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The Social Media Disconnect

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You wake up each morning but before getting out of bed you’re already caught up with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. By the time you’ve reached the office, you know exactly what’s trending, which celeb made a faux pas, and what your virtual friends are wearing to work. Sound familiar?

According to the SA Social Media Landscape 2017 report issued by World Wide Worx and Ornico, there are 14 million South Africans on Facebook, 7.7 million on Twitter, 5.5 million on LinkedIn and 3.5 million on Instagram. It’s unclear how many are on Snapchat as users themselves don’t know what their follower count is; however, the last global estimate stood at 2% being South African.

Being on multiple social media platforms is the norm, but how has it changed our behavior? Gregory Eccles, a counselling psychologist practicing in Greenstone Hills, Johannesburg, says social media allows us to share far more of our lives with a large audience than we typically would have, creating opportunities for both greater inclusion of others in our lives, as well as for overshare or compromised privacy.

“Like any other communication tool, it gives us the power to affect change in our lives in good and bad ways, but it is our choice of how we use it that ultimately decides its impact,” says Eccles.

“It also allows us to indulge our inherent narcissism more fully than we otherwise may have been able, but those are desires that were there prior to social media.”

Saaleha Bamjee, a 33-year-old writer and photographer based in Johannesburg, who has since deleted her Snapchat account, says she used to catch up on the network in the mornings and evenings, and when not busy, in the afternoons.

“I joined out of a sense of FOMO [fear of missing out], and at first, followed the popular accounts,” she says. “It soon got tiresome, none of what people were sharing was of any value to me personally.”

There have been reports over the years of people going into debt to maintain an online presence and image, while a fair amount of ‘influencers’ overseas have quit Instagram altogether because they couldn’t keep up with the pressure of leading “fake” lives. Eccles says there is certainly pressure to maintain a certain type of social image, and the same applies to our social media presence.

“While some people may experience that pressure as quite overwhelming, it is ultimately still an action of choice for the most part as to how we present ourselves through social media.”

Bamjee says she made purchases on cosmetics and haircare appliances based on the recommendation of a local beauty blogger, while other purchases were tied to being a photographer.

“On Instagram, if I want to be hired or promote my services effectively, I have to upload quality images; this often involves shopping for food ingredients and props.”

Eccles thinks that social media doesn’t actively force us to make purchases. He says that the one aspect of social media when compared to other communication methods is that it allows us greater control over what we present, but we do not always take that into account when viewing posts from other people – an oversight which potentially mars our perspective of our status relative to others.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in new hardware such as better technology in smartphones like higher megapixels on the front-facing cameras, and 360-degree cameras, which Facebook has been supporting for quite some time now. These technologies enable us to share more than ever because it’s no longer just a photo; it’s now full-on livestreams through Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and 360-degree photos and videos of every aspect of our lives.

While the availability of these sorts of tools can make it easier to indulge in our vices, Eccles maintains it is not the tools that are to blame.

“We need to look at our own motivations for why we use all of these tools the way we do, and think carefully about what other options we may have to achieve similar results (sense of social connection) and what the consequences of each method are.”

Eccles believes the problem is deeper than what it appears, and thinks that while consumer culture has an influence on our need to be connected all the time, the bigger influence are our own feelings of social connectedness or isolation.

“The truth is we all have a strong desire to connect socially with others, and social media is often the easiest way to do so. Unfortunately, our interactions through social media are quite superficial, forcing those who choose to fulfil their need for social interaction through social media to require more of it.”

Bamjee subsequently stopped following Snapchat accounts that had a “sameness” about it – a preoccupation with affluence and image.

“I soon realized that I didn’t want to see even more than what was already being shared on Facebook or Instagram. I missed having a conversation where I could ask ‘hey, what’s new’ and actually hear something I hadn’t known about previously.”

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our reasons for being on social media and the behavior it dictates. “We have a common urge to place blame outside ourselves – Facebook does this to us or smartphones do this to us, but while they often make it easier to behave in ways that may not be particularly healthy, such as ignoring the outside world in favour of spending all your time on your phone, we cannot ignore our own agency in all of this,” concludes Eccles.

While her time is still being monopolised by other social media platforms, Bamjee says she is happier in the sense that she no longer feels she has to know what’s going on with everyone all the time.

Entrepreneurs

31% Of Small Businesses Have Stopped Operating Amid Coronavirus: Sheryl Sandberg Shares How Facebook’s Latest Product Aims To Help

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The coronavirus pandemic has continued to take a catastrophic toll on America’s small businesses. According to Facebook’s State of Small Business report, 31% of small businesses and 52% of personal businesses have stopped operating as a result of the crisis. 

“What we know today is pretty sobering,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “We’re in a really hard economic situation that is hitting all businesses, but particularly, small businesses really hard. We also know how critical small businesses are for jobs—long before coronavirus,” she says. “Two thirds of new jobs in this country happen because of small businesses and so that means what’s happening with small businesses has always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”

Especially concerning is that only 45% of business owners and managers plan to rehire the same number of workers when their businesses reopen. That number is just 32% for personal businesses. 

“If these businesses are letting people go, it’s not that they don’t want to rehire them,” Sandberg says. “It’s because they don’t think they’re going to be able to. That’s a pretty serious thing for us to be facing.”

Businesses that have been able to maintain operations still face significant hurdles, namely access to capital and customers. Some 28% of businesses surveyed say their biggest challenge over the next few months will be cash flow, while 20% say it will be lack of demand. 

The report, conducted in partnership with the Small Business Roundtable, was based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees. It is also a part of the company’s broader data collection initiative with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Future of Business.

“We were already in the process of developing this report before the coronavirus pandemic hit,” Sandberg says. “We expected it to be a pretty rosy tale back then of low unemployment, flourishing entrepreneurship, and jobs growing all over the world. Fast forward to today and we’re in a very different position.”

An example of Facebook’s new Shops feature, which creates digital “storefronts” for businesses.
 
FACEBOOK

Now, the company is launching Facebook Shops, an ecommerce product that allows businesses to set up online “storefronts” on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can customize their digital shops, using cover images to showcase their brands and catalogs to highlight their products. And just as customers can ask for help when shopping in physical stores, they can message business owners directly via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, track deliveries and more. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post announcing the new product. As was the case with the survey, the rollout was planned prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated as businesses have turned to online tools to adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis. According to the survey, 51% of small business owners have  increased their online interactions with customers, and 36% of operational businesses are now conducting all sales online. 

“One of the things I find so amazing is how much of the activity has migrated online and that we’re doing things we never thought were possible,” says Sandberg. “If I had asked you or you had asked me, could I work entirely from home? Can my whole company go home? I would have said ‘No way.’ But we did it. Small businesses have even more entrepreneurial spirit.”

There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S., many of which are struggling to stay afloat amid forced closures and are still hoping to receive financial relief from the government. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs, 71% of Paycheck Protection Program applicants are still waiting for loans and 64% don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months. As of April 19, more than 175,000 businesses have shut down—temporarily or permanently—with closure rates rising 200% or more in hard-hit metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to Yelp’s Q1 Economic Average report.

Employees of these businesses are disproportionately affected, with 74% and 70% reporting not having access to paid sick leave and paid time off, according to Facebook’s survey. For hotel, cafe and restaurant employees, those figures are over 90%.

Facebook, which relies heavily on small businesses for advertising revenue, was among the first major tech companies to provide much-needed aid. On March 17, the company announced $100 million in grants for small businesses, the majority of which will be distributed in cash, with some ad credits for business services. Of those funds, $40 million will be distributed across 34 American cities, with 50% being reserved for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. The other $60 million will be distributed to small business owners throughout the world. In addition to financial assistance, the company also rolled out various product offerings including digital gift cardsfundraisers and easier ways for businesses to communicate service changes to their customers. 

Small businesses are resilient, even during times of crisis. According to the report, 57% of businesses are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future, with only 11% of operating businesses expecting to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist. 

“The report raises awareness about the struggles small businesses face from the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies and co-executive director of the Small Business Roundtable. “But small businesses have brought us out of previous economic downturns and they will do so again.”

Maneet Ahuja, Forbes Staff, Entrepreneurs

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Technology

A Bottom-Up Approach To Cheaper, Next-Gen Electric Vehicles

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REE Automotive thinks the way to get electric vehicles into the mainstream is to flatten things out–by using a skateboard platform that integrates the battery, motors and driving controls into a flush floor and allows for independent steering of wheels. And while this tech startup’s concept is radical, it’s finding support from traditional automotive partners.

The latest to sign on is Tokyo-based KYB Corp., one of the world’s biggest makers of shock absorbers. The companies said today they’ve formed a partnership to develop suspension capabilities for electric vehicles that will be built off of Tel Aviv-based REE’s platform. Financial details of the arrangement, the first EV project for KYB, weren’t disclosed. REE emerged from stealth mode in 2019 and is also working with Toyota-affiliated truckmaker Hino, Mitsubishi Corp. and FiatChrysler.

CEO and cofounder Daniel Barel

REE AUTOMOTIVE

KYB is “excited to partner with REE Automotive and share its revolutionary EV vision by engineering a suspension subsystem that supports the needs of tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem,” Kazunori Masumoto, KYB’s general manager of engineering, said in a statement. 

For more than a decade, many companies have touted the benefits of standardized, flat undercarriages that could support multiple vehicle types, from sedans and crossovers to vans and commercial trucks, to dramatically eliminate costs to create individual platforms for each. Most recently, electric truck startup Rivian, automotive tech firm Canoo and the U.K.’s Arrival have promoted flat platforms for a range of battery-powered vehicles, but REE cofounder and CEO Daniel Barel says his company takes the approach even farther. 

“They’re great, but they are not skateboards. Only the middle is a skateboard,” Barel tells Forbes. The difference is how much battery REE’s design can accommodate and the complete integration of drive controls into the floor, he says. “We hold the most batteries per footprint than anybody else in the industry.” 

Barel says his company, which is not building complete vehicles, intends to have its technology on the road in 2021. One possible version was shown in October at the Tokyo Motor Show by Hino, with its FlatFormer electric concept vehicle riding on an REE-based platform. The Japanese truckmaker showed variations of the concept modified to serve as delivery trucks, food service and sanitation vehicles, mobile offices and salons and even agricultural and sanitation trucks, with different tops riding on the platform.

“KYB’s technology will play a crucial role in the rapid development of our next-generation EV architecture, which reinvents the electric vehicle with a completely flat, scalable and fully modular platform, ready to carry the future of e-mobility,” Barel said.

Along with lowering development costs, electric vehicles using REE’s technology will be lighter and considerably more compact. “We’re not only 33% lighter, but we’re almost 70% smaller in footprint” relative to Tesla Model 3, with the same interior volume, Barel claims. The business plan would rely mainly on supplying its design to different companies, ranging from auto and truck manufacturers to delivery and logistics companies, that he declined to identify. 

To date, REE has raised “about $100 million” from investors and automotive partners, Barel said, without elaborating. That’s more than double the $40.2 million the company had raised through its Series C round in 2018, according to Crunchbase. Additional fundraising is planned for 2020, though he didn’t provide details. 

If REE or other startups can bring viable platforms to market, demand could be strong, says Gartner IT transportation tech analyst Mike Ramsey. “There’s a lot of reasons to think that this would be super appealing. You’ve opened up the world of automakers very large, potentially, you know, with this platform approach,” he said. “But it does still require a lot of additional work–the crash testing, the assembly system and everything needed to support it.”     

Whether REE’s approach works in the real world remains to be seen, but it’s an approach that could help speed the slow shift away from conventional internal combustion engine designs if it helps make EVs easier to build and much cheaper. Barel sees flat platforms as doing just that. 

“To keep on building vehicles the same way we’ve been doing it for a hundred years doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Alan Ohnsman, Forbes Staff, Transportation

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Entrepreneurs

Op-Ed: How Nigerians Can Unlock Their Potential In The Digital Age

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By Uzoma Dozie, Chief Sparkler

Nigerians are some of the world’s most creative, energetic, and entrepreneurial people. We are rich with talent, enthusiasm, and passion.

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track-record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, this comes down to the lack of effective solutions in the market to support the lifestyle and finances of Nigerians and our businesses. For too long, we have been underserved by the traditional physical retail environment, which is limited by bricks and mortar infrastructure and legacy technology – the weaknesses of which have been laid bare by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy

While Nigerians are being underserved by current circumstances, there is also an exciting opportunity to start filling a gap in the market.

Nigeria’s digital economy is thriving, but it remains informal. Nigeria has a population of 198 million people – 172 million have a mobile phone and 112 million have internet access.

Many of us access social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram through our phones and use them as valuable sales tools, especially female entrepreneurs. Data and digital applications have the potential to revolutionize the daily lives of millions of Nigerians.

Therefore, new digital-only solutions are required. These should not just focus on finances though – they have to be intrinsically linked with everyday lifestyles, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes.

Let us take one example. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence have long been used to provide financial advice. But these chatbots could do so much more and evolve to provide support for more sophisticated usage, such as a personal adviser or lifestyle concierge.

Furthermore, these solutions should not just support Nigerians at home, but the ever-growing diaspora across the world.

Introducing Sparkle

The opportunity to play an integral role in transforming Nigeria’s digital economy and lead the charge in growing the digital economy across Africa inspired the creation of Sparkle.

Sparkle was founded with five core values – freedom, trust, simplicity, inclusivity, and personalization. We are adopting these values and embedding them in everything we do.

We will be leveraging technology and data to create and apply new digital-only solutions which bring more Nigerians into the formal economy thereby benefitting Government, businesses, and individuals.

Starting with the launch of a current account, we will co-create with our customers and collaborate with our partners to improve our services and increase our user base. We embrace collaboration and we are

working with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Microsoft, Visa, and PwC Nigeria, to achieve our vision.

In addition, we want to create a more inclusive economy and break down barriers by accelerating the role and influence of female entrepreneurs, many of whom already operate in the informal economy with the help of Instagram and other social media apps.

At present, we are facing a global crisis in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a strong digital infrastructure to ensure the economy continues to function. It will likely completely change the way we operate and conduct business in the future.

COVID-19 has only reinforced our belief that new digital solutions like Sparkle are required now more than ever before to serve Nigerians, boost the formal economy, and unlock potential in the digital age.

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