Blog Archives

What is says on Ninth Level

Alas alas alas, this blog’s been neglected this last while.  Such are the demands on me at the moment (and the time taken up with Twitter!).  Anyhow, for the extra hour, the holiday weekend, the Halloween sound-effects that prohibit any work requiring concentration, and the current catch-up with, a post is forthcoming.

Here are some Ninth Level contributions of late:

  •  Apparently €5,000 is an annual fees figure that is being thrown around.  Hmmm. My humble opinion is that if students genuinely want to go to third level education they will find a way to do so, regardless of cost.  Paying one’s own fees  has a way of focusing the mind in a way that freebies do not.
  •   So that’s the guy’s whose visage is gracing the entrance to TCD over the last while!
  •  The University of Cambridge and research as “inherent to the very fibre of a university” calls for putting research back into the heart of the system.  The rift between the economic and intellectual research comes to the fore once again.  No prizes for guessing which side I am on.
  •   A study of undergraduates use of social media is under the spotlight.  Their use of Facebook is taken alongside other typical “identity markers of emerging adulthood”.  I wonder what that means for the use of Facebook for older people, and how the current 18-year-olds’ use of Facebook will evolve in years to come.
  •    Apparently, Facebook use in Harvard classes “has become so ubiquitous that no one even questions it”—not even professors.  Yikes!  The reasoning given is that lectures are boring, the lecturer repeats him/herself too often, and the lecture content is irrelevant because “much of knowledge has become commoditized on the web”.  Now, this is one more reason to flip the classroom / nonclassroom activity structure.  That is, the lectures can be put online for students to peruse in their own time. Then, classroom space and time can be freed up for discussion, and practical applications of concepts, software etc.  This is, of course, far more demanding on the cognitive abilities of students and there is the concern that many will not be able for it.  Whatever, it’s more constructive than students Facebooking their way through class.  I’m not against Facebook per se but students facebooking their new hairdos and night-out socialising is not the way to spend classroom time.
  •   It seems that some universities, (Oxbridge is singled out) bundle a BA with an MA.  The idea is that the student studies for and achieves their BA and are automatically awarded an MA to go along with it.  I am in total agreement with the author that this devalues the work of the many many postgraduates taking MA qualifications at other universities.  It makes one wonder what exactly a Masters qualification is.  What is the transition point from undergraduate to postgraduate?
  •   Prof Susan Greenfield is being her usual controversial self.  Her latest is that computer games could cause dementia in children.  Now, to be fair, I like to keep an open mind about scientific findings.  Unfortunately, Prof Greenfield tends to make this difficult.  As a result, I find myself thinking ‘here we go again’ when her latest research emerges.  Besides, think about it – how many children do you know who play (or have played in the past i.e. children who are now adults) computer games?  How many of those suffer from dementia?
  •   Here’s a quote from the study (carried out by the Irish Times): “Fourteen per cent of its (UL) graduates gained first-class honours, while 34 per cent achieved a 2:1. This 2:1 rate is by far the lowest in the country, a full 19 per cent behind the highest, which is TCD, and 9 per cent below the national average”.  Flash back to the later part of the last century when I was a graduate of that same institution (UL).  There were approximately 200 of us business graduates.  5 achieved a first class honours.  That’s 2.5%.  Enough said.

What Twitterers are tweeting about

Some people flatly refuse to tweet because it’s boring.  Yes, it is boring to read “I’m going home now” or “having chicken for dinner”.  But a flick through the tweets of those I’m following reveals some interesting stuff indeed.  People really post about interesting things. Here’s a selection:

  • Interview with Mark Zuckerberg:  he’s big into integration, single sign-ons with Facebook at the centre of things.
  • 40 people who changed the internet: the list is predominantly male and American.  There is a grand total of 1 woman in the entire list.
  • Review of Kevin Kelly’s new book: the reviewer isn’t hugely positive but yet manages to create a curiosity about the book. It sounds like an in-depth philosophical view of the technology-driven world. Example: “technology is an emerging state of cosmic reality” – that calls for some pondering.
  • Social consumers and social marketing:  I started off my professional life in marketing (in the pre-internet world). It  didn’t last long. The whole thing felt like a combination of paper-pushing and how-to-get-suckers-to-part-with-their-money. Now, it’s all changed and internet-marketing is one of my more enjoyable subjects to engage in with students.  Social Currency is more than just a concept. Brands mean something to customers, and customers are in charge of the transaction
  • If third level education costs more, should third level education then be shorter in duration? – I don’t agree. But this is exactly what is being speculated on in the UK. College is as much about personal development as it is about learning the content of a particular domain.  I’ve always been fascinated by how students change and mature between their first year and their third year. I don’t  see the same gains being made in 2 years. In terms of the academic learning, I wonder if a 2-year degree is more about the dreaded, and ultimately wasted, “cramming” as it is about immersion in a subject to the extent that a deeper understanding is achieved, even if some domain facts become blurry with time.
  • If I were a rich woman would I live here? – in fairness, it’s a plush location close to all amenities, but think of the traffic and the pollution. I do like the floorplan and the reclining statue at the bottom of the bed. The bed in the bathroom (or the bath in the bedroom) I’m not so sure about.
  • John Seely Brown’s “The Power of Pull” – I’m ashamed to say I purchased this some time back and still not have got around to reading it.  There are simply too many good books screaming read-me-read-me.  The line “If I aint learning, it aint fun” caught my attention.
  • The top 10 social networking sites and forums: Surprise surprise, Facebook is way above and beyond the most popular. Why don’t I know more about Mocospace and Mylife?  Am I missing something?
  • The Times Higher Ed claim to have a preview of the Hunt report: and its unsurprisingly not pretty in places and rather intriguing in others: the general feeling seems to be that it lacks a sound academic base and anything build on sand tends to be blown apart quite easily. So far so uh-oh.

Discovering the global digital life

Discover Digital Life” has published the output of what they claim to be the largest survey of online trends on a global scale.  They make for interesting reading.

First of all, the classification – which are you?

The problem with these categories is that no-one ever completely fits any one of them.  For example, I doubt if I am a prolific enough mobile user to be considered an Influencer.  I don’t consider myself new to the Internet (Aspirers) and I’m a Functionalist either. I have some characteristics of Communicators, Knowledge-seekers, and Networkers even if I don’t meet all their criteria.

Interestingly, males dominate the knowledge-seeking and females dominate the networking category. How does that fit with the stereotypes of males / female behaviour?

As to what people get up to online, the activities seem to make sense.

How highly might you rate yourself on these?  I do some of all. The internet seems to be my first port-of-call these days for many things. On the occasional instances where it isn’t….. e.g. turning up at the cinema to see The Social Network to find it booked out….. I wonder why I didn’t book it online beforehand.

Respondents spent an average of 4.6 hours every week being sociable.  This is surprisingly low. Even with full time jobs, I reckon that there are plenty folk who spend this amount of time per day.  It’s likely that there are many semi-dormant social networking accounts. Internet marketers can take heart from the fact that noticeably more people seem to be “actively looking for brands” when online than those who are actively avoiding brands. Yet, marketers need to be careful about how they put their brand across. Online consumers can and will click away if they feel they are being preached to by branders.

What’s really interesting about the study is the cross country comparisons. They are not all intuitively guessable.  For example, the countries having the highest % of people engaging on the net are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the lowest are Denmark and Indonesia. I didn’t expect the Danes to be in that category. Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia score highly on the social networking & connecting category. Turkey is also tops for knowledge & education as well as for online gaming. Vietnam, Hong Kong and South Korea are scoring highly in several categories.  Asia seems to be surpassing Europe and America in many of these categories of activity.  We clearly need to get our act together in Europe.

It seems that we in Europe don’t see online activities as all that important. For example, 50% of South Africans consider social networking as important while only 24% of Uk respondents feel the same way. The Americans and Europe practically disappear off the world map in terms of the importance of online multimedia / entertainment. Only 1% of UK residents rate multimedia / entertainment as important while 10% of Vietnamese do. The average Malysian has 233 online friends while the average German has 75.  While there may be local / cultural differences as to what a friend is, the trend is clear.

We in Europe simply are not as serious about the internet as our Eastern friends.  This has serious implications for online business and social life, as well as innovations and developments in these areas. If these trends continue we are likely to slip even further behind – certainly not a good thing.

Digital Ireland

What’s good about “good” Friday?  It’s a day off to catch up.  It’s a day to read yesterday’s newspaper. It’s a good day.

Yesterday’s Indo carried one of their regular Digital Ireland supplements.  Today, over a nice coffee in a nice coffee shop (with free wireless connectivity!) I get to sit down and read it. It’s done me the world of good (see, there’s that “good” again).  I genuinely feel more confident that Ireland can pull itself out of current difficulties.  Here are a few of the more interesting elements –

  • “Ireland is rapidly becoming the “Internet capital of Europe”.  John Kennedy reminds us that we are now home to the international HQ of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ebay.  Many are now expanding their operations here. Yes, there is concern that we don’t have the communications infrastructure to support this as much as we might like but progress is being made.  E-Thursday (page 6 of the business supplement of the Indo) carries an interview with Eircom and its plans for 8Mbps for one million users by the end of the year.
  • Mobile innovation continues to evolve.  There are a quarter of a million iPhones in the country. That’s a lot of smart phones and doesn’t even include the smartphones of Nokia, Samsung and others.  Lots of potential for interesting apps.
  • Facebook claims to have 1.4 million users in Ireland.  That’s one third the population, give or take.  Yes, I facebook (you can always judge the popularity of something by its “verb”alisation).  Am I bothered by the fact that 1 in 4 schoolkids have hacked its others’ facebook accounts?  Answer = not really.  I’m reasonably choosy about who my friends are. I don’t put anything personal up there. If I want to say something confidential I do so more privately. Facebook is a really powerful way of keeping up with what’s going on with friends, particularly those I might risk losing touch with otherwise.
  • Finding information remains the number one priority of net surfers (47% of respondents), with interaction and communication coming in second (32% of those surveyed).  These are from a UK study and I Imagine Irish statistics would likely be similar. Facebook and Twitter fit both requirements very nicely. Is it any wonder then that more and more commercial organisations are embracing them?  The wonder is that there is still so much opposition in some quarters. Page 2 has an interesting account of how Lincolnshire police are using social media (facilitated by Dublin software organisation pTools) to police their jurisdiction.
  • In the online world your presence is only as good as your website permits it to be.  Despite well over a decade of good practice building, web design continues to be a problem.  “Vanity Publishing” is the term used – your website screams about how good your designers are at animation, how your CEO has perfected the beaming smile, how your navigation is clear as mud. The problem is that good web design is subjective. One person’s navigation minefield is another’s well sign-posted routeway.  Web design needs to be done with a specific target audience in mind. If your potential customers hate your flash intros you have a problem. If they find them quirky and fun then flash it is.
  • is well worth checking out and merits an significance portion of the supplement. There is a strong incentive to change mindsets and realise that concrete efforts must be made to “roll up our sleeves and start innovating”.  Concrete examples are given, most notably the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC). They have recently announced their LaunchPad, an incubation space for start-ups, complete with expert mentoring and advising. Successful projects quoted seem to revolve around mobile apps, and there seems to be a strong commercial aspect to most of the ongoing projects.
  • Digital21 and all the innovative ideas coming through the supplement emphasise the importance of an educated workforce.  Key actions are encouraging science and honours maths at leaving cert level.  The reality in education is very different. More and more schools are dropping science subjects in a necessary reaction to education cut-backs. The leaving cert will continue to be a ‘points’ race with little emphasis on content or any depth of thought on that content unless it can be radically over-hauled. Efforts at Digital Ireland need the support of other aspects of the Irish economy if they are to succeed.
  • Page 5 of the supplement is devoted to the viewpoints of “Ireland’s ICT leaders”.  Of the 10 “leaders” only 1 is female. The entire supplement carries a total of 42 mugshots, only 5 of which are women.  Technology continues to be a male-dominated arena.  Why is that? Why is technology, like gangster movies, seen as the preserve of the male?  Are there still nerd associations?   A lack of female role models in technology doesn’t help (though here’s an exception).

There you go, folks, nothing from me for ages, and then you get 839 words in one shot. It really is a good Friday.

What did I do when I was cut off

I’ve read interesting accounts of people choosing to abandon technology for a day or a week or a month…. and wondered how I would get on were I to try that. Recently, I was given such an opportunity, and not by choice. I found myself without tv and internet access. How did I manage? 

  • Other media and communication devices were called into service. My next phone bill will be greeted with much trepidation. However, I didn’t turn to the radio.  I must confess never having been a radio person. Listening to the spoken word for an extended period of time without a conversational format just isn’t me. It’s probably the reason why I’ve never taking to podcasting.  I listen for about 30 seconds and then find myself wishing I could have a transcript of the content that I could scan-read before deciding whether or not to read the material fully.
  • Paper newspapers were read.  Broadsheets allow a wide area to scan that a computer screen doesn’t. There is much less offline-equivalent linking and clicking taking place with newspaper reading than with screen reading.  Also, I tend to read the opening paragraph of a newspaper article and then scan the rest of the story, whereas on-line I tend to read the headline then scan-read the contents. The opening paragraph doesn’t seem to carry as much weight.
  • I made an impulse-trip to another country. Oh, the joys of living in a city with an international airport.  I might regret this one when the next credit card bill comes in. Last-minute flights aren’t cheap.  But I had a charming day out.
  • Mental notes of (free) wireless hotspots around the city are unreliable and need to be written down.
  • The housework actually got done.
  • I had a considerable number of blog postings and news items awaiting reading when I logged back in. How many of those will be read?  Is it interesting to read news items several days after they were newsworthy?

Ultimately, I managed fine.  I grew up without technology and know I could live without it – for a limited period of time only, and to a certain extent only.

How cut off was I really?  During my “cut-off” period, I still made use of a phone. That flight could not have been booked without technology. Much computer-based work could (and was) done offline.  I discovered and made ample use of a wireless hotspot 8 mins walk from where I live.  Ultimately, I wasn’t really cut off at all.

To be really cut off I need to ditch everything that is technological. I need to do a Lance Ulanoff. Now, that sounds like hardship!

How we compare?

The IIA have released the latest State-of-the-net in Ireland report. Some things I found interesting –

A list of what-do-people do on the internet reveals that searching for travel information is still the number one activity. Most standard activities are on the rise, with notable increases in social networking, Government services information and current affairs. The only decrease is in “school / college research”.  Is this a good thing – are students finally getting the message that there are many internet sources that are simply not “formal academic peer-reviewed sources”? Alternatively, is the power and quality resources of the internet increasingly not being availed of?

Regarding internet purchases there is a similar note of curiosity. When all purchases are aggregated we are above the EU average. 36% of Irish people have made internet purchases, compared with 32% of Europeans.  However, in the specific category of “books, magazines and e-learning 12% of Europeans have purchased, compared to only 7% of Irish. Is this a cultural or language difference, or does it say something about our literary tastes and / or activities in Ireland?  Our travel / holiday purchases push account for a significant proportion of our online purchasing.

We’re still lagging behind the EU average for broadband connectivity but the gap has noticeably narrowed.

What’s the bottom line – much done, much left to do?

Online Teenage Angst

Another one of those the-internet-is-bad-for-our-kids report has just been released.  A review is at the Irish Times.   Here are the stats –

  • “22 per cent of teenagers were victims of some form of bullying online, while 4 per cent said they experienced it frequently”.
  • “More than three quarters said they had not reported the behavior”.
  • “70 per cent of Irish teenagers said they had been warned of the risks of being online”
  • “More than half admitted that they do not always use privacy settings to restrict who can see their personal information”
  • “45 per cent said they would post images and personal information on the internet, and only 11 per cent of teenagers said they never do”
  • “55 per cent of Irish teens have access to the internet without any restrictions from their parents”.

Do you remember being a teen?  It was a time of trying things out, experimenting, finding your identity and figuring out who you are. Todays teens have the internet to help them with all this. If you had the internet when you were a teen, what would you have done with it? Would your parents / guardians have been freaked by the media scare-mongering about the dangers and restricted your access? Would they have encouraged internet exploration in a safe and constructive manner? Are you one of those parents / guardians today?

Parenting is arguably one of the toughest jobs on the job list. The balance of allowing teens freedom of expression, space to grow and experiment but yet reining in more dubious behavior is not easy. How do you react to surveys like this one today – freak and ban internet access (the over-reaction), completely ignore it and continue to allow Tina Teen to continue whatever she gets up to on the internet (the under-reaction). The right balance is different for every parent / child pairing and is not easy to identify.

A feature of the survey is that teens are aware of the dangers online but yet contribute to it by revealing too much of themselves.  Why? That’s the real question. Did the survey ask this question? If education isn’t getting the message across, what will work?  What about the perpetrators of the bullying (I’m taking the teens here, the adult bullies and other abusers is a totally different field)? Who’s taking the teenage bullies to task? How are their parents likely to react to this survey?

One thing is for sure – there are no easy answers!  Life is as tough for the bully as it is for the victim – that’s a truth that far precedes the age of the internet.

Time Optimisation

Sometimes when I read people’s blog I wonder how they possibly get time to do all they do. It seems they spend their days writing / reading blogs, watching youtube, commenting on discussion boards, twittering, skyping, etc. On the one hand I’m jealous, on the other I’m confused.

This blog doesn’t have a post everyday because it’s author simply doesn’t have the time. Neither does she…. shock, horror….. twitter on a regular basis for the same reason. Here’s a typical day –

  • Get up, and potter about apartment. This isn’t time-wasting, it’s a needed relaxation before the day starts. TV3s Ireland Am is on in the background, it gets channel-flicked to gmtv or the bbc at odd times.
  • Take 35 minutes to walk to work.
  • Work day is spent: giving classes, preparing for classes, doing student consultations, answering / sending emails, attending meetings with colleagues, marking student work.
  • A work day can end anytime between 4pm or 8pm depending on how busy a particular day is.
  • Talk 35 minutes to walk home from work.
  • Much of the evening is spent reading / writing as part of my phd research studies.
  • I need me time to pursue personal activities that have become a needed part of sanity e.g. going to the gym (once or twice a week) , reading for pleasure (next up is Sebastian Barry’s Secret Scripture), going to the theater / the NCH, etc.

Not much time is left for engaging is social internet activities. I can multi-task with the best of them, but ‘interruption’ social internet activities squeezed in to the above tasks can be interruptive to those tasks.

There’s a time and a place for everything. I’m happy to spend the time I spend in Facebook, I enjoy posting in here, I enjoy reading the blogs I follow. I know that there are other blogs I would like to follow but I have to prioritise.

I have my blogs and news pages routed to a reader to speed up access time to them. I have my preferred websites book marked on delicious to keep them within easy reach. I have other tools that speed up my internet life but I still find I haven’t the time to do all I like to do.

Such is life. Time needs to be prioritized, simple as that.