Controversial app Peeple is everything tech shouldn’t become
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2016
I hate that review apps exist to begin with. While customer reviews are one of the most trusted forms of marketing, I have little respect for the people who leave negative reviews. What can I say? When I read reviews sometimes, I often feel that those who wrote them are small people who need to do whatever it takes to feel big. They are using their power of free speech to harm a business.
Now, it gets worse. There is now an app that allows you to rate and review people’s reputations. The app is called Peeple, and it is gaining a lot of negative publicity. Why not? Remember when you were young, and your parents taught you that if you have nothing good to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all? This teaching should not change in the digital age, but I believe it has. Take a look at all the bullshit comments on social media if you don’t believe me.
It’s clear that things are going to get worse before they are going to get better in this realm.
Interacting with people shouldn’t be the same as buying electronics. You shouldn’t go online, Google someone, and compare them with other people. The thing is, I know what the creators and founders of Peeple were thinking: so many people are shitty. Yes, of course, people are shitty, but that is life. Dealing with shitty people, whether they are in front of you in the Starbucks lineup or they are your parents, is a part of human existence. Technology does not make people more considerate or more caring, especially not an app that encourages people to treat others like businesses.
If you were a business, you would separate the job from your personal identity. You would have a website, a LinkedIn page, a Facebook fan page, or anything else where you can have a two-way channel, where there can be communication, and progress to resolving an issue—should there be one. However, if it is just a review or a rating system, rarely is there any valuable feedback. It’s more or less just a rant or words of caution. Since, we aren’t talking about a business but an actual human person with feelings, giving someone a one-star rating is a clear, unprovoked diss.
Let’s live in a world where we can approach each other as friends and speak honestly, rather than reviewing and rating others, harbouring animosity, and deterring others from having a genuine human experience. If you truly want to help someone, and not just judge them, you wouldn’t use an app like Peeple to express your thoughts.
And for those who really care about their online reputation, well, maybe you should work on your actual human reputation first.
Public speaking. What an irrational fear. Yet, we are all in one way or another are terrified of it. Some harness that fear and turn it into a skill set. Others retreat into the crevasses of society, taking on jobs and lifestyles that do not demand any formal public speaking. In a digital world, we as humans no longer rely on our voices; we rely on posts and tweets, images, and upvotes. We share our opinions not on soapboxes but in textboxes. We no longer stand up on stage and watch the audience.
I wanted to be an entertainer ever since I was in elementary school, and for many years, I considered it less of a yearning and more of a destiny. The class was my audience and my teachers were my toughest critics. I got as many laughs as I did detentions and it was becoming clear that I had a knack for timing — just not in terms of professionalism.
If you don’t hit the audience with a punch line at the appropriate time, you’ve lost the opportunity, the soul of the joke. A poorly timed joke is just a corny statement. There is no time to wait for a silent break in any conversation. As a thirteen-year-old kid, I knew if I didn’t shout out the funny thought in my head when I thought it was funny, it would be gone, and the world will continue spinning one laugh less.
At the end of my seventh-grade experience, I was awarded the T.A.P. award. Never heard of it? Well, that is because it’s a bullshit award my teacher made in an effort to find something genuine to offer me in life. T.A.P. stood for “Time and Place” as in “There is a time and place for everything, and right now you should be quiet, Elliot.”
I accepted the award with pride, because it was something I earned. I remember looking around the class and seeing other students receive worthless, thoughtless certificates with horrendous compliments written by the teacher. Notable awards I’m making up but might as well have been given: “Most Lovely Shoes,” “The Best Teammate,” and “Genuine Friend.” Ugh! I wanted to vomit. I’ll keep my T.A.P. award, thanks.
Perhaps it was kismet that I got into comedy: first as a fan, then as a hobbyist, and finally as a professional (the term “professional” is used loosely). But the thing about comedy is that it is not something that happens alone; performing comedy is a social act. You cannot tell jokes to yourself.
I really enjoyed making people laugh, but it came with a cost. The label. I sacrificed numerous things to be the funny guy, and one of them is credibility. After a while, people just assumed I was being sarcastic. In strenuous situations like a group project, my ideas would be shunned or taken as an unprompted attempt at humour. Later, once I started taking comedy seriously and told people about it, the intensity of other people’s preconceptions rose. “Tell me something funny!” is a line a comedian will hear often at social gatherings. Because 95% of people in the world think they themselves are funny, they’ll usually require proof that you are in fact what you claim to be. They are the best judges of humour after all. It’s the same way we all look at an attractive person and collectively go, “Yep! That person is attractive. Approved. Carry on.”
If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in anything, then I was 1.8% of the way to mastering comedy. An average of five minutes of stage time a week for one and a half years was hardly tenure. I was a Starbucks barista as long as I was a stand-up comedian, and Starbucks is very similar to comedy; after all, you acknowledge your audience and you behave accordingly. No need to think of entertaining, just be yourself. And like amateur stand-up comedy, the customers are not really there for your sake; they just want a drink, and you just so happen to be there.
When I told my friends and family that I have stopped doing stand up, many uttered grievances, sometimes in disappointment that they didn’t get to see me perform — in which they would tempt me to tell a joke — and others times with apprehension. “Oh… why did you stop? (Were you that bad?)”
My mother, who had once found my aspiration insufferable, had now become my number one fan. Passing up an opportunity to be a lawyer was one thing, but giving up on comedy now when so many doors were now closed, left a grave uncertainty in her life. After all, who would take care of her when she’s old if my stupid son is unemployed and not funny? Not Dane Cook that’s for sure. There wasn’t a final show where I bowed out. I just stopped asking for stage time. I told those booking shows that I was taking a break, trying to regroup.
I wonder what I would be if I didn’t stop. Would I be booking my own shows, headlining after performing at local bars and clubs for seven years, or would I just be another comedian like so many other comedians, spending my day in the back of the bar, waiting for my five minutes — still working at Starbucks during the day. I look back and I can’t image my success, which as someone who thought that entertainment was his destiny was a little heartbreaking. I was a carpenter in a world without lumber. I couldn’t help but ask: What happened to me?
There was a moment on stage, I remember; I had my audio recorder on a stool with a notebook full of notes, usually one random word followed by another, tracking the order of my set. I remember looking down at the list and reading the next word on it “Living room.”
I loved wordplay and comedy allowed me to explore it in the weirdest ways. “Living room” was one of those words that had so many meanings, but is so dramatic in a literal sense. It’s like how a scarecrow is actually there to scarecrows. The punch line of the joke comes after a ramble about how ridiculous the notion of a living room is, because “every room you’ve ever been in is a living room.” Bam! Comedy in my books. However, when I told that joke that day a part of my inside was dying. I guess I wasn’t in a living room anymore. Har har!
I stopped performing standup because I didn’t have any conviction to what I was saying. I stopped performing stand-up because what I was saying was irrelevant. I stopped doing standup because I didn’t want to waste people’s precious time with mindless wordplay and frictionless jokes. I wasn’t a good comedian because I wasn’t tackling any important issues. I was twenty years old and I had nothing to fight for except my own pride. Pride came in the form of laughter and applause. That is not what a comedian should do, that is not what any public speaker should do.
Public speaking, including comedy, is an act of influence. When an entertainer steps on stage they should bring more than their good looks and charms, they need to have something worth saying, something they are passionate about, something worth sharing. Jokes are delicious. Jokes are tasty. But jokes are cheap. It’s not hard to get a good laugh, but to be able to connect the laughter with something tangible, something genuine, well that is priceless.
I stopped doing standup because I didn’t have a reason to talk. It was elementary school all over again, but now I understood what my teacher was talking about. Time and Place.
Nevertheless, the time has changed and the place where I choose to communicate is not on stage in front of an audience, but instead in the written world, where I can pretend to have some proficiency in articulation.
There is little fear when we communicate online, the same way I had little fear when I spoke up in class. The consequence is light and so we continue to speak into the void. Sometimes people get annoyed, i.e. my teachers. Other times it’s so ephemeral that it goes unnoticed, i.e. my ramblings at the bar. Nevertheless, when we have something to say, we should make sure we are doing it at the right time and place. We should watch our audience and make certain that what we have to offer is more than reminding everyone that they are currently sitting in a living room. Although it’s hard to argue that it is an important reminder, sometimes.
Talking less and asking more will make you more interesting
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015
Every person in the world is filled with his or her own experiences, problems, and knowledge; therefore, everyone in the world is interesting. However, in a social environment we are often put on the spot and are required to present ourselves in the most “interesting” way possible. That’s a lot of pressure. After all, we are all so interesting, and life is but a competition.
It’s natural to list off the most unique things about yourself—things other people wouldn’t have done—in an effort to appear interesting. You’ll talk about the places you’ve traveled, all the cool hobbies you have, and even the accomplishments you’ve made. While it’s important to be entertaining, you must also remember that your interests are one-dimensional. In a conversation, it’s not something you can truly share.
It’s reflex to talk about yourself when you are in a crowd, because that is what you know best. You may feel like the celebrity of the party, but in reality, you are probably dominating the conversation. You’re keeping everybody hostage, and that may taint their engagement with you.
The best way to appear interesting is not to stand centre stage, but rather to sit in the audience. Yes, your backpacking trip to South America is interesting. But learning about your friend’s new computer program may be as interesting, at least to him.
An interesting person is not one that goes off on a tangent, but rather connects interesting topics together, so search for ways to segue into your topics from theirs. While there may not seem to be a link between your vacation and your friend’s computer program, there is, because we are all part of this planet, we all follow human customs, and we all kill boredom with interests. “How does he work on his computer program when he is on vacation?” you may wonder, and therefore, you should ask.
A great way to be interesting is by being around people who are different from you. It may feel like you are on the verge of an argument sometimes, but that is perhaps just a passionate discussion. So you are not religious, but you want to learn. Find someone willing to share his or her faith with you and don’t just talk about how you don’t believe it.
Life is full of little mysteries and each person is a clue. The more people you meet, the more you learn, and the more interesting you become. Being interesting is not the experience that you have alone, but rather what you can learn from other people. Appear open minded, with the capacity to acknowledge other people’s interests. That is more interesting than dressing funny, buying expensive items, and surrounding yourself with people who agree that you are awesome.
Nothing says teamwork better than a group of people aligned in the decision making process. While some workplaces are guided by the “executive decisions” of the boss, that leadership practice might not necessary be the best approach in advocating change, nurturing involvement and learning from prior mistakes (i.e. bad decisions).
Steven Forth, CEO and director of Nugg, an application that enable workplace team members to focus, decide, track and align ideas, believes that decisions should not be made in a vacuum, and that the full decision-making cycle begins and ends with proper communication.
Forth wrote: “Some would say research, and research is sometimes needed, but the best decisions are made as part of conversations.”
Intuitive decisions should not feel random
The decision making cycle includes five key steps: surface, discuss, decide, execute, and review; all of which plays into a long-term goal. It’s true that not all decisions are of equal value; some are undoubtedly more serious than others. With that being said, the process of making decisions should not feel random, even though gut feelings, deadlines and stress may play a role.
“Emotions are critical to making intuitive decisions. ‘It feels right’ is a valid reason to make a decision,” wrote Forth. “But you still need to think through what the outcomes will be. Nugg let’s you mark any update or comment as a decision and then you or another person on your team can unfold that decision in more detail.”
Designate time to perform and review
By establishing a workplace culture that track, measure and review decisions after time have passed, allows team members to stay alert and execute appropriately in the future. Setting deadlines may seem like a stress magnifier, but that is not necessarily true. Implementing deadlines can sharpen intuitive decision-making, dampen procrastination and offer a more focused timeframe for exploration.
“Review date and getting explicit about expected and actual outcomes is so important,” Forth wrote. “And in most cases the first review should be relatively soon, within three months at the very longest. If you expect an outcome and are not getting it you need to review the decision.”
Don’t let good ideas and bad results get lost in the clutter
It’s not surprising that most people would want to quickly dismiss a bad decision from the past, wipe it from their mind and start anew. But that mentality will lead to history repeating itself. Don’t simply brush bad results under the desk, because they’ll likely reemerge in another form to waste time, effort and money.
On the flip side of the coin, good ideas are exchanged on the daily with zero trace. These ideas are often lost in an email thread, scattered amongst the shambles on your desk or simply placed in the back of your mind.
“Recording decisions and measuring the outcomes is critical today,” noted Gord Kukec, Member of the BCFerries Board of Directors, in a conversation with Nugg. “With so much happening it is easy for people to lose track of decisions and fail to check what actually results, but few teams do this in any systematic way. If you don’t record your decisions and measure the outcomes, you will never improve.”
Employ team members to participate in the decision-making process
Making decisions, especially on behalf of a whole company, is a scary venture. Ultimately, most long-term results are unpredictable.
That being the case, an individual may panic, second-guess or be guided by a bias intention. Even the most apt leaders will have trouble making those “executive decisions,” but the pressure shouldn’t fall solely on the boss—the supporting team should have equal responsibility to supply input and review previous cases, thus leading the best possible result, even if the decision was made in haste.
“I think what is pushing people apart more than anything in technology is text,” said Danny Robinson, CEO and founder of Perch.
“Text is such a diluted form of communication. More and more people are texting. How often do you pick up a phone and talk to somebody? Video is the next best thing to being there. It really feels like you are right in front of somebody and if we can get more conversations happening on video than on text, I think we’ll bring more people closer together.”
Vancouver-based, Perch is an always-on video connection that is intended to help company’s bridge culture gaps, workplace communicate effectively and families stay in touch. By designating an iOS device to Perch, users can connect with anyone on the other end, whether they are across the hall or across the continent.
While apps like Skype or Facetime behave primarily like a phone call, Perch resembles an open window. With such accessibility, Perch made sure privacy was the paramount concern. It didn’t matter if you are connecting an office in Toronto to an office in Vancouver or from the workplace to your kitchen at home; the creepy-factor is something Robinson and the Perch team wanted to eliminate.
“To make it socially acceptable,” said Robinson, “it has to be polite. You cannot spy or eavesdrop on people.”
Perch disables the microphone until the face-recognition feature identifies a user’s face on the iOS device. In addition, only the front camera on the iPad or iPhone is activated when Perch is in use. Perch is not a security camera. It’s not meant to be concealed. That being said, Robinson who has an iPad on his desk looking into his home kitchen and he can’t help feeling a peace of mind knowing that Perch is there.
“It’s doesn’t record,” said Robinson, who previously founded Redhand, a remote video monitoring application that turned old devices into a security camera. “Our older versions of Perch would record, but we found that people enjoyed the live interaction more. It gets to the heart of the company and that was to communicate with a human element.”
Perch does more than enable people to make exchanges for work and/or home life; by always being on, the app gives a chance for impromptu interactions between two different spaces. These spontaneous moments are where people really get to know one another. On Skype or on a phone call, people tend to talk about specifics; with Perch you can have conversations you didn’t intend to have.
Perch has two general modes, the always-on portal mode and the video caller-display mode. The video caller-display feature only allows others to communicate after you agreed. This allows you to focus on your work or go about your day without being interrupted.
“Three-quarters of this office might not be interested in Perch until we put it on the wall,” said Robinson. “Then they are like, ‘that’s pretty cool.’ Once it is on the wall and it’s cool, then they use it all the time. Hopefully, they will see the value and bring it home.”
During this year’s Mozilla Summit, Perch will be the communication of choice from October 4th to 6th in Brussels, Santa Clara, and Toronto.