Making Futurism Visible

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be live-streaming one of the Bromford Group‘s Future Fifty events in which the housing group is celebrating its fiftieth birthday by organising a series of events which look to the future. This one was a collection of “vignettes” delivered by Digital Futurist Mike Ryan on what the coming decades will mean for Digital Communites, The Digital Home, and Digital Health and Care. I recommend having a look at the talks via my archive of the live stream here, there is tons of thought-provoking stuff in there.

I was prompted to make a point in one of the Question and Answer sessions, based on my observations of the audience. During some of what I thought to be totally reasonable predictions by Mike, I noticed one or two people gasping and others giggling. This brought home to me the real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest. The point I made to Mike is that the widespread ignorance of the potential offered by technological developments leads to very bad decision-making by people who have no idea about the directions new technologies are heading in. I would categorise two really major decisions in this area; UK Broadband strategy and HS2.

Thus, the Government is convinced that 24Mbps is sufficient for anyone’s needs and has based its rural broadband roll out strategy on this assumption. On the other hand, any of us who works with these things on a daily basis knows that our requirements for bandwidth is escalating all the time, and that, within only a few years, most people’s needs will greatly exceed 24Mbps. This means that the current infrastructure being installed with government subsidy will need to be replaced before too long. This is why many of us argue that we should be installing Fibre to the Home, which is capable of being upgraded to very high speeds, rather than the interim technology of Fibre to the Cabinet.

The second bad decision is HS2, with billions of tax payers money being thrown at a solution which is little moved on from how the Victorians wanted to move people around. Not only is HS2 an idea which is out-dated now, it won’t be implemented in full for getting on for 30 years by which time, such technologies as holographic video conferencing and 3D printing will be mainstream. People say that video conferencing has failed to catch on, but holographic video conferencing, in which a 3D image of the person is projected and can move around as if in the room, will create a tipping point as a much richer and more satisfying experience than seeing them on a flat screen.

And people think that 3D printing in a frivolous bit of fun. But, already furniture, buildings, and even body parts, are being produced by 3D printing processes. Once the cost of the machinery comes down to affordable levels, 3D printing will greatly reduce the needs for goods to be transported. They will be printed, or more accurately, manufactured, in the homes or the workplace.

These are just 2 technological advancements which will transform lives and, greatly reduce the need for travel, meaning that long term investments like HS2 make very little sense. But, of course, they will also require us all to have broadband speeds significantly greater than those which the government thinks we will need.

Most people think you are a fantasist if you make predictions like this about technological advancements. But this is because they don’t see the trends which lead to them. They are not public enough. What can be do to make “Futurism” more visible? I think it’s vital that we do.

Have fun, get stuff done

I am warming to a theme which I hope to explore more fully here. This post is just to kick things off.

Last week I went to the annual LearnPod unconference for people working in Post-16 education. I went not intending to run a session; really I was there to catch up with some people from my former life working in the sector who I haven’t seen since last year’s event. But, as the session pitching was going a bit slowly, I changed my mind and pitched a session on “making learning fun”. Given that I hadn’t prepared anything and was in a room full of qualified educators, I was bowled over, and a not a little bit surprised, at the positive feedback I got from the session, which I ended up running twice.

My theme was that making learning fun works in two ways: it engages learners more effectively, and it makes the education process more enjoyable for the teacher/tutor. I remain a firm believer that we learn best through play, but the education system seems to forget this beyond the early years of primary school.

And I believe this applies to other areas of work too. Work takes up a big part of most people’s lives, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be enjoyable. Workers who enjoy their jobs are more productive, give customers better experiences and increase the profits or efficiency of the organisations they work for.

I also think that this is a key to social media adoption at work. I come across a lot of people who are fearful of social media because it breaks down some of the barriers between work and personal life. But I also believe that some of the fear this causes is because people don’t enjoy their jobs, so they don’t want that lack of enjoyment spilling over into their private lives. If they enjoyed their job, I don’t think they would be so reluctant to blur the boundaries.

So, let’s make work fun…. we might get more stuff done.

“Why have I resisted so long?”

He came into the Internet Station of Our Digital Planet in Wigan and without introducing himself said “I’ve reluctantly come to the decision that I can’t hide from the internet any longer. My family are constantly complaining that I don’t participate in things they organise online”.

He asked to be shown how to send an email. Afterwards he said “I feel guilty now I know how easy it is. Why have I resisted so long? My family must think I am so rude”.

Free wifi a tool for Emergencies?

This is a very quick post, because it feels far too much like intruding in private grief to pump out “lessons of the Boston bombings” posts.


I’ve been banging on for years now about the need for free wifi in public spaces, especially in hospitals (see Time and again I have had to deal with criticisms from people who think I am arguing for rich people to have carte blanche to play with their expensive toys at the public’s expense.

But…. have you ever noticed how the mobile phone networks fall over when there are big crowds gathered in one place? I certainly have. And, as the Boston tragedy unfolded yesterday, there were lots of tweets about how people were struggling to get communications through on the local networks. This was then followed by “official” announcements that the networks were being closed down to prevent remote triggering of further bombs.

And then I saw tweets appealing for local businesses with wifi networks to unlock them to allow people in the area to use them to communicate with relatives to let them know they were safe.  I hope this happened.

So public wifi could be a key tool in allowing communications to continue during emergencies. This is another compelling reason why we need it in more locations.

Perhaps we can discuss this at BlueLightCamp 2013

Sponsorship Needed for UK SnowCamp and Hackathon


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!


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.


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.

Missed opportunities for Co-creation

On of the changing facets of modern life which encourages me is the tendency for more people to become creators rather than consumers. New technologies and social media have been important tools in this new environment. More young people are watching and commenting on YouTube videos than are watching TV, and substantial numbers of these are creating their own videos. Facebook, twitter and blogging platforms all encourage people to create their own content. In many spheres, the advent of social media has served primarily to highlight trends that have been going on for years, not always in the public eye.

Music is one of these spheres. People have always made their own music, but various events have given stimulus and encouraged widening of participation. Many people would point to the arrival of punk rock in the late 1970’s as “democratising” music creation, but I think it goes back further than that, with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s being perhaps the first global music phenomenon, which was followed by the fame of The Beatles, which was important in encouraging musicians to form groups and this gave them collective power to bargain with the moguls of the industry and take a degree of control over their careers. Punk gave a new stimulus to these trends when they were flagging, and the digital age has created new ways of people making a living out of music without being beholden to big companies; and of connecting with their audiences.

But there are still a lot of people who don’t get how the world has changed. And I’ll cite the opening of the new Leeds Arena as an example. Leaving aside the arguments about whether so much money should be invested in a massive venue in an age of austerity (and let’s face it, they’re pretty big arguments), there is the question of how the facility should be launched. A lot of Leeds council tax payers’ money is going into this. Originally, it was announced that the opening night would feature the Kaiser Chiefs, pretty big stars, yes, but they come from Leeds, and this seemed to be a fairly good choice. But then, another announcement came, saying the launch would feature Bruce Springsteen, much to the public annoyance of the Kaiser Chiefs, who seemed to think some promises had been broken.

Now the problem with all this, I think, is what it says about how those who make big decisions like this view the world. OK, to justify such a big outlay and investment, you probably need to attract massive stars like Springsteen, and Elton John (another big name on the list to play the Arena), but, this suggests we are still in consumer mode here. Music is something to be consumed and the big stars deign to play in the venues that can bid the highest fee. But, in reality, music is the ultimate co-creation industry. Leeds, like most cities, has a thriving local music scene, populated by people who make music as well as consume it. The Arena might take some of that audience away from local events. Wouldn’t it be better to invite the musical co-creators in to see how they might use the venue themselves, rather than setting up in opposition to them?

So, I think the opening event at the Leeds Arena should have been a day-long festival of local acts, headlined, probably, by the Kaiser Chiefs, with main support, obviously, the doyens of the local music scene, the awesome, Hope and Social. That would have been a showcase for the crossover between the creation and consumption of music, and the fact that it is not happening is a massive missed opportunity.

I’ll sign off with a bit of Hope and Social

Two ears, one mouth

It’s long been my view that there are far too many people in life who fail to recognise why we all have two ears and one mouth. I have always tried to remember that listening is one of the most important things we can do. In the world of social media, as in other aspects of life, there is too much talk and not enough responsiveness.

Today, in the Our Digital Planet Internet Station, I spent more than an hour listening to someone’s life story. It was far from an easy listen. He told me he was desperate to tell his life story to someone, and that he wanted to do it to a camera. Failing that, he would seek to go on the Jeremy Kyle programme because he felt the need to tell the world why he is like he is. I told him that I could provide a camera and he is coming back on Thursday.

I am not at all sure that is a good idea. The story he told me is one of child abuse, physical and sexual; crime, petty and not so petty; drug abuse, his own and that of those around him; and of finding his sister’s husband brutally murdered when he was 12 (he described this in graphic terms). It was interspersed with affectionate tales of the pets he had loved, most of which seemed to have come to an untimely end.

I think he needs counselling. I agreed to provide the camera for his interview because it seemed a better idea than him going on Jeremy Kyle. If he comes back, should I do the interview? And, if I do, should it be made public?

The Rural Broadband version of those BT Infinity ads

Here’s the rural broadband version of those BT Infinity ads.

Advert 1

Geeky young man tries to impress young woman with his knowledge of Duran Duran. “I’ve got all their stuff” he says, and rushes out of the room. He sneaks out the back door, jumps into a land rover and races to the nearest town. Later, he rushes back into the house with a pile of secondhand Duran Duran vinyl records under his arm, only to find the woman of his desires curled up on the sofa with his housemate.

Advert 2

Geeky young man answers the cottage door to young Spanish woman. “Me and my friends are staying next door for the Olympics, can you help us contact home?” As he nods, a procession of young Spanish women push past him into the house and make for his landline telephone. Later, young man is seen frowning over his phone bill which amounts to thousands of pounds.