Category Archives: technology

Watch the birdie: capturing wildlife on camera

There is something very powerful about an image. It captures a moment in time and creates a memory that can be shared and viewed time and time again.

Digital technology means that we’re all photographers now. Where-ever we go we have a camera in our possession: smartphone cameras are astonishingly good and produce really high quality pictures. And with social media channels, such as instagram and Facebook, we have the places to share the stories of our life and what matters to us.

Photography has always been an essential ingredient of telling the story of the natural world. But now its a much more democratic process where beautiful pictures of wildlife can be used on popular TV programmes such as Springwatch, sourced from the hundreds of thousands of fans that connect with the series via twitter, or can be liked thousands of time on instagram feeds.

puffins on the Farnes

Puffins on the National Trust’s Farne Islands

The ornithologists of the twenty first century want to get the best shots they can of birds in flight and butterfly collecting is now about the exchange of images of Large Blue’s rather than pinning them to a board.

Wildlife pictures work whether a close up of a particular species such as a beetle or a landscape picture of a meadow, orchard or bluebell wood. They are very important ways of helping us to understand what is happening to nature and also our place in nature.

Bluebells 2

So, why note use your camera to help us find out more about the wildlife in the places that we live and love to visit time and time again.


Teaching kids non-tech thinking

When I was growing up getting ahead with technology was the big thing. Being computer literate was an essential ingredient to prepare for the world of work. On what must seem like technological dinosaurs we learnt word processing skills, how to use spreadsheets and the importance of touch-typing. I’m talking pre-internet here; most smartphones probably now have bigger memories than the computers that I learnt to type on.

And then the world wide web arrived, revolutionising the way that we communicate. Sometimes you can forget how much of a revolution that this was in the exchange and sharing of information. Email followed suit: I remember in my first job in the late 1990s crowding round a computer to see the arrival of the first email. It was amazing thing to see.

Fast forward to now and screens of various sizes dominate our lives, pretty much 24-7. We carry data rich handsets with us everywhere we go and technology that is fast and reliable is the new normal. A majority of workers in the UK spend their days staring at screens, probably sending and receiving emails mostly.

Kids now are learning about coding, gaming, and lots of other things that I can’t quite understand; which is important to maximise the usage of technology for the benefit of them and society. Its as important now to learn about computing as it was in my day but I’m starting to wonder about the real importance of those non tech based soft skills…such as talking to each other or spending hours building things with lego bricks. We need to inspire kids to dream and to think and not feel that they have to fill ever minute of their day with screen based activity.

I have a sneaky suspicion that in the new fragmented and ever changing world of work its the kids that can think creatively unaided by technology that will stand out from the crowd. In the same way as my generation had to equip itself with the necessary IT skills we might end up teaching children about creative thinking, disruptive ideas and how to be inspired by imaginative non-technological play.

Switching off…

A few weeks ago I read a piece in the Weekend section of The Times about our addiction to smartphones and mobiles. We just can’t stop checking our phones for texts, facebook posts, emails. In our minds there is a real fear of missing out.  And this growing anxiety now has a name – nomophobia.

At the time I was staying in a bunkhouse on Glower in south Wales with my family and some friends. I’d not taken any kind of digital device with me – mobile, smartphone or tablet computer. And it was bliss.

I spent my time talking to people, reading and doing nothing in particular. I felt totally relaxed and refreshed and connected with the world around me.

My job in PR means that I’m always contactable and constantly trying to keep up with the news and spot opportunities to generate media coverage. Its so easy to get sucked in to having your phone as a kind of digital comfort blanket. I have to admit that I’m into twitter big time and love checking out websites for the latest news and features.

But we all need down time. Work today mainly involves staring at screens for hours on end and there is a real danger that we never give our minds the rest that they deserve.

So for the next two weeks when I’m holiday they’ll be no screen time. Yes I’ve scheduled a few tweets. But my tablet and smartphone will be home alone. I’ll be using my newly found digital-free time to enjoy the real worl and re-charge my batteries; not having to worry about emails or keeping in touch.

I suppose its a kind of screen time cold turkey but hopefully it will mean more balance in my life. Its so important to have moments of idleness and enjoy a less technologically dependent period of time. I’ll let you know how it went when I’m back.

Going on a digital diet

In the life time of my daughter, who is 8 years old, the world of technology has changed beyond recognition. The rise and rise of smartphones and tablet computers means that we’re plugged in virtually for every minute of our waking day. Like millions of other Britons one of the first things that I do every morning after I wake up is turn on my smartphone. I check it regularly and it goes every where with me; a bit like an adult version of a comfort blanket.

Technology has brought us huge benefits in the way that we communicate. However – the relentless rise of screen time has happened without any rules of engagement. There are no social norms around how we should use technology that can be held in the palm of our hand. How many of us have sent an email or text and expect a reply within minutes and we start to get anxious if we haven’t heard back after a few hours. It feels like that you’re not part of the crowd if you’re unplugged or away from a digital device even if just for a short time.

Research has shown that we’re spending more and more time staring at screens of various devices. This naturally means that screen time is displacing something else – the ability to tune out, the ability to connect with the world around us and a massive impact on outdoors and time with nature.

And the phenomenon of split screening means that we can watch one screen, usually a TV, while checking our twitter feed or perhaps replying to those work emails that you didn’t finish off.

That is why National Unplugging Day is such a worthwhile initiative. It only had to be a matter of time. Technology is starting to impact upon the richness of human face to face communication and that sense of a real community. Screen addiction is becoming a condition that needs treatment affecting more and more children.

But don’t just switch off for one day. Like anything that you know that you should have less of its easy to do things in bite sized chunks. Don’t switch your phone on first thing in the morning. Maybe when you walk to to work or the station, instead of checking your phone every ten seconds look around you and try to listen to the soundtrack on your journey. You could start to ration how much you use your smartphone or tablet computer during the evenings or at weekends.

Its amazing how much more time you’ll have to talk to people, simply do nothing or get out and enjoy the wonder of nature.

We should be in control of technology rather than letting technology control us.

Time for a digital diet

Sometimes it feels pretty overwhelming: a bit like being bombarded by an avalanche of information. Emails constantly arriving in your in box, another post on facebook or the constant chatter of twitter. This is the age of digital communications.

In just eight years the digital revolution has changed the way we communicate, think and socialise. Everything can be tailored for the individual in terms of information received and we’re constantly lured in to checking our phones, tablets or computers. As a result we’re always plugged in, pretty much 24/7 minus when we’re asleep.

And yet there are no apparent rules. We expect people to respond to emails almost instantly. We want to share every morsel of our lives with friends. We always want to be in touch just in case we might miss something.

From morning till night we are plugged in spending hours staring at screens of varying sizes. Its almost as if we’re seeing the real world via the virtual world. As soon as something flashes up on our smartphone or tablet we instantly check what out what has happened.

Many people are effectively addicted to their screens. Going a a few minutes, let alone an hour, feels like an eternity as we might have missed something.

I have to admit I spend too long looking at my iPad particularly. Its like a digital comfort blanket and I feel in touch. Even when I’m doing something else I am tempted to scroll through my twitter wall or check emails.

Its the same at work (and this is now the norm). We work through emails – it gives us a satisfaction that they keeping arriving in our in box and that we’re dealing with. But the ultimate question is: is this the most efficient way to work? The answer seems to be ‘no’ as we don’t concentrate on the task at hand.

So in February I’m starting my 7:7 digital diet. I will abstain from looking at screens between the hours of 7pm till 7am. And at work I will check my emails less often – three times a day when I arrive, at lunchtime and before I leave in the evening – and spend less time firing off emails to fill a moment in time.

I want to have the space to think again. I want to have the time to complete tasks rather than flipping between them. By taking time out from the digital overflow I hope that I will become more efficient and also spend more time on other things.

Trying to disconnect from a digital world

My daughter celebrated her eighth birthday in mid December.

In her life time the way that we communicate has been revolutionised. When she entered the world facebook was in its infancy and smartphones, tablet computers and twitter were on the way to be conceived and joining the technology boom.

Most of us connected 24/7: how many of us turn our phones or tablets on before doing anything else when we wake up in the morning. We’re rarely away from devices of varying sizes: one eye on the latest text or tweet and one eye on the real world (just about).

Like many I communicate in a fundamentally different way from a decade ago. And yet I can remember a world before total connectivity. I know that I spend too much time tapping away at emails or sharing wise thoughts on twitter.

Technology feels so liberating and yet in many ways its totally controlling. We’ve come to expect instant responses and can get grumpy if someone doesn’t email back quickly.

The digital age has been changing so quickly that the rules of engagement haven’t been set. How many emails are too many? How long staring at a screen smaller than a post card is bad for you.

Recommendations around screen usage are slowly being diagnosed by the medical and psychology professions. Yes digital devices have opened up opportunities that we could have only dreamed up a few years back. But we need a break to keep a check on reality.

On the trains we’re all glued to screens, at home we’re often multi-screening and we feel apprehensive if we leave the home without a smartphone or tablet.

The only way to keep our connection with people and the world around is to switch off. Its not difficult and its liberating. Going on a digital detox diet is one of the best things that you can do in 2015. You won’t miss out on anything and might re-discover things that you’d forgotten about and find that face to face conversation and laughter is what makes life special.

Yes my daughter uses the laptop and looks at google maps on my iPad. But it represents a fraction of her time and she gets her real kicks from playing outdoors or spending hours drawing. And it’s a time to talk to each other.

Screen time vs nature time

In the Metro today (the freebie daily paper) the ‘plugged in’ column has the sub heading ‘Children as young as three are embracing an education revolution with iPads’.

It got me thinking: is it right that children so young are connected to the world of technology? Should they be able to work an iPad before they can read or write? Am I just trying to stem the tide of progress by even thinking that this isn’t natural.

For me its part of a wider assault on what we used to call childhood. A few weeks back a Minister in the UK government suggested that we should start preparing kids for the world of work from the age of 3.

What is happening to play and that sense of discovery? We’re in danger of structuring their worlds at a very early age – making everything feel very structure, in effect like folders on a computer.

Three year old’s just want to play: finding their way in the world by taking risks and learning from their mistakes. Their brains are like sponges and they take in lots of information as they begin to talk, write and read. Its such an amazing thing to see as they grow physically and mentally.

Yes the reality is that children do spend time staring at screens of varying sizes but like everything in life it needs to be managed or rationed.

As a society we’re connected 24/7. I’m writing this blog on a blackberry when I could be reading or staring out of the window. Parents and adults need to set an example by getting their own screen time right. Our minds and souls need nature time and there is a risk that we don’t get enough of it whether children or adults.

Its natural for us to want to be in nature and close to nature. However through the industrial and technological revolution we’ve lost or are losing that vital connection. And now it seems for even the very young age we’re being ‘plugged in’ where the virtual becomes more appealing than the real and yet in so many ways its the other way round.

Technology can help us learn and develop as people. But we need to strike a balance between screen time and nature time. Let’s keep childhood special encouraging children to discover, enjoy and have fun. I’m not sure that three year-olds should know how to work an iPad.

I’m no luddite but I do worry that we’re at a tipping point where technology creates such a hold that it seems more natural than nature.

We need to get the balance right.