Trust, Context, Magic & Empathy at Thinking Digital Manchester

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

You have to give it Herb Kim and the rest of the Thinking Digital team. They always seem to pull off a great conference. Thinking Digital Manchester 2016 is another great example to add to their pretty flawless record.

I felt there was a theme running through this years #TDCMCR… Trust, Context, Magic and Empathy

I have always wanted to take to the stage of Thinking Digital and 3 years ago I joined Adrian at Thinking Digital Newcastle when the Perceptive Radio got its first public showing during a talk about the BBC innovation progress so far, since moving up the north of England. I got the chance to build on 3 years ago and talk about the work we are doing in object based media, data ethics and internet of things. I’ve been rattling this around my head and started calling it hyper-reality storytelling.

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

Usually I take quite a few good pictures but always reliant on other peoples photos when I take to the stage. However this time the lovely Kate was there to snap photos on my own camera.

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

The only down side of Thinking Digital Manchester this year seemed to be the technology. In Sarah Drinkwater’s talk the battery went on the microphone which needed to be swapped. In Clara Gaggero‘s talk the clicker really had fun and games. Luckily they replace the batteries before I took to the stage.

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

There was some great talks and the selection was spot on, but the talks which really got me mind mapping and nodding my head were these ones.

Amber Case

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

I had the joy of having dinner with Amber, Herb and Rick on Sunday night, when we “nerded out” according to Herb Kim. I never really bumped into Amber before but it was crazy the amount of people we knew in common. We had to send a picture to Dietrich who I’m working on Mozfest with.

You could get a sense of the same kind of people who influenced Amber including Tantek, Searls, Rushkoff (which I keep referencing but not wrote nearly enough about). She talked about designing calm technology (marking this one under empathy & trust), which reminded me of the slow movement in ethos. She pointed out the term comes from a paper published by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown of Xerox Parc in 1996. Its been revised here too. The attributes of calm tech intrigued me further and summed up some of my bigger thinking around data ethics.

  • Quietness is important
  • Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
  • Technology should communicate not speak
  • Technology should respect social norms

It felt like this could be a useful framework for judging the mental impact of technology, something Sherry Turkle talks a lot about. The attention economy is something I do talk about quite a bit and although there is a lot of discussion about it. I do think it defines a lot of the choices I make.

Really interesting talk with plenty to take away, look forward to the next time I bump into Amber.

Sarah Drinkwater

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

Sarah’s talk was a good one and gave me joy hearing the core message of Great things happen in groups. Something I subscribe too deeply when thinking about collaboration and community. It also brought me back to the BBC Backstage community group I managed a long time ago, especially when she ran through the core learnings

  • Listen
  • Build on what already exists
  • Don’t own culture or community
  • Be flexible
  • Keep delighting
  • Stay human

Stay human echoed Amber’s talk when she mentioned “Machines don’t act like humans – humans shouldn’t act like machines

The thing which tipped the balance for me about Sarahs talk was about lifelong learning and the changes in our work lives. I referred to this in a blog post reporting back on my thoughts on Futurefestblog post reporting back on my thoughts on Futurefest and called it millennial thinking. I think the experience revolution was right on the money.

Clara Gaggero Westaway

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

I bumped into Clara and her partner during the Thinking Digital dinner and we had a chat about some of the work she had done previously for the BBC. It was clear she was full of experience and when she mentioned a colleague who had left recently, knew I would have to drop into their studio next time I’m in London.

Clara’s talk was a summary of the work they had done over the last decade and she tagged them by Context,  Empathy and Magic. She showed a bunch of work with Blackberry and made it clear context isn’t enough, you need Empathy. She was right and made the point very strongly in the work they did for Samsung around phones for older people (so-called silver phones). I love how they tried different things and realised what the problem area really was instead of reinventing the phone.

Just when you thought it can’t get any better, Clara unveils the magic. Bit planner, a calendar which is physical and digital. This is something I have personally explored in some of the research I have done at BBC R&D with the physical playlist machine. The ability to have a physical and digital working together at each of their strengths is ideal and currently feels like magic.

Ironiclly a day later Paul Coulton from Lancaster University a partner on the physical playlist machine, tweeted about the latest version of the physical playlist machine.

I have been planning out Mozfest 2016 and wanting to create something like my wall at work, which syncs between the wall and a digital manfestiation of the same thing. In the ideal world both would sync no matter what changes but at least with bit planner you can sync the changes to the digital copy.

Very smart and can’t wait to have play with it. My only hope is she made it quite open, so we can hack on it and hopefully improve it. Me and Imran were talking about adding NFC to remove the taking a picture part of it.

Clara expect me around soon to see what else you are up to and explore what you might do with perceptive media and objects.

Sam Aaron

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

Is there anything I need to say about Sam and SonicPi which hasn’t been said before?

I think Sam is a great person and you can’t help but be enchanted (magic, you see) by what he is able to create and very quickly. But what I love about Sam is he always ties what the sonicPI and live coding to the solid mission of digital literacy for young and old. Because of this I have been trying to get him involved in DJ Hackday as I believe the mission of democrasitation of remixing and digital literacy overlap well. In trying to convince him to get involved, he made a bit of crack about djing on stage which wasn’t missed by myself.

Sam you are going to be involved in some way for sure, even from a far…! Always great and always lovely to have some music during thinking digital.

Jennifer Arcuri

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

Jennifer pretty much blew up the stage with her bright and californian style of talk. I had never heard of her before but by the end I was very convinced. The weird thing is at the dinner the previous night, I had seen her but never quite got the chance to talk to her as I was talking to Ed Barton about mixed reality most of the evening.

She talked about Hackers and made it very clear the differences in this murky world which most people don’t really venture into. She gave some great examples including Aaron Swartz. It was suprising how few people had heard about hacker culture outside of the mainstream nonsense.

Ultimatley it was a exciting rallying call for the curious, modifiers, hackers to make, break and do for the pursuit of knowledge. I’m hoping to check out a few of their courses when they have a place in Manchester, because knowledge is power and protection. I also want to explore and see whats the limits of possibility when it comes to internet of things.

James Veitch

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

There is little I can say about James except, Herb was asking me why I prefer Geek to Nerd. James is hysterical and is a one man performance in himself. I can’t work out if its a magic act as such or just him.

He just seems to nail it at the right moments. Lots of laughter and so very relavent to the internet age. You really could imagine a whole night with him like how nerdcore with girltalk became a thing. Maybe a different kind of standup show.

At the afterparty, I got a sense if its an act; he’s pretty amazing at it. It always reminds me of the chinese man with the fishbowl (and more) in the prestige (spoilers!). But like Ros Bell says maybe its time already?

Another thing about Thinking Digital is the showing of (it would seem) random videos from around the web played to the audience after coming back from breaks. One of those videos was the DNA Journey.

It kicked started a bunch of tweets and to be fair quite a lot of emotion all aroundI had to dry my eye a little before getting on stage, poor Clara who had to follow that, luckily she had a great talk.

Although these were the ones which touhced me. I have to give credit to everybody who talked. Myles Dyer, Ed Barton and Amy Zima were very noteworthy. Got to love Herb geeking out with Dave Asprey on stage about the bulletproof lifestyle…

Thinking Digital Manchester 2016

All said and done, the TDCMCR crew did a excellent job again. As Thinking Digital moves into its 10th anniversary, it will be fancinating to see where it goes next.

Great work again Herb and Co.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and

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