Feb 232013


No form of online experience more quickly insinuated itself into my life than Facebook, which I joined at the insistence of a rambunctious, third-year technical writing class back in the summer of 2007. I loved how Facebook “extended” me not just across geographical space but back into time, allowing me to fully animate relationships that had until then existed only as potential, or that had lapsed into silent curiosities.

I’ve been to a wedding and reception, completely organized via Facebook, of a former student and saw photographs of her children, soon after their birth, appear so beautifully on my time-line. And I received eighty responses to this plea posted on my wall: “Help me find a good migraine remedy!”

Although I no longer update my status as prolifically as I used to, I loyally inspect my time-line several times a day still. If Facebook disappeared, the yearning for what I would lose – in terms of what I could witness and, in that way, somehow, share – would be unquenchable.

Last week I asked my Facebook friends how much would their range of friendship and/or acquaintanceship shrink should they no longer have access to Facebook or other forms of social media like Twitter. Everybody who responded was about my age – in their fifties somewhere. Most had already seemed to have considered the possibility of going back, willingly or otherwise, to old-fashioned forms of communication. Here’s what four professional communicators wrote:

Grad-school friend Akiko: I don’t think friendship is dependent on FB, but FB does allow you to keep in touch with acquaintances and, more importantly for me, to renew friendships with old friends with whom I’d lost touch (this has happened to me, with many high school and college friends). This being said, I don’t think the quality of ‘real’ friendship is either increased or diminished because of FB. I couldn’t feel that I’m maintaining a meaningful friendship with anyone strictly through FB communication, because I need more direct contact and personal connection (face-to-face, phone conversation, or even personal email) to do so. So w/o FB I would still be in touch with friends through other means, but acquaintances would be lost. The question is whether that would matter.

My Buffalo buddy Reg: I would say it is fair to say that friendship is defined by non-virtual contact. Thus acquaintanceship would shrink a great deal but be no great loss, while friendship would shrink a bit, due to a reduction on one of its many means of intercourse, especially in periods when one’s willingness to maintain contact is reduced due to depression or great time pressures, but otherwise not suffer, because by definition it is not social-media-based or even significantly social-media-maintained. He added: A (somewhat but not entirely illusory) sense of connection would be diminished, which could have significant emotional effects, or might not. Also reduced access to new music, art, writing, and news. also reduced waste of time investigating unworthy music, art, writing, and news.

Mike (a friendly adversary from university): Fewer friends. Better stronger connections with the remaining friends. More blue sky. Smells. Sounds. Better tactile connection to the world.

And Kat (writing from Thailand): I would write more emails to my close friends yet would not bother with keeping in contact with the acquaintances and others who I am not so close with. I still write postcards to good friends and letters to my father. I think I would appreciate the time I would save being off of FB actually. Currently I rarely use Twitter, so it would not be missed for me. I still like the old fashioned get together for mock coffee along with a physical hug (rather than a cyber facsimile) to catchup with good friends. In fact that is my favourite way of communicating. You will get different answers depending on age groups. Computer was not a part of my formal education. Often I wish it didn’t exist. I think people would be more friendly and communicative without it. Rather than sitting in coffee shops on their laptops, perhaps they would observe the people around them and maybe even chat with them – like the good ole days or what you do in small towns still.

Follow us on Twitter: @nocontestca

(photo by Bob Basil)

Feb 172013

Love Adobe Creative Suite but can’t stomach the price? Looking for a new e-mail client with a feature that’s missing from your current one? Love Omnifocus, but it’s not available for Windows?

Enter Alternativeto.net. Alternativeto.net offers, based on user recommendations, a list of apps with similar functionality. The site permits you to filter by tag, license, and platform, and rank based on a number of different criteria. Not all the suggestions are spot on, but it’s a great site for exploring.

Feb 102013


One of the biggest risks to your online security is having unpatched programs. Keeping all your software up to date is no simple task, but Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector (PSI) makes it much easier to keep your Windows PC fully patched.

Secunia scans your computer for out-of-date programs and prompts you to perform updates. The autoupdate feature doesn’t always work perfectly, but knowing which of the many programs you’ve installed are out of date is half the battle.

Best of all, Secunia PSI is free for personal use.

Feb 092013

If you spend as much time looking at a screen as I frequently do for work and play, you’ve probably experienced eyestrain. Lucky for us, Stereopsis has created a nice little free app that makes that screengazing easier on the eyes: f.lux. F.lux uses your location and lighting settings to adjust the brightness and color of your monitor throughout the day. Now that I’ve acclimated to using it — I even use it for gaming — turning it off makes my eyes burn.

Do yourself a favor: Get f.lux and go easy on your eyes. It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPad/iPhone.

Feb 072013

One of the best sources out there for security tools, news, and good advice is Sophos, which is based out of the UK and has an office here in Vancouver. Disclaimer: I’m married to a Sophos employee, but I wouldn’t shill for just anyone who keeps the lights and Internet on at our place. Bob, who is not married to the company, is equally impressed.

What makes Sophos interesting from a communications and PR standpoint is that they’ve committed to taking the stance of a “trusted advisor.” Good will is such an unusual tactic in this hard-sell world that some are naturally suspicious of their aims, but Sophos continues to freely offer their knowledge and some of their tools to the community in order to keep us all safer. And it seems to pay off.

A few of their notable tools, free for personal use:

  • Sophos Mobile Security for Android
  • Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition
  • Virus Removal Tool
  • Sophos Free Encryption

Be sure to check out their Naked Security blog for the latest security news, and the Sophos Security Chet Chat (also available on iTunes) if you prefer listening to your news over reading it.

Feb 062013

Stanford University’s Program for Writing and Rhetoric is renowned both for its truly interdisciplinary approach to writing as well as for its adherence to, and study of, formal rhetoric in numerous sectors: forensics, advocacy, public affairs, the arts, technology, and academia. This resource does have an academic slant – it’s from Stanford, after all – but it’s useful for any writer or editor who seeks to be up to speed with the highest and most current standards of research and documentation, persuasion, oral communication, and learning. Particularly engaging is the website’s “Writing Matters” video series: interviews with Stanford professors describing “writing’s connection with academic and personal success.” Below Margot Gerritsen, Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, explains that “Writing stories is absolutely pivotal. If I can’t write a good story, sell what I’m doing, make cases and arguments for continued funding, I’m nowhere.”



Feb 062013

As an educator at a Vancouver-area university, I helped fashion the digital-media and online-privacy procedures for its School of Business. My goal was to show how teachers and students could avail themselves of the many dozens of digital-media platforms – from “crowd computing” to “tweeting” – in ways that kept classroom relationships professional and ethical, students’ lives private, and learning innovative and thrilling. This was actually a “bear” of a project, and one that my colleagues and I will need to revisit annually at the very least, because the mediums via which we communicate and teach and learn are changing very quickly – indeed, *are coming into being* so very quickly. (See, for example, Vine. Here’s the author making his debut appearance in that new medium.)

The Social Media Governance by Industry link in our Resources section is a useful compendium of policies from across a range of sectors: Advertising, PR, Business Services, Education, Health Care, Consumer Products, NonProfit Organizations, and Government. One can see that these policies must adjust to how relationships between management and staff have been altered, and tensions created, by digital media. Here’s a snippet from Via Rail’s: “Only Social Media Champions are allowed to make new social media accounts that represent the Corporation, including any of its products or services. Prior to creating anew social media account, Social Media Champions will obtain the approval of the dedicated community manager, who will ensure the account respects VIA’s Social Media Policy and is created and maintained according to best practices.”

And here’s a notice from Harvard’s Guidelines: “You ‘retweet’ a Twitter message posted by a student activist group using your Department’s official Twitter account. However, the tweet contains a link to an outside website that disparages University leadership. In this situation, you should have taken advance steps to ensure that material you posted to authorized social media accounts at the University did not contain material that reflects negatively on the University or members of the University community.”

No Contest Communications will be staying on top of these governance issues for you.