#Unplug: Why I Choose To Have One Analog Day Per Week


Just about every week, for one day, typically Saturday, I put away my phone, my iPad, and don’t sit in front of my computer. Sometimes I check my phone in bed when I first wake up, but then that’s it.

This simple act is remarkably freeing. If I’m alone, I can truly let my mind wander about how to spend my day. Do I want to cook a big breakfast? Read magazines all day? (I’m a bit of a print-magazine hoarder. I even listen to Monocle’s The Stack, a radio show all about print magazines.) Binge-watch a TV show season? Go for a three- or four-hour walk without checking my watch? On any given analog day, I’ll do any one of these things and more. I’m not so fanatical that I won’t turn on a TV or use my iPod, but I don’t do anything that involves digital communication, barring something pressing like texting someone about already-scheduled plans, or calling my mother back.

Unplugging also allows me to recharge my batteries from the previous week. Typically, weeks are full of meetings, emails, and responsibilities. It’s really hard for me to relax within that environment. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s hard for me to switch back and forth between work and play. At any given time, I’m pretty much in one of those modes until I get so tired that I collapse. As a bit of a quiet introvert I really need significant downtime between the last time you saw me and the next time you see me “up” at an event or a meeting. Lots of people think I’m extroverted, but I’m really just an extroverted introvert, and when you don’t see me I’m probably walking alone in Rock Creek Park with my headphones and sunglasses and ball cap on, ignoring everyone.

Finally, these analog sessions are when I typically get my good ideas. It might be an idea for a blog post, or something that “pops” in a magazine article I’m reading, or an insight that helps me with a project in the upcoming week. But despite the fact that I was working on all of those things the workweek previous, I get many of the insights precisely when I’m not working on them, or thinking about them, when my mind is relaxed. I carry around a small notebook and pen where ever I go (typically a Field Notes these days; I also have an all-weather “Rite in the Rain” red pen I bring with me when I’m outdoors).

The hyper-connected Baratunde Thurston famously wrote about how he unplugged for 25 days following his book tour. If you can get past the feature-article length writing, the narcissism of describing every detail of his detox, and the ridiculousness of some of his advice (”schedule a vacation” or “alert your colleagues” is not exactly cutting-edge advice specific to a digital detox), it’s a valuable article because if you’re like many people and you feel trapped by all your devices and push notifications and social channels, Thurston tells you that it’s actually “okay” to leave that for a while.

For me, I’ve never been too hung up on explaining why it took me an extra day or so to get back to people. Especially on the weekend. You know what? I just simply didn’t see your text to me at 9pm on Saturday night or your email request from late-Friday afternoon. I didn’t care to. Now it’s Sunday and I’ll take a look and get back to you. Perhaps not everyone can get away with going analog exactly the way I do it, but I’m sure that if you want to you can come up with your own variation.

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Twitter’s Nonsensical Onboarding Process Suggests Tech Companies Should Hire Some Professional Behaviorists


Owen Williams wrote an insightful post called “Signing up for a new Twitter account shows why the company is struggling to grow” that’s a must-read whether you’re a social media enthusiast, a digital marketer, or a tech startup investor. He breaks down the process of signing up for a new Twitter account on desktop and mobile in explicit detail, and in effect shows how ineffective or even somewhat bizarre some of the on-boarding choices are.

I won’t recap the process because Owen did such an awesome job — just read his article and check out the screenshots. But it’s clear that whatever all the employees of Twitter are doing, very few are thinking about the first experience a new user has with their brand.

Like Owen, I’ve been using Twitter since 2008. I have tweeted more than 50,000 times (!), gained over 30,000 followers, and overall I have gotten tremendous personal value from it in the form of new connections, readers, feedback, offers, new friends, and more. Twitter is unquestionably valuable if you go through the journey of reading about it, experimenting with it, optimizing it, and using it constantly. The people who gain the most from it are continuous learners with a lifehacking mentality.

Unfortunately for Twitter, it’s not just a cool “community service” for super-enthusiasts like Owen and I who want to find out where Gary Vaynerchuk is hanging out at SXSW anymore. It could have been. It could have become an open source resource. It could have become a non-profit to help the world communicate. It could have been any number of things.

But. Twitter’s leaders and investors made the decision to be a “real” company, to sell ads to major corporations and do major collaborations with entities like the World Cup and the White House, and to become a publicly-traded corporation that needs to grow and add value for shareholders. With those choices come new responsibilities, among them getting more people to join and use their platform and like it. But user growth isn’t nearly what it could be. And its greatest “innovations” like @ replies and #hashtags were invented by users, not Twitter employees.

The irony is that new accounts can actually have huge value to users very quickly if done right. For all my tweets and followers and consistency over six years, I am getting way, way less engagement on my @cheeky_geeky account than I used to in 2008 or 2009. (Around the end of 2008, I was one of the top 100 most-followed people on Twitter, and one of the top 50 most retweeted users.) Right now, I’m probably at an all time low. The community and its users have changed. The rules have changed. Now, I’m not running a business through my personal account and I’m happy with what it is. But people are finding things less, clicking through less, retweeting less.

But. But. I have another account. A semi-secret account. It’s only about one topic, a very niche topic, something I want to do more about with in the future. And what’s amazing about that account is that I follow and am followed by only people who are super-enthusiasts about this little topic and there’s a ton of engagement. I can leave and come back two weeks later with one tweet and I’ll see, say, 6 high-quality re-tweets and comments (I only have about 200 followers). These are the kind of people who would click through and read something at high rates, or participate in a Kickstarter on my niche topic, or buy something about the topic from me.

Because I’ve been using Twitter so long and work in tech and media and know a bunch about the space, I have some natural advantages when it comes up to launching a social media play on a niche topic. What Twitter needs to figure out is how to on-board a tech-naive high school kid, or a retiree, or a newly unemployed person to do the same thing.

As a person whose background is in the behavioral sciences, one thing that’s always surprised me is the lack of behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like at tech companies and consulting firms who claim to care about influence, user engagement, social interaction and so on. What do you think influence and social interaction and stuff is? It’s just people interacting with each other. It turns out there are lots of scientists who know a lot about that.

Sure, code is important. Designers are important. MBA’s are important. But it seems like if companies like Twitter that depend on positive user experiences, habitual use of product, and user interactions which add value want to grow and thrive, they might consider devoting more resources to actually studying the “human terrain” of people and how and why they behave the way they do.

Tangentially related: ‘A Dark Room’, the incredibly engaging, best-selling iPhone game that no one can entirely explain.

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Mark Drapeau Launches Publicyte, a Digital Magazine About Innovation for Civic Good



This past Tuesday, I launched Publicyte, a digital magazine published by Microsoft about the people, places, and technologies driving civic innovation. I’ll be the editor-in-chief of the publication, and we’ll have writers from all kinds of interesting backgrounds. It’s part of my work at our new Office of Civic Innovation, based in Microsoft’s US Public Sector group. Check out the site and let me know what you think: http://publicyte.com
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The Non-Profit Urban Mega-Bookstore


Saw some people lamenting the closing of Borders stores seemingly everywhere. Yeah, it’s sad. But why can’t someone(s) start a non-profit which takes donations, sells coffee, and offers services like mentorship to run awesome urban bookstores? Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, mom-and-pop – they won’t do it. Maybe you should do it.
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SECTOR: PUBLIC – A New Site About Technology For Public Good


Last week, during the Mashable / 92Y / UN Foundation “Social Good Summit” in New York, I launched a new website called SECTOR: PUBLIC.  The focus of this blog is on leading the conversation about innovative social change via technology’s influence on the public sector, public service, and public good.
 
From my “Letter from the Editor“:

Right now, three entities contributing to the public good – citizens, the public sector, and private businesses – are incredibly dependent on each other. Citizens need support from government and the broader public sector, and jobs from businesses.  The public sector needs the support of the private sector through products and services, and needs input, ideas, and other contributions from its citizens.  And private sector organizations increasingly seek to stand for something more than merely selling products – they seek to help the public sector and contribute to citizens’ well-being.

SECTOR: PUBLIC lives where these three entities meet.  If necessity is the mother of invention, there has been no period in our lifetimes during which technological innovation is able to have such a great impact on civic progress.  Every day at SECTOR: PUBLIC, we will discuss cutting-edge technology, share public sector stories, and provide thought leadership about how American progress and public good are being both disrupted and benefited by the rapid innovation era we are living through.

Check out a well-received initial post about “Open Government Entrepreneurship” and read our “Geek 2 Chic” interview with the innovative CEO of iStrategyLabs, Peter Corbett.
 
I hope that many of you find my new website about public sector and public service stories involving technology useful and interesting!
 
You can subscribe to SECTOR: PUBLIC by email or RSS, and follow the Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/sectorpublic.  Learn more about our goals for the site in this Federal News Radio interview.
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