I was fortunate enough to see Cirque du Soleil last night, an astonishing performance of athleticism and creativity. For those of you who haven’t seen them, Cirque provide a modern take on circus skills, blending vibrant costumes, elaborate props and modern technology. They have some seriously ambitious staging: in this case, giant video screens that formed the floor, but could rise up to make walls or slopes, all the stage for the performance.
The technology, in itself, was impressive, but it’s role was to facilitate the creativity. In an opening scene, the large central video screen showed an image of a train moving along, whilst three ‘vandals‘ in harnesses danced and scaled the wall, then were able to ‘run‘ along the vertical screen, spraying digital graffiti onto the moving train. Like a giant iPad, interaction between people and image, technology facilitating the creative process and storytelling.
As mobile technology permeates ever further into our lives, informal technology supporting social interactions, i thought it may be valuable to think about two ways that technology enables us: how it serves us, how it helps us to create.
I’ve used the partition of ‘serve‘ and ‘create‘ somewhat arbitrarily, but it represents that often we turn to social technology for support and problem solving or for functional needs (what train to get, reading emails, calculating or scheduling things), whilst at other times we use it to capture thoughts, to assist in the process of co-creation, for social learning tasks and pure expressive thought. These interactions are less structured, more creative.
Over coffee this morning on the train back down to London, i’m using the iPad creatively, to structure and capture my thoughts, and i’m using it functionally, to manage my emails and diary. Let’s think about six ways in which i’m using mobile technology in a social way today. It’s serving me by ‘producing‘, ‘sharing‘ and ‘broadcasting‘. It’s creative as an ‘interface‘, letting me ‘discover‘ and letting me ‘express‘ myself. This is a first iteration of my thoughts, it’s an unashamed reflective exercise, and i’m sure the six areas will change as i think it through further, but let’s stick with these for the first pass.
The role of mobile technology in producing content is significant: i have ditched my laptop in favour of the iPad, it’s my primary means of production, travelling with me everywhere and my favourite place to write. I record and edit my video learning bites on my iPhone and use mind mapping software to capture new ideas, as well as Apps like Paper and Adobe Ideas to create models. There’s nothing new in talking about mobile technolgoy as a means of production, but let’s just think about the social nature of the technology, the way that it follows me everywhere. The very nature of the devices impacts on what i write, the fact that i woke up this morning and checked Facebook in bed, took the iPad to Starbucks to draw the diagram over coffee and now am writing on the train.
The clue is in the names ‘social learning‘ and ‘social technology‘. Producing is not enough, we need to share and broadcast. I’m differentiating those two elements of how technology serves us by viewing ‘sharing‘ as the social process of engaging with the community for help in shaping the messages and broadcasting as the technical process of ‘pushing it out‘. Social technology facilitates this process of co-creation, which i’ve expressed previously as seven discrete strands of activity, each facilitated by the technology.
Mobile technology helps me to create by acting as the interface between my and the community, between my and knowledge, between me and an audience or co-collaborators. As with any interface, it’s best when it’s invisible, and that’s a real advantage that mobile technology tends to have over traditional computing: there is no ‘start up‘ time, no need to log in, it’s instant and responsive. Also the clever application of notifications can help to make the experience of using social technologies more conversational (although, conversely, poor use of notifications can make it a hassle).
I use this interface to let me discover things, indeed, discovery is the main element of performance support that i discuss in ‘mindset for mobile learning‘, it’s the ability to find things out fast, knowledge on demand, and then it facilitates me processing and sharing it. It’s a new way of learning. It’s another facet of interface: social technology puts me face to face with knowledge, without needing to interact with a third party. And once i’ve discovered it, i can express myself.
Expression is the creative aspect of mobile technology: the ability to tell my own stories, facilitated by gadgetry, but driven by stories and creativity. It’s the ultimate liberation of ideas: i can capture thoughts, find things out, interact with my community, produce content, broadcast it and express myself, all through these social techs. It’s liberating.
To understand the true impact of mobile, we have to understand the nature of informal, social technology, we need to understand the human imperatives to communicate and to create, and we have to understand how technology serves us and facilitates all of this. My distinction between ‘serving‘ and ‘creating‘ may be wrong, but it’s one iteration in my evolving thought process, and social learning is all about creating the meaning, one day at a time.