TEDxTuttle2: Son of TEDxTuttle…

With a shock I realise that it is two weeks since TEDxTuttle2 at Cass Business School; and that I meant to write about it after the event. I shall do so now, then; if my thoughts had any currency then, they should still.

I went to the first TEDxTuttle in September and was very enthused by the experience. The second round was equally interesting, although it didn’t have the same feeling of excitement or energy that the first created. This might in part be due to my own expectations – last time I didn’t know what to expect, this time it would have been hard to live up to my inflated expectations; in part it might be down to the venue – a lecture theatre – which carries a lot of baggage with it (sitting in a lecture theatre puts me into lecture mode: a passive sponge of information); and in part that, although there were a lot of people there, we didn’t fill the space, so it felt a little as if we didn’t have critical mass.

One major change for the better was the decision to allow questions after the speakers. I think a lot of the value from this kind of event comes from the debate engendered by questions, and there were some great questions from the floor.

There were five live speakers and a couple of TEDtalks videos, grouped into three sessions: the first centring on youth and education, the second on new developments in social media, the last a single session from Steve and Lobelia Lawson who mixed a discussion of the role of new media in the music industry with some musical illustration.

Norman Lewis was first up, discussing the role of technology in children’s lives and its impact on innovation. This seemed to be a talk of two halves: in the first half, Lewis built up his targets; in the second, as far as I was concerned, he missed them spectacularly. It seemed like there were some logical steps missing to his arguments – and he failed to take this part of the audience with him. Some of his discussion relied on contention that he didn’t substantiate – for instance, he maintained that young people are not necessarily better with technology than their parents, and that parents who praise their children’s technology skills do them a disservice; but I can think of lots of families in which children have naturally taken to technologies which stump their parents, and where the parents don’t take this as a sign of their children’s genius but simply that they are growing up in a different environment. He also maintained that today’s children are growing up less innovative than previous generations, but I see evidence to the opposite: they may not get to play outside like I did as a child, but they can still roam their imagination, they have more tools to be creative and seem to use them, and they use technology in innovative ways to avoid the watchful eyes of their parents. Lewis seemed to be arguing against his own views at times, and the contradictions failed to convince me. He has recently published a manifesto in praise of greater youth innovation, “Big Potatoes”, in conjunction with others, and perhaps that will fill in some of the gaps I felt were missing from his argument.

Next up was Julia Shalet, who described her digital youth project. Julia – a regular at Tuttle – spoke with passion about her work which has taken her to actively engage with young people around product development and the world of employment. What surprised me was how little of this actually seems to be going on: Julia described video games manufacturers who hadn’t thought to work with their target market – the millions of young people out there – until she suggested it. None of what Julia described seemed radical, just solid common sense; common, perhaps, but clearly rare. Julia’s evangelism for involving young people in what we do on a regular basis shamed me into realising how few young people I know…

This session finished with a precocious young American wowing the audience of a TED conference into giving her a standing ovation. I wasn’t convinced: I would have preferred to see some video of the more normal people Julia has worked with. I was left with thought about generational discord: a foretaste, perhaps, of the greater battles to come when future generations realise what a mess – ecological and economical – the current bearers of power have left them. A topic for a future TEDxTuttle discussion, perhaps.

The next session dealt with recent developments in social media. First up was Caroline Wierte who works at Cass; she spoke about her as yet unpublished research into the impact of social media in word-of-mouth marketing. She focused on Twitter and the role of tweets on the cash take of movies in their first weekend showing – a big indicator of a movies ultimate financial success. She’s developed models to compare current movies (where Twitter might be an influence) against a control of equivalent pre-Twitter movies. She also controlled for the nature of the tweet – positive, neutral or negative. It was an interesting, if as yet inconclusive, talk, and prompted a broad discussion about the nature of influence in social media – who one trusts and why.

Lloyd Davis, Tuttle’s founder and mainstay, followed. Lloyd was talking about his recent Tuttle2Texas adventure – a rail journey from Boston to SxSWi in Austin, Texas, in the company of other Tuttle people, and then onward to Los Angeles. I’ve heard Lloyd talk about Tuttle2Texas before – and, it has to be said, I was in part involved in the planning, so I must confess an interest. As Lloyd discussed the trip and the impact it had on him, as well as what he learned from the people and communities he met on the way, a slide show of the pictures he took a long the (long distance) way rolled on behind him. The combination of the images and Lloyd’s words was interesting: as yet the pictures are unedited, so there was a rough immediacy to them that matched the somewhat alienated feeling that Lloyd’s travels encompassed.

There seemed to be a lot to learn here. Lloyd described how whenever the Tuttle folk needed help, all they had to do was ask – the various communities, in the US and back in the UK, came up with solutions, even if they weren’t quite the solution originally envisaged. There was a real feeling of the power of improvisation in what Lloyd and others accomplished: a whistle stop tour (literally) of the eastern USA, finding help and friends a long the way. His insights into the different cultures – in conversation, for instance, in the UK it is polite to wait to talk, and in the US polite to fill the silence (a cultural conversational death spiral…) – were enlightening and brave, and rewarding.

The second TEDtalk video featuered Jane McGonigal talking about online games and learning; and how to save the world. She reckoned that the solutions to the world’s problems was probably out there, and that the way to access those solutions may well be by utilising the skills, dedication, collaboration and brain-power of the many millions of people who play online games. She makes a convincing case, but it is probably best if you watch the video and take away your own views!

The afternoon finished up with Steve and Lobelia‘s exploration of music and social media, and the opportunities that social media present for a different business model. Although Steve mapped out how he and Lobelia had got to where they are – how they used technology both to create and distribute their art – I couldn’t help but look forward: new technologies create lots of different opportunities; some of which succeed for some people, others maybe won’t for anyone. Time will tell…


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