For the last session in the employability series in this half term, we welcomed Leon Bayliss and Richard Hale from Google's Zoo, one of two ‘creative agency’ (my words, not theirs) groups within the organization. It was nice to see that the pre-session publicity had worked, and that some of the students from the MA in Computational Arts and the MSc in Computing had chosen to come. This might have slightly discombobulated Richard, whose first question about whether there were “creatives in the audience” met with a surprisingly positive response.
Framing the career narratives as journeys (Richard's and Leon's, and Google's) can give a powerful message; I particularly liked that they included each time where the journey started, in real space as well as with technology. It made for a well-rounded presentation, finishing off with the “moonshot thinking” video video from solveforx, which uses as an example the Polynesian canoeist just setting off into the wide ocean: the students' own view of themselves being about to step out into a new world might not be so different. Of course the students have plenty of examples to learn from – that's the whole point of this workshop series, after all – but that doesn't negate the view that they are about to undergo a transition, a change in their state from pre-career to career. And one of the messages related to that was in big numbers: Richard freely admitted that he'd had a restless career, moving from one place to the other: he said that he seemed settled now at Google, albeit only six months in, but it had taken him 6209 days of his working life to get there.
Some of the projects that were presented were new to me: I hadn't come across the Cadbury's giant party popper, nor #grannysamsung, nor videos displayed, synchronized, across four adjacent phones (“so that you can only see it when you've got your friends round”). The grandmother avatar responsive to tweets reminded me about the #lookup campaign for BA, also displayed on the Picadilly Circus screens, where the digital screen points at BA aeroplanes; I suppose if even I can be affected by campaigns like that, they must work, though it's a bit depressing that this clever advertising is aimed towards brand awareness, as opposed to a more socially useful kind of advertising with the aim of market development – making people aware of products or opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have heard of.
Nevertheless, the main message from the presentation was clear and worth reiterating: aim high, and as well as the immediate and medium term, it's worth having the idea of a 10- or 20-year project that would achieve something enduring. I'm beginning to try to absorb this lesson myself; if the students get a chance to hear it early, that can only be good.
I was pleased that in the Q&A session, students took the time to ask some questions about other ethical issues. In particular, it was interesting to hear about the philosophy behind Reader, Fiber, and GMail: that actually it was reasonable for Google to shut Reader down, because it was so entrenched that it was inhibiting innovation in that space – and that this was consistent with starting GMail and Google Fibre, where the point was and is to disrupt stagnant, entrenched ecosystems. I'm not sure I buy the story that Glass is merely an innocent attempt to force legislatures to confront technological reality; it seems too easily targeted at a particular demographic, which could be caricatured as one that would have few compunctions over using Glass-like artifacts in exactly the ways which many would find objectionable. ObSF: The Dead Past; I also found Alex Kozinski's perspective on privacy fascinating, and not just because we share an enduring memory of the last line in the Asimov story.
After lunch, Leon and Richard were kind enough to visit the Creative Project labs, where the second-year undergraduates were working on their projects. A good number of the students volunteered to do demos on their works-in-various-progress, and I think the feedback they got was valuable – it definitely sounded enthusiastic. At one point in the conversation, I defended the Americans against accusations of parochialism, saying that the World Series was named because of a newspaper sponsorship deal. Snopes suggests that my generosity of spirit was misplaced; that'll teach me.