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Bill Bennett



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Passion is a cliché – give it a rest, say something new

You see plenty of passion if you spend time online.

Today someone “passionate about search engine optimisation” followed me on Twitter. I’ve come across people passionate about real estate, online marketing and customer service management.

They are either liars, deluded or insane.

I don’t know which is worse.

Passion or unhealthy obsession?

Sorry. Nobody is passionate about search engine optimisation. I shudder at the thought.

People might enjoy working in the field. They may enjoy it a lot and be excited by the money it pays. They may even get a buzz from the problem solving their work involves.

But they are not passionate. Not if they are mentally healthy.

Passion has become a meaningless word. Tired. A cliché. It tells me the person using it is an unimaginative idiot. Or lazy about language.

Be original, make that your goal

If you want to say you like something a lot, think up a new way of expressing the idea and we might listen.

And while we’re on the subject, the same applies to sexy.

Computers are not sexy. Pieces of software engineering are not sexy.

Or perhaps people have odd ideas about sex. It’s a little kinky if you ask me.

Digital sabbath

Set aside one day a week when you don’t switch your computer on.

A day when you don’t check mail, update Facebook, or tweet.

No firing up the desktop for game playing.

It doesn’t need to be the same day every week. You may have to trim things according to needs and deadlines. You may only be able to manage one day a fortnight.

Go off-line and let the brain rest. Or, if not rest, allow it to change gear.

Take a break instead of constantly responding to incoming messages. Just let them pile up.

There’s always tomorrow.

You can de-stress. And before you say you find it stressful not being in constant touch with cyberspace, think again. You know that isn’t true.

The online world will go on without you.

Read books, chat to friends, play sport, enjoy the sunshine or bake muffins instead.

That way, when you get back online, you’ll be refreshed. It is like a mini holiday. It may sound like a cliché, but you will work better after taking a day-long break from your computer.

Digital sabbath not original

The digital sabbath is not an original idea. If you are religious, it came at the end of the first recorded week. The Biblical creation story says God rested on the seventh day.

Ancient Jews worked for six days then strictly observed the Shabbat when many everyday things were not allowed. They knew this was mentally, and physically, healthy.

I first heard about the idea of a digital sabbath in an online forum – sadly I don’t recall who or where the original idea comes from.


It is harder to take even one day’s rest from the digital world if you have a phone, an ebook reader or if you use the computer as an entertainment hub for music and video. And you may have a job, or some other responsibilities that make going off-line difficult.

Nevertheless, I suggest you do what you can to give it a try, reconnect once a week with the analogue world.

I’m not perfect

I’d like  to report I take a full day away from my computer every week. The truth is, I don’t always manage it. Although I try to schedule a full day off each week, I generally only get a couple of full-blown digital sabbaths each month.

Navigating Americanisms and British English

Worrying about the differences between American and other versions of English feels old-fashioned in an era of global connections.

Yet you should be aware of them.

If you write for English-speakers outside of North America, your words and your meaning will be easier to read, better understood and unambiguous if you follow local use.

If you come from a British English tradition — that includes Australia and New Zealand among other places — you’ll not only feel more at home writing in your own voice, your writing will be more natural as a result.

English voices

And that matters online, where a writer’s voice takes on far more importance. Most Americans won’t worry. A few pedants might niggle, others will find it charming.

At the same time, you’ll find words flow more fluently when you are comfortable with your language.

Another reason not to force yourself into using American English is you may occasionally get it wrong. At worse, Americans will spot you as a phony. More likely, you will be misunderstood.

Remember your goal as a writer is to articulate ideas as clearly and efficiently as possible. Your natural voice is the best tool for the job. That’s the one where you can express your thoughts most clearly and reach the audience.

When ignorance is clever

Admitting ignorance is one of the great things about being a journalist.

Well, maybe not ignorance. But it is OK to not know things. Journalists can ask questions without feeling dumb.

People expect it of you and make allowances: although constant questions may explain why surveys show journalists are unpopular.

Professional ignorance

What’s great about admitting you don’t know?

Society is intolerant when people don’t know things.

This means many adults are reluctant to admit to knowledge gaps. We feel the need to disguise our ignorance.

Disguising a lack of knowledge is a problem for people who work in knowledge industries. That’s understandable. Employers hire knowledge workers for expertise and insight. They may feel cheated when told: “I don’t know” or “I’ll find out”.

Not knowing everything is glorious

Yet no-one knows everything. Not even in a narrow subject area.

Admitting you don’t know is liberating. Being able to ask questions is liberating.

Asking people to explain what they mean when they say something strange or incomprehensible is liberating.

Pretending to understand when you don’t is stifling. And learning new information is hard when you are busy trying to hide your ignorance.

As a journalist, I make a point of asking questions even when I suspect I know the answer. It is the best way of learning new knowledge, even if it makes me sound like an inquisitive child.

It can often provide fresh insight.

Appearing ignorant doesn’t bother me. Staying ignorant does.

Computerworld says IT failure costs NZ$5.4 billion annually

Rob O’Neill’s front page story on today’s Computerworld draws on research by US-based Objectwatch saying the total cost of IT failure in New Zealand is $5.4 billion a year. The story is not online at the time of writing.

Objectwatch’s CTO, Roger Sessions calculated the cost globally, for the US and for New Zealand saying the number includes the indirect costs as well as direct costs.

The number seems large for two reasons:

  • First. For a country with around 4.3 million people Sessions’ waste amounts to around $1280 per person or roughly three percent of GDP*. In plain English that means IT failure wastes one out of every 20 dollars earned in New Zealand.
  • Second. According to IDC numbers in a press release issued in August New Zealand’s total IT market was worth $5,911 million in 2008 and is growing at 3.6 percent. So Sessions’ statement could be interpreted as saying the money spent on IT is wasted.

On this basis we’d be better offer dumping computers and switching back to trusty old adding machines.