April 9, 2010
It started where it always does, with me wishing for more time. Since 24 hours a day is all any of us get, I’d need to be more efficient. Enter RescueTime, software that records, in a very Big Brotherish way, where you spend your time on your computer. As you use Word or Excel, shop at zappos.com, or play Farmville on Facebook, RescueTime is running in the background, mercilessly recording ever minute of it.
Initially I thought it was cool. The very first day, RescueTime awarded me a blue ribbon and told me I was in the top two percent of users—oh, the rush! But it turned out I hadn’t properly launched the program the day before, and those stellar results were only for the previous five minutes.
I have several computers I use throughout the day for different projects. Every time I returned to the computer on which I’d installed the software, RescueTime demanded to know where I’d been. The default responses include “Leisure” and “Other work” and the program allows you to customize. (I created a category called “Doggy management,” since I have a high maintenance dog.)
Often it was tough to be accurate. On a normal day, I might be away from my main computer for four hours, during which I’ve worked on a client’s project, thrown meat in the crock pot, and played tennis. There’s no way to log those activities individually, unless you remember to return to your computer between each one.
Furthermore, I sometimes found myself responding to the constant “where have you been, young lady?” like a recalcitrant teenager, clicking on the “None of your business (don’t log this time)” button, even when the time had been spent productively. While this tactic was personally gratifying, it did not help my productivity score.
To its credit, RescueTime did curtail my Facebook habit. I work alone and Facebook is to me what the water cooler is to office workers. RescueTime noticed when I lingered there too long (something you can set in the preferences) and notified me. I learned how to go to Facebook, skim my friends’ status updates, comment on a few, and leave. No more disappearing down the rabbit hole!
That worked great until a friend emailed me a link to Superwolf Ogles, a Facebook page written by a cat who is in an open relationship and has political leanings (Meo-ism).
Impossible to resist, right? I took a quick peek. Soon I was looking at a picture of a young woman named Steffani sitting on the Great Wall of China, and then at wedding photos of another complete stranger.
RescueTime waggled its Big Brother finger at me, but, already on my way to the video clip of Jim and Pam’s wedding dance (on “The Office”), I just sneered. The only one who can rescue my time is still me.
Better World, Technology
April 7, 2010
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn from leading industry peers at the Social Media and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) conference hosted by Just Means in London, England.
It was a full day of presentations by communications execs from organizations such as Unilever, Dell, Royal Dutch Shell, and SAP. CSR strategists from agencies like Futerra communications and retailers like Marks & Spencer described their journeys from stodgy brands your parents might remember to becoming leading brands in environmental advocacy. We also heard from one of the founders of Twestival, who organized real-life events from on-line Twitter communities in order to raise money for charitable causes.
One thing I learned is that the global CSR and social media community is tight knit and in constant communication, although we’re all still learning how to best leverage social media.
Here are some of my primary takeaways from the conference:
Technology, What's Up
March 24, 2010
Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be frivolous or useful. Frivolous: More than 724,000 kids (my son included) are Facebook fans of “Don’t complain about grading 140 essays over the weekend, you assigned it.”
Powerful: 18,000 people bypass the hype-steria surrounding the H1N1 flu by following the Center for Disease Control on Twitter. The CDC provides factual updates as information becomes available.
For most people, social media lies between the two extremes.
According to Forrester Research, almost 60% of Internet users use social media. Other research shows that a third of social media users are quite active, updating their statuses at least once a week. Their reasons vary, but 54% say they do it to stay in touch with friends and family. Less than five percent report they “regularly” use it to make buying decisions.
That will likely change. Nielsen says global consumers spent more than five hours on social networking sites in December 2009. That’s an 82% increase over December 2008. With that kind of growth, more and more companies are using social networking. They see an opportunity to build their brands and strengthen their connection with customers.
Carnival Cruise helped an unhappy customer locate the t-shirts he thought the cruise line stole from him. They only way they knew he was unhappy about it was that he tweeted about it. But companies like more than just broadcasting via social media. In fact, for the individuals who actually tweet for a company, the best part is hearing from followers.
Herman Miller uses Facebook and Twitter to share good news (such as its inclusion on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list), product information, and job openings, and to find out what’s on customers’minds.
What is on their minds? Sometimes it’s their chair’s warranty, but other times it’s a pet. Take the tweet from @stacyharmon: Apparently my cat finds my Aeron chair as comfortable as I do. http://post.ly/KL10. All of it helps “humanize the brand,” social media experts say.
Social media—especially Twitter, which doesn’t allow tweets to be longer than 140 characters—also forces companies to be clear, concise, and clever. That’s good news for consumers. If they don’t have us at hello, then we say buh-bye.
Photo via: Harmon Enterprises
Better World, Technology, What's Up
March 16, 2010
The faster the network connections, the better people can work at home and on the move. Google thinks more speed for more people is the answer. It’s planning to test a network that will deliver the Internet over 1 gigabit per second fiber connections “in one or more trial locations across the country.”
Holland, Michigan, where our Design Yard facility is located, is one of the communities vying to be chosen. From now until March 26, residents can nominate the city and make the case for why it should be chosen. All you need is a Gmail account. Here’s hoping that Holland will be chosen (and that you’ll help by nominating the city).
Design, Products, Technology
February 5, 2010
Recently, the Associated Press distributed an article about how “sitting too much could be deadly.” A number of regional newspapers, including my hometown Chicago Tribune picked it up. As a furniture industry veteran and seating researcher for the better part of two decades, it was too broad—and dire—a statement for my personal comfort.
In helping designers like Bill Stumpf and Jeff Weber to develop Herman Miller products—from stacking chairs, such as Caper, to high-performance work chairs, such as Embody—I’ve learned that sitting, comfort, and health are not so cut-and-dried.
In the 1990s I began using pressure map technology, which visualizes what the seat and sitter interface looks like—and how it changes depending on seat construction and the posture of the sitter. These changes translate to comfort or discomfort for the user.
More recently, in the course of our Embody chair development, I commissioned researchers at both the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Milwaukee’s Marquette University, who measured the amount of oxygen in the blood flowing to and from subjects’ lower extremities and heart rate–key health measures. It turns out, both improved when users sat in the Embody chair, versus other chairs, doing the same seated tasks in both.
So, it’s not a simple question of sitting down or standing up—but where and how you’re sitting.
Technology, What's Up
January 25, 2010
The 2010 Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Conference in Austin, Texas proved to be the hot spot for higher education professionals last week. Focusing on the theme “Learning Environments for a Web 2.0 World,” they were seeking how to best utilize the latest technological tools to enhance their students’ experience on campus.
Once again, Herman Miller’s Education Solutions team was a sponsor for the event, offering attendees the opportunity to experience how our furniture can address the needs of today’s more collaborative and interactive learning environment.
A host of educational sessions focused on the benefits of utilizing popular social networking tools, such as Second Life and Google Wave, to connect students from around the world in a more real-time and personable way. Mobile learning sessions provided an in-depth look at how the wildly popular iPod Touch has been used effectively on Abilene Christian University’s campus. It was exciting to engage with faculty and administrators on the cutting edge of what’s next in higher education.
As Herman Miller continues to be a resource to higher education professionals in the holistic design of learning spaces, our Education Solutions team will always value the unique insights we gain from participating in the ELI annual conference.
January 19, 2010
Like other sixteen year olds, my son writes a history paper, texts his girlfriend, and plays Battlefield II on his computer—all at the same time.
Me: You can’t possibly do all three well. Him: Practice makes perfect. Me: Riiiiight. Him: <shrug>
New research is on his side (darn it). René Marois, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University is co-author of a study on multitasking. Marois says there are two major ways tasks can interfere with one another: If they both require concentration (we’re bad at splitting our attention effectively) or if they make demands on the same neural resources, e.g., trying to carry on two conversations at the same time. His study focused on the former and showed how people can become efficient multitaskers when tasks require less attention.
“Our results imply the fundamental reason we are lousy multitaskers is because our brains process each task slowly, creating a bottleneck at the central stage of decision making,” he says. With practice, we can learn to process more quickly.
Researchers on another project asked a different question: Does multitasking affect your ability to concentrate when you aren’t multitasking? They tested the concentration of students who multitask frequently and other students who multitask but not all the time. The three tests measured students’ ability to ignore irrelevant information, organize items, and switch tasks. Each test required the students to do only one thing at a time. Students who spent less time multitasking did better on every test than students who multitask frequently.
Finally, experts agree that no one truly multitasks. Instead, the brain toggles between, say, history paper, Battlefield II, and girlfriend so quickly that it gives the illusion of multitasking. And oh, how we love that illusion.
Better World, Technology
January 14, 2010
I’m sure you’ve been wondering how things turned out with Emerson’s Art and Design Perspectives project I reported on a few weeks back–the one where he had to list, categorize, and analyze the environmental impact of every object he owns? Well, his final tally included nearly 1,200 discrete items. Here are some of his findings.
Only 21 percent of Emerson’s stuff was made in the United States. His apartment at the University of Michigan contains items that were made in 37 other countries. Paper is the most common material used to manufacture the things he owns (30 percent), followed by plastic (22 percent). The value of his possessions averages out to $24 per item or approximately 3 hours of Emerson’s time as determined by the pay rate of his summer job. As far as he was able to determine, 706 items–60 percent of the stuff he owns–are destined for a landfill.
Bottom line? “I have a lot of stuff,” Emerson writes in his final report. “The most important thing I can do is buy less stuff and to make sure that I know where the stuff I do buy comes from, what it’s made out of, and what implications it has for the environment and for human rights.”
Professor Trumpey gave him an “A.”
Technology, What's Up
December 30, 2009
“I tell my students that they are archeologists sifting through stuff to learn about the person who owns it and the society that made it,” says Associate Professor Joe Trumpey, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.
The course: Art and Design Perspectives. The assignment: Inventory, categorize, analyze and research everything you own.
My son Emerson, a sophomore in Trumpey’s class, had 438 items on his My Stuff spreadsheet (above) when I spoke with him last. (And this is only the stuff he has with him at school–you should see his bedroom at home.) For each object, he has to list country of origin, primary material, life expectancy, end of life cycle, and monetary value–and rank its personal importance in his life.
Once their inventories are complete, students will experiment with sorting them by various categories and analyze the patterns they find. “Ultimately, students see the complexities of global markets and design,” says Trumpey, who has given the assignment four years running. “Many see the excess of cheap, disposable goods versus the more meaningful or longer lasting goods.”
I’ll report on Emerson’s findings in an upcoming blog post.
December 14, 2009
Minus digital technology and the Internet, Twitter has a surprising ancestor: early 20th-century postcards.
Postcards didn’t exist in the U.S. before1898. That year, the government made it legal to print and send “private mailing cards.” Stamps were a penny. Messages were permitted only on the front of the card. The back was reserved for the address. The limited space required messages to be brief, telegraphic, “tweet-like.”