Wednesday, 25 April 2012

...and don't forget your smartphone

I've been thinking about handhelds quite a bit, recently. I do have an iPhone and find it useful. And reading a Kindle in bed is much easier than a book - I don't need glasses and can use only one hand on a chilly winter's night in Norfolk. But speaking personally I rather like my 24 inch monitor and decent quality speakers for work. I also quite like sitting down in the the cupboard I call a study, and tapping away two-fingered on the keyboard. I much prefer using a mouse to a touch pad or screen. Give me a desktop for the serious stuff - I'm old-fashioned like that.

I'm also well aware that others feel differently. They clasp their iPads to their heart or clutch their smartphones walking down the street. The majority of the world, it seems, now access the internet via their phone (click here for some serious mobile stats). Some 'proper' film makers are using their phones for video work (admittedly with massive telephoto lens add-ons).

It's my students who interest me though, for the vast majority of media-making  by young people is with their phones.  In the main, this media-making is incidental and ad hoc. It is to considered media-making what a conversational anecdote is to a carefully-written story - but the ad hoc is often the root-stock for more considered creations.  Back last term, during our Media Art and Design Archive project, I told students that they could bring in cameras or phones if they wished, although cameras were available for those who chose not. On average about one third of the class brought their own kit. They were, to be totally honest, more trouble than they were worth. The majority of reasonably decent pictures and videos were taken with iPhones/iPod touches. One or two of them captured video in formats so obscure even the usually excellently accomodating Zamzar couldn't cope. The Apple products, of course, saved video in .mov formats - making it impossible to edit them in Windows Movie Maker without first converting them.

Some years ago, Stephen Heppell predicted that students would soon be carrying around laptops in the bottom of in their schoolbags covered in crisp crumbs and orange squash. Laptops as mobile devices are beginning to seem slightly passé now, but there are plenty of people out there talking about the use of the mobile technology that students have at home. There are pros and cons of course.

Among the 'pros' is the way that students' favoured techno-tools offer a low operating threshold to the access of learning materials - many students can type faster on their phones than on keyboards, for instance. They supplement the equipment that schools can offer. Students can extend the range of ways they can put their "pocket toolkit" to use. There is a certain cool-factor that bridges the home/school divide; sometimes widening the students' perceptions of what learning is and where it can happen. I used to do my Maths homework on the bus. It would have been a darned site easier if I could have accessed it through my phone.

Apart from format difficulties mentioned above, the main 'con' is the risk of widening socio-economic divisions in school between the haves and have-nots. Having the latest technology could exercise the same kind of peer pressure as wearing the latest, must-have, trainers.


I remember going to buy - for 7/6d - my Osmoroid 75: black, medium oblique italic nib, with Timothy Brook engraved on it (one shilling extra). It was the pen my school recommended.  I can also remember when the Sinclair Executive "slimline" pocket calculator was being widely advertised for £79.95 - 3 times the then average weekly wage.

At present the laptop and desktop offer many more "bangs for the buck". But if the example of the pocket calculator is anything to go by, perhaps we'll soon be recommending handhelds for purchase or even selling them in the school shop. But, you can guarantee, that if we do they'll rapidly lose all their glamour and parents will soon be having to remind their kids to take them to school.