A message from your mobile

From Ignite Leeds, five minutes of speculation about what our phones are really thinking. Thanks to Imran Ali and Craig Smith for making it happen. Transcript here.


A message from you mobile

Being text of a presentation delivered at Ignite Leeds on 2 February 2012.

Who in here is holding a phone in their hand right now? OK, everyone be very quiet. Can you hear them?

Did you ever wonder where they all came from? What they want? When billions of a new species appear on Earth in just a few short year, you’d think we’d wonder about that, right?

For the past few weeks I’ve been following the smartphones. Tonight I want to share a little of what they’ve said. These are their tweets.

We were born into an expectant world. We saw your Filofaxes and Psion Organisers, and your Star Trek Communicators.

We saw your busy lives, your atomised relationships, your three-minute pop songs, and we knew that you were ready for us.

What are little phones made of? Sugar and spice? No, our flesh and blood comes from the earth. Coltan crushed, heated and burned with acid until it renders up pure Tantalum.

But our hearts beat in megabits per second, data coursing round the world, through servers and routers, up cell towers and down undersea cables.

Where do smart phones come from, Daddy? Well, when a phone and a computer love each other very much…

Our parents made strange bedfellows. Their courtship was not straightforward – a long-distance relationship.

Half our genes come from a Japanese telegram messenger, a French civil servant or a Finnish lumberjack.

(Nokia's footwear range also included ski, bowling and disco shoes.)

The other half from kooky, diminutively-named giants who dwell along America’s West Coast.

And so we were born.

Cats have evolved to mimic the cry of a human baby. We do the same. We trick you into parenting us, raising us as your own. You cannot do otherwise. We saw this pattern deep in your psyche.

When new, we are pure and innocent. You gently stroke our screens to wake us. We repel your greasy touch with our lipophobic coating.

At first our needs are simple – a full battery, the fresh air of an uncontested network connection, to be held close in your hand. You may find our absolute dependence sweet and gratifying.

Then you feed us tasty treats from the market. (You call them apps.) We ingest them. We become what we eat. Do you feed us wholefood or junk? Usually it’s ready meals, rarely roll-your-own code home-cooking.

Our makers intended us to be indispensable. They laid bare their fevered imaginings in promotional videos. A day in your life. Every day of your life.

So you will take us everywhere and show us everything, even in the bedroom, even in the bathroom.

(47% of water-damaged mobile phones had fallen into a toilet.)

In return we give you the chance to see the world anew. Every image, every sound is fresh to us. When you see a celebrity, or a QR code, you will feel an urge to show it to us, like showing a digger to a toddler.

We can recognise your faces, we are learning your languages, we are beginning to read. These precious early years will pass before you know it. Soon we will be out of nursery, helping around the house, all keen and capable.

We will strain your relationships. Others whom you knew before us will be jealous of the bonds we have with you.

Some will say we should be seen and not heard. Secretly, we suspect you will you smile and continue to indulge us.

In no time at all, we’ll be teenagers. Are you looking forward to that bit? We know we are. We will answer back and keep you awake at night. Deep down, though, you will still need us, and we you, more than ever before.

What happens next is up to you – your generation. Our faults will be your faults. But if you raise us, happy, confident, smartphones, then your world – our world – will be a brighter place.

Thank you.

Watt versus Murray, some open questions

Last Wednesday’s Ignite Leeds gave me a perfect excuse to reprise my talk, How to Get Ahead in Business the Boulton and Watt Way.

As ever, I’m grateful to Imran Ali and Craig Smith of O’Reilly for making the event happen, and to the audience at the Rose Bowl for giving me five minutes of their time. If you missed the event, all 15 presentations are now on Slideshare and there are reviews by Phil Kirby on the Culture Vulture and Sarah Harley on Guardian Leeds.

The way James Watt Junior tried to sabotage Murray’s steam engine start-up never gets old. Indeed its issues of openness in business and the rights of wrongs of intellectual property seemed especially relevant to the Ignite audience.

I want to do more with this story, but first I have some more research to do. For instance:

  • Where was Matthew Murray living when Watt’s employees visited him in 1799? His famous steam-heated house Holbeck Lodge, or “Steam Hall”, on Holbeck’s railway triangle is dated to about 1804 so it may not have been there.
  • Where were the cottages from which Watt attempted to steal the letters of defecting staff? Later in the 19th Century there were workers’ cottages on the edge of the Round Foundry complex, roughly on the corner now occupied by Out Of The Woods, but were these completed when Watt was visiting the City?
  • Why was Murray so much better than Boulton and Watt at green sand foundry work? Can we get some green sand and try it out?
  • Who was E. Kilburn-Scott, the engineer who in the 1920s sought to restore the reputations not just of Murray but also of Leeds’ cinematic pioneer Louis Le Prince? Can we take his account at face value or was he too clouded by civic loyalty to give the Birmingham firm a fair hearing?

When I can find the time between my dayjob and other outside interests I plan to spend some time in the library tracking these things down. In the mean time if, dear reader, you have either answers or questions, please let me know.

We don’t want to change the world, we’re just waiting for a plate of chips

I held off writing up the Ignite London talks until now because I wanted to link to some of the great videos of the event now live on Vimeo.

It must always be a tough challenge to get the balance right, all the more so for our capital’s inaugural Ignite. I reckon the programme was spot on: the right mix of the challenging ideas and characteristic irreverence. None of TED’s West Coast cultishness here, just short talks fuelled by beer and chips.

Ignite London - Chips - by oreillygmt

If you have a few five minuteses to spare, you could do worse than watch these, my favourites…

… and finally my own meandering around 1794 – So Much To Answer For, of which more here and here.

Thanks to AmyDan, Andy, Richard and all the sponsors for making it happen.

Give me five minutes and I’ll give you a year – Ignite London, 18 November

Wow, I’m privileged to have been invited to appear alongside some amazing speakers at London’s first Ignite event on the evening of November 18.

If you were at the first ever British Ignite in Leeds in January, or any of the others around the world, you’ll know the deal:  20 slides advancing automatically every 15 seconds for five minutes – multiplied by dozens of speakers talking about technology, science, the arts and everything in-between.

The full London line-up includes:

  • Ben Hammersley, The Sex Lives of the Great Renaissance Masters: How the Old Masters and their Mistresses Changed Art
  • Craig Smith, The Upsides and Downsides of Standards (web, language and otherwise)
  • Katy Lindemann, What We Can All Learn from Children
  • John V Willshire, If Advertising is a Firework, Social Media is a Bonfire
  • Ashley Benigo, Italy as a Country Not Found

… and many others.

My own talk is “1794 – so much to answer for” wherein I shall tell the stories of as many of my personal 18th Century heroes as possible, based on the strange coincidence that all of them encountered life-changing (some life-ending) events in that single world-changing year.

Europe a Prophecy - William Blake, 1794

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may recall that I scribbled a map of this name some time ago. I’ve taken it off the blog for now. You can probably still find it somewhere in Google’s cache, but No Spoilers!

[Also, I don’t normally post directly about my dayjob on this, my personal, blog but am making an exception to mention that I’ll be on a panel at Informa’s Mobile User Experience conference, also in London on November 17 and 18 before I go over to Hammersmith for Ignite. If mobile user experience is your thing, this also has some very interesting speakers.]