Have we forgotten how to talk to each other?

The dying art of conversation – has technology killed our ability to talk face-to-face?

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Melanie Chan, Leeds Beckett University

What with Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp and Snapchat, for many people, face-to-face conversation is used less and less often.

These apps allow us to converse with each other quickly and easily – overcoming distances, time zones and countries. We can even talk to virtual assistants such as Alexa, Cortana or Siri – commanding them to play our favourite songs, films, or tell us the weather forecast.

Often these ways of communicating reduce the need to speak to another human being. This has led to some of the conversational snippets of our daily lives now taking place mainly via technological devices. So no longer do we need to talk with shop assistants, receptionists, bus drivers or even coworkers, we simply engage with a screen to communicate whatever it is we want to say.

In fact, in these scenarios, we tend to only speak to other people when the digital technology does not operate successfully. For instance, human contact occurs when we call for an assistant to help us when an item is not recognised at the self-service checkout.

And when we have the ability to connect so quickly and easily with others using technological devices and software applications it is easy to start to overlook the value of face-to-face conversation. It seems easier to text someone rather than meet with them.

Bodily cues

My research into digital technologies indicates that phrases such as “word of mouth” or “keeping in touch” point to the importance of face-to-face conversation. Indeed, face-to-face conversation can strengthen social ties: with our neighbours, friends, work colleagues and other people we encounter during our day.

It acknowledges their existence, their humanness, in ways that instant messaging and texting do not. Face-to-face conversation is a rich experience that involves drawing on memories, making connections, making mental images, associations and choosing a response. Face-to-face conversation is also multisensory: it’s not just about sending or receiving pre-programmed trinkets such as likes, cartoon love hearts and grinning yellow emojis.

Quicker and easier, but are we losing the human touch? Shutterstock

When having a conversation using video you mainly see another person’s face only as a flat image on a screen. But when we have a face-to-face conversation in real life, we can look into someone’s eyes, reach out and touch them. We can also observe the other person’s body posture and the gestures they use when speaking – and interpret these accordingly. All these factors, contribute to the sensory intensity and depth of the face-to-face conversations we have in daily life.

Speaking to machines

Sherry Turkle, professor of social studies of science and technology, warns that when we first “speak through machines, [we] forget how essential face-to-face conversation is to our relationships, our creativity, and our capacity for empathy”. But then “we take a further step and speak not just through machines but to machines”.

In many ways, our everyday lives now involve a blend of face-to-face and technologically mediated forms of communication. But in my teaching and research I explain how digital forms of communication can supplement, rather than replace face-to-face conversation.

At the same time though, it is also important to acknowledge that some people value online communication because they can express themselves in ways they might find difficult through face-to-face conversation.

Look up from your phone

Gary Turk, is a spoken word poet whose poem Look Up illustrates what is at stake by becoming entranced by technological ways of communicating at the expense of connecting with others face-to-face.

Turk’s poem draws attention to the rich, sensory aspects of face-to-face communication, valuing bodily presence in relation to friendship, companionship and intimacy. The central idea running through Turk’s evocative poem is that screen-based devices consume our attention while distancing us from the bodily sense of being with others.

Ultimately the sound, touch, smell and observation of bodily cues we experience when having a face-to-face conversation cannot be fully replaced by our technological devices. Communicating and connecting with others through face-to-face discussion is valuable because it is not something that can be edited, paused or replayed.

So next time you’re deciding between human or machine at the supermarket checkout or whether to get up from your desk and walk to another office to talk to a colleague – rather than sending them an email – it might be worth following Turk’s advice and engaging with the human rather than the screen.The Conversation

Melanie Chan, Senior Lecturer, Media, Communication and Culture, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Europe has changed UK food culture for the better – leaving could turn back the clock

Brexit: Europe has changed UK food culture for the better – leaving could turn back the clock

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Jamie Oliver has a penchant for pasta.
Scandic Hotels, CC BY-ND

Richard Tresidder, Sheffield Hallam University

When the UK joined the Common Market in 1974, the country’s restaurants had a total of 26 Michelin stars, the industry standard restaurant rating, in Britain. In 2019 there are 163, including five restaurants with three stars – the highest honour awarded. Is this a coincidence or has membership of the European Union enabled the development of the UK’s vibrant contemporary food scene?

Despite what John Cleese might think, food culture in the UK is booming – chefs are becoming becoming superstars and prime-time TV slots are full of cookery programmes, which are exported all over the world. What the quality of restaurants and the global profiles of its top chefs suggests about the UK in 2019 is that it is not only a nation of foodies – but that the country has become immersed into the food and drink culture of Europe.

European food and ingredients have become staple food choices for the British. The use of ingredients such as garlic, peppers, avocados, Parmesan cheese and all those other European ingredients that are now taken for granted are relatively new and were still rare in the 1990s. When I was growing up in rural Devon in the 1970s, olive oil was only really readily available in chemists as a cure for earache – now it is found in most food cupboards. And wine drinking has permeated through all social classes.

Spanish delicatessen in London’s Borough Market.
Paolo Paradiso via Shutterstock

So if Britain’s food is embedded in European culture, what will the impact of Brexit have on the restaurant industry in the UK? In order to answer this it’s necessary to identify how Britain’s ties to the EU have directly impacted upon UK restaurants.

Free movement of chefs

There has always been reciprocity in the hospitality industry, whereby chefs, sommeliers and maître ds, travel and work in other counties in order to develop their knowledge and skills. What is known in the industry as the “stage” is an important juncture in a chef’s evolution and training – and most UK-born Michelin-starred chefs have done one. Jason Atherton, who runs a suite of high-end restaurants around the country, undertook a stage at the three-star el Bulli in Spain, while Sat Bains, whose eponymous restaurant in Nottingham was named fourth-best in the world in 2018, undertook a stage at the three-star Le Jardin des Sens in France.

The immersion by chefs in European gastronomy means they have brought back techniques, ingredients and contacts that have contributed to the UK’s food scene becoming so rich and vibrant. The thriving food scene has also encouraged talented expatriates to invest in the UK restaurant industry and to choose the UK as a place to work.

The influx of European workers are not only attracted by the UK food scene, but also by the availability of varied employment opportunities in the hospitality sector. Employers have difficulty in filling vacancies, as there is a lack of qualified chefs in the UK. In 2017, People 1st (the sector skills council for hospitality and tourism) found that 25% of hospitality businesses had vacancies, 22% of which were for chefs. Many of these vacancies were reported as being hard to fill because there simply weren’t enough skilled applicants. In 2018, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, out of 330,000 chefs in the UK, 15% were EU immigrants. Of these, 28% were graduates and 22% of all new hires came from the EU.

What this demonstrates is that EU workers are key to the continued success of the UK restaurant industry. They are often portrayed as a source of cheap labour, but in fact are skilled, well-educated individuals who make a positive contribution to the sector. Even though many of the workers are highly skilled, wages remain low – so any move to place an income threshold of £30,000 to earn a visa will exclude the majority of EU hospitality workers. But without the labour provided by EU immigrants it is difficult to see how the sector can continue to thrive.

Free movement of ingredients

Great chefs rely on great ingredients, and seamless trade ensures that food arrives in Britain in the freshest possible state. Food items such as strawberries, peppers or chillies are delivered to supermarkets and restaurants throughout the year. Britain imports a huge amount of fresh produce from the EU – in fact, in terms of food security, through a lack of investment in farming over the past two or three decades, the UK is not and cannot be self-sufficient.

Heston Blumenthal’s ‘culinary journey’ at his restaurant The Fat Duck.
By First Class Photography via Shutterstock

The EU ensures that the UK can both import and export foodstuffs in an efficient manner, as there are no delays caused by custom checks or embargoes on products. Unless the UK remains part of the customs union, it is difficult to see how the cuisine to which they have become accustomed to can continue to enter the supply chain without disruption.

Many of the 163 Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK pride themselves on sourcing high-quality, seasonal local food. Many sustainable farming practices and conversion to organic forms of production have been supported by the EU’s accreditation of farming standards and subsidies. They also provide strict rules as to how products are grown, the pesticides used and the limitation of genetically modified processes. All of these standards are higher than touted new trade partners such as the US. The UK and EU over a period of 47 years have crafted a set of standards around production and food safety that is among the most stringent in the world.

This philosophy of quality has directly influenced the quality of the food, consumers and restaurants can access. As can be seen from a government briefing paper from January 2018, Brexit: Future UK Agricultural Policy , there is little detail around how food and agricultural policy will look post-Brexit.

But even if the UK’s agricultural sector can increase production and the variety of products grown, it currently relies on seasonal workers from the EU to harvest produce.

Back to cheap sausages?

The vibrant food culture in the UK depends on the EU to provide innovation, influence, skilled labour and products. This is reflected all the way from the shelves of Aldi and Lidl to the five UK three-star Michelin restaurants. If I am right in believing food and cuisine to be an expression of culture, then Britons are European. As the writer and social commentator Robin Leach stated before his death in 2018:

Whoever would have guessed that in the land of cheap sausages and mashed potatoes there could be such a change which would actually bring the French from Paris every weekend to invade Britain en masse to eat great food and drink great wine.

Perhaps Brexit will have a positive impact on British food culture and protect the future and integrity of the great British chip rather than being replaced by the insidious pommes frite. It will be interesting to see in the coming decade whether the number of Michelin-starred restaurants increases further. I suspect it won’t.The Conversation

Richard Tresidder, Reader in Hospitality Studies, Sheffield Hallam University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

These Silicon Valley Investors’ Bets May Pay Off by ERIN GRIFFITH — Start-Up Source

By ERIN GRIFFITH A herd of technology public offerings this year and next year is set to anoint venture capital winners. Here are some of them. Published: March 30, 2019 at 05:00PM from NYT Technology https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/31/technology/silicon-valley-venture-capitalists.html?partner=IFTTT via IFTTT

via These Silicon Valley Investors’ Bets May Pay Off by ERIN GRIFFITH — Start-Up Source

Slack: how the messaging app could change after an IPO

Slack: how the messaging app could change after an IPO

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Slack is especially popular in the tech world.
Farzad Nazifi via Unsplash, CC BY

Paul Levy, University of Brighton

Slack, the collaboration platform favoured by designers, developers and an increasing number of companies, is rumoured to be planning an IPO. In similar fashion to Spotify, it is reportedly considering going direct to market instead of using one of the household banks as an underwriter.

One suggested reason is that Slack’s investors can get out fast. A direct listing is a way for the company to grow and attract funding in the most direct and least expensive way.

Slack fans have reason to be concerned. We are not talking buyout and takeover (yet). But we are talking a move that may bring shareholder pressure and influence, and with it the quest for short-term returns at the expense of longer-term creativity and innovation.

The current figures show how quickly Slack has grown. One estimate by financial news watchers Barron’s is “US$300m of annual recurring revenue which has more than doubled in the past two years”. In 2018 it was estimated to have reached 8m daily active users with 3m paid users.

For many individuals, groups, communities and entire large corporations Slack is becoming a core process for team meeting, product and process development, core decision making, information sharing and is even replacing email as a default mode of communication. A lot of people love the platform because of its independent roots, its independent spirit of innovation, its culture of plug-in tools and collaborative values. The company will have to be careful not to lose this appeal as it grows and gains more outside influence.

Success is not a given

With growth comes opportunity and the suggestion that Slack will publicly float this year isn’t surprising. The question that arises is, as with full acquisitions, will the landscape of shareholding quickly change and pressure the company to go for quick income, and drive risky and exciting innovation off the radar?

Success is not a given for any growing company. IPOs and buyouts can bring new opportunities, open up markets and enable investment in new product innovation. But the innovative, often boundary-pushing spark of smaller disruptive startups can be snuffed out as they become more established and try to appeal to a mass market.

There are, of course, risks from bigger competitors with established reach into larger corporations such as Microsoft’s Teams program, which was built to directly compete with Slack. Growth that comes from a public listing may be inevitable, but it comes with risks, and there may be a price to pay, depending on who invests and why. Private investment does have the advantage of being able to seek backers that align more with a company’s ethos and values.

Many innovative digital startups have been acquired by larger corporations who gobble up their originality and innovative capability. This is often to the horror of grassroots, early-adopter customers who feel these digital pioneers have sold out to mediocrity and risk-averse dinosaurs. And the evidence is certainly growing that, as shareholder influence from outside becomes more prominent, innovation can get sacrificed in the pursuit of corporate mediocrity and shorter-term gains.

This is a classic story of how digital startups can get eaten up – as happened with the social network Yammer. Another oft-quoted example of how innovative initial products can become scuppered is Skype, which was bought by Microsoft in 2011. From independent-spirited, game-changing startup, Skype is now a product set within the rules and desires of a big corporation and has lost users as a result.

Value extractors vs creators

There are no definitive studies of how public listings of digital firms either stimulates or stifles innovation over time, though there is certainly anecdotal evidence. The view that “prevailing stock market ideology enriches value extractors, not value creators” is increasingly stated. It can indeed suppress and even kill off innovation.

For platforms such as Slack, this relates to being proactive and responsive in relation to its current and potential user base, taking risks, being bold, creative and boundary breaking. Will a public listing attract those looking for more guaranteed rewards? Much will depend on the level and type of new shareholder influence and interference.

What we do know from the research is that when shareholders intervene more, this tends to block innovation and ultimately impacts the bottom line. For Slack, this could look like underfunding for innovation and limiting risk taking and creativity. Or if higher revenues are sought through selling user data or partnerships with corporate interests, for example, this could hurt the brand’s popularity with users.

This is a risk for those who have committed to Slack in order to change their workplace culture towards something more collaborative and smarter working habits. Slack reaches deeply into that culture and that commitment could prove to be damaging if the product is diluted or changed in ways that stifle that culture change.

There is no evidence that this will happen with Slack, but it is worth posing the question: will Slack lose its grip on its founding values and innovative roots as new shareholder interests start to take hold? Those who have embedded Slack into their company cultures might just need a Plan B.The Conversation

Paul Levy, Senior Researcher in Innovation Management, University of Brighton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.