Friday, 12 November 2010
TEDx and the City (Leeds) Part 2
The second half of TEDxLeeds opened with Stuart Childs Eulogising of Audioboo. Although Stuart uses it in a different way to me, I’ve been a firm admirer of Audioboo. The application accessible on iphones and the web, enables you to record up to five minutes of speech or sound and post it like a blog.
On one level it is a podcast platform but it is something much more creative as well. Stuart made the comment that its founder Mark Rock created it after lamenting that he never recorded the speech of his grandmother after she died.
I hadn’t realised this when I met Mark Rock at a Connect Yorkshire event in Sheffield when he was a key speaker at one of the organisation’s events. As I used to be in radio, I totally get the power of sound and the theatre of the mind. Why not just have video with pictures? Because the pictures are better on radio.
It is a different medium and we are a visual society that we sometimes forget the power of the US radio production of HG Wells War of the Worlds, the power of hearing the Bradford City fire by the match commentator that day or the brilliance of someone like Kenny Everett in editing sounds together to produce radio comedy.
Stuart likes collecting sounds and discussed how they are emotive. The sound of your school bell, the public transport, the ambience of a workplace, factory, market or city centre. What we don’t get is the sense of how this changes. Would we recognise the sound of Leeds in 20-30 years time? My father grew up in Leeds but had been away from the city for a long time before I came back and he noticed a distinct change in the Leeds accent.
This brought him on to the UK Sound Map, a project to collect sounds as memories and historical documents. What might not seems important now, might be valuable to historians or social commentators in the future.
I see there’s a strong use for Audioboo as a tool to interview and store information. Seeing as it is a week of remembrance, we have just lost are last WW1 veterans and there is a value of collecting the stories of those involved in the second world war from Bletchley Park to the Coventry Blitz to soldiers and those whose lives were affected at home.
The next presentation was a video from Pranar Misore who flipped the concept of bringing the real world into the digital world, by discussing how the digital world can be brought into the real world.
What I found interesting was the way he discussed how we can bring objects into gestures – much in the way the ipad is touch screen rather than using an interface like a mouse. He took this a stage further suggesting gestures are also memes. We all know what thumbs up means, a salute or handshake. In this way we can make technology more intuitive and allow is to interact with the physical world by overlaying some 6th sense devices to help us retain information or interpret the real world.
Matt Edgars talk was well prepared and presented, linking the historic industrial past with the now. He did this without really referring to the digital industries of Leeds, or his own part in creating innovative avatar and social media products at Orange.
His first champion was Louis and Lizzy Le Prince who used the ‘new media’ of chemistry to create the first films, linking technology from photography and ticket dispensing to create something revolutionary. He discussed how the standardisation of pins lead to an open source platform where textile factories could construct looms with the knowledge of knowing they could get the right pins supplied.
He discussed the innovation of the steam engine in Leeds, created by the abundance of the right raw materials and the way Leeds used the inspiration of others to build the corn exchange, the Temple Works and the Florentine tower.
He suggested these were good tales to inspire Leeds but that there were other claims on the individuals. The power of the good story is to show how innovation occurs and suggested Leeds needs to be inspired and aspire to the greatness of these people in the past to develop the new technological future.
He mentioned Charles Leadbetter’s six Cs which further illustrate the point:
The final speaker was Rahid Parmar from IBM. I took very little in the way of notes during his presentation on smarter cities but I did make plenty of notes on my thoughts.
My notes consist mainly on the fact that there are over a billion transistors per
human on the planet, a figure 10 times the number of grains of rice. I also noted that technology isn’t about making better machines, but about people. We make better vacuum cleaners to give us more leisure time and less dust irritation, not just because we can.
He also made a point about the vastness of technology and technological change, noting that grandparents at a family birthday didn’t understand how teenagers talked using social media on their phones. Now, I’d argue you could say that of many ages and this isn’t unique to the present day.
Another tale told of how a bad plane flight by his son lead to two plane companies following him on twitter and the power that social interaction has for both consumers and companies if used well.
I noted on the time that the law has to catch up with technology sometimes and misinterpretation comes, just like the Paul Chambers Twitter Joke Trial. I had no idea this point would be magnified just a day later by the appeal court ruling.
Rahid also kept banging on about apples. He made a point that the average apple in the UK has travelled 3,700 miles and this wasn’t right. I have some sympathy of the view. I remember a news story about how UK fish was sold to French wholesalers before being sold back a day later to the UK, an odd and needless shipping of goods purely for financial gain of a few.
But there was no justification or understanding of the apples he was passionate about. Is it more economical to grow in bulk in New Zealand, the US or South Africa and transport than to grow them closer to home? Is it because we value choice and certain varieties can’t be produced in the UK?
Equally it is a simple statement which would involve huge amounts of cultural and economic change to bring about. The UK apple industry is a fraction of what it was and the cheap imports have led to a terminal decline in the number of orchards in this country. Even in places like Herefordshire, there are moribund orchards which would need decades of support to resurrect.
This isn’t to say we don’t invest in apple production or favour the British apple – but it sounds more greenwash than a considered statement. There is a difference between the long and the short term gain. Many of the government cuts offer short term gain, with the promise of long term benefits. But some of the more ill-conceived cuts ignore long term growth created by investment in education and innovation ( the cuts made to the Film Council for example).
My other thoughts were around the drivers for change. Rahid suggested it centred on issues (a resource that is unsustainable), investment (changes made in London ahead of the Olympics) and inspiration (finding a better way)
He suggested the future will also see more pressure on basic utilities and we had to look how to do things differently. He added that even in the UK we might come under growing water shortages with a growing population in ever more densely packed cities. The focus should not be about providing better transport or education, but on seeing what individuals need and trying to empower their own health and happiness. That said, solving the problems with the Kirkstall road would make my life healthier (less stress) and happier.