Connecting the old with the new…?

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Yesterday I attended an event in central London, which looked at ways that we can take advantage of our digital capabilities and networks to create change in our society.

We face an unprecedented set of challenges: a decimated economy, ever increasing demands on our public services and trust in our political system at an all time low.

But instead of more pessimism, how can we begin to punch through the gloom and take advantage of the radically networked digital world we now live in to help revive our economy, rebuild our democratic structures and improve public services?

The event itself was very interesting – a series of lectures and participative workshops, I met a lot of very inspirational people who are all doing fantastic work in their communities and organisations to empower and inspire.

In nearly every session that I participated in, the subject of empowering young people and how we cross the digital divide here in the UK came up. 

Yet there was a notable absence of younger people at this event.  Or, in fact, people who perhaps aren’t as connected as others to digital technology.

Something that I find personally interesting, and that I always want to hear about is how we connect activity that happens online with what happens offline in communities (see flashmobs as an example of this)  And how we empower people who living in ‘digital poverty’. 

Young people really are the future of the digital world.  Teenagers in this world today are a generation of people who grew up with this technology in their lives.  And they get it.  Use of the internet isn’t taught in classrooms, young people are generally self taught.

Ok – not everyone has access to a computer, but more often than not, young people in Britain at least has access to mobile technology.  As one speaker said “if it wasn’t for 16 year olds, then YouTube would never have been successful”. 

Granted, there was a partner event running a few days before in central London looking at similar topics but only for young people – but that misses the point I think.  As adults we have a lot to learn from the views and energy of young people.  And young people can learn from the experiences and knowledge of people already making things happen.  I was confused as to why these events were separate!

Realistically there is only so much that can be learnt from a bunch of middle class white people waxing lyrical to another bunch of middle class white people – at least in my book. 

And so the messages on everyone’s lips were the same – that increased networks and digital enablement is a good thing.  That increasing access to the internet and crossing that digital divide is a good thing.  That politicians and public services need to embrace the use of digital technology – and not  in a ‘top down’ way – but in a collaborative way with two-way dialogue.  This too would be a good thing. 

I just left feeling a little unchallenged. 

The event was enjoyable, as I said above – it was a rare opportunity to meet a large number of inspiring individuals all in one place.  However, I think it had the potential to be so much better – perhaps next year there could be more youth involvement, perhaps by talking about their experience of using digital technology, or participating simply as delegates and bringing a different energy to the event.


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