silicon beach 2013

In stamp’s first week proper, I was delighted to be able to play a part in the wonderful Silicon Beach event down in sunny (for the most part) Bournemouth. Here are a few reflections on what took place on the South Coast…

Thursday kicked off with Jim Knight (Lord Knight of Weymouth if you’re being all proper and everything); Knight served as Schools minister in the last Labour government, and (unlike many politicians who seem permanently bamboozled by technology) he really seems to understand technology. Namely that merely replicating analogue methods in a digital realm will not give any great lasting advantage in teaching or learning. If you want evidence of his tech credentials, the guy used Prezi – I’m certain that the reason that most politicians speak without visual aides isn’t because of their wonderful oratory, but more because they can’t turn a laptop on.

A key thing that stuck with me – that there is fear within the education world that technology will be misused by kids, but as Jim pointed out, kids have always misused technology. Whilst mobiles, the Web and social are often looked at to be banned in schools (it was calculators back in my day), no-one ever called for pens to be banned because of graffiti in the toilet block.

Services like TED and the Khan Academy are changing the way in which the information part of learning can be delivered: why use classrooms to transfer information and homework for the practical application when homework could come before the lesson, and class time with classmates and teaching staff could then be devoted to actually applying the information? Powerful stuff, but sadly it seems in almost complete collision with the Govian view of education as rote learning.

There were two other interesting takes on education during the event: Rewired State’s Emma Mulqueeny and Code Club’s Clare Sutcliffe gave perspectives on hack days and establishing primary school programming clubs respectively.

Clare is, quite frankly, a bloody inspiration. In less that a couple of years she’s gone from an idea in a pub to having 1,055 volunteer groups at schools in the UK (and around another 50 around the rest of the world) helping youngsters learn the fundamentals of coding. Find out more about the initiative at https://www.codeclub.org.uk/

In Emma’s talk, the most enlightening bit for me was the ways in which Rewired State has addressed the issues of developer motivation and issues around intellectual property. The short version is that some hack days run as Open events, where incentives may be in the form of prizes or pizza, but all the devs who take part take the ownership of their code with them at the end of the event. Commercial hack days, however, involve a day rate paid to all, but with the IP being owned by the organisers as a result. An interesting way for the developer community to be innovative and have fun, whilst corporations can gain research and development insight.

Insight on how to create was provided by the wonderfully multi-talented Dave Birss, in a talk where he extolled the virtues of collecting and connecting dots. Along similar a theme to my own idea of Innovation Equations, Dave talked about how creativity is a matter of connecting existing ideas in new ways, rather than plucking things out of thin air. On Dave’s second performance (with guitar) on the second day he talked about the lessons he has learned from his days of being a busker. I was in a slight state of exhaustion having just finished my own talk, but my main memory of that was you should avoid drunks in Glasgow. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is sound advice at any price.

There was a bit of futurology over the two days with Mark Stevenson and Russell Buckley both giving their takes on where the world is headed. I’m somewhat sceptical about the world of prediction as most people who do it are usually wrong: Stevenson’s talk mostly skirted away specific prediction, but he did make some interesting observations about where the worlds of nano, gene and biotech might be headed. Russell’s talk on exponential phenomenon (particularly exponential growth in things like Moore’s Law) had some really good coverage about how we are really bad at processing the concept of exponential growth, but then slipped into the techno-babble world from my perspective. Mention The Singularity and lots about Asimov and I tend to turn off – we’re in a world that has supermarket self checkouts, for goodness sake (and it’s exactly this sort of complacency that will see me taken off by the robots when they do rule the earth).

Other key moments for me: Patrick Bergal talking about his app Chirp, which enables people to share information through birdsong-like audio messages; Havas’s Russ Lidstone talking about how “brand” is turning from being a noun to being a verb; Andy Law exploring how the world of agencies needs to be fundamentally changed in light of the disrupted world we now live in (more on that soon); Kevin Moss exploring some really interesting non-linear formats for content creation; Steve Earl exploring the meaning of PR in a social networked age; Jon Burkhart on real time marketing – specifically newsjacking;  Dean Johnson swearing a lot (he was immediately before me, so I was otherwised focused); and Steve Price swearing even more (mostly about technology that is pointless – Samsung Smart Watches getting a big mention).

There were a few talks I missed as I had to take a few calls (Diana Janicki & Ali Hanan, Simon White and John V Willshire I apologise) , but all of them will be being made available on Vimeo once they’ve been edited. A big, big thanks to the South Coast’s premier Bob Hoskins impersonator, conference organiser extraordinaire, and all round good egg Matt Desmier for putting on such a cracking event. I look forward to Silicon Beach 2014.

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