Some thoughts from Untether.Talks

After my team blew everyone’s minds with our mobile website winning a draw at a Ladies Learning Code workshop I scored tickets to Untether.Talks, a two-day conference on mobile tech. The days were packed with some incredible speakers with unique case studies.
Here are some of the highlights:

The Format
I love the format! (Yes, although I’m interested in tech, I run events. I’m a renaissance woman, Jaqueline of all Trades, and I take notice of this sort of thing)

While the presentations were traditional mic’d-speaker-with-slides (which suited the topics well), for the follow-up Q&As and panels, the speaker and moderators sat on sofas and chairs, late-night-television style. I loved the transition. Mics were set up in the aisles for questions from the audience, which meant no “can you repeat that?” which is all too common when audience members need to call out their questions from their seats.

The sound in the room was spot on. It should be, it’s the Glenn Gould Studio. I had been there for concerts and recording sessions, but never for a conference. It suits the purpose well. And the sound is broadcast in to the reception area and washrooms, so you never need to miss any of the content.

Geolocation is the way of the future, also creepy as heck
There were a lot of topics brought up that I hadn’t really thought about. But the conversations around customization vs. privacy and geotagging got me interested. Let’s say I’m walking down the street and get a buzz on my phone. It’s a push notification form a nearby business! They know I’m in the area, because I’ve opted in to an app for just this purpose, and want me to know they’re nearby in order to get my business. That’s cool, but this has to be really smart or it’s going to be overwhelming. What if every business within a five-minute walk buzzes me?

Push notifications aside, I would like to pull up a map and automatically see where a list of nearby pre-approved businesses are – libraries, Davids Teas, parks, water fountains, public bathrooms… That could be useful, and not like being harrassed by businesses in which I have no interest. (Patent pending).

It got me thinking about the “things you may like” recommendations based on past purchases (or neighbourhoods based on geotagging). Could you image if Davids Tea tapped in to my purchase history to give me recommendations the way that Indigo does? Flowchart-style, if you will? (Patent pending)

Business want to know where I frequent, where I am in real time, and my buying habits so they can market to me more effectively. While it could seem like geolocation capabilities are just a new way to be hounded by advertising, the idea of being offered what I want (and not what I don’t want), while someone else can benefit, without me feeling creeped out… Well that’s something I could get behind. But mostly it would just creep me out.

Are organizations overstepping privacy, or are we just putting too much out there? Here I disagree with the speaker. As far as overshare, businesses don’t care what I had for lunch or my reaction to last night’s Mad Men. They want my A/S/L and buying habits so they can sell my information to advertisers. I’m more protective of these details.

Speaking of extremely creepy tech developments, enter SceneTap. Restaurants and bars install these cameras with face recognition capabilities. When you enter, it determines you A/S/L & posts these stats online, amalgamated with everyone else there. Folks can head online and check out the male:female ratio and average age at the bar down the street. This appeal to those who want to avoid sausagefests and cougar nights, I suppose (also, the kind of people who use sausagefest and cougar night without rolling their eyes). It gives me the heebie jeebies. Speaker Amber Mac said if this was to be implemented, it better be really obvious it’s happening, and that by entering the space you are agreeing to having your personal information added to their database.

The topic of privacy continued on to the second speaker Damien Patton. He uses Foursquare and loves it. I don’t, because stories like this have creeped me the heck out. I do, however, subscribe to “Find my Friends” on  my iPhone, because I pick who’s on it, and I approve of who can find me.

Yes, it could be cool if my Starbucks app new where I was – it could calculate the local weather and when I approached one of their location and sent me a message like “Wouldn’t you love an iced coffee about now?” but, I probably already know that. So these location-based push notifications really just seem like another buzz on my phone to ignore.

Privacy is seen as a transaction by the organization, and not enough as a transaction by the average user. The user hands over private information, and gets in return a social network. To a certain extent, this could be analogous to real life. To make friends, to be referred by people, I must, and they must, share my personal information (name, physical description, qualities and drawbacks). Social media just takes it so much further, and sells it. Ever notice when people get up in arms about a Facebook change it’s because they’ve changed your privacy setting without telling you? If I give you my private information in order to access your social network, don’t go changing the agreement with nary a headsup.

Tech in the classroom
Sidneyeve Matrix gave some refreshing perspectives on technology in the classroom. While she joked that a “tech fast” could never work because of smartphones, I would have loved it. I know classes where I wasn’t simultaneously on several social networks and scrolling through web comics (I am eternally grateful that I had neither twitter nor animated gif tumblrs when I was a student, or I doubt I would ever have graduated) were the ones in which I learned the most. Funny how that is.

It was, however, great to hear a teacher talk about embracing tech. And it’s true, even if a professor makes the attempt to embrace tech, either with video in their powerpoint slides, or online course material, there is some sort of connection made with the students. I mean, I consider myself still somewhat of a nerd academic and I happened to love my art history classes that were nothing more than two slide reels and a professor pacing the front of the class laying down some knowledge for us to pick up. But that’s a method that works well for art history (inevitable upside-down slides and carousel jamming aside).

I’m not sure which side of the fence I find myself. Do I wish instructors embraced tech because it’s the language of their students, not something to fight? Or should students suck it up because if you’re busy on MSN (ha, dating myself) then don’t complain when you bomb the course. You don’t get to be spoonfed.

The tragedy was hearing her discuss all the exciting possibilities that bridged the gap between hyperactive multitasking students and the instructor’s mission are stymied by the lack of funds. Sponsorship deals are of course a tricky course to navigate. Should a university let McDonald’s sponsor its app for nutrition science? Maybe not. But if a tech organization with a mission to engage youth came forward and offered development skills, that sure sounds like a happy arrangement.  What are your thoughts on tech in the classroom?

Who is this guy?
I also want to talk about Whurley. I was in the lobby posting to my work’s Facebook page, so came in to the theatre late. He called me out right away for tardiness! In a …jovial way I suppose. Anyway, his presentation format was awesome and I will absolutely steal it for the next time I’m on stage. He started with a blank slide deck and canvassed the audience for questions right off the bat — what did we want to hear him talk about? He typed our questions on to his blank slides, then went through them, speaking to each point. It was certainly the most engaged the audience would be all conference.

He also showed how they created a mind-controlled skateboard and potential for real-world applications of telekinesis.

I, for one, etc….

(Also, sorry I was late.)

To sum up…
Honestly, there was so much more at the conference and the ideas are still buzzing but there you’ve got a quick sampling. Huge thanks to Ladies Learning Code for sending me there and continuing to foster my techie development!

(Oh, also, work on my website continues apace!) 


3 thoughts on “Some thoughts from Untether.Talks

  1. 1) I hear you on events. Not an event planner, but interested in how they are run.
    2) Check out the app “stamped” – recommendations of businesses from you and your friends. Look me up on there. You can see what recommended businesses are near you wherever you are (and yeah, you can “stamp” bathrooms, libraries, etc).
    3) I hear you on foursquare – I make a point of never checking in at home AND I only post the odd tweet to my wider twitter and facebook networks (because most people don’t care, and the privacy thing). Also, anyone looking me up in the phonebook / canada411 can find out where I live… so… not really a big difference.

    • Totally true that it’s easy to find out where I live, how I get to work, where I spend my evenings. So a creeper could totally find me out without the help of Foursquare. So maybe it’s a mental barrier that’s not wholly logical, but there we go. My decisions & behaviour are not always 100% logical. Stamped sounds very interesting – the conference talked about micro-social networks, geared towards your actual friends. There’s one meant for sharing photos among family members only. And there’s that one just for couples so you can send each other cutesy notes without clogging your friends’ feeds. In my day we used to call that “text messaging” 😛

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