Empowering Communication Tools

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As you can no doubt imagine, it’s been a little hectic since the end of the Easter break. The steady flow of coursework deadlines, in-class tests and lab marking sessions has kept everybody on their toes. Whilst we were in the Stress-Agony-Panic-Relief cycle of multiple coursework deadlines, we are now in the Stress-Agony-Panic-Relief cycle of exams. This is worse than being a footie fan.* It’s the equivalent of having several different project deadlines come at once, followed by presentations and examinations of said different projects.

This has been an interesting exercise of juggling a lot of short-term priorities and picking the appropriate time to pause. Something of which technology has come to the rescue. I think that anybody returning to education should be given a crash course in communications on the edge. This naive idea of using a mobile phone for talking to and texting people is simply not sufficient.

Things you need to know how to use, if you don’t already:

1) Facebook is a place to post photos, hobbies, histories and other contact info. The establishment of a relation is quite formal since anyone wishing to be known as your “friend” in the Facebook has to be confirmed by you. It is possible to restrict information based on whether people are friends or not.

2) Twitter is a personalised news and noticeboard feed for others to follow. Although control can be afforded to the user to control those who follow, the relation is not so well-defined as is the case with Facebook. The act of posting is ‘to tweet’. Twitter restricts posts to 140 characters, so this promotes short and concise messages.

3) Instant Messenger have been around for quite some time and fulfils the need of instant communication without starting a vocal conversation. The strength is that conversations via an IM have the benefit that they give the opportunity to compose a response as the conversation remains on screen. Multiple conversations are possible as immediate responses are not necessarily expected. (Incidently if people use MSN and you have a unix box, I’d point you in the direction of aMsn.)

The technology for posting information in the first two forms has been around for sometime, however it only now that people have a simplified and standardised form to use. Choice is never bad, however the easy-to-use and popular consistent form is a big win as people have to get familiar with the given form.

How useful can they be? Pretty damn useful. ECSS organised a 6-a-side football tournament. Since I was drafted into a team of random people from Electronics, as well as a few from Computer Science. Unfortunately, our manager didn’t have direct method, meaning mobile or IM, to contact me. Initial messages got passed by a fellow student via Facebook and managed to co-opt one of my tutor group into being a sub via IM.**

Separately, the Odeon Southampton has this technology to thank for an increase in revenue for the new Star Trek film. A discussion in a pub, which itself was organised over IM, led to the suggestion to see the film. The time was subsequently confirmed over IM, which was followed up a post on twitter by one of the group. The expected number of people was three. Eight showed up as result of the twitter post. Result. Made for a interesting post-film analysis on the 45 minute walk back to our respective halls.

As a footnote, digesting the Wiktionary page on Internet Slang is probably a must if you want to understand some of the short hand. Although anyone who dislikes colourful language would be better avoiding the page.

Lastly, feeling not so much smug than relieved after the Data Structures and Algorithms exam plus a little proud after a 45 minute run, I managed to leave my Student ID card in the sports centre. Thanks to whoever returned it to reception. Losing that would have truly spammed my plans for the forthcoming weeks.

* Anyone who has been a dedicated season ticket holder of a football club will recognise the cycle of Stress-Agony-Panic-Relief. The build-up to matches is stressful, watching the match can be agonising, there is always a moment of panic/extreme stress before the final whistle of any given match and possibly a moment of relief if you team got the result they needed. However, the cycle will soon start again.

** You’ll note the lack of detail on what happened here. Let’s just say it was a very enjoyable run about and that it is the talking part that counts. Next year WILL be very different and may involve at least 6 months of training (!). (However it was fun. Honest.)

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