Disruption from the bottom up

We hear a lot about the internet causing “disruption”, i.e. radically shaking up and undermining established ways of doing things. I’ve been thinking about some real disruption being led from sources which might seem unlikely.

Now, I’m a great believer in being ambitious in the technological sphere. I think we have to think radically and be prepared to push at boundaries if we are going to achieve real change and demonstrable benefits. And I believe broadband is one of these spheres. In my opinion the economic development of the UK is being held up by a lack of ambition in how we take broadband forward. Yes, the Government, European Union and local authorities are investing in getting “superfast” broadband ever further into the countryside, but what they are investing in is constrained by the “art of the possible”; by which I mean it is being put into delivering more of the same, within the parameters of what certain big players are prepared to deliver, and what the market demand is perceived to be.

Settle

Broadband is one of those areas where I believe the Henry Ford doctrine of “don’t invest in faster horses” applies. The market demand for faster broadband speeds is limited by what people believe is possible and what they think they need now. It fails to take into account the pace of technological change, and the fact that more bandwidth hungry uses, applications and appliances are coming into use every day. I fear that the investment which is now being made in today’s broadband technology will have to be done all over again in a few years time when demand once again exceeds the available bandwidth of the solutions currently being installed. That is why I advocate that means should be found, wherever possible, to ensure that broadband installation is future-proofed; and that means installing fibre-to-the-premises, not halfway houses which introduce bottle necks into the system.

Tractor

All this is vey frustrating. And yet, there are heroic souls out there who have bitten the bullet and are installing their own future-proof connections. Prime among these, in my opinion, are the farmers and villagers of the north Lancashire B4RN project, who are raising money from their own resources and digging hundreds of miles of trenches, to install fibre to the premises connections to properties in some of the north of England’s most remote areas. B4RN is already delivering 1Gbps (1000Mbps) symmetrical connections to its first customers, and those connections are capable of being turned up to even greater speeds should future needs demand.

Sedgford

The irony in this, for me, is that we now have people living in one of the country’s most remote areas who are experiencing the fastest internet speeds available. It will be some time before B4RN has a critical mass of customers connected to the network, but, I ask myself, how disruptive will 1Gbps rural communities be? We will shortly have digital farmers and digital villagers shrinking distances and finding new ways of operating that most of us have never thought about before. And what about the potential for geek vacations to the B&Bs and holiday cottages with the hyperfast connections? This is turning on its head the traditional notions of silicon valleys and technology roundabouts, where we think of the cities as the engines of technological innovation.

Tower Block

And so, the other day, I spotted this story about Hyperoptic offering Gigabit broadband to tower blocks in London. And this made me think. Social landlords are struggling at the moment to get more of their tenants online before the move to online management of benefits payments and the Government’s “Digital by Default” agenda further disadvantages them. What if we used approaches like that of Hyperoptic (allied with a bit of B4RN grit) to create Gigabit social housing tenants. OK, many tenants might be reluctant to go online; but what if they were offered the opportunity to become the fastest tenants in the world? Would they take that opportunity? And would it be truly transformational? I think its an experiment worth trying.

If B4RN can place the remotest villagers at the forefront of the technological revolution, why can’t social landlords do the same with some of their tenants? Lets have true disruption led from the bottom up.

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Sponsorship Needed for UK SnowCamp and Hackathon

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It’s three years (and more) since I wrote this post about making use of the internet to carry on working on snow days, and, frankly, I don’t see any change. Snow still seems to take everyone, particularly employers by surprise. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about climate change and all that, but it is obvious to anyone that we have had more snow disruption in the UK over the past 5 years or so than we had for some time previously, and I reckon we should be prepared for it to keep happening. some of the pictures in this post were taken this morning, on the 22nd March!

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So, if this is going to keep happening, and there seems to be some institutional inertia around doing something about it, we need some collective brainpower around possible solutions. This is why I am seeking sponsorship for an event…

Announcing UK SnowCamp and Hackathon.

Don’t know where or when yet, but this will be a 2-day event where people with an interest in making it possible to work, live, play, teach, learn, serve, care, and cure during snow disruptions can get together, discuss potential solutions on day one, and build solutions (which may not all be technology-related) on Day 2.

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Who’s in for this? And, importantly, who will sponsor it?  I am thinking of companies that make snow-related equipment, organisations that use the internet to reduce distances, and those who want to build solutions, could all be interested in sponsoring. Please contact me if you are interested in sponsoring, or pass this on to others if you think you know someone who is.

More about Storytelling

You may remember I wrote this post about Storytelling after I delivered a workshop on Digital Storytelling for One Blackpool in January. Since then, Storytelling has become something of a theme for me, and I have returned to it for presentations for Social Media Week in Lincoln, and at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Wales Conference in Cardiff. Two important things I say to people about how they can use social media in their work are (a) tell your own story; why you are passionate about what you do, and (b) tell the story of the difference you make to people’s lives. And if you can get the people you help, serve, or sell to, to tell those stories themselves, that will be all the more powerful.

I was prompted to write a bit more about this by this story from the Times Education Supplement which poses the question as to whether Reality Television is dampening down young people’s aspirations. I firmly believe it is, as it presents false hopes and expectations to its viewers, something which I have also written about elsewhere. I have never really got celebrity culture, I think I grew out of that kind of hero worship as a teenager. There are people whose work I really admire, but I know little about them as personalities. That’s why celebrity tittle-tattle and royal gossip leaves me cold. I am interested in the lives of people I actually know, and some I don’t know personally, but who do similar work to me, not people I have never met, or have any connection with. That’s why I love Twitter, because it allows me to follow the progress of people who are similar to me, and who I know. I am not one of those who uses it to follow celebrities (except for the very few who say and do things of relevance to my life and work).

This is why I think social media, and its use for storytelling, can be very important. I am hopeful (and I recognise it could be a forlorn hope), that increasing use of social media will allow people to make more connections with others who have both direct relevance to their everyday lives, and who could be role models to those who need them. Instead of following the antics of celebrities snorting cocaine in nightclubs, or members of the royal family who make the faux pas of wearing the same coat more than once, we can use social media to seek out and make connections with people like us who might offer us pointers to success in our own lives.

I won’t name them here, but there are people who I have connected with on social media (and real life) over the past few years who I admire and whose work I see as offering me models for the way I want to develop myself. That’s why I think it is important for us all to use social media to tell our own stories, stories which are much more engaging than those offered by reality TV and soap operas.