A tearful border crossing

My oldest daughter, Suzanne, turns forty this year and she has just lived out a dream she has had for most of her life.

SuzieYasmin2When Suzanne was 5, our family lived with my in-laws, her grandparents, in Amman Jordan. My husband, Saleh, worked on a UN project there for a while and it was a rather stable time in the Middle East. Our youngest daughter, Sanna, was born while we were there.

At her grandparents’ house, Suzanne became great mates with one particular cousin, Yasmin, whose mother was also a foreigner. The girls communicated in a strange mixture of Arabic, English and Turkish.

Back to Australia and 20 years went by during which Suzanne vividly remembered her days in Amman and her friendship with Yasmin in particular. Letters between Saleh and his family often exchanged photos of the girls growing up on opposite sides of the world.

When Suzanne married, the couple started to plan a visit to Jordan but hopes were dashed when Saleh told them that his parents were very upset that Suzanne had not married a Muslim. It was OK for their son to marry someone, i.e. me, outside the faith, but not for a girl!

SannaJordan2Over the last 15 years many things changed as both girls were busy having their own families. Although born in Jordan, Sanna was too young to remember it, so Saleh took her with him on a most successful family visit. 9/11 happened while they were there. Not long after that both of Saleh’s parent died. Then more recently, Saleh also passed away after a slow decline with Alzheimer’s.

I work as an academic and last year I had a paper accepted for a prestigious conference in Israel. I told Suzanne that I would take the opportunity to pop across the border and visit the family in Jordan whom I had not seen for years.

Suzanne immediately declared that she wanted to come with me. The younger generation in Jordan are now more open and Suzanne had begun to connect up with some of them on Facebook.

Then she also wanted to bring her oldest boy (8), incidentally named Jordan. Next it was suggested that the second boy, Cooper (7), come as well. So, there we were at Sydney airport, the four of us saying goodbye to the youngest boy, Hunter, who was only 3 and who stayed home with his Dad.

2099Arriving in Tel Aviv early in the morning we dumped our bags at the conference hotel. Our first wish was to catch a train to Haifa where Saleh was born and we had an exciting day walking around the ruins at Acre where we spoke to some friendly Palestinian families who still live there. Then after the conference we caught a taxi to the Jordan River and crossed the border at the Allenby Bridge. The Jordanian immigration officials were greatly amused by my red-headed grandson named Jordan and helped us contact Yasmin who gave us directions to her place.

2621When the girls met it was as though they had never been apart. The boys quickly broke the ice with the rest of the family and, although few speak English, we all got along just fine. Saleh’s youngest brother, Noor, had often walked Suzanne to school when she was 5 and he became our designated driver. We visited the families of all 8 of Saleh’s brothers and sisters. We also had wonderful outings to Petra and the Dead Sea with many of them. Suzanne made a list of all 50 odd of her cousins there and the large hoard of their children.

DSCF2270All too soon, Noor had to drive us back down to the Jordan-Israel border for our return flight back from Tel Aviv. It was an emotional goodbye having had only 10 days to catch up for 35 years. However plans are now being made to return once Hunter is old enough and we can save up enough for the flights. Meanwhile, we all keep in touch on Facebook.

All too soon, Noor had to drive us back down to the Jordan-Israel border for our return flight back from Tel Aviv. It was an emotional goodbye having had only 10 days to catch up for 35 years. However plans are now being made to return once Hunter is old enough and we can save up enough for the flights. Meanwhile, we all keep in touch on Facebook.

The Next Decade of Digital Technology

This Friday I am running a workshop entitled “Looking Ahead to the next Decade: Responding to a Range of Future Scenarios in Digital Communication and Coordination”. In preparation I have been trying to do some looking ahead myself, seeking inspiration for some meaningful insights into what I can contribute. In desperation I have turn to my recollection of the past to see if there are any lessons there.
My first encounter with digital technology was a brief mention of transistors at the end of an electronics course in my physics undergraduate program in the early 1960s. In contrast to the analogue valve technologies that could moderate and amplify electrical signals, transistor-based logical circuits were just switches that were either on or off (o or 1). I was not very impressed!
Since that time solid state devices have revolutionised our lives with spectacular breakthroughs each decade. In the 1960s financial institutions began to process customer accounts faster and more reliably on computers. By the 1970’s most large organisations had mainframes that could be programmed in 3rd generation languages through dumb but human-readable terminals. In the 1980s we had the first local networks of computers and other devices supporting corporate emails, printers and client server systems. More significantly, this was the decade of personal computers with end-user applications such as word processors and spreadsheets. The 90s heralded the birth of the Internet, a network of networks that hosted the pervasive but static World-Wide Web. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee the basic components of the Internet were not patented or copyrighted but a free gift to all. In the 2000’s the web became dynamic with direct access by end users to everyone else on the planet: micro businesses had access to global markets; social media emerged; Internet devices went mobile; functionality expanded and converged.
Looking back there were many past predictions that were way off the mark. At a conference in the 1980s IBM confidently predicted that voice and language recognition software was sufficiently developed that it was ready to support audio as the dominant way people would interact with computers. Nokia was so sure that text would not be used on its mobile phones in favour of the richer media of audio and video that they made SMS a very cheap option that was rapidly taken up.
What has been obvious with respect to the technology have been ongoing trends to greater processing power on smaller, lower cost, more reliable devices with greater capability. I do notice however that screens on mobile phones are now increasing in size with the convergence of more functionality onto these devices. I suspect that these trends will continue but are not the most exciting ones to predict with more of the same.
One of the challenges of mobile devices are their need for energy and reliance batteries that must be charged regularly. So one of my bolder future prediction concern innovations in energy sources for mobile devices. I remember in the days before digital watches we used to have to wind them up. Then we had ones where our arm movement would provide the energy for winderless watches. Maybe some form of biological energy source such as body heat or movement could power small mobile devices.
Another challenge for digital devices that also requires innovative solutions are their need for traces of rare metals that are difficult to recycle and becoming scarce. This may require their radical redesign. There are also conflicting requirements for access and openness balanced against protection of identity and security that require socio-technical innovation.
Moving further into the social sphere I suspect that the greatest changes over the next decade will come in the social end of the social-technical spectrum as societies and nations grapple with the dialectic contrasts of openness and freedom against security and control; work against play; wealth versus wellbeing; corporate versus community. The Web has become a global platform for mobilising change, resistance to traditional authority in the hands of the few, democratisation of knowledge and action; and advocacy for great equality through sustainably development. I imagine a future where these issues are contested through debate on the Web and promoted through collective activity of global movements organised via social media.

My first blog

In thinking about writing my first blog I tried to imagine the equivalent of a blog in the 1950s when I was at school.  I guess the closest thing would be a letter to a newspaper or radio station. It was not conceivable that private citizens could create, edit, store and publish whatever they chose without pen and paper, and without someone else judging whether the words should be made public or not. So now that I can blog, I cannot resist doing so even though it has taken me a while to get around to it.

My professional worker as a researcher in the field of Information Systems (IS) has studied the evolution of digital technologies and the World Wide Web.  Right now is an exciting time as social media are invading public and private enterprises. I can now ‘follow’ journalists, the police, revolutionaries, most companies and goodness knows whom else on Twitter. I get alerted to all sorts of things, some earth shattering and some trivial, as they happen. My role as an IS researcher is to try to make sense of what is happening and where this will lead us.

When I was a physics undergrad in the early 1960s the electronic switches which made up the 0 and 1 bits of computers were valves (very large and unreliable). Transistors were just coming into the curriculum and integrated circuits barely mentioned. My research grounding as a postgrad in physics, or more accurately bio-physics, involved recording signals from electrodes stuck into nerve and muscles cells.  This was made possible by the advances in field effect transistors with high input impedances. (This meant that the very small electronic signals we were measuring were not shorted out by the measuring device). In any case I learnt to carefully observe and analyse what was really going on, at that time in the natural world but later on it would be in the world of people and organisations.

So when, after stints of backpacking around the world and raising a family, I returned to my academia career and brought the same curiosity about what was really happening to the field of IS.  This is not synonymous with IT. IS involve the creation, operation and impact of whole socio-technical systems where digital tools (i.e. computers and communications networks) basically do the following: collect data to process transactions and produce information that people use as knowledge to make sense of their world, then decide to act (or not as the case may be).

The changes in what we do (and how we do it) from the 1960s to the present day have been phenomenal and fascinating. We now live in a global space where digital technology is everywhere, mobile and often ubiquitous. Time and space no longer restrict what we can do and with whom we do it. However this seems to make our lives much more frenetic, complicated and complex. This gives me plenty to research and I see myself in a professional ecosystem where I revel in complexity, welcome change, take risks and value diversity. Knowing this may help you make sense of what I publish both here and elsewhere.