I’d like to thank everyone who has wished me well for, and expressed interest in, the Celebration 2.0 project.
One of the key things I am grappling with in the project is just how we measure the change we are looking to shape as a result of it. And there are two key activities that might be particularly difficult to pin down. These are:
- Is encouraging people to have fun with and around technology an effective way of introducing newcomers to its benefits? and
- Can we encourage people to see technology as integral to their lives, and, therefore, life enhancing, not a chore to be avoided where possible.
On the first point. It was possibly an unexpected bonus of the #twicket initiative that all sorts of people were turned on to technology as a result of participating in or watching an age-old tradition, the village cricket match. This included the people who tuned in to watch and commented that it was the only opportunity to watch cricket without paying a satellite TV subscription, those who enthused about the opportunity to witness a “quaint” English tradition from the United States, and those who said they had no interest in cricket but it was an intriguing event. But, some of the more interesting outcomes related to the local people whose involvement opened their eyes to possibilities they had not previously envisaged.
Two of the players in the cricket match, both local farmers, were interviewed on prominent radio stations (one on TalkSport, one on BBC London) in the week following the game. Both reacted with a certain amount of bemusement that the friendly game they had played in for years was suddenly attracting so much attention. Both players also reported strong interest from contacts on Facebook in far away parts of the world who had witnessed them playing in the game online.
And then there was the case of Brenda, the local commentator, who became an instant internet phenomenon, with her blend of whimsical cricket commentary interspersed with village gossip, such that there was an outpouring of complaint on Twitter when she took a break from the microphone and demands for her to commentate on other important events, such as the Royal Wedding. She also won praise from BBC cricket commentator, Alison Mitchell.
Brenda is a particular case in point. Her lack of interest in technology has extended to her total refusal to believe the plaudits that came in for her following her commentating triumph. And yet, with the help of local technology champion, Chris Conder, she has now signed up to Skype and is talking to relatives all over the world, and was present at the recent launch of B4rn, the project that is aiming to bring 1Gbps Fibre to the Home (FTTH) connections to the residents of that part of north Lancashire. Brenda was introduced to new technologies not on a training course or in an IT centre, but on the school field, in her village, in the midst of a regular fun event.
So, a key driver of Celebration 2.0 is to show people that technology can be fun, and something that they already enjoy, like a regular village cricket match, can have a new technology element too. After all, the majority of people who use technology in their every day lives use it for having fun, whether it be for sharing photos with friends or family, talking to friends around the world for free, or playing any of the multitude of Facebook games.
And that leads me on to the second point; about how do we encourage technological fluency. I think that, in the digital inclusion arena, too many people fall into the trap of thinking people are either online or they’re not. But, I know from experience that there are many people who have basic knowledge about new technologies, but don’t see them as integral to their lives, so they only use them when they have to. When I run social media surgeries, I see lots of people who obviously have learned how to use a computer, but struggle to use it quickly and fluently. And there is a prevailing theme of forgotten passwords; so many people say to me “Oh, I signed up to that, but I’ve never used it because I forgot my password”. On a social media training course I ran, there was the case of the person who arrived with an ancient laptop with no wifi card, and couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t access the internet. I’ve also seen people who, even after a demonstration of how online video conferencing will allow them to talk to family on the other side of the world for free, still prefer to spend a fortune on phone calls, because they are frightened of computers. And I think there is an even bigger issue with people not being able to work out how smartphones operate.
It could be argued that none of this really matters, but the arguments put forward for digital inclusion apply equally to the digitally inarticulate as they do to the excluded. For those who see the internet as a chore, it is something which sits in a compartment of their lives only to be visited when absolutely necessary. And they may never get fluent enough to enjoy the benefits it gives to those of use who use it all the time. I learned French and Spanish at school, but I struggle to converse when I go to those countries, because the only time I use the language is when I am there, and, more often than not, the locals take pity on my awkwardness and speak back to me in English. Lack of digital fluency is like that; if you don’t use it regularly, you will always be rusty.
I am certain that Celebration 2.0 will break some new ground in finding new ways both of convincing people that new technologies are for them, and in encouraging them to become fluent in their use. I’d be really grateful for some views on how we actually measure both of these effects.