Tag Archives: #MoJo

Mobile phones aren’t bad for your health, you are

Concerned by the lack of health and safety information in place regarding the use of mobile devices for work (an essential part of a mobile journalist’s role) and the impact working in this way can have on our posture and nervous system, I caught up with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham. The good news is, mobile devices are not to blame for any so-called related health issues – we are.

Alastair sees a variety of people with postural issues, many exacerbated by the tools and technology the modern world makes it impossible for us to ignore. But he’s not seeing more people than he used to. Postural issues, he says, are not new. And it’s the impact our posture has on our nervous system that we need to worry about – and potentially addictive behaviours, like reaching for a smartphone to scroll through Facebook out of habit rather than interest or need.

Alastair frequently deals with office-based issues and encourages people to set up their desks in a way that’s going to work for their bodies, comfort and longer term health. He’s not saying anyone should give up work. And it’s the same for mobile phone users – we don’t need to give them up, just change the way we use them.

I’m looking at this from the perspective of mobile journalism but, of course, this applies to anyone using a smartphone regularly, particularly those using them for work.

What’s a mobile journalist again?

Westlund (2013) describes them as “journalists who use mobile devices extensively in their news reporting”. Blankenship (2015) in his research into mobile journalism in TV networks, says mobile journalism is “whereby a single reporter must write, shoot and edit their own news stories.” Christian Payne, in a chat with him last year, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Richardson (2012), referenced by Wikipedia, describes it as “an emerging form of new media storytelling where reporters use portable electronic devices with network connectivity to gather, edit and distribute news from his or her community”.

Take all those definitions, the fact I work on a content and social media team with storytelling at its heart, and add in my latest MA module on Instagram – a mobile app which unlike its fellow social media platforms Twitter and Facebook remains true to its app origins and many features, including analytics, have to be accessed directly via the mobile app. Not accounting for the fact I obviously use my mobile phone for social purposes too, this adds up a lot of hours connected to a device which essentially fits in the palm of my hand.

Blurring the boundaries between home and work

Add on top of that how easy it is to blur the boundaries between work and home life (known as a digital brain switch thanks to Roby et al) when the mobile phone travels with you in both. How many of us quickly check our email on our phones or tablets from the sofa at home, just because we can, not because we need to even want to. While the French recently won the right not to check email out of hours, for many of us this adds to workplace efficiency – news doesn’t always break between 9am and 5pm and, as my Instagram project reminds me, evening is often the best time to post because it’s when most people are firing up their social media apps.

Health and safety info, in the main, relates to desktop working, PCs and laptops, with little consideration for portable devices like tablets and smartphones. In fact, most reference to mobile phone use at work is linked to distraction, i.e your workplace should have a mobile phone policy in order to keep your staff off them so they can do their work.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them.

Man hunched over looking at a mobile phone

Photo by Derick Anies via Unsplash

Training our body into discomfort

Much of the health and safety I can find ‘out there’ pertains to helping staff  not use their smartphones at work; to leave their mobile phones alone and help them avoid nomophobia (smartphone addiction and the need to constantly check for messages and notifications, or anxiety when without it).  Nomophobics beware, there are even mobile apps to stop you using mobile apps, like Forest, to stop you using your phone for periods of time.

But what about health and safety information for those who do use smartphones and all the productivity tools they offer, as part of their daily work? When I pick my phone up during working hours, for the majority of the time it’s to take a photo, shoot some video footage, edit a video, design graphics, create gifs or use filters, transfer images to Dropbox etc. My working ‘to do’ list is created on a mobile app (Wunderlist) synced to all devices so I can add actions to it whilst in meetings to avoid an endless stream of post-it notes littering my desk.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them. I’m also a flexible worker, placing ever more importance on using my iPhone for work. And my work phone does not have a SIM card, it’s not used for phone calls but for its array of apps, photography and videography functions.

This may or may not be an issue for all mobile journalists (or, indeed, anyone who uses a smartphone regularly) because other factors influence health here – posture when using a mobile phone and habits we get into which ‘train’ our body into discomfort. For me, my terrible posture is exacerbated when I use a phone – I hunch over in a really ugly position – and I seem to tense up a little when I do this. Alastair says I’ve trained my nervous system to accept this as normal behaviour so it’s repeated, I now find it difficult to relax completely, even when watching the TV, my body’s in a state of permanent tension and I often wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve slept scrunched up in a ball. For me, repeated trips to the osteopath to stretch me out, clear the problem up. Until the next time.

The tall girl with terrible posture

I was the tallest girl in school for a long while, and being painfully shy in my younger years, my height only served to make me stand out more, and I was quite happy to go unnoticed so subconsciously resorted to slouching. And so began the first of many years of bad posture.

After suffering with numbness in my hand some six or seven years ago, caused by my terrible posture but exacerbated by mobile phone use, I went to see Alastair. He believes that exercises and treatment to ease symptoms can have the effect of allowing people to persist in the patterns that created the problem in the first place.

I could prescribe hundreds of different exercises but if you have to keep coming back to see me then I’m not doing my job. If I’m doing my job properly and you truly want to get better, you’ll come and see me for a series of sessions and not necessarily have to see me again.

The occupational health team at work told me I’d have to stop using my mobile phone or, at least, drastically reduce the amount of time I spent on it. They advised me to get one without access to email and apps so I could just use the phone function. I remember thinking to myself ‘that will never happen’, and more so now, because my iPhone is integral to my job and my passions – mobile journalism, visual storytelling and social media.

But Alastair reminds me that my iPhone is not to blame, I am. My phone isn’t causing me pain and discomfort, I am. And I don’t need to stop using it to get better, I need to change the way I use it. And only I can do that. In the meantime, Alastair can educate me on the how and why. (PS A video demonstrating smartphone-related postural issues and how to undo them, will follow soon). Ironically, I’m returning to this area of research because of my MA, not my postural issues, and clearly if I tackled them head-on I may not have been on what Alistair describes as a ‘downward spiral’ for so long. Note to self: I really need to listen to Alistair.

Training our bodies into a state of stress

Alastair explains that there’s a link between our vision and our nervous system and physiology. “When we take in our peripheral vision, we’re aware of our entire environment. When we put our head down to look in closer detail at something it activates our sympathetic nervous system which is our stress system, so one of the problems with phones is it puts us in a state of stress as we focus in on detail.

“When you ask someone to think about something, you’ll see them shift their balance onto one leg, push their shoulder forward, hand on the face, looking down. We’re in internal processing mode. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to be a complete illusion, we don’t multitask, we sequentially task, so when we have to think hard about something or focus on detail we shut down our physiology, we’re in a much less active posture.

“We’re in an age where people check social media constantly, checking new info, focusing in on the minutiae of what’s happening in people’s lives, losing the perspective of the bigger picture. If we have a more open perspective, lengthen our spine, open up the shoulders, your head comes up, the muscles relax and you’re now in a very different state of space. If we spend a lot of time on phones what happens is that our nervous system becomes predicated on that and it becomes our default system.

“What we need to do is remember to come out in and out of the closed posture to avoid training your body to function in a particular way. It’s actually  quick to train your body, it learns very quickly, but it’s an individual’s responsibility to do this.”

Alastair says the media would like to have us believe the all this technology will be the end of us all, but the devices aren’t the issue, it’s how we physically use them.

Salsa dancing could be the answer

So how do we strike up a healthy relationship with our mobile phones when we need them for work? Alastair said salsa – or social – dancing is a great activity. Dancing opens your posture completely, there’s music, people, a good atmosphere – it’s impossible to focus in on yourself and is an excellent physical distraction from the way you’d hold yourself when editing a video on a mobile phone, for example.

If salsa dancing’s not for you, there are other ways to strike a balance. Alastair says we don’t have to hunch over and look at our phones for hours, we can open up our posture and hold our phones up and position ourselves in a more relaxed and open way. And we can alternate activities so as not to train our bodies into bad habits. For me, for example, I can spend time editing a video on my iPhone, then walk across campus to interview an academic, then spend some time monitoring and posting content on Instagram, then sit in on a meeting. Just as I organise my diary so I don’t have back-to-back meetings at opposite ends of campus, I can also organise my workflow so I’m not spending too much time on closed-posture activities. And being aware of how I use mobile devices – thinking about open posture, trying not to tense up, I can train my body to retain these good habits and reduce the amount of stress I put it under.

Take a break, boost productivity

Alistair says taking breaks have been proven time and again – across a variety of professions – to enhance productivity. Going for a walk at lunch time, he says, will increase your output during the afternoon, compared to working through your lunch break.

In fact, taking breaks boosts productivity, no matter what your profession. This 2015 article for The Telegraph states:

Recent data from productivity app DeskTime, which tracked people’s office habits, found that the employees with the highest productivity took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work – and they did not spend that break time checking social media or replying to emails.

And Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson, in his research into elite performers across a variety of disciplines from musicians to athletes says breaks every 90 minutes made a positive impact on performance.

My smartphone is here to stay

I’m not sure salsa dancing in the office will catch on, and as much as I like a ‘cracking’ good session with the osteopath it’s reassuring to know that making positive, permanent changes, means I can enjoy a happy, healthy and long relationship with my mobile phone. The advice I received seven or so years ago – to ditch the mobile phone – was neither practical nor necessary. But I do need to listen to Alistair, take his advice seriously and attempt to ditch my mobile-induced health symptoms (diagnosed as work-related upper limb disorder).

My conversation with Alastair, unfortunately, failed to record (see, smartphones aren’t always awesome!) so I did a quick audio round up in the car on the way home to remind myself of his key points. You can listen to it (unpolished, warts and all) here or directly on Soundcloud.

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Using voice memo to rescue an interview

Between Christmas and New Year I had the pleasure of chatting with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham about the potential impact of mobile phone use on our health, particularly in relation to my own personal case as a mobile journalist, someone with terrible posture and a recurring need to see an osteopath to offset my symptoms.

I chatted for over an hour with Alastair but only managed to record the first five minutes (damn you, mobile phone and lapel mic) and in an attempt to remember as much as possible about what he said, I recorded this voice memo during the drive home.

So this is a warts and all recording, attempting to recall the interview while driving and trying to remember the way home. No editing has been done – this is 100% authentic panic interview recall. This research forms part of my MA in Online Journalism and focus on mobile journalism, in particular.

You can read the full interview – undertaken as research as part of my MA in Online Journalism – soon, and I’ll also be recording a video session with Alistair to physically show some of the open/closed postural movements I talk about in this audio recording.

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A chat about mojo with Robb Montgomery

When I started this course in May I signed up for Robb Montgomery’s mojo masterclass. It’s awesome. So after some cyber stalking, I asked Robb if I chat to him in more detail about mobile journalism and draw on his experience of it as a profession and what it’s like to teach it to people like me.

So me and Robb Skyped, Blighty to Berlin, and I’ve finally gotten around to putting it together. And in the interests of being multimedia, I turned it into a podcast.

Robb is fascinating and very talented, you have to listen to him. Me, on the other hand? I may have a face for radio but I’m not even sure if I have the voice – I sound so monotone! Perhaps this listening to your own voice lark gets easier over time…

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I do like a little bit of problem-solving

 

I’ve always liked finding solutions to problems, it’s incredibly satisfying and, on the whole, means you’ve learned something. Whether you succeed in solving the problem, or not.

And today I got a lot of satisfaction by solving a problem… bear with me, it’s a long (ish) story…

I needed to get some content ready and scheduled for Friendship Day on Sunday and to cut a long story short (er) we have some audio recordings of three members of a large student friendship group and I wanted to use JamSnap (picture and audio) to showcase them.

But JamSnap WILL NOT work on either of my two iPhones, it just spits me out every time I try and log in. Deleting and reinstalling didn’t work and it didn’t work for a colleague either. Time for Plan B…

Graphic designer to the rescue

I decided to use Thinglink, a similar app which allows you to pull other images, videos, events etc onto a background image (as referenced in previous posts). First issue… the image we had of the friends group was a group photo with the three in question sitting nowhere near each other. And it wasn’t high res.

In comes my graphic designer colleague who happily offers to tinker for me, managing to move the three friends I needed so they’re sitting side by side, the others cropped out. Awesome. Now, to make this the optimum size for Facebook meant distorting the image massively. No can do. My colleague came back with a polaroid design on top of a corkboard which kept the image small enough without looking like it was floating in a big hole. Nice one.

Now to adding the audio files and a whole heap of issues. A colleague recorded and edited the audio clips but the interviews were done over the phone so the sound quality is pretty poor, but bearable. Not ideal but given timescales and locations, phone chats were the best achievable. Thinglink desktop doesn’t allow you to pull in raw video files, only content with a url, like a YouTube video. I hopped over to the app version which allows you to pull in content from YouTube or your photo gallery, including raw video files. Great. But you can’t get an audio file to sit in your phone’s photo gallery or camera roll like you can a video. Grrrr. So while I had access to the audio files on my phone, either via WeTransfer and WeDownload or Dropbox, I couldn’t get them onto Thinglink.

Turning audio into a video…

Another Plan B needed, or is that Plan C? After lots of thinking, I wondered if hosting them on Soundcloud could work. And then, inspired by the waveform that appears as Soundcloud’s embeddable trademark, I searched for a rights free YouTube video of a waveform. Found one.

I then needed to get that onto my phone. I searched for a ‘download YouTube video’ converter (you can try ClipConverter or KeepVid.com, for example) and then popped it in Dropbox so I could get to it from my phone.

I then went back to the audio files sitting in WeDownload and there’s an option there to save them straight to iMovie. So I did that for each of the three audio files, as separate projects, and overlaid the waveform video on top and trimmed it to fit. Phew.

I then managed to save the three, now video files, and load them onto Thinglink from my phone. I then returned to the desktop version to add customised icons and some blurb.

Debugger (yes, it’s an odd word)

With all that effort, I decided to post a link on Facebook (viewable only to me) to see if it rendered properly. It was pulled through a strange title which I couldn’t suss out, so hopped over to the Facebook Debugger tool (very handy!), rescraped (by pressing the button) and tried again. Bob’s your uncle! And then I scheduled the post for publication at the weekend.

And I’m afraid that’s not the end of the story. I don’t think Thinglink works as well on Twitter so wanted to try something else with this story. I pulled some really nice friendship quotes from each of the audio files and used the Legend app to turn them into text/image-only videos, the quote flashing up first and ending with an image.

But the image was poor quality anyway and certainly not good enough to crop each of the three friends off for three separate quotes. But if I used the pic of the three of them, how would we know which one of them the quote related to? I tried putting red arrows on pointing to the friend being quoted in each of the three vids but this just looked pants.

On discussion with a colleague – two heads are better than one – she suggested playing one quote after another and ending with the image of the three of them, so one video rather than three, and playing the quotes in the order the ladies are sitting. Plan!

Eureka moment (almost)

Eek, but the apps give you a character limit and there’s no option to pull three quotes in one by one. Grrrr. I had a chat with the videographer to see if he could whip out his old school tools and make something for me, which would possibly take a bit of a time. And as we were talking it through, he said the phase ‘stitch the quotes together’. It was a eureka moment (almost). I said ‘give me 10 minutes and I’ll come back to you if I haven’t done it by then.’

10 minutes later and I’d done it. I created three separate quote clips using Legend, and saved them to my camera roll. I then hopped over to the Splice app and ‘spliced’ the three quotes together and added an image at the end. Bingo! No need for the videographer to interrupt his work, yay! It’s easy to forget that a single app won’t always do everything you want but you can jump from one to another with a single piece of content.

End of the story yet? Not quite. I then went to schedule the video and Twitter post for the weekend but the scheduling tool we used wouldn’t take the video file format (and I can’t even remember what that was, but probably a mov?!). Back onto Google where I found onlinevideoconverter.com and converted the file into an mp4 and FINALLY I was done.

Here’s a screen shot…

grab3

And here’s link to the post, with the Thinglink interactive on Facebook.

Stop, collaborate and listen (I’ll thank Vanilla Ice for that one)

Sounds like a lot of work for a single story but it didn’t take all that long – although it does highlight the amount of effort that can go into a single tweet or Facebook status. Social media isn’t as quick as you’d think.

It also shows that collaboration is key. Four colleagues were involved in this process – the one who did the audio interviews, the graphic designer, the videographer and my line manager who I consulted when I felt a bit stuck. That’s five of us! And, while in theory I could have done of those tasks myself (the graphic design being the most challenging) it would have taken me an age. So while it’s easy to think it’s just me, a story idea and the mobile phone, it actually rarely ever is.

To summarise, I felt great. I’d solved a lot of problems with this content and while the one that concerns me most – the quality of the audio – is beyond my control, I’ve learned a lot. Problem-solving is actually a lot of fun!

And I’ll update this post with the actual content once it’s live (update: now done!)

Here’s a link to the video on Twitter so can you play it, and below are screen grabs of the video (left) on Twitter and an image card (right – taking the same content and giving it two ‘treatments’, posting within an hour of each other to test which worked better. At the time of updating this post (3pm ish on Sunday 7th August) the video got much more engagement. Is is the moving quotes, or could it be the Yeats quote?

 

 

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Dabble with apps, share the love

As part of this latest production labs module (note: deadline looming, desperately need to get my act together!) I’ve been glued to my mobile phone. No surprise since I’m looking into mobile journalism, but a pleasant side effect is that I’m now the proud owner of some very useful apps; ones I actually use rather than sitting there soaking up storage space.

Mobile journos – in my experience – are keen to share their top tips, advice, skills, technology etc to support others, particularly as it’s still an emerging rather than established and mainstream practice. And in that vein, I wrote a blog post for local (Milton Keynes) web design agency Westfourstreet

Read: 9 apps to support your creativity

mobile-apps-used-for-creativity

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