week, you have to be impressed by what this company/movement has done to our social world. See, for example, Hanna Ingber's blog post by the New York Times Bits Blog about the 'transformative power of Facebook.'

But, you have to also wonder what the FB of the future will be like?  And, will it even be Facebook that continues to serve such a key role?  For hints, see the Mashable stats on how many teens are leaving (or avoiding) Facebook.  Other media allow them (pre-teens and teens) on earlier and since FB is what their parents are doing, they want to be different.  Plus, Facebook's interface is not as simple as others.  If Microsoft would have learned the lesson of simplicity say 20 years ago, or even 10, it might not be in the shape it is in today.  Once folks have seen simplicity, there is no going back.

There are also cultural alternatives to Facebook. See, for example, consider the massive uptake of Weixin or WeChat in China and around the world. See article.

In 10 years, social media has gone from the curious fringe to the mainstream of day-to-day life for billions of people around the world.  Platforms like Facebook have taught and allowed us to share our thoughts, feelings and photos with those we love and with those we don't even know and those we probably will never meet.

However, just as Marshall McCluhan declared 40+ years ago, 'the medium is the message,' which means the choices we make about 'how' we communicate--i.e., through which social media platform we communicate--are as important, if not more important, than 'what' we say or share with others. That is why Facebook will continue to be the standard social media platform for a while, and why new platforms will no doubt emerge.