What to do now?


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I have put more apps on my screens during the last week than in the whole of last year. I usually try to keep my apps to an economical three screens or so (ipad, iphone). But no longer. Now I need more.

My university has suddenly adopted a whole suite of programmes – well it may have had these before, to be fair, but most of us didn’t use them and could get by just fine without them. Not now. Now these apps are the way we keep in touch, find out what is happening, teach and research.

But of course my university doesn’t use the same platforms and apps as other universities. Nor the same as some people that I regularly work with. To stay in touch, and to keep the work moving, I have to add even more stuff.

And as I see people talking about other platforms and apps which are not the same as mine, I wonder about them. I’ve become app conscious! More to the point – so much fine print. So hard to find out what each app does with your data, who they send it to, what and who they share it with, where and how your data is stored and how securely. Most platforms and apps offer free trials but I am reluctant to sign up to see how they work.

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And exponentially expanding time online has meant a proliferation of new passwords and password changes, security texts, identification codes, and digging verification emails out of trash/clutter.

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I guess Tim Berners Lee might be a bit more positive about the web right at the minute. He was pretty scathing about it last year, worrying that it was increasingly used for abuse and profitmaking, rather than for the good of humanity. Two directions that his Web Foundation advocated were for

  • individuals to create rich and relevant content to make the web a valuable place, and
  • building strong online communities where everyone feels safe and welcome.

We can certainly see more of these activities going on now in the scholarly community and beyond. Apps notwithstanding. However it’s not all good. As the Web Foundation argue there is still more to do:

“In the past few weeks we’ve seen the web at its best: enhancing lives, acting as a vital public good and connecting people in creative, positive ways. It is both a lifeline and a critical force in helping to curb the spread of the virus, providing vital public health information and helping us live virtually when meeting physically threatens human lives.

But the web could do so much more if we could overcome three obstacles. Almost half the world’s population doesn’t have internet access.  To be without connectivity in normal times is a grave disadvantage. In the crisis we’re facing, it’s devastating.

Where the web is available, it is vulnerable to medical misinformation and conspiracy theories which can have deadly effects. And the lack of a collaborative, ambitious, privacy-minded approach to the use of data in this crisis means some of the most effective ways to tackle the virus may never be fully harnessed.

These goals — increasing access, fighting misinformation and using data responsibly and effectively — are part of the Contract for the Web, the plan of action launched last year by the Web Foundation and our partners, to make our online world safe, open and empowering.”

The half of the world who have all the apps and access to information, that’s the half I live in, are in a fortunate position. Yes we are confined to home. Yes we find it hard to cope, and have to modify the expectations we have of ourselves. But there is still both an opportunity and a responsibility to use the app overload care-fully – that is, with an ethic of care.

I try to remember the Web Foundation tenets as I decide which apps to hold onto and which to use less frequently – and which not to use all. I’m also trying to remember the goal of the web doing and being good, as I think about what to share and what not, how to word what I want to say, how to respond to others.

I’m trying not to use this blog to suggest that you now have a wonderful chance to write everyday. Nor do I want to suggest that it is not OK if you actually do write a lot. The point is that you now have to do what works for you. We all respond in different ways to the health crisis we find ourselves in. And it’s all OK.

But if you do find yourself in a productive writing phase, then you will find there are a load of resources on this blog for and about academic writing and research. Most of it is tagged and findable if you use key words and the search function.  There’s also a patter wakelet site which has posts organised around some key topics.

But I’m not adding to those posts right now.

For the next little while you’ll find weekly posts here about crisis related academic matters. I can’t solve the world’s problems or even volunteer for the NHS, but I can do my bit to make the web a more responsible and caring place. I’m spending spend most of my time on the virtualnotviral.com website and on twitter on @virtualnotviral. These are both new accounts I’ve set up with Dr Anuja Cabraal to support PhDers.

I’ll get back to normal posts on writing reading and research a bit later. In the meantime I have to manage all those apps.