Category Archives: Digital generation

Raspberry Pi launched

Today the low cost, credit card sized computer Raspberry Pi was launched with the prime purpose of encouraging young adults and children to learn computer programming. This has been an area sadly lacking in UK schools since the demise of the BBC Micro Computer in 1994. The initial cost of the computer is just  £22 ($35) and runs on open-source operating system Linux.

At the moment it’s just a board (below) weighing about 45g that can be plugged into a TV and a keyboard. But it potentially marks a turning point when children and young adults are given something more exciting and challenging than building PowerPoint presentations in their ICT class. This is a generation adept at playing sophisticated online computer games. How uninspiring it must be to “power down” their brains and work on a spreadsheet or a powerpoint in the classroom.

But it’s more than this, it is about understanding the workings of technology both technically and critically, often referred to as digital literacy. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the need to put digital literacy education on a par with other forms of literacy like the reading, writing and maths. He disagreed and, using the car analogy, said that you don’t need to know the technical workings of a car to drive it – that’s what mechanics are for. At first this seemed to me like an inapplicable comparison. Nevertheless, after refection, I could see that, in a way, it proves my point on two different levels. It’s an interesting analogy because one can drive a car without knowing it’s workings (other than knowing when to fill it with fuel!). Most people do. But knowledge obviously helps if the car develops a fault. However, to point out the other side of this analogy, you would not think it wise to drive a car without becoming proficient at driving it as this could be physically dangerous to you and other people.

A similar comparison can be made for the digital world. Of course the danger of using the internet may not be physical but knowing what happens if you open an email with a virus or even what to do if you are a victim of “trolling” may be of some benefit to your mental health. This knowledge could be on an even more banal level like knowing what happens to your data when you type a query into Google. As with the car analogy there could be said to be two levels of digital literacy in this case. Firstly, educating young people in the necessary skills to develop critical judgements and understanding of how the digital world functions seems sensible (the learning to drive bit) so that they can use the Internet confidently and analytically. And secondly, access at an early age to learning the basics of programming is an advantage because then they will have an understanding of the technical structure of the Internet (the technical workings bit) and be able to make, adapt and customise things for themselves. This adds a creative element too.

This is one of the many reasons why the release of Raspberry Pi is so crucial to the latter. Learning basic programming at an early age will make it seem a natural, basic and potentially enjoyable activity. Last year, at his MacTaggart lecture, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt criticised the UK education system by saying that he was “flabbergasted to learn that computer science is not taught as standard in UK schools” He went on to say this also ignored the legacy given to us by pioneering UK computer scientists like Alan Turing. Here’s a link to a post I wrote at the time.

In my experience computer/video games courses, at the few schools and colleges that run them, are the courses that fill up straight away because the students are passionate about gaming. It would seem a perfect time to start the process of educating our childen and young adults in the art of programming not just for their own benefit and education but to stop us lagging behind other more technologically ambitious and savvy nations that have had computer science programming on there curriculum for many years. Raspberry Pi is the perfect starting point.

Below Robert Mullins, co-founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation, is interviewed by Harriet Green about how and why Raspberry Pi was created.

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Social Media Week London – Tuesday

I’ve spent most of the last few days at various Social Media Week events in and around London. Yes, I know, social media is happening online all the time but this is a week where the virtual meets the physical. I’ve just got around to writing up the events of the week so this is the first of a number of entries relating to experiences during the week. This first entry is intended as an over view of the week and my first day.

The week is made up of events held concurrently at 21 major cities around the world and also accessible virtually through SNS and live streams. The main drive of the subjects and topics is marketing led but includes discussions on the broader issues surrounding social media and the web. The main theme of this years events was “Empowering change through collaboration”. However, this theme has tenuous links to to the events I visited.

Social Media Week London had a multitude of events with the vast majority free and, in most cases, sponsored my commercial organisation. One of the recurring themes discussed at many of the events I attended was the use of the term ‘Big Data’ and the access to and analysis of large data sets. IBM claim that “everyday, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone” (IBM). Indeed, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated at the Atmosphere 2010 conference that “Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five exabytes every two days. See why it’s so painful to operate in information markets?” (although how this comparison and calculation has been achieved is not divulged). So this is already a well discussed debate and, as the last sentence in the quote alludes, one pertinent to the modern company. With the constant generation of ever larger amounts of data comes the issue of how companies and individuals can harvest it, analyse it and, of course, issues of privacy that are inexorably link to it. “Big data” appears to have moved up the agenda with many of the company presentations at events offering services to digital businesses. However, the impact on privacy and data protection were given little regard.

Given my area of research I tried to limit the events I attended to less marketing led subjects although it became apparent that most linked to this subject somewhere in most events. In Tuesday morning’s Is eyewitness news, news? a panel discussed the impact of citizen journalism through social media and the use of user-generated content on news gathering. This mainly boiled down to issues of trust, authentication and accuracy. Adam Baker of Blottr caused consternation from both panellists and audience when he suggested that if something “trended” on Twitter it was probably true. Many examples were given to contradict his claim but Baker qualified this by saying reports on Twitter would be checked before his site would publish.

In the afternoon Mark Stephens CBE, owner of law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, discussed the legal minefield of copyright and intellectual property in the digital age in Freedom of Tweet: Censorship, Governments, Marketers & The Law. He discussed the recent high-profile cases of super-injunctions to suppress stories and their effectiveness in the age of Twitter and social media’s worldwide reach. Stephens suggested that a more effective strategy for anyone wishing to go down this route in the future would be to employ a PR firm to mitigate and pre-empt the story’s release with favourable news. Censorship and freedom of speech were also covered with reference to the UK’s freedom of speech organisation Index on Censorship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation affiliated online rights organisation Chilling Effects and the recent protest over SOPA.


Application to Transfer Interview

Yesterday I had my application to transfer interview. The interview as one would expect was quite tough and a couple of the questions were difficult to answer. The interview started with a review of the parts of my research that worked well but as this was more concerned with critical aspects of the research these were not discussed.

Much was made of a need to be more explicit with my conceptual framework with my regards to my use of motivation within the research. However, the theory and concepts relating to creativity, generations and literacy were judged to be more clearly argued. About half an hour after the interview I was called to be told that the panel had recommended that I transfer to PhD status. This was more of a relief than an celebration.

However I did go out last night. I’d  already got tickets to see my favourite band, The Fall, (left) at the indigO2, a few months back.  This helped take my mind off the events of the interview, although I have slightly wooly head this morning!

Anyway now I can get back to progressing forward with my research without the worry of having to re-apply in the summer.

CAMRI Symposium

It has now become a internal part of being a PhD student that every now and again we have to present our progress and research findings. This takes the form of giving presentations at conferences as with Transforming Audiences 3 (TA3) in the summer and with this symposium that is hosted by University of Westminster each November. There’s doctoral representatives from other media based universities within the London area. The subjects within this field are very diverse within this discipline varying from digital games to the social networks in China.

My presentation went fairly well (below). It was very similar to the TA3 presentation. I had quite a few questions from the audience all constructive and none too difficult.

View more presentations from Tim Riley

OxIS 2011 Report

In the history of communication technology the Internet is a relatively new communication tool which has enabled the wide-spread adoption and use of Web 2.0 technologies over the last decade. The changing behaviour of users during this period has been the subject of many academic discussions and much qualitative and quantitative data has been produced in support of this. One such organisation is the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) which has been producing data about the web bi-yearly since 2003. Yesterday OxIS released its 2011 report at the salubrious setting of the Strangers Dining Room in the House of Commons. I was lucky enough to be at the launch and heard many speeches about its findings. The report can be downloaded here.

The main focus of the report is the rise of what they call the ‘Next Generation Users’ in Britain defined as firstly, the increasing proportion of users who use portable devices to access the Internet and secondly, users who have and use multiple digital devices. Internet access via mobile devices has doubled from 24% in 2009 to 49% in 2011. The report states that “next generation users are not evenly distributed, but have higher incomes, indicating a new digital divide in Britain and most certainly in other nations”. It also indicates that “more than a quarter of the British population [is] without access to the Internet” (p.5).

On the subject of content production the report shows that “next generation users are more likely to be producers than are first generation users who focus more on consumption rather than production” (p.5) This is illustrated with an accompanying graph.

There is certainly useful data in this report relating to my research. Information gathered for the report shows the next generation of users are not solely made up of the youth of the digital age but are from all age groups although people of retirement age are less like to fit into this type of user. The age demographic of next generation of users is, therefore, “not simply a function of youth or age cohorts” (p.7) the report suggest.

Methodology chapter

I’ve just finished the first draft of my methodology chapter. It’s been another long stint typing, reading and referencing and, although I was fairly unsure how to approach this initially, it came together quite naturally once I got going.

I started with definitions of the social media, digital content creation and sharing before moving on to the methodological outline. This was followed by a in-depth study into the meaning and use of ‘generations’ and whether there is a ‘digital generation’. This developed into a discussion that starts with Karl Mannheim’s generational theory and Norman B. Ryder’s concept of ‘cohorts’ along with references from David Kertzer and Pierre Bourdieu.

There’s much discussion about the notion of a ‘digital generation’, a generation who’ve grown up in a digital world. This has be promoted widely by Marc Prensky, who pits digital natives against digital immigrants, and Don Tapscott who champions the ‘net generation’ against the ‘baby-boomers’ and ‘generation x’ and ‘television generation’.

However, as analysis of generations shows, this is a rather simplistic and polemical view as there are many variations between the experiences, perceptions, interpretations and attitudes within generations and also ignores similarities that occur between generational groups too. This is summed up well by David Buckingham who argues:

“To a greater or lesser extent, technological change affects us all, adults included. Yet the consequences of technology depends crucially on how we use technology and what we use it for, and these things are subjected to a considerable degree of social variation within age groups as between them” (Buckingham, 2006:11).

Siva Vaidhyanathan talks of a ‘generational myth‘. “Not all young people are tech-savvy [and] talk of a ‘digital generation’ or people who are ‘born digital’ wilfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society”. This analysis has established that my research will not be a generational study but a study of age groups.

The methodology chapter continues by giving a detailed explanation of my sampling and data collection methods and data analysis procedure. I created a website repository for participants to upload content after the interviews and this has also proved to be fairly successful.  Well over half the participants have uploaded content. The site can be viewed here.