Thinking about Thinking Digital #TDCMCR

For the last few years I’ve managed to attend Thinking Digital in Newcastle … and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a duff session at one, and definitely some mind-triggering sessions! So, when I heard it was coming to Manchester, which I’ve just moved to, that was good, and when my work offered me a ticket, even better! (Cover photo Thomas Jackson Photography)

Monday Afternoon

A tradition of Thinking Digital is that there are workshops the day before the main conference, including personal development, tech thinking, practical applications, etc. I popped along to EON Reality, where we were given a sense of where augmented and virtual are now, and where they have come from.

We then were given an opportunity to see many of the current tools, including the previous version of Oculus Rift, and a cardboard device for your mobile phone that’s only £6-7, “sat” in a roller-coaster, saw a shopping device, “rebuilt” an engine, did some plumbing, looked in the back of an eye, and was soothed by a 3D shark! Interesting to see where technology is going!


This was the full on conference day, with some familiar names and some new names. I don’t pay that much attention to the schedule, because the speakers are always interesting, even if it’s not directly where your interests lie – but if you want to see who was on the schedule…!

Eddie Obeng

The conference formally kicked off with Eddie Obeng, who I have heard speak before. Always an engaging speaker, drawing us in with audience-based exercises, Eddie argued that we learn more if we laugh (concept proven). He says that our world has changed (been disrupted by digital) and that we haven’t kept up. We make too many assumptions about communication which are broken – are we too busy speaking to listen; are we too busy looking back over the past to look to the future? If we’re looking at our digital devices 200 times per day, then that’s an average of every 3 minutes, when it takes 20 minutes to get into a deep/creative thinking state – so are we therefore not thinking?

The following created the most laughter…

The idea of ‘digital obesity’ was one that many appeared to pick up from this talk, with Eddie arguing that we ‘binge’ on content – which is easy to use, convenient and free – and therefore addictive. Asked what his ‘fruit and veg’ equivalents were in relation to digital health, he indicated a timer in case he disappears down a wormhole, awareness of habits, ensure are listening and not just broadcasting. There was a bit of a negative tone to it – I’m not sure I agree everything is addictive for all – but definitely plenty of ‘food for thought’.

Conrad Wolfram

Next up Conrad Wolfram, the man behind Wolfram Alpha … and the knowledge engine behind Siri

Conrad is particularly looking at a world in which we have information overload, questioning whether more data has improved our decision making, and arguing strongly that we should understand what the computer is best at, and what the human is best at, and look for processes that make the best of both. 

The importance of the interface was highlighted (look at the difference that Apple has made with a simplified interface) – make it attractive and useful to increase engagement. Conrad finished by saying that we’re entering a new era of computer automation, and those who understand this will control much of the data… and thought this was an interesting question:

Julian Treasure

 Onto Julian Treasure, an audio evangelist:

We need to listen, but we also need to be aware of the power of our own words. And we need to be aware of a number of draining factors when speaking:

There’s a lot of negativity online, and a lack of listening … I loved the quote that we should complain about those things that we can do something about, otherwise we are just contributing to ‘viral misery’. Be careful in offering opinions – ask if an opinion is welcome first. Avoid the words should, just, but! 

In opening discussions, can you ‘receive, appreciate, summarise, ask’, and consider whether you can ask ‘clean’ questions (without pre-providing answers). Think about the words you use – if a pair of shoes is ‘awesome’, what words does that leave for a sunset? Consider the acoustics of your space – Julian questioned how people get work done in an open-plan office, get well in a hospital ward, or learn in school… 

Adrian Woolard

Adrian moved to Manchester 2 years before the main move to Manchester, originally part of a small R&D team – in the face of lots of negative press (especially from the Daily Mail) about the idea that anything particularly creative could be done ‘up north’. Core words that they focus upon:

We heard about a number projects undertaken, including one I’d missed despite the fact that I mostly enjoy Casualty!

Adrian came back at the end of the day with the results of a ‘love this thought’ experiment run over the conference:

Northern Powerhouse Panel chaired by Martin Bryant

A ‘hurrah’ session looking at those who have good experiences to session, or want to share more of what is being done to reach towards the ‘vision’ of the #NorthernPowerhouse

Collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, great quality of life, although was a question how much we should lump together e.g. Manchester, Gateshead and other Northern cities – are they just ‘not London’?

LJ Rich

LJ Rich (who you might have seen on BBC Click, TEDx, etc.) I’ve also seen before – risk-taking, music-mixing inspiration! LJ was looking at how to re-create the sensory experience of e.g. walking through a forest (where there’s a lot of noise, but it all works together), by ‘sending us into space’… a large cinema screen depicting stars in space (in motion), music from LJ (tweaked with laptops), and … a packet of popping candy – taken by everybody at the same time! ‘Out of this world’!


Stephen Waddington

Head of Engagement for an organisation gave a whirlwind tour through some of the worst and best of organisational online presence:

Too many organisations are still trying to use command and control, creating a beautiful online presence, but not ensuring the product behind it is up to scratch – and then people will use those beautiful spaces to moan online – which do people take more notice of? We saw examples of ‘not thought through‘, ‘left hand/right hand‘, ‘meaningless‘, ‘needy‘, ‘poor automation‘. Good advice – don’t post just because you can, note that authenticity, transparency and openness are encouraged by the online platforms through the building of trust. Heard about Amazon, Patagonia and Lego who all have evolved their businesses to make good use of the possibilities of digital, rather than trying to use digital for old marketing models.  Does the message from The Cluetrain Manifesto still ring true:

We are left with the question – do you have a company that’s smart enough to build a community around itself rather than market at “them”?

James Girling

 Largely a musical interlude, prefaced by the comment that artists now need to be prepared to present their music in bitesize chunks:

Peter Gregson

The most tweeted quote from Peter Gregson:

I’d agree with

Pam Warhurst

Very inspiring story from the bottom up (from someone who has worked top-down!)

Pam highlighted the importance of food to communities (I’d second that – was what we used for ‘Lent Feast‘ on #bigread11), food cuts across boundaries, creates conversations, provides a new language – once we know – we teach others how to do this. Repeated message: this is not rocket science – you just need to get started. She talked about just getting on with it – turning a patch of waste land into a vegetable garden – about 6 months later the council provided a bench and started mowing the grass surrounding it (that provoked a spontaneous round of applause from #TDCMCR audience). The police have got involved (which changes those relationships), people eat the food, help care for it, show it off as a tourist attraction, has rebuilt pride in the village – has had so many benefits – and another simple/inexpensive idea:

Pam ended with a plea for the ‘Incredible Northern Greenhouse’ rather than the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, called for us not to measure everything in economic terms, and final sentence “believe in the power of small actions because you really can change your history.”

Tom Chatfield

We then moved onto Tom, a digital culture specialist, who is an ‘enthusiastic digital critic’ – there’s so much good in it, but we can make it even better. He encouraged us to look at the amount of time that we have (referencing Eddie Obeng’s call for deep concentration) to ensure that we take care of our limited resources of energy and thinking, and use them well:

The illustration used was outcomes for parole hearings depending how far away they were after food:

Interpreted by one as:

We were introduced to the notion of online being built upon the ‘casino business model’ – just one more click, to look at the questions we’re actually answering:

Top quotes ‘Many digital business models grossly undervalue our time and attention.’, ‘We need to be careful that tech doesn’t turn all our time into the same kind of time: do something different!’, consider whether you’re too busy liking things to actually live them… take care – your email inbox is essentially a to-do list written by other people! (ah, the joys of Inbox 0, combined with ToDoIst, etc.!)

I was given a free copy of his book ‘Live This Book‘ – an interactive paper text – looking forward to checking that out!

Emma Foster & Kevin Moss

A look at ‘digital storytelling’ (a rather underfunded art):

But looking for ways to encourage more engagement, participation and production:

Lemn Sissay

Lemn is a poet who has recently been appointed as Chancellor for the University of Manchester – coming from a background where was abandoned, renamed, so a humorous but vulnerable story of loss and finding an identity.

Lemn opened with a call for positive discrimination, because we need to work against ‘positive discrimination by default’ which is basically what the status quo is. He considered whether we are a unique generation – both pre and post the internet (though I would question – every generation is pre/post something). Talking about why he blogs, it’s not about the readership (sometimes 1000s, sometimes 5), but because he’s alive, and can reflect upon himself/his life. Returning to the question of diversity – he encouraged us to change the question of ‘why’ to ‘why not’?

Back to the plea to ‘do something’ – see how you can help:

End of Conference

Read more about Thinking Digital Manchester, or watch the sessions via Reframed TV… and look out for TDC London, March 2016!


A Trio of Inspiring Music Videos

Thanks to Stephen for spotting this one:

Then Graham shared this one:

Then Emily sent me this one:


If you like your music, and have already checked out, it’s worth it! Developed by Money Saving, has saved a few pennies already! Just been downloading Bon Jovi as I appear to be going to the tour on 22nd June, with Phil, Rach and the 4th mystery buyer! Really enjoyed the last time I saw them on tour, though not a die-hard fan of any group – course I’m not- I’m a scanner!


Camilla Kerslake: Released Today

Finally, the day that many of us have been harping on about! Camilla Kerslake already has a big following online, so now we’ll see how sales of her album go on. I had pre-ordered one months ago, but then Camilla promised to send me a signed copy, so I’m awaiting that – hope it’s not too long, as I’d love to listen to the whole album!

Disc: 1

  1. She Moved Through The Fair
  2. How Can I Keep From Singing
  3. I Can’t Help Falling In Love
  4. Rule The World (Il Mondo e Nostro)
  5. Rain
  6. Balulalow
  7. Pie Jesu
  8. Panis Angelicus
  9. Closest Thing To Crazy
  10. Cavatina
  11. In Paradisum
  12. Largo
  13. Weblink

Disc 2

  1. Silent Night
  2. In The Bleak Midwinter
  3. The First Noel
  4. Abide With Me
  5. White Christmas

Black Eyed Peas: I Gotta Feeling (LIPDUB Video)

Students at the University of Montreal prepared for a month for this dubbed version of the Black Eyed Peas ‘I Gotta Feeling’, had 2 rehearsals, 2 takes, and above is the 2nd take, done ALL the way through! CNN even picked it up!