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BEST OF THE WEB: The benefits of a digital detox

Tech-loving entrepreneurs would know how hard it is to unplug from the digital world, even during a holiday. It starts with just checking a few emails, then browsing the web and suddenly you’re fixing problems you shouldn’t even be aware of.

But maybe you should try a little harder.

At least, that’s the message of doctors who suggest there are more benefits of a digital detox than you realise. And in a new piece on the CNTraveler, there’s a good reason for suggesting why you need to relax more often.

As it points out, an American Express survey from last year found 79% of travellers expect to be connected digitally while on vacation – and that means we need vacations more than ever:

“It really is crazy, but we’ve evolved to a state where we really need—or think we need—to be digitally connected every second,” says Gloria Mark, a researcher in the emerging science of informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

Mark’s line of work involves the social side of digital interactions, the publication notes. One key study found that a lack of interruptions on vacation made some key health differences:

“That’s a clear signal we need to get away from our email while on vacation,” she said.

Part of the problem is that when you’re on vacation, your brain is still telling you things are being missed. You need to get away from that feeling – but as the publication points out, that’s extremely hard.

But it’s a benefit in the long term. The fewer stimuli you have while away from the office, the better off you’ll be. Read up here on how to check out completely – and then learn to put it into practice.

Inside the big data that helped Obama win

Unless you've been hiding somewhere in the past 24 hours, you'd know Barack Obama has won another four years as president of the United States.

But the interesting thing about this election hasn't been the typical debates over social values or the economy. It's the way in which big data has played a crucial role.

Over at Time, there's a great piece on how the world of data crunchers, and how they helped Obama win. They pain-stakingly analysed small variations in polls across various states and territories, using that information to then guide the campaign.

As the piece points out, the number crunchers noticed celebrity George Clooney had sway over women voters on the west coast aged between 40 and 49.

So the campaign took action.

So as they did with all the other data collected, stored and analyzed in the two-year drive for re-election, Obama's top campaign aides decided to put this insight to use. They sought out an East Coast celebrity who had similar appeal among the same demographic, aiming to replicate the millions of dollars produced by the Clooney contest.

"We were blessed with an overflowing menu of options, but we chose Sarah Jessica Parker," explains a senior campaign adviser. And so the next Dinner with Barack contest was born: a chance to eat at Parker's West Village brownstone.

To the public, this change isn't noticeable at all. But it highlights just how important data mining has become in the election scene, and the type of power that big data can bring a campaign - or a business. Read up on the story to get a good grasp on how big data can actually provide big results.

Social media making its way into legal cases

We’ve heard plenty of cases in Australia about social media being a part of workplace trials, such as the Linfox worker who was fired after making comments about his manager on Facebook.

But as this piece in The New York Times points out, social media is making its way into the court room.

Mark O’Mara, the lawyer defending George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case in America, created a Twitter page, a Facebook account and a website for his client.

It was quite unusual, but last month, the judge in the case allowed O’Mara to keep those pages up. That’s a huge precedent, especially as most of the public outrage for the case came through social media channels:

“The way the whole case has been playing out in social media is typical of our times, but more typical of civil cases than criminal cases,” said Robert Ambrogi, a lawyer and technology expert who writes a blog on the intersection of the legal profession and social media.

“It’s not without precedent, but it’s on the cutting edge.”

It’s a problematic development for legal cases, which are especially sensitive. Social media can invade that sensitivity – but it’s an interesting development nonetheless, and one that has some opposition:

“While Mr O’Mara has become adept at social media, rattling off the number of Google hits on the words Trayvon Martin and the tally of visits to the legal defense site — 267,089 as of Monday — plunging into the world of Twitter, Facebook and blogs is not a welcome development for all in the courtroom.”

A snapshot of going viral

Hurricane Sandy took up the majority of the news last week, devastating the US east coast. But it was an interesting demonstration of how people use social media during disasters.

One man in New York, Nick Cope, took what would be the storm’s most viral photo, of storm water rising among Brooklyn homes:

floodphoto-later

In this interview on the American Photo Magazine, he spoke about his experience in watching the photo go viral. For businesses interested in what makes content popular online, this is a good place to look.

But the most interesting part in the interview is when he responded to a question about leads for new business:

I’m preparing to launch a company that I’ve been working on for almost two years in the next month, and I really wish in hindsight that I’d launched my larger web site in the last two weeks.

While it’s impossible to determine when content goes viral, this comment represents a key point: you should always be prepared to have something to market if you do manage to get a lot of attention online.

The rest of the interview is a great read – especially if you’re interested in what makes content popular online.

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