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new media

c_boardsRegardless of your politics, the SNP’s stunning election victory may have one very beneficial side-effect: dragging Scotland out of the digital dark ages.

Quite how dark these are was demonstrated by Newsnight Scotland last week. Katie Grant and former Labour hackette Lorraine Davidson joined berouged Andrew Neil wannabe Gordon Brewer in declaring that new media had no impact on the Scottish general election campaign. The “new media” voice was provided by Gerry Hassan, who is a sound cove but a self-confessed late adopter. Quite why Grant and Davidson were inflicted on us, I have no idea. Perhaps they saw an interweb once.

At no point did Newsnicht define what they meant by “new media”: the web, social networks, mobile, email, Usenet or World of Warcraft? And at no point did they point out that far more Scots use Facebook, Twitter et al than watch their wee segment.

Where were the new media experts? Or the people who make a living from this stuff? This is not just me bleating because I didn’t get my fuzzy fizog on the goggle box: there are some very exciting projects in Scotland that could have corrected the programme’s erroneous conceit. How about speaking to someone from STV, who appear to be building a new media deathstar? Or Mashable? Or The Daily Mash? Or The Daily Dust? Or Newsnet Scotland? Or “Scotland’s digital guy” Craig McGill? Or social marketing genius Andrew Burnett? Or one of the many bloggers who add so much to the online debate?

There’s no excuse for this at the well-funded BBC, which has new media talent coming out of its ears. Except for viewers in Scotland, apparently.

We’re all used to the usual lazy, lazy, lazy Newsnicht approach of getting their old pals to jaw on and on, but this time their complacency was cruelly exposed. Because while Brewer and pals were parroting the mainstream media line that this web stuff is just a flash in the pan for geeks and perverts, the SNP were crafting a stunning, historic, landslide victory using … drum roll … new media.

The übersmart Kirk Torrance and digital guru Ewan McIntosh were using social media as it should be used – as a search engine for finding people’s sympathies. The party’s new media team used social networks to identify targets for their offline activity, marketing which made use of an iPhone app to record real-time intel from canvassers. Ewan has documented it all on his websbite and it is a thing of awe-inspiring beauty.

It’s not just BBC that causes despair, though. Before starting the Caley Merc, I worked as a consultant for the Scottish public sector.

Let me tell you, the will to live is a fragile thing indeed.

While working on a ludicrously ill-conceived project that cost a fortune but never came to fruition, I suggested publicising a website by creating a page for it on Wikipedia. This was shot down as “too risky”. It’s your money they’re spending…

I knew I had to get out when I was pitching to a marketing bod billed as an expert on new media. I suggested that the campaign website they wanted might benefit from the use of “tags” to aid navigation. They thought that was a great idea because they’d never heard of tags. This was in 2009. Tags have been commonplace since 2003. It’s your money they’re spending…

And it’s your money they’re wasting on lame website after lame website packed with dull content of interest only to the dreaded “stakeholders”. What’s needed is an immediate “vale for money” audit of all Scottish public sector digital activity to see what has been of use to real people.

In short, with the exception of a few NHS services, there’s only one website needed for the public sector: scotland.gov.uk, which has long been a centre of digital excellence. It’s the place the user expects to find this information, why waste money on building other sites? It’s the content and social connections that matter.

And don’t get me started on the Scottish Government’s digital advertising. We carry SG ads, but only bargain-bucket ones provided by an agency in, you guessed, London. Where’s the public sector support for start-up publications? Why don’t they advertise with Scottish new media outside the cosy arrangements with mainstream media? There’s a lot of hot air from self-appointed new media experts in the public sector about supporting online innovation.

But they don’t put their money where their mouths are. Again, this isn’t special pleading for the Caley Merc. There’s a large, vibrant online content community in Scotland – and it gets very little support from anyone except its large number of readers.

In short, there’s a big job to do to change Scotland’s approach to digital, starting with the Scottish Government’s huge marketing and advertising budgets.

Thankfully, we have a governing party swept to power by new media and who have access to the brightest possible digital talent.

Politics aside, I look forward to a brighter digital day dawning on Scotland.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Photo by: Seagers

Photo by: Seagers

By David Bateman

There can be no doubt that the Internet is one of the world’s greatest ever inventions.

It may not be as groundbreaking as the harnessing of electricity by Edison or Guttenberg’s printing press; or have as deep and immediate consequences as Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb; or even be as widely used as the television by Scotland’s own John Logie Baird, but it is nonetheless a phenomenon.

The Internet has effectively re-created society in an abstract, virtual world. Shops that people used to frequent in person now sell their products online. Newspapers, like this one, can now be read entirely online. Finances can now be managed without entering a bank. Almost everything in the world now has an online presence.

Now, even conversation between humans has a mass presence online. The rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter has been meteoric, to the point where 62% of the United Kingdom now has a Facebook account. These figures, produced by Nielsen, show the extent to which the Internet has invaded ordinary life. In the 21st century, even standard interaction between two people can happen entirely online. People can keep in contact solely through Facebook. They can meet potential clients solely through Twitter. In short, on any given day someone can be very active socially, without ever saying hello to someone face-to-face.

The extent to which we rely on the Internet, and particularly Facebook, is scary. The same study by Nielsen indicates that the 62% of the UK who use Facebook do so for an average of six hours per month. Six hours per month, spent solely on a social networking site. That figure does not take into account someone checking news sites like this one, or reading their emails, or just scouring the web. Out total time spent on the Internet per month would be far, far larger.

The popular film The Terminator may be fictitious and ridiculous, but the basic message it wishes to portray- that we rely on technology too much- is not. We do rely on the Internet an alarming amount. It is preposterous that the Internet would be our downfall in a similar fashion to The Terminator, where the evil machine corporation Skynet wipes out millions of humans. But, what is certainly not preposterous is that our fascination, dependence and obsession with the Internet could be harmful to us as social beings.

As humans, we are meant to interact. We are meant to engage with one another. We are meant to be socially active. While the Internet retains this social aspect through networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to an extent, does it also destroy true interaction and engagement between humans, in a face to face scenario?

The academic Robert Putnam, in his 1995 essay, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”, examined this point. Although his focus was on the USA, his thesis remains relevant: that social capital is declining, partly as a result of an increase in watching television. By ‘social capital’, Putnam means simply engagement in public life, via groups, organisations and associations. The title of his work refers to the fact that many Americans were ‘bowling alone’ by the 1990’s, as opposed to in bowling leagues, as was previously the norm. Putnam believed that television was heavily responsible for decreased engagement in civic life; it is hard to imagine what his study would find in the present day, in the aftermath of the rise of the Internet.

It is hard to say what impact the Internet has upon our daily lives. Does it hinder us socially? Does it hinder our engagement with wider society? The positives of the Internet and social networking sites are clear to see, but do they have as much of a negative impact, as a positive one?

To find out, I opted to live without the Internet for 24 hours.

To put this into context, I am a ‘digital native’. This means I have grown up with digital technology, whether it is a mobile phone, camera or computer. I don’t remember a world where the Internet did not exist. To make the task even more difficult, I am a particularly Internet-addicted digital native. I don’t buy a newspaper often, but I read the majority of the UK and Scottish national papers everyday. I have my own website, and feel the need to check my emails multiple times a day. My statistics for Facebook and Twitter are tough to measure, because I often use them from my phone, but it is certain that I spent more than six hours a week on each site, at least quadruple the average user according to Nielsen’s findings. In short, the Internet permeates my entire existence. Eradicating the Internet from my life for 24 hours was always going to be difficult.

But, I didn’t realise just how tough it would be.

I felt completely lost. Despite watching BBC and Sky News for large portions of the day, I felt like I had no idea what was happening in the world, devoid of Twitter and Facebook to inform me of news I may have missed. I often turned to the television for some sort of consolation, but wasn’t satisfied by what I was offered. Resisting the urge to cheat and use my Blackberry, I found myself…bored…and very thoughtful, about the most ridiculous things. I contemplated concepts ranging from how cough medicine is made, to how someone devised the concept of an English language. But, devoid of the Internet to enlighten me, I didn’t find out the finer points of how cough medicine is made, because I have no idea where my local library is, and even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have gone. In my case, the Internet has definitely made me lazier than I should be.

Perhaps my most significant finding, was that I actually talked to people less. I still called the occasional person, but no different to any other day. Using Facebook and Twitter to converse may not constitute social interaction in the conventional sense, but not using those social networks did leave me feeling like I had barely spoken with anyone.

It was a tough day. I do have an Internet addiction, that much became very apparent. If not using the Internet is this bad, I can’t imagine being addicted to alcohol or smoking and trying to quit. But, is it an unhealthy addiction?

I’m not sure. Without the Internet, I was far more bored than usual, and had I spent longer than 24 hours without it, I would certainly be more inclined to engage in social groups more often. From that respect, the Internet is probably responsible for decreased social engagement, in that time spent on it prevents us from doing other things like taking part in wider society.

However, the Internet, and particularly Facebook, is my way of engaging in social groups. I’m not part of a Burns Club like my Gran, or engage in similar groups like my ancestors did, but I don’t interact any less. My chosen method of interaction, however, is via the Internet. It may be less personal, and it may be destroying the art of conversation, but as long as we remember a world exists beyond the realms of news feeds and profile pictures, it’s an addiction that isn’t too unhealthy. I’m David Bateman, and I’m a Facebookaholic- but I’m ok with that.