If I added up all the time I’ve spent in conferences and meetings discussing some policy or piece of research and what it meant for society I’d probably scare myself. If I counted up how many of those were about new technology it would be a tiny fraction.
Yet technology has had more impact on society and individuals over the past 50 years than any legislation, research or government initiative. Mass car ownership, computers, the pill have all revolutionised society, and now the internet is literally re-wiring our brains. Since we are, at least in part, what we think, then the internet is changing fundamentally what it is to be human.
If you ask policy wonks they will acknowledge technology’s impact on society, but despite this they don’t spend enough time thinking through the societal aspects of technological advance. Getting through the backlog of interesting reading in between relative hopping over Christmas I came across the news that Amazon aim to start delivering their packages by drones.
So drones are fast becoming cheap enough and smart enough for commercial companies to use. It surely won’t be a year or two more before the rich have their own drones and then continuing downwards until I get my own drone one year for Christmas, delivered by a drone.
What are the societal implications of mass ownership of personal drones?
All modern drones have cameras and they will be constantly flying past windows, including bedroom windows, recording everything. However small the malicious element of this, people are more likely to keep their curtains closed to avoid embarrassment. I wouldn’t want Adrian from two doors down looking at my messy bedroom, even when I’m not in it. Drones will exacerbate the continuing trend of technology making privacy harder to find and us barricading ourselves further in to try and find it.
They will be very useful for police, increasing surveillance of people. While it might start with a team of drones keeping tabs on potential football violence or Saturday night town centre disorder, it will surely expand. Big Brother will edge closer.
There will be a further reduction in small interactions, the social glue that holds communities together. I don’t need to go round to drop back the pliers I borrowed from Adrian, thereby having a chat with him, I’ll simply send the drone instead. The regular conversation with the corner shop owner as I buy a pint of milk will be a thing of the past.
The regular conversation with the corner shop owner as I buy a pint of milk will be a thing of the past.
As the RSA’s connected communities research shows, these small interactions are vital to healthy communities.
Courier jobs will disappear, likely to be replaced with higher skilled drone repair jobs, whether software or hardware, requiring a higher skilled workforce and less opportunities for those who don’t have the skills needed.
So overall then, a huge increase in convenience counteracted by loss of privacy, continuing isolation of individuals and increased surveillance. These implications are surely enough that policy makers would do well to think sooner rather than later about the impact of mass drone ownership on our lives, including the more subtle impacts, and prepare for it. I’m no luddite, technology is amazing and I can’t wait to get my hands on my own drone, I just hope I’ve spent a few more hours of my life in meetings and conferences talking about their impact first.
Oliver Reichardt is Director of Fellowship at the RSA, you can follow him @OliverReichardt
The South Central Region of the RSA is holding a series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events are run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:
- Sharing knowledge and ideas about education
- Meeting and networking with other Fellows
- Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects
- Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.
On Wednesday 6 November Karen Masters and Jennifer Gupta led a discussion on ‘Revolutionising access to science and research through technology’. This is a guest blog from Karen and Jennifer.
The Zooniverse is a collection of online citizen science projects that allow anyone with an internet connection to contribute to cutting-edge research. Starting with the hugely successful Galaxy Zoo – classifying galaxies based on their shape – the diverse Zooniverse projects include identifying whale sounds and transcribing old ship logs.
In addition to Galaxy Zoo, there are currently eight other astronomy Zooniverse projects (such as Moon Zoo, Solar Stormwatch and Planet Hunters) and a suite of projects on nature and biology (such as Whale FM, Seafloor Explorer and Bat Detective). Zooniverse is also expanding into humanities projects, with projects such as Ancient Lives, exploring the lives of the ancient Greeks, and What’s the Score, helping to increase access to the Bodelian’s digitised music collections.
The Zooniverse is experimenting with online tools to enable investigations to go further. The Galaxy Zoo Navigator is a set of in-browser tools that allow users to classify galaxies in a group and then explore these classifications in more detail. The ‘My Galaxies’ feature lets users see how their latest classifications compare to others’, illustrating the relative ease, and difficulty, of classifying different galaxies. Navigator also has tools to create simple histograms and scatter plots of various galaxy parameters, either using the galaxies classified by the group or a random sample. These plots can then be saved as an image or the data downloaded to a spreadsheet for further investigation.
Zooteach is a website where teachers and educators can share lesson plans and resources that link in with the Zooniverse projects.
Zooniverse team members and collaborators are developing a range of lesson plans for Zooteach, but support from the teaching community will be key to its success.
If you use Zooniverse projects in the classroom then please upload lesson plans, ideas, links, worksheets or comment on any existing Zooteach resources you use. Zooteach workshops for teachers are also available.
You can contact Karen and Jennifer at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Book now for upcoming events in the Ideas Education series:
To find out more contact Fellowship Councillor for South Central Bethan Michael.
Despite having been working on the RSA’s new project around Making for the last 6 months, running events to connect Makers from all levels such as the FutureMaker day back in June and our recent Maker Networking workshops, until last week I had never actually visited a real life ‘Makerspace’.
Makespaces, FabLabs Hackspaces and community workshops are popping up all over the world (if I’ve lost you already, then this great article by Gui Cavalcanti will expain all!) and you may have heard Dr Laura James, the founder of Cambridge Makespace singing their praises at this years President’s Lecture. I have long understood their benefits including encouraging startups, enterprise and collaborative learning, but see one of these spaces in the flesh and you realise it is so much more.
Last week Nat Hunter and I spent a whole day at the brilliant MakLab in Glasgow, Scotland’s first open access digital fabrication studio which is nestled in the Lighthouse, an arts centre in the very heart of the city. And it was FANTASTIC!
At this point, I should make it clear that I am not what you would call a Maker. I am a graphic designer, and 99% of what I do involves me working on my own on my laptop, before sending finished artwork to a printer on the other side of London. Quite often I don’t even get to see the finished thing before it is delivered to the client. No collaboration, no materials experimentation, no hands on craft. All in all, not very ‘Makey’, so I was initially sceptical about what I would take from a very hands-on 3D environment such as MakLab.
We were given a tour of the MakLab by Debra, a volunteer and part-time MakLab employee who makes stunning jewellery from plastic off-cuts in her spare time. She showed us all of the different equipment – a digital milling machine, vinyl cutters, laser cutters, CNC machines, digital embroidery and 3D printers. But it wasn’t so much the machines that got me excited (after all, I’ve never used any of this equipment before so wouldn’t know where to start) but the inspiration that surrounded us. From the material banks of brightly coloured vinyl and glittery Perspex (which I took a particular shine to) to the work samples that were lying around – an incredible skull laser cut into slate, a portrait etched out of marble and an intricate paper-cut wedding invitation as just a few examples – gave me ideas instantly of what I (as a non-maker) could do with this equipment. This sort of inspiration is something that you just don’t get by working in a traditional isolated environment.
The atmosphere was also fantastic. People were working together, sharing ideas and helping each other with the equipment. We met Frankie who started her model making company Finch and Fouracre soon after graduating Product Design from Glasgow School of Art. Frankie was using the laser cutter to help her make fast prototypes for a new paper craft project. Before she discovered MakLab she had to send off the work to be cut. This was costing her both money and time. She told us about how MakLab had changed the way she works. She now takes on bigger more complicated jobs, safe in the knowledge that with MakLabs equipment and support she will be able to learn and apply new skills to her work.
I think the most inspiring thing about the space was not necessarily what was being made, but the collaborative backdrop to this making. Anna Marion, an independent jewellery maker and the resident expert on the milling machine spends a large amount of her time at the MakLab. When we arrived she was busy helping someone turn their digital sketch of Skye’s mountain-scape into a 3D cast, which could be used to make collectable fridge magnets to sell to tourists. Anna saw the potential to collaborate, and by the end of the day it was agreed that she could use the design for rings in her jewellery collection. Conversations like this must happen every day, with skills, inspiration and ideas being shared in an open community environment.
I left MakLab and headed back to London bursting with ideas and itching to get Making. The problem is, there isn’t currently a facility for me to do that. MakLab are running a Kickstarter Campaign to bring a Lab to the heart of London. If the campaign is successful they will open a workshop in Makerversity, Somerset House with the following aims:
“1. We will create a bustling centre for making and digital manufacture in the heart of London. Part workshop, part studio, part laboratory, part learning centre. A diverse environment where differing people, technologies, crafts, and world views come together creates true innovation, empowering people to kickstart ideas into realisation. We are creating a place where some of the most weird and wonderful collaborations occur. Where we offer a model that is fair, affordable and inclusive, ensuring creative and experimental work is not pushed out of the city.
2. We will build learning programmes that empower young people with a modern skillset. An alternate education for young people that focus on developing young people’s skills, attitude and creativity with connections directly into different industries. Our aim is to develop young people who are engaged, proactive, critical and enthused.
3. We will put digital manufacturing in the hands of people who might not ordinarily use it. We see many of these technologies as being transformative, both in a technical sense as well as from a social perspective. We have witnessed first hand how making things with technology can be an incredibly empowering exercise and how it can spark creativity and imagination.”
Sounds great doesn’t it!? I’ve already snapped up my 3 months trial membership for just £30, but the campaign needs more help to succeed. Pledge now, and I will see you down at MakLab London in April. I’ll be the one making something out of glittery Perspex!
What do you say to people when you talk about the RSA? Do you mention a great lecture you’ve seen, a Fellow you’ve met or perhaps share an animate online? It’s easy when you’ve got an example but sometimes when you’re on the spot, it can be difficult to in articulate all the many aspects of the RSA’s work. It’s a multi-layered, multifaceted organisation that is governed from a huge house which can feel like a bit of a labyrinth - so where do you begin?
Here in Fellowship we’re pretty clued up on the benefits of joining the RSA’s 27,000 strong network; we can tell you about the Four Ways to Engage, all the House facilities and how our Regional Programme Managers can help you find like-minded people in your area. But, we also know that when you join an organisation it is important for your commitment to have meaning that goes beyond having a place to meet and free Wi-Fi. You need to have a clear idea about what those four letters – FRSA, represent. There are thousands of organisations out there to join and thousands of worthwhile charitable causes.
What makes us different?
When you join the RSA you join a rich history of enlightened thinking. As the Changemakers handbook demonstrates, the RSA is here to facilitate people thinking differently about social challenges. Back in 1754 when the RSA was founded, the people of Britain were facing the dawn of the industrial revolution; a period that saw great technological advancements and equally, many unforeseen problems.
What is remarkable about the RSA and its Fellows is that they began to find solutions to global problems long before buzz words like social justice and sustainability were on the national political agenda. In 1758, an RSA Fellow suggested providing an award to whomever could devise the best plan for the establishment of a charity house to shelter women whose poverty put them at risk of prostitution. Just under 20 years later, we offered an award for inventions that could reduce smoke emissions.
It is easy to underestimate the importance of having a social space to share ideas.
In 1852, the RSA organised the trial of the first public Water Closets but unfortunately, few people were inclined to use them and the campaign was deemed a failure. The idea was temporarily laid to rest but then dug up many years later and, where would we be today without public lavatories?
Sometimes, planting an idea is enough.
This is how I prefer to explain the RSA’s significance to people who are interested in getting involved. By joining our network you are continuing the history of Fellowship: a group of people who are not only willing to think more broadly than the majority, but who have proven many times over that they have the tenacity to pursue their ideas and turn them into practical solutions for the public good.
Find out more about Fellowship http://www.thersa.org/fellowship
If you already a Fellow but know someone who would be a great addition to the Fellowship, why not nominate them?
Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA
Sharing is popular again. It’s been 25 years since Harry Enfield mocked 1980s greed and individualism as his Loadsamoney character – a cockney plasterer. Now, a quick and exciting route to riches is promised by the sharing economy. Airbnb, its posterchild, is worth $2.5bn (£1.5bn) and Silicon Valley is buzzing again. Does sharing represent a scalable opportunity for a socially productive economy? This blog grounds the sharing economy in some context, and is followed by Part 2, analysing of who profits from sharing.
Since 2008, our dominant economic and financial structures have come under increased scrutiny, from many directions. Many argue that existing systems have delivered material wealth at great environmental cost, contributing to (or even relying upon) growing inequality at many scales, and that as we get wealthier, wealth is increasingly an ineffective means of delivering well-being. As the public sector started talking about “doing more with less’ and “sweating the assets” politicians and business consistently urged the public back on to the treadmill of buying more stuff a generation of social entrepreneurs said “let’s use what we have better”, and were spurred to develop their own peer-to-peer circuits for production, distribution and consumption. They were driven by objectives which ranged from getting rich themselves to meeting their neighbours to minimising overall consumption, and we now have a carnival of applications which connect individuals to one another to exchange in new ways.
The sharing economy in a tweet: “#whyishare is making MORE, for LESS and with NEW people”.
The sharing economy is how we describe this system which widens access to goods, services, assets and talents, through arrangements of collaborative consumption, a term first applied in 1978 to car-sharing. The sharing economy is a bunch of new ways to connect things that aren’t being used with people who could use them. It often does this through internet-based applications, and therefore does this radically better than previous systems in achieving higher utilisation of the economy’s ‘idling capacity’. According to Professor Clay Shirky, “the world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to commit to shared projects”.
In 2011, the RSA hosted Rachel Botsman and Time magazine said collaborative consumption was one of ten ideas to change the world. Now sharing economy initiatives are squaring up to entrenched businesses, and regulators and tax collectors are becoming interested.
Rachel Botsman defines three types of collaborative consumption: product service systems (like Barclays bikeshare in London and Netflix, where you rent for short periods rather than owning), redistribution markets (like eBay, Freecycle, Gumtree, where you sell or give away unwanted stuff) and collaborative lifestyles (like Landshare, Streetbank, and Couchsurfing), where people swap skills, time and other assets.
Like efforts to build a circular economy the sharing economy often promises environmental efficiency. Reducing waste appeals to our moral sentiment (waste is a feature in two of the seven deadly sins) while sharing means we get access to more, and perhaps put individualistic materialism (the envy and jealousy associated with coveting thy neighbour’s goods) in the back seat. To paraphrase Neal Gorenflo, the idea is that instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we are inspired and enabled to collaborate with the Khan’s, rent our under-used assets to the Cheng’s and get tips from strangers on how to hack, fix and rejuvenate objects at a makerspace with shared tools. We meet new people (online and offline) and make a living in new ways, while using money less, hoping to reverse declining social capital.
Sharing can get really creative: through Waze (which Google just bought for $1bn), drivers share their live data on traffic to help others travel more efficiently. GoGenie shares information about disabled access. Carrotmob organises campaigns for people to vote with their money, giving businesses positive incentives to make sustainable investments. On TaskRabbit, people bid to perform chores and…tasks, while Instacart specialises in matching your shopping list with someone to do your shopping and deliver it to you.
Of course, sharing goes way back. We’ve always been sharing, bartering, lending, gifting, and swapping. Collaboration has been our primary competitive advantage as a species. Before we had money, we had a gift economy – “you owe me one” – rather than a barter economy. Within modern capitalism there have emerged a range of redistributive institutions such as co-operatives (800 million members globally) and credit unions. Good 360 has taken $7bn in corporate donations over the last 30 years and distributed them to charities. We often lose sight of the fact that efficient resource allocation is what the (old) economy is fundamentally driven to do, but often fails. The sharing economy might be best conceived as a system to address market failures in personal consumption; to share market information, lower transaction costs and lower barriers to entry, therefore expanding the market of buyers, sellers, donors and recipients.
In contemporary society, what some have dubbed the core economy – the unpaid care, support and nurturing we provide for one another – structures our lives as much as the monetary economy. Sharing mechanisms have long supported the core economy, through informal networks and more formal institutions: 28,000 people have collectively pooled their skills and support at 300 local Timebanks across the UK, on the basis that an hour of my time is worth an hour of yours, and there is potential for institutions and business to do the same – e.g. Hackney Shares.
We are at a moment of hyperbole, so there is a risk that new tech applications divert our attention from the breadth and heritage of sharing structures in society, and the risks of failure. Many sharing platforms struggle to reaching critical mass in activities which represent a natural monopoly based on a network effect, so efforts are now being made to build infrastructure to consolidate the sharing economy – comparison websites and sector-wide initiatives (…is this meta-sharing?). But the growing consensus is the sharing economy could be as transformative as the industrial revolution; and Natalie Foster says sharing “will be the defining economic story of the 21st century.”
The sharing economy is beginning to look like a panacea: an all-conquering system of innovations which can drive can drive economic growth and social outcomes. It’s more complicated than that, and Part 2 on this blog discusses profiting from a sharing economy.
How does technology shape the future? We’ve just started our project on 2020 Retail. Funded by Asda, our objective is to understand how changes in retail will both necessitate and generate changes in the social relationships between customers, retailers, other businesses and civic institutions.
Its a fascinating conversation starter: everyone seems to have a view on how technology is changing their engagement in shopping, and by extension, influencing the nature of the places they live and work. But its often futile to predict in advance how new technology will find its most effective application. 14 years ago Wired predicted that we’d be grazing from an “internet fridge” which would monitor and automatically re-order our groceries. One 2008 study futures images of robots patrolling shop floors with tablet computers in hand.
Online shopping – food shopping in particular – is booming (and it’s clear that blu-taking your iPad to your fridge door would be cheaper and more effective than buying a device which tries to integrate the two.). But convenience food chains, independent cafes and delis are also booming. Changes on the High Street are driven by numerous factors and technology is just one of them. The newspaper headlines – “online shopping is killing the High Street” – are too simplistic. A fairer assessment might consider:
- Retail is only one element of business on the High Street. Hairdressers, cafes and nurseries are taking up units across the country. The vacancy rate for shops has stabilised in recent months in part because shop units are already being converted to other uses.
- Independents are doing better than multiples. Among chains, a total of 12,511 stores closed in 2011 and 2012, while 10,652 opened. However, over 31,000 independents stores opened in the same period: a net gain of over 3,000 (sources here and here) – though the last few months have been less positive.
- The fortunes of shopping streets are becoming increasingly divergent, in part following widening inequality nationally and locally. Although every region had fewer shops in 2012, DCLG’s own analysis of ONS data (Slide 15) shows that each household in London have on average £190 more to spend each week than households in the North East and neighbouring streets feel increasingly distant from one another: one classic example in London being Chapel Market and Upper Street in Islington.
Yes, access to technology such as smartphones will change the way we shop. Yes, these changes will have profound impacts on physical retail environments. But these conditions represent opportunities for our villages, towns and cities, not just threats. This week Bill Grimsey’s argument made headlines: in the online age, let’s stop pretending we can save a High Street model which relies on attracting struggling chains and belt-tightening shoppers.
To critically analyse the changes that technology is supposed to be unleashing on retail we need a definition of technology. Most dictionaries agree it involves the practical application of knowledge to solve a problem; Wikipedia’s entertaining summary starts with a picture of an astronaut and ends with a gorilla using a stick to cross a river.
So if technology could be anything from a system to a device, a spaceship to a stick, then of course technology will drive change in retail. (Indeed…what isn’t technology?). Ultimately, technology is only possible through collaboration, and our ability to collaborate sets us apart as a species (language being our primary innovation). As Michael Tomasello put it in the New Yorker recently, you’ll never see two chimps carrying a log together at the zoo.
In the broadest sense, to remain an innovative and civil society, we need to have places where we live and learn together, developing skills to navigate neighbourhoods and cities, becoming comfortable and competent in the presence of strangers. Shopping has the potential to connect us: to places, to memories, to each other. Many people had their first memory, first kiss and first job on the High Street. All are social rather than individual experiences. The Portas Review realised this; ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi and consultancy Flamingo have recently echoed this. Connectedness will never go out of fashion.
2020 Retail will need to ensure technology doesn’t alienate people. Socially productive retail spaces, whether malls or High Streets, would enable and inspire visitors to share experiences, engage in and build their social network, and contribute to society in ways which aren’t possible online. As Manuel Castells argued 20 years ago: face-to-face interaction will likely become ever more valuable, the more ubiquitous digital connectedness becomes. The future of retail will therefore be low-tech, as well as high-tech.
Jonathan works on the 2020 Retail project at the RSA’s Action and Research Centre – @jschifferes
The Big Idea: to develop creative free spaces for young people to be inspired and educated by science, technology, engineering and maths.
3-2-1-Ignition* is a new type of shop. Not one where you go to buy things from but one that you go to acquire knowledge, inspiration and enjoyment. Led by Rick Hall FRSA and Ignite! a science pop up shop was created to enhance curiosity amongst the people of Nottingham. Although Nottingham has been designated a ‘Science City’, research showed Rick that young people and their parents did not see science, technology, engineering and maths as careers paths for the future. (STEM for short; just like the RSA it’s a bit of a mouthful).
I first met Rick Hall briefly at the East Midlands Annual Conference before I was an RSA staff member, talk about keen! We did not meet again until I popped into the shop prior to its grand opening. Rick was conducting an evaluation with the design and build volunteers. He was full of energy and enthusiasm and could not wait to open the shop. It wasn’t long before I was helping try to solve the mystery of the multiple light switches. Rick is a writer and consultant in the arts, education, creativity and youth sectors. He has a passion for developing partnerships that promote creativity and learning for young people. Through Rick’s hard work at Ignite! 25 organisations gave their support to 3-2-1-Ignition* Rick also persuaded a panel of Fellows that 3-2-1-Ignition* was also worth support from the Catalyst scheme which helped to make the project a reality. Critical to its success was the work of a wide range of volunteers. Students from Nottingham Trent University helped design and curate the shop in just 8 days turning it from an empty shell into a wonderful den of curiosity. You can watch the transformation of the shop via a selection of videos by Hasmita Chavada. Volunteers also spent time on the streets of Nottingham doing stints of science busking where they played drying racks and made marmite turn white! Young people who run Lab_13’s in their schools also came to use the space and inspire others. By partnering with Nottingham Hackspace the shop attracted 250 young people who soldered, drilled, made and even got to play Pong powered by a bicycle. There were also opportunities to connect to the British Geological Survey and the Royal Society of Chemistry – the list goes on.
Over 3300 people visited the 3-2-1-Ignition* and didn’t pay a penny to do so. 100% of young people surveyed asked for the shop to remain open longer. Not willing to disappoint the public they listened to their audience and stayed open for a further 2 weeks meaning the shop was open for 27 days. Its aim was to inspire, teach and entertain people from all walks of life about STEM and to show young people that you can go into STEM careers and be creative.
Following from 3-2-1-Ignition* in the Broadmarsh shopping centre in Nottingham the team had to decide what to do next. They have produced an evaluation of the project that will tell you all about the activities, projects and partners but more importantly they are moving ahead spurred on by comments from participants who said ‘It’s the funnest place on earth’ ‘I was enthused and enthralled to see how much my grandchildren, boys aged 8 + 11, responded to interactive displays, They loved it all.’ They will be taking the concept south of the Watford Gap to the Barbican’s Festival of Neurosciences Weekender and the Wonders Street Fair on the 2 – 3 March & 7 – 9 April. Go take a look and ‘tempt your curiosity and your mind to do some making. There’ll be jars to peer at and sniff, thoughts to create and space to ask the brain-related questions you’ve always wanted to know’. It’s all about doing, touching and getting involved.
How Can You Help?
Rick and Ignite! have also been busy exploring how Ignite! can develop the 3-2-1-Ignition* model further. As Rick says they have a ‘proof of concept for programmes like Lab_13 and the 3-2-1-Ignition* pop up shop, but lack the resources and know how to convert these successes to wider adoption.’ Is this something you can help with? The one-off travelling sparks of 3-2-1-Ignition* will be tested at the Barbican events but they won’t be able to attract such an audience and will not reach as wide a demographic as they did in the Broadmarsh. They are considering setting up a 3-2-1-Ignition* Hub in Nottingham and could use similar models used by Pirate Supply Store of 826 Valencia a US creative writing project and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies that supports the Ministry of Stories. One of Rick’s grand plans is to support Leeds to be free of NEET (Not in education, employment or training) young people by 2020, an idea that can only be done in collaboration.
One thing is for sure Rick will be busy making plans and talking to people so if you are interested in this agenda and think you could help please be in touch. You can contact Rick at: email@example.com or follow him on twitter where he is @Rick_Hall
When did you last send a tweet? What did your Facebook friends have to say about how they’re feeling this morning? How important are online networks to your sense of who you are? Chances are you’ll have something to say about at least one of these questions. For a majority of Britons, online persona and virtual networks are becoming increasingly definitional.
Monday saw the publication of a new report that looks at the impact of technology on identity, by the Government’s chief scientific advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington. The report, The Future of Identity, identifies ‘hyper-connectivity’ – near-continuous access to the Internet – as a very significant development. Beddington argues that hyper-connectivity is likely to have a profound effect on how people regard their place in the world and define themselves.
The report suggests that the ubiquity of smartphones is changing the way we relate to others, and may lead to place-based communities becoming less cohesive. In tandem, hyper-connectivity enables greater connectivity between otherwise disparate groups, making it very easy for groups to organise themselves quickly.
The Telegraph, reporting the publication of Beddington’s report, emphasises the risk that the rise of social networking may “fuel social unrest”. The role of smartphone technology in the riots of 2011 was well documented, and it’s clear that these communication platforms offer the means to facilitate phenomena like rioting, protesting and social disturbance.
But is it really accurate to say that hyper-connectivity can in itself be a cause of social unrest? I’m not convinced that these developments in technology are responsible for bringing about the motivation or impetus for groups of young people to loot and riot across the UK’s cities. Sure, they provide the communication platform to make it easy for large groups to organise themselves, but why should the existence of such technology be a trigger?
the perpetual presence of the smartphone impacts on our patterns of attention – we’re always on ‘standby’, ready to be interrupted
Having said that, it occurs to me that there are other ways in which in hyper-connectivity is likely to impact on us, as individuals and as a society. I’m sure the perpetual presence of the smartphone impacts on our patterns of attention – we’re always on ‘standby’, ready to be interrupted. As Jonathan Rowson noted in this blog, connectivity comes at a cost, undermining deeper connections that are all too easy to take for granted. Whether or not we’re aware of it, the reality is that many of us are addicted to receiving new information – the kick we get out of receiving new emails, SMS, and reading the latest Twitter feed is unrivalled by face to face interactions. Comparing ourselves to others is an inevitable side effect of online social networking, and this can have hugely negative consequences for self-esteem and assumptions about what is ‘normal’.
All of this must be affecting our brains somehow, whether the impact is on our patterns of concentration, expectations for instant information, or ability to focus our attention deeply. What we pay attention to can have a profound effect on our overall outlook, as Nathalie Spencer discusses here. Hyper-connectivity must also impact on our inner life – how comfortable would you be to spend half an hour doing nothing, without a Smartphone to engage with? What would it mean for your sense of self if all your online presence were to be erased?
Beddington’s report suggests that in the future, it is very likely that someone with no online persona will be regarded as unusual or even suspicious. This seems to indicate that the blurring of the boundary between online and offline identity is set to intensify. All of this makes me think that we may need to force ourselves to disconnect, unplug, and make space to notice and appreciate our offline selves.
But, do we have the willpower? Are we prepared or able to face up to the possibility that hyper-connectivity might be damaging, and whose responsibility is it to put preventative or protective measures in place? Which public or private bodies would fund research to find out whether and how smartphone usage is harmful to our wellbeing? Are we already in some sort of collective denial about the damaging impact of hyper-connectivity and might this mean sleep walking, in a hyper-connected way, into future problems?
For about a decade, the question: ‘Do you have wireless?’ has been aspirational in nature, with the tacit understanding that ‘yes’ is the answer you want. Life feels easier when you are connected, and therefore better when it’s easy to connect.
But is this really how we want to live?
While chairing the RSA event “Quiet the Mind” by Matthew Johnstone, I was struck by the elegance of one statement in particular: “We are so connected, we are disconnected”.
Being constantly available to other people and influences is does not necessarily come ‘for free’ even when the wireless or mobile connection is free. There is a danger that through this kind of indiscriminate connectivity we undermine deeper connections that we tend to take for granted, including our connection to our minds, our bodies, our breath…not to mention the quality of relationships with other people.
“We are so connected, we are disconnected”
There is always a danger of being considered a technophobe when you air such thoughts, but I increasingly wonder if we will see more of this kind of perspective over the next few years. For instance, today I read a BBC article with the title: Will Digital Addiction clinics be big in 2013? (Although, disappointingly, the article itself is really just a celebration of new gadgets!).
There are some early signs that people are realising that connectivity is not entirely benign, and that it is not simply ‘up to us’ when we choose to, for instance, turn our phone off, or resist checking our mail….that places far too much confidence in willpower, which we now know is both scarce and depletable.
How can you really be off work, for instance, with the temptations of email and social media completely ‘at hand’, and the knowledge of colleagues that you can be contacted in emergency(often very loosely defined)?
Internet addiction clinics suggest that we are at the early stages of an epidemic, and some holiday resorts now pride themselves on NOT having wireless networks, with POOR mobile phone reception being an asset, not a liability. Their selling point: Come to our wonderful place, and you really can forget about the world at large…
We have written about this issue before, and hope to return to it again soon. I really don’t know how much of this fear is real and grounded, and how much of it is just generalised fear of what is new and unfamiliar. However, a trusted source with neuroscientific expertise, who has thought deeply about the impact of the increase in our screen time on our wellbeing told me something so striking and and counter-intuitive that he preferred to keep it off the record. He said that the denial of the health and wellbeing impact of our over-use of smart phones and constant connection to the internet is equivalent to climate change denial, just in a much earlier stage…
At the moment, when you say such things (e.g. use your phone less, screens are not entirely benign, it’s ok to take several days before replying to an email, internet addiction is real, there may be some interesting educational implications of over-use of technology etc…) many seem to reflexly call you a ‘technophobe’ and assume you must be some sort of ‘luddite’.
But that’s not the case at all, and most calling for caution also celebrate the enormous gains that such technology has give us. Personally I think it might be a sign of a healthy rebalancing if people start to actively seek out places where they can be relatively disconnected from the world, if only so that they might rediscover a deeper connection to themselves.
What do you think? Do tweet, comment etc…(no irony of course.)
RSA Catalyst awarded a £2,000 grant to life Fellow William Makower to support his development of a national funding scheme for our arts and cultural institutions and venues. The Catalyst panel was impressed by the strategic idea of a national digitial solution, the work done to date and the level of commitment gained across the sector, such as Director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne FRSA. The RSA grant was used to develop the graphics for the launch including a representative movie of the scheme in action. In this guest blog William sets out the thinking behind the idea, what’s happened to date and how Fellows can get involved.
Arts and cultural institutions are going through a critical shift. 30% cuts from the Arts Council due to a reduction in funding by £350m for the next three years, resulting in over a hundred organisations with their future threatened, coupled with reduction in spending by 24% by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, paints a bleak landscape.
But hope is budding despite the recent downpours; new figures from Arts and Business highlight a growth of 6.4% in individual giving to £382.2m last year.
The task for institutions now is to grab hold of this growth in individual giving and build its momentum. The key to doing this? Digital fundraising, utilising mobiles, tablets and new technological platforms.
The National Funding Scheme, available from March next year, will provide a means for visitors and supporters to use their mobiles and tablets to direct funds to the arts and cultural institutions they wish to support. The scheme’s aim is to raise new funds for the sector through mass giving.
The scheme will address the following issues:
- Introduces new donors to cultural institutions by providing a national, simple and accessible means
- Giving needs to tap into the point of high emotional impact (in the cafe after the exhibition, reading a plaque, at the encore etc.)
- Providing additional means for international tourists to give to our cultural institutions and organisations
- Providing a means to collect donor details and therefore begin a conversation with the donor
- The need to ‘change the language’ around giving – it is not just for the wealthy, but something all can participate in
The National Funding Scheme will provide a means for visitors and supporters to use their mobiles and tablets to direct funds to the arts and cultural institutions they wish to support
Findings to date
Panlogic, with grants from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Rothschild Foundation and others carried out over 85 face-face interviews with senior individuals across the cultural landscape and had nearly 950 responses to their online consultation. These findings, along with those identified by Ipsos Mori’s independent research found out:
- That for 48% of respondents something that shows what is being done with a donation will increase giving
- 73% of respondents want to allow donors to understand specific things that individual institutions want to raise money for
- 44% of respondents said a system with flexibility would encourage them to give more to arts and cultural institutions
- 31% of respondents said they had made a contribution to an arts or cultural institution in the last 12 months
On July 2nd 2012 Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Olympics and Sport, Sandy Nairne FRSA, and I announced the scheme at a launch event hosted by the National Portrait Gallery.
The launch was attended by arts professionals, journalists and other industry observers. Sandy’s speech was followed by the Secretary of State giving a warm welcome to the initiative followed by me giving the details behind the scheme. The RSA grant paid for the graphics and illustrations of the product at the event.
We are looking for Fellows who can provide expertise with data, licence sales, mobile payments and marketing and communications. In addition we are looking for Trustees for the charity we are setting up to run the solution, who have the following experience/expertise:
- A senior figure with arts/cultural/heritage background that could possibly chair the trustees
- An ex-development director of a UK arts/cultural/heritage organisation
- Strong financial expertise and controls
we are looking for Fellows with expertise in data management, licence sales, mobile payments and marketing and communications
More information, including photos/transcripts/invite list and the full research can be seen at www.nationalfundingscheme.org
William Makower is founder of the National Funding Scheme and CEO of Panlogic. you can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have an idea to tackle a social problem in a new way, visit www.thersa.org/catalyst