Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Web secret 455: High Tech, High Touch redux

 I first wrote a web secret about high touch in 2014. I am writing about it again in a different context.

In a recent blog post, I asked what does increased automation mean for those of us who are working in behavioral health care or employee assistance?

I pointed out that fortunately, what we do is tech proof.

At least until right before The Singularity, when robot brains will be indistinguishable from human ones.

I feel confident that we will continue to thrive for at least a few decades, maybe even 50 years or more, because of a concept coined in 1982 by John Naisbitt, an expert in futures studies.

Naisbitt wrote Megatrends, the fruit of 10 years of research. In it, he theorized that in a world of technology, people will long for personal, human contact. High tech, high touch.

How prescient!

He thought about this before Time Magazine's famous "The Computer, Machine of the Year" issue in 1983, for which the caption was "The computer moves in." I can still remember how shocked everyone was that a machine was on the cover instead of a person.

Naisbitt further elaborated on his concept in his 1999 update "High Tech, High Touch - technology and our search for meaning."

Based on exhaustive research, he described us as living in "a Technologically Intoxicated Zone," where we are bombarded with technological stimuli and live distanced and distracted.

At that time, Naisbitt noted that we struggled to bring high touch back into our lives, seeking meaning in religion and self-help books, popping Prozac and seeking connection to nature by driving SUVs and buying clothes from L.L. Bean.

The book suggested we pull the plug on the computer and TV, turn off the cell phone and beeper, and spend more time with family and friends.

He wrote this in 1999, before the smartphone and social media...

Back to the present, we may deliver services via portable technologies, but at least for a while, the therapist/client relationship will still be valued.

And employees will need the help of their EAPs to cope with the rapidly changing employment landscape.

And we will still need to pull the plug.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Web Secret 454: the robots are coming

As I write this, the New York Times published 2 articles today:

The first: Amazon to Add 100,000 Jobs as Bricks-and-Mortar Retail Crumbles

The article's key points are:

"Amazon’s new warehouse in Baltimore is a rare economic bright spot there, employing 3,000 people full-time...

...With Amazon’s announcement ... that it plans to hire 100,000 new employees in the next 18 months, the Baltimore facility and at least 70 other Amazon fulfillment centers across the country stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries.

Fifteen miles away in the suburbs, all that is left of Owings Mills Mall is rubble, demolition having started in the fall, after the last anchor stores, Macy’s and J. C. Penney, closed within months of each other.

...the two scenes [are] an example of ... 'creative destruction'

...it’s key to remember that online retailing has destroyed many times that number of positions at malls and shopping centers across America."


The second article "Robots Will Take Jobs, but Not as Fast as Some Fear, New Report Says" opines that:

"...A measured pace is likely because what is technically possible is only one factor in determining how quickly new technology is adopted, according to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute...

The report...concludes that many tasks can be automated and that most jobs have activities ripe for automation...

[Other reports are less sanguine.] Examining trends in artificial intelligence, researchers at Oxford University, estimated in a widely cited paper published in 2013 that 47 percent of jobs in the United States were at risk from automation...

...Such uncertainties led the McKinsey researchers to calculate the pace of automation as ranges rather than precise predictions. The report’s multifactor scenarios suggest that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055. That threshold could be reached 20 years earlier or 20 years later, the report adds, depending on economic trends, labor market dynamics, regulations and social attitudes.

So while further automation is inevitable, McKinsey’s research suggests that it will be a relentless advance rather than an economic tidal wave..."


What does this mean for those of us who are working in behavioral health care or employee assistance?

What we do is tech proof.

At least until right before The Singularity, when robot brains will be indistinguishable from human ones.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Web Secret 453: 3% and other miracles

When I was a tween we moved from the U.S. to Switzerland, and lived there for two years.

This was the late sixties and in those days, when you were in another country, you were completely cut off from just about everything in your native land.

Long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive. Air mail took two weeks to get there. It took time - months - for the latest music to get to the local record store. Forget about watching current TV shows. Those took years.

You were effectively walled off.

After two years we returned and I was a stranger in a strange land.

I was out of the loop, didn't get the jokes, or the references.

Fast forward to 2017. Everyone around the world can watch Game of Thrones at the same time.

Spotify allows me to access the music I heard at a restaurant in Italy, upon my return to New York. Versailles, a French TV series broadcast on Ovation about a young Louis XIV's quest to build his famous palace, was made in English so as to reach the largest global audience. The show's creators asserted that if Louis was alive, he would have agreed to the use of English, because he was always trying to communicate his ideas to the largest population possible.

But this isn't just about the globalization of American entertainment.

It's about all entertainment, from every corner of the world making its way to your screen as well.

Netflix recently released 3%, their first ever Brazilian science fiction TV series - available in English or Portuguese.

I'm watching.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Web Secret 452: Atlas Obscura

Hidden worlds.

Once you get past the obvious travel destinations and sights, what is there to see?

As it turns out, a whole lot.

Let the website "Atlas Obscura" show you the way.

Atlas Obscura describes itself as "the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places.

In an age where everything seems to have been explored and there is nothing new to be found, we celebrate a different way of looking at the world. If you're searching for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you'll find them."


In my own New York City backyard, I discovered the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins.

When I was a teenager, my mother and her Parisian friends were perplexed by my insistence on visiting the Catacombes de Paris, the underground burial site of 6 million people.

The website is inspiring me to visit the Vampire Café in Tokyo, Japan.

Or Ball's Pyramid in Australia, a barren sea spire that is home to the world's rarest insect.

But for now, I will happily armchair travel.

And you should too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Web Secret 451: machine learning

Machine learning: a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.

Essentially, the computer teaches itself.

Concretely, what does that mean?

Google invested a huge amount of expertise, time and money to teach its Google Translate program to do just that.

A recent article in the New York Times, The Great A.I. Awakening by Gideon Lewis-Kraus explains what happened next.

Google Translate suddenly and almost immeasurably improved.

Like overnight.

A Japanese professor noticed this happen. He told the program to translate a Japanese version of Hemingway's “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” into English. In 24 hours, Google Translate went from producing this:

"Kilimanjaro is 19,710 feet of the mountain covered with snow, and it is said that the highest mountain in Africa. Top of the west, “Ngaje Ngai” in the Maasai language, has been referred to as the house of God. The top close to the west, there is a dry, frozen carcass of a leopard. Whether the leopard had what the demand at that altitude, there is no that nobody explained."

to this:

"Kilimanjaro is a mountain of 19,710 feet covered with snow and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. The summit of the west is called “Ngaje Ngai” in Masai, the house of God. Near the top of the west there is a dry and frozen dead body of leopard. No one has ever explained what leopard wanted at that altitude."

In his article, Lewis-Kraus noted that "Even to a native English speaker, the missing article on the leopard is the only real giveaway that [the passage] was the output of an automaton."

Remarkable.

Machine learning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Web Secret 450: Man Therapy

I am frequently asked what is typical utilization for an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

And I answer "it depends."

The reason is demographics. If you have mostly female employees, you are always going to have much higher utilization than if you have mostly male employees.

Men have greater difficulty seeking help than women. It's a stereotype, but unfortunately true.

In 2006, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decided to tackle the challenge of male suicide prevention. Cactus, a Denver based ad agency, offered to do some pro bono work and come up with a campaign that would reach working aged men who were potentially high risk for suicide and unlikely to seek help on their own.

Their brilliant idea? Man Therapy, an interactive mental health campaign targeting working age men (25-54) that employs humor to cut through stigma and tackle issues like depression, divorce and anxiety. The campaign features the fictional Dr. Rich Mahogany, described by Adam Newman in the New York Times as “an affable, mustachioed, middle-aged man whose personality might be described as Dr. Phil meets Ron Burgundy...” The underlying message is that all men should be aware of their mental health, treat it like they would a broken leg and strive to get better.

The centerpiece of the campaign is the ManTherapy.org website, where men and their loved ones will find they have a virtual appointment with Dr. Mahogany. He greets visitors, makes them feel at ease and then provides an overview of what they can explore during their visit.

From there, visitors can navigate through Dr. Mahogany’s office where they can find useful information about men’s mental health including the Guy’s Guide to Gentlemental Health. Men can also choose to take an 18-question quiz to evaluate their own mental health, access resources and explore a wide range of actions, including accessing do-it-yourself tips, seeking therapy referral sources, linking to local support groups or a crisis line.

Here is a sample Man Therapy video:


I encourage you to explore every link on this innovative, entertaining website. The approach has been successfully exported to other countries and won countless awards.

Bravo.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Web secret 449: TZK seminars

This past year, the New York State division of professional licensing announced that there would now be a continuing ed requirement for me to renew my license as a clinical social worker.

I immediately went on line to find out where and how I could acquire the requisite CEUs.

Most of the approved providers were outrageously expensive and inconvenient.

Hello TZK seminars.

Now I was a little cautious because quite frankly the name "TZK seminars" accompanied by a very 90s looking, no frills website seemed sketchy.

TZK seminars sounded like the subject of an infomercial on some open access channel at 3 am.

In this case, do not judge the website by its landing page.

TZK is a super convenient, incredibly affordable, excellent resource to get CEUs via live and recorded (home study) webinars.

So far I have watched:

The Treatment of Hoarding Home Study

Understanding and Treating The Cybersexually Addicted

New Developments in Ethics and the Law

Being an Expert in Child Custody Cases.

All have been excellently taught and interesting.

I can get my CEUs without ever leaving my apartment.

I also like that TZK allows you to sign up for a live webinar at the very last minute - even 15 minutes before the program starts. I never know when I am going to have a block of time to get continuing ed and I love being able to squeeze in some learning whenever it suits me. TZK sends me a url where I can access the program, and I have the choice of calling in or using my computer to listen to the audio.

Easy.

Other than watching the webinars, TZK requires a validation test after each program before emailing the certificate of attendance.

Well done, TZK!