Just before Christmas, I published an article which I have been developing for around 6 months. It is a first step in articulating a structure through which healthcare can be provided within digital environments, without having to require patients to relocate themselves into other spaces. I’m really excited about fleshing this out further and would welcome feedback. For me, it’s a crucial issue and makes a lot of sense given the habitualisation that goes into people’s use of digital worlds. There is still a lot to figure out, like what kind of relationship should exist between digital developers and healthcare service professionals, or what should be the format of intervening within such spaces, but here’s a starting point.
Do you sign off texts and emails with an x? Have you ever thought what that x – shorthand for a kiss – means to you or the person who has sent it to you? It’s said that the liberal use of x in electronic correspondence, whether personal or professional, is feminising the workplace – and Labour MP Jess Phillips was told off for being unprofessional by a judge a couple of years ago for signing off an email to a constituent with an x. So how did we arrive at a situation where everybody gets one at the end of nearly every sentence we type?
Part of our answer is really simple – the x in correspondence conveys a special kind of empathy for the recipient. In a world where uppercase letters read like SHOUTING and where emojis are ambiguous, every element of a text message is easily misunderstood. The x serves as a catch-all device, telling your reader that all is well in your relationship.
The ubiquitous x can be applied to friendship, romantic, or even professional relationships when messaging. It is so versatile, revealing interest, affection and a general kind of togetherness which, if face to face, would be equivalent to some kind of non-verbal body language – a head tilt, or a sympathetic nod to show agreement and understanding. The x shows that you are in this together and that you seek to continue the conversation in a spirit of mutual and even jovial appreciation.
However, this still doesn’t fully explain why it is an x that has come to wield such power, or why it feels so essential to include one. After all, it could be – and sometimes is – a different symbol: an emoji perhaps, or a simple smiley face like this: :). Nor does it tell us about the journey taken by the x in becoming this multifaceted symbol.
Making your mark
History tells us that the x has a long pedigree. In the middle ages, handwritten letters would end with an + to signify the Christian symbol of Christ. With most people being illiterate, a cross was deemed to be sufficiently accessible to verify identity. What’s more, there is evidence of such rituals of signing documentation to be accompanied by a physical kiss being given to the paper, as one might kiss a cross if of certain religious persuasions.
But, this still leaves a big gap between then and now. What happened at the beginnings of the digital revolution that explains this progressive encroachment into all of our correspondence, turning every message into its own letter? Equally, why did the x remain, while other elements of letter writing disappeared, such as writing: “Dear [name]”, or “from [name]” at the start and end of correspondence. We nearly never do this now when sending texts, because messaging has become an endless letter, a conversation that is always left open, to be picked up again at a later stage. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the cross at the end of letters evolved into the x just as words like “goodbye”, evolved out of “God be with you”.
Yet, for today’s generation, the connection behind the x is likely to be completely lost – it is simply some kind of kiss and, just like a cross, using it could land you in big trouble. After all, the kiss is remarkably culturally specific and an x can mean something very different – or nothing at all in a different language. For instance, in Spanish, x is short for “por”, meaning “for”. Equally, a kiss in one culture means something different in another and, in some cultures, there is no kissing at all. There is also a gendered politics to a kiss, which can make it a highly risky undertaking to send, especially in professional settings.
At the same time, the x can be a way of allowing somebody to express themselves physically without the pressure of actually having to touch somebody. Indeed, this is one of the web’s most amazing features; it can liberate us from the constraints of social conventions and provide a space for relating to others differently – a perspective that researchers have outlined since its inception.
There may be many people who sign off with an x who would not think of kissing the person when face to face, but feel comfortable expressing such affection through a symbol. At a time when the world wide web’s inventor, Sir Tim Berners Lee, has called for more love online, this is surely a good thing.
So, while seemingly one of the most uncomplicated things we do when messaging, the x in texts has far wider implications than perhaps we first thought. A good rule may be to only send an x to people who would be comfortable with you kissing them face to face. Would you actually kiss that person, if they were in front of you? If not, then perhaps drop the x.
Last weekend, I featured in an article by Robin McKie on transhumanism, following Wellcome awarding their annual book prize to Mark O'Connell for his 'To be a machine'. It's a really great article, but I've a few things to add based on some of the responses I've seen online and will make a podcast about it over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's the article.
Also, if you want a deep dive into this, check out something I wrote a few years ago, which draws together some related ideas on posthumanism and cyborgs.
Last week, I featured in a CNN article on the future of doping. It was great to chat with the author about all of the things that can be brought to bear on this subject, but there's so much more to be said than is covered in the final edit. Take a look and then return to here, if you'd like more.
For me, at the core of this subject are questions about evolution, transhumanism, and how we make sense of our place in the world. Modern sports have always been pursuits that test the limits of our human capacity physically, through a combination of mental, physical, and technological synthesis. Gene doping remains emblematic of a brave new era in which I believe our currently held views on doping will come under question and make little sense to uphold. That doesn't mean there is an easy solution to the problem of cheating in sport. Whether it is doping or other means, these tendencies to break rules in order to gain an unfair advantage will occur, regardless of what those rules are.
The argument on behalf of supervised doping has been espoused by a number of my peers, since I published first on this around 10 years ago. Over this time, I have become less convinced that it will be an effective way of securing either a level playing field - of any kind - or that it would significantly reduce the potential harm that the collective athletic population will be exposed to, when compared with the present system.
The details of this argument are within a manuscript I am currently writing, which updates my perspective on the subject, but the key message I would like to get across is that we are moving rapidly into an era of gene editing whereby the means by which we determine what counts as human or even achievement in sport will need substantial revision.
Moreover, we will find there to be strong moral arguments in favour of doping like practices in society more widely, which will then urge anti-doping to re-position its value system. These conditions are why we need a fresh look at the problem, not just to solve the next few Olympics, but to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the next century.
The edited volume by myself and Mark Lorch received interest from the Mirror last week in an article which outlines the book we published earlier in the year with the Royal Society of Chemistry. Check it out here
The book was published out of a book sprint we conducted during Manchester Science Festival in 2016 and has been getting some great reviews, including one from Nature.
This week, the BBC published a piece about the Hermes delivery service using robots to make ground-based deliveries. Here's a few things I said about it, along with some additional comments in a piece for Medium.
This week, the Times Higher Education published a piece about our new MSc in Science Communication & Future Media, an online, part time course, designed for professionals who want to increase their skills and creative capacities. The article is broadly about the need to do more than just communicate facts to the public, a position that has been reinforced in the last week, as authors write about the consequences of the Anti-Science Trump administration. Here's the full article and here's a link to our exciting new course!
Of the many technologies to have captured our imaginations over the last five years, there have been few with such lofty aspirations as drones. These high-tech flying machines have opened up new cultural pastimes which bring together hobbyist enthusiasm and a simple human curiosity to take to the skies.
In 2015, one of the largest commercial drone developers, DJI, was valued to be worth over US$10billion, while major media companies like Facebook and Google have been quietly acquiring drone manufacturers to further their aspirations of reaching the remaining world’s offline population by using high altitude drones to beam down data through lasers, giving those more remote communities a means of getting online.
But what are the big five applications that explain the proliferation of drones over this period, or which signal important contributions to our society?
The great thing about drones is that they are small, fast, agile, self-guiding, and can carry things. Ever since Amazon’s first patent award for a drone delivery system in April 2015, we have seen new designs emerge and new applications imagined, including the company’s latest aspiration to create a blimp style drone carrier which will be able to deploy fleets of drones directly from the sky. Meanwhile companies like Flirtey have received approval for commercial drone delivery flights, for items ranging from Pizza delivery to bottled water, emergency food and first aid kits.
Other delivery designs have included life-ring drones, blood-delivery drones, and defibrillator “ambulance” drones – the prototypes of which show great success and clarity of use.
In 2015, the world’s first Drone Film festival took place in New York, shortly followed by a number of others around the world. In the same year, the Drones for Good prize launched in Dubai, creating an annual US$1m prize for inventors to come up with some of the best drone applications. Finalists ranged from drones designed to map biodiversity, to a search and rescue drone which was its inaugural international winner.
Award winning filmmaker Liam Young created the first film shot entirely by drones, called In the Robot Skies. Artists are even putting 360 cameras onto drones and turning them into virtual reality perspectives, as in the case of award-winning Marshmallow Laser Feast’s In the Eyes of the Animal, which uses drones, LIDAR scanning, and VR to give a completely new perspective on the world.
The United Arab Emirates created the world’s first Grand Prix Drone Racing event, with British teen Luke Banister winning its inaugural event in 2016 with a first prize pot of US$250,000. Since then an entire community of drone races have been popping up around the world, with the first professional race taking place in the UK at the 02 Arena in 2017.
Drones also have the extraordinary capacity to occupy parts of our natural world that no other object can. These machines have been seized upon by environmental scientists to help us understand the natural world in ways that have never been possible before. For instance, primate biologist Serge Wich has been monitoring apes from above using a range of drone systems, while Neil Entwistle, of Salford University’s School of Environment and Life Sciences, has been mapping out flooding patterns in the UK to more effectively help us figure out how to protect ourselves against catastrophic weather.
Journalists have also been quick off the mark to use drones. The Knight News Foundation project is developing a Drone Journalism operations manual to help reporters fly ethically and safely. And in countries where there is tight media control there is particular value in having drones to access places which have decreed off limits. In Turkey, for example, an activist allegedly had his drone shot down by police when he was trying to capture footage of demonstrations in Istanbul.
Among all these amazing applications, there is also a lot of hype about where drones will take us. A lot is still very much in flux. Rules keep changing, freedoms to fly are being curbed in various countries, such as Spain, and there remains a concern about safety and how best to govern accountability. What’s more, it’s crucial to keep an eye on the links between the military and the consumer sector, as the overlaps are emerging – economically and politically.
There is already a push back against a world where we are surrounded by drones, such as the project No Fly Zone which lets US citizens try to protect the air space around their homes from drone intrusion. We also have a massive design problem in trying to actually figure out what a highway in the sky might look like.
But one thing is clear, the investment capital is there to sustain these applications for a long time to come and there is no sign of the number of applications diminishing so there’s still a great deal of change to expect ahead.
For the BBC Digital Cities week at University of Salford, I gave a talk on VR, which looked at the cross over between what cities are doing with digital and how sports are evolving into these spaces. The BBC's Academy came along to produce an interview, captured by Charles Miller here.
Last week, I was in Paris giving a talk for the News Media Coalition about how to future proof in a rapidly changing media industry. I covered everything from social media to virtual reality. There's so much work here to be done, but journalism has something we need to protect. Here's my talk:
Over the last year, I've been following the IOC Agenda 2020 recommendation actions around creating an Olympic Channel, which launches on 21st August, straight after the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Here's the article I wrote about it for The Conversation.
New Olympic Channel will change the way we watch sport forever – here's how
As the Rio 2016 games draw to an end, the Olympic Channel begins its life. Following its launch at the closing ceremony of the games, the channel will completely change how we consume television in the future. This new digital platform will operate 24/7 to fill the gap in between games with local, national, and international sporting events. The Olympic Channel is a world first in broadcast history, and may be the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) most strategic move for a decade.
As things stand, the Olympic movement is almost entirely financed by the exclusive sale of broadcast rights. About 74% of the IOC’s total income is derived from this source; the largest chunk of which comes from American broadcaster NBC. For years, critics have said that this leaves the Olympic Games very much in the pockets of television executives – so much so that events are reportedly rescheduled to suit television audiences, rather than athletes.
Yet we live now in a digital era, and television has changed dramatically since the IOC started these contractual arrangements in the 1980s. Today, television sits alongside social media, as more broadcasters produce content for platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
Twitter is making deals to livestream full Olympic matches within its platform, and the IOC even has its own YouTube channel, which it has been using as an archive of Olympic footage since Beijing 2008. It recently started to upload full match episodes from previous games, which are gathering the lion’s share of the channel’s views.
With such developments proceeding apace, the future of television is uncertain; which makes NBC’s recent decision to pay an unprecedented amount for the US rights to the Olympics until 2032 a significant gamble. By this time, televisions will just be screens onto which we push content from our mobiles. The IOC knows that the days of the television as an operating system are over – and its new Olympic Channel reflects this.
Olympics every day?
It might seem odd to have an Olympic Channel when the games are not on, but in fact it could well offer users a service they didn’t know they needed: that is, a way of connecting with the athletes they care about, in between the games. The channel also wants to own the hyper-local sports experience, which is currently under-resourced by most international and national sports federations. It wants people to log in and follow their sport, and it wants local clubs to broadcast their events.
The channel will start off as a facility to fill the gap between the games. But it won’t make sense to ask followers to tune out once the Olympics begin simply to satisfy broadcasters who have paid to cover them. Instead, it’s likely that those broadcasters will use the platform, and become a big part of it going forward.
The channel also has third-party integration, to make the most of the mobile experience. You can follow Spotify playlists by your favourite athletes, so that you can train to the same music. You can share your data and track your progress using Samsung’s S Health application (Samsung is an Olympic partner). And you can play interactive games during sports events, so that you don’t switch off from the content and spread your attention elsewhere.
The long game
The IOC is playing the long game, and their initiative could become the Facebook of the sports world. Once the platform has a loyal following, the IOC will be able to monetise this in unimaginable ways – perhaps it could even renegotiate its relationship with television broadcasters and sell advertising directly. But it’s likely that some crucial deals will be struck before this situation arises.
For now, the channel will deliver exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of the games, which will extend viewer interests well past the closing ceremony and into the next Olympic cycle. For a long time, the IOC has emphasised that it is not a content creator for the Olympic Games. But while the channel is not yet covering the games, the fact that it comes out of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (the organisation which shoots all the sport content at the Olympics) means that there will be increasing overlaps between the two.
The challenge will be to ensure that this adds value to the broadcast offer – rather than detracts from it – so that the IOC remains affluent. That said, if the Olympic Channel can run its own advertising and sponsor campaigns, then it can cut out the television middle-man and do exactly what social media does today.
For a century, the Olympic Games have been a litmus test for media change, with slow motion replay, 3D television and virtual reality all being pioneered at the games. This year, organisers have boasted about how Rio 2016 is the first games to be consumed on mobile first and televisions second. Looking at the state of the media today – where companies like CNN are showing a median viewer age of 61 – it’s hard to see much future for television, as we presently know it. But one thing’s for sure – you’ll still be able to watch the Olympics.
Accompanying my A-Z of Social Media for Academia re-launch, in partnership with the Times Higher Education, I published a 2 page article on the value of social media. I will also have monthly updates on social media for the magazine, so keep an eye out for that!
Today, I re-launch the A-Z of Social Media in partnership with Times Higher Education. We have produced a double page feature in the print magazine, and I'm going to be working on a monthly column for inclusion, which will have updates.
The online version within their website will still have the list in full, with any updates, and we are working on a dynamic function within it, to make it more engaging and useful. This is a great way for the list to reach out even further and I'm really excited to be working on something more regularly for THE!