Published Monday 18 June 2012
The annual Thinking Digital Conference is the UK's answer to TED, bringing some of the brightest minds in technology, media, science and arts to the North East of England. Three of the Netskills team joined them at the Sage Gateshead at the end of May for two days of inspirational talks.
Chris Young commented on the greater contribution of education and academic-led research this year.
An arena like this opens up your work to an audience with the skills, creativity and passion to adapt, adopt and embed it in ways you may not have dreamed of, he said.
Below are a few reflections on this years' conference from Chris, Hanna and Steve…
Research and education: Leading innovation
An early keynote came from Professor Paul Watson from the School of Computing Science at Newcastle University - who also host Netskills. He is leading the SiDE (Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy) project and spoke about some of the practical work taking place to use pervasive technologies in cars and homes to allow older people to remain active and independent members of their local society.
Other research-led contributions came from all over the world, including the use of high-powered computing to rapidly sequence and map the genetic fingerprints left as a disease spreads through a community, a fascinating (if graphic!) demonstration of the way robot-performed surgery could revolutionise future healthcare.
All of that may sound like standard conference-fare, however at Thinking Digital the emphasis is on inspiring creativity through technology. It was great to see academics presenting their work in this sphere, openly inviting others to engage with it and think creatively about ways it can be improved or adapted.
Creativity in the digital age
Simon Cross from Facebook challenged the audience to think about tech companies differently in the digital age and to embrace the start-up mentality.
Facebook's approach is centred on an ethos of 'moving fast and breaking things' - their employees are given responsibility to deliver real work from day one and encouraged not to fear failure.
Embracing failure was also advice that Swedish Trendspotter Magnus Lindkvist gave to the audience. Rather than focusing purely on celebrating success, Lindkvist reckons that if more organisations recycled failure they could use the impetus to actually create new and more innovative things.
In the academic sector this is something we might remind ourselves of at times; whilst we strive to improve efficiency and become increasingly results-driven, we perhaps shouldn't lose sight of the fact that although new ideas and innovation don't always work as intended, they do usually move us forward.
Digital legacy and our connected life
Finally, the increasing infiltration of digital technology into our everyday lives was a theme that bridged several talks.
Richard Banks from Microsoft Research gave a thought-provoking talk about the digital artefacts we leave behind, reflecting on the shift from collecting physical objects throughout life to digital artefacts such as digital photos, social networking profiles and information stored 'in the cloud'. Whilst his thoughts focussed on the personal footprint we leave, ours turned to the similar issues facing students, researchers and academics at any point when a relationship with a set of digital assets ends. Often the data itself can be stored, but what about the connections to it that have been made elsewhere?
Digital culture observer Tom Chatfield focused in his talk on the increasing amount of time we spend online. In less than a few decades, we have moved from simple consumption to complex multitasking - spending an average of 10 hours per day using various gadgets.
Tom suggested that smart users of technology are actually 'digital gourmets' who don't just say "I'll eat anything". Instead they approach technology strategically and know when to unplug and use 'the human bandwidth' we often neglect.
We're inclined to agree with Tom. No matter how tempting it is to stay connected, sometimes nothing beats a quiet moment to think, reflect, or even just a morning without email!
Watch for yourself
All of the talks at Thinking Digital 2012 were videoed and will appear on the Thinking Digital website sometime soon. It's a great conference, and if you attend next year, we'll see you there!
Find out more: http://www.thinkingdigital.co.uk/