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  • Lawrence Bailey

Social mobility with an edge

I guess it’s inevitable that our perception of technology gets coloured by personal experience.

My generation still occasionally marvels at how the devices we wear on our wrists are more powerful than the on-board computers that controlled moon-landings. For our grandchildren, it’s about being accessible, upgradable and having the latest app.

It’s been fifty years since Apollo 11 signified the height of technology. Yet it’s changes in the last decade, as highlighted in a recent Ofcom report, that reflect the biggest impact.

The Communications Market Report is not unique in tracking user trends but it’s a considered a credible source; plus they don’t try to flog you cheap broadband.

The majority of top line outcomes are probably enough for industry leaders who dominate the comms world to pause and quietly congratulate themselves on the right strategies.

Strangely though, the headline writers opted to focus on the drop in mobile phone calls rather than the demise of the personal computer. Over the last ten years, device type ownership saw smartphones rise from to 17% to 78% while PCs went in almost exactly the opposite direction (69% to 28%)

Other stats are just as illuminating. Around 42% of houses now own a smart TV – with the expectation this will rise substantially in coming years. We spend an average of £124 a month per household on communications Nearly half of us subscribe to Netflix while one in eight homes now has a smart speaker.

Context is important, as always. Ofcom is a bit sketchy over whether this study is intended to inform social policy or serve as a guideline on how to identify target audiences. It’ll probably do nicely in both respects.

As such, what’s called ‘persuasive design’ remains a key aspect of commercial comms whereby behavioural gimmicks like FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) keep us scrolling down; even when we know we’re being played.

This trait applies to practically everyone, regardless of differences in income or education or status within the establishment. It’s not the so-called ‘social mobility’ that politicians were getting angst-ridden about a while back but an interesting sidelight nonetheless on how technology allows the tail to wag the dog - unless you’re Donald Trump of course.

Social mobility now has an edge, it seems.


You can’t break new ground by standing still

On a slightly related topic, it must be a challenge for senior figures to accept advice about urban planning via social media from people whose previous post was an image of their pet wearing sunglasses. But that’s to be expected, especially with Swansea’s city centre beginning to look like a building site.

Activity on the Kingsway and the St Mary’s car park is just the start and the web is going to be crammed with comments about noise, dust and disruption.

Notwithstanding all the stuff about needing to break eggs to make omelettes, there’s no quiet way to balance public and privately funded schemes like Mariner Street (now back on track) and Swansea Central – especially when you’re playing catch-up.

In regeneration terms, the timescale of what’s happening in Swansea is a rush job.

Anyone who has been to Manchester lately will tell you what re-development means. They’ve just started an eight year project that includes a dozen skyscrapers, over 10,000 apartments, arts venues, hotels and new parks.

The reality is that we can’t stand still and then complain that nothing gets done. Let’s have more photos of pets in sunglasses, I say.

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