Thinking Digital

Finally I am able to commit some time to reflect on #TDC11

I was aware of the buzz and excitement around Thinking Digital last year and very envious of those who had the opportunity to attend and participate. This year I was uncertain whether I’d have the funds or time to be part of this important event and was beyond excited when I realised I’d be there, in the flesh, so to speak…

Thinking Digital was:

amazing

exciting

inspiring

informative

engaging

challenging

and..

Enriching.

Yes, enriching. Although I wasn’t able to attend all sessions and activities I found myself questioning some of my own ideas and yet also feeling that I am working and thinking in something approaching the right direction.

Whether a conference is for a niche product, national institution or sector, the aim of the event remains the same. When we organise such events we need to understand what our delegates need, desire and seek. In addition to paying for their place with money, they pay with their time. Conference organisers have a duty to ensure that all delegates have the appropriate opportunities to learn, make contacts, engage in conversations and leave with a clear call to action.

Thinking Digital exceeded my expectations. The organisation seemed near faultless. The Sage Gateshead is an iconic venue with great acoustics and facilities. Unlike other conferences I’ve attended we saw live webcasts from around the world appear on cue with a clarity of sound and vision that many struggle to achieve.

Perhaps the only moment of frustration, and this has been mentioned elswhere, was the absence of wifi/web access in the social media workshop held in a performing arts area of Gateshead College. These things happen, though the irony of the focus of the workshop and the lack of socialmedia access was not wasted on us.

My highlights?

@documentally’s social media workshop. At the risk of sounding a tad sycophantic  I’d say that Christian has challenged me in recent years to think  about, and re-think, my understanding of how we communicate. That online and offline identities and activity are not separate but part of a complex and sometimes new channel to share and engage.

A part of me is comfortable with my use of social media and on one level I have been able to learn and share beyond my analogue and physical people networks. Where I, and I suspect others at the conference, struggle, is to fully understand how we need to redefine ‘social’ if we are to truly embrace and utilise the opportunities available to us through new technologies and communication channels.

The quality and diversity of the speakers was impressive and I think it’s testimony to Herb Kim and his team that almost all were able to offer an opportunity for each of us to think differently and digitally about aspects of our work and how we relate to the bigger picture.

I particularly enjoyed Conrad Wolfram – of  Wolfram Alpha, and it is credit to the fella that I, confused by the most rudimentary spreadsheet, now have a clearer understanding of the potential of the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine.

In contrast to my discomfort with all things number related is my love of words, language and meaning. Possibly my favourite speaker was then, Erin Mckean, the dictionary evangelist.

I would not have predicted that the conference delegates could be enthralled by someone talking about the problems with dictionaries and it was truly an inspirational choice by the Thinking Digital team to include the hurdy-gurdy playing Caroline Philips. Who could have known that hundreds of young go-getting, hip app developers and code heads would be smitten by her beautiful music?

Other high points include meeting the great man Paul Smith (@twitchhiker) and being interviewed by Ewan McIntosh – to be shared with US educators sometime in the future.

Am not entirely sure whether it’s fair or accurate to describe @documentally as an old friend – but we’ve been places, done some stuff (more on this here) and it was great to hang out for a while. The fella is a shiny light in a sometimes foggy and confusing online and analogue world.

My lasting thought? That man Steven Bathiche of Microsoft. Everyone was clapping and cheering as he showed developments in human gesture recognition. Amazing demonstrations of how The Computer can distinguish between two or more people, your left from your right hand and create perfect representations of our real lives. Have you people not seen Robocop? Did we learn nothing from The Matrix?

During his session I tweeted that perhaps people would, as they are hunted down by cyborgs in the shopping mall, wish they’d implored him to stop his research before it’s too late.

Thinking Digital was what conferences should be. Comfortable venue, appropriate speakers, great networking opportunities and tasty food and drink. What do I take away? My call to action? I need to think more about ‘social’. To greater understand how to develop valid and relevant relationships with the people with whom we work. To understand that socialmedia isn’t something we do in addition to our ‘normal’ work; it needs to be integral to all our activity

Thanks Herb for a fantastic opportunity to think more clearly.

My pictures are on flickr

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