Mashing up ITConversations and SIConversations

Although my own weekly podcast appears on the ITConversations channel of the Gigavox network, lately I find myself listening more often to our sister channel, Social Innovation Conversations. And I’ve started to wonder: Why are these two different channels, for two different audiences? Increasingly I wish I could mash them together. Dean Kamen’s recent appearance on Tim Zak’s Globeshakers series on SIConversations gives me a sense of what that would be like. Here his pitch:

Given the enormous rate at which technology is moving forward, almost all the ‘Can this be done?’ questions have essentially been answered by ‘Yes.’ The much tougher question right now isn’t ‘What can we do with technology?’ — it’s ‘What should we do with technology?’ That’s a much harder question involving practical issues, moral issues…the haves and the have-nots, in technology, education, and health care, are diverging.

People who can develop new technologies ought to start thinking, more than they have in the last few decades, about where it’s appropriate to deploy the energy and passion to develop the next level of technology. There are just so many video games that we need, and just so many luxury leisure-time products that we need.

If societies start to recognize that we really do get what we celebrate, and we start celebrating the right things, we’ll see a much more effective use of our available technologies and a much more appropriate and focused set of developments of our future technologies. Instead of focusing on what we can do with technology, we should focus on how to be responsible to each other, to the environment, to the future of this delicate little planet.

I’ve transcribed that quote here for two reasons. First, because I know that relatively few people have the time or inclination to listen to as many podcasts as I lately find myself wanting to do. Second, because I know that people who self-identify as technogeeks are more likely to subscribe to ITConversations than to SIConversations.

As I write this entry I’m enroute from one technogeek paradise, the Microsoft campus, to another, the O’Reilly campus. In doing so I’m crossing a bridge between two cultures that are, in some ways, very different. On the Microsoft campus, for example, Windows laptops are ubiquitous and Macintosh laptops are scarce. On the O’Reilly campus it’s the reverse.

In other ways these cultures are very alike. In both places, you’ll routinely see people whizzing around on the invention for which Dean Kamen is best known: the Segway. Geeks of all persuasions are early adopters and everyday users of this machine which, for most people, remains an exotic curiosity.

And yet, there wasn’t a single mention of the Segway in Tim Zak’s 45-minute interview with Dean Kamen. What’s top of mind, for Kamen, is US FIRST — the acronym expands to For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The goal is to reframe the idea of success which, he says, too many teenagers define unrealistically in terms of sports and entertainment. He wants them to know that success in science and engineering is, for the vast majority, both more achievable and more socially productive. A Wired article in 2000 called the idea far-fetched, but FIRST’s robotics competitions have grown steadily since 1992, and in 2007, Kamen says, the final event packed 70,000 people into Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

A key ingredient of the program is the mentoring that’s provided by scientists and engineers on loan from corporate sponsors:

These kids really weren’t building robots. They were building relationships with serious adults, they were building an understanding of what’s possible if you put your energy and passion to things that matter.

I’d love to see a mashup of ITConversations and SIConversations that would produce more shows like that.


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  2. Hi Jon,

    I too have thought of mashing up podcats a few times. I want to create educational podcasts and screencasts on programming with Java. Something I’d like to include along with the explanation is the opinion and perspectives of practitioners on various API’s. I often hear good stuff on podcasts like JavaPosse and ITConversations (even though ITC is not really Java), that I can mashup into my educational podcast to create a very rich learning experience.
    I was delighted to read a post by you on podcast mashups.

    Do you think such educational mashups will provide good learning value for listeners?


  3. “Do you think such educational mashups will provide good learning value for listeners?”

    I think the word “mashup” was probably ill-chosen here. I didn’t mean ripping and recombining bits of individual shows, which is currently not easily achievable, though it would indeed be interesting and useful.

    Nor did I mean recombining shows from different channels, which is of course easily done.

    I meant mixing the sensibilities of ITConversations (tech) and SIConversations (social innovation) so that those two sets of concepts and concerns are more frequently and explicitly connected.

    Anyway, that’s what I’m increasingly trying to do on my own show.

  4. Hi Jon,

    I think there are areas where educational mashups will provide value. One thing that education (through text books) lacks is the perspectives of experts. Education is usually focussed on getting the facts, while their application is something that students learn at work. At least I have been seeing a lot of this in software development. I don’t know if the same applies for other fields as well.

    Since technology changes so rapidly it is extremely difficult to capture these things in text books. We are more likely to find them in newsgroup discussions, blogs, and podcasts. Also perspectives and best practices are very well captured as conversations (in podcasts).

    An educational podcast would be of a lot of value as an extension to the main lecture. So for example a teacher in a Java class can create a podcast mashup of how to use exceptions correctly. Some of the thoughts may be his own, which are intertwined with audio from podcast discussions or screencasts that already exist. Listening to such material after the lecture will give the students a better understanding of the topic. It may be possible for the teacher to create the entire screencast or podcast by himself, but I still prefer the mashup because we can reuse material that already exists, and it also adds more voices to the explanation. If the teacher makes the entire episode, the perspectives and opinions will be primarily his, while through a mashup we can present different (often opposing) perspectives.

    However, even as I say this, my thoughts are not based on actual experience. It is more of a theory which I hope to try out in the next few months. I will report my observations on my blog :-)

  5. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for clarifying what you meant by mashup.

    When I first read your post, I thought you might be meaning to introduce short snippets of audio from SIC into your discussion on ITC.

    So, while discussing something, you would play a small relevant piece from SIC and either discuss it with the interviewee or just add that piece as yet another thought on what is already being discussed.

    Forgive me for being a bit slow on this one, but I am still not very clear how you would explicitly link SIC and ITC. Would it be by mentioned an SIC podcast (with some content) in your ITC podcast? Or perhaps by making the connection in the show notes?

    In any case, I look forward to whatever you are planning.

  6. Or maybe you plan to integrate the aspect of social innovation into your ITC podcasts, so they have a flavor of technology as well as social innovation and responsibility. Is this closer to what you have in mind?

    WOW that’s 4 comments on a single post. Never done that before :-)


  7. “Or maybe you plan to integrate the aspect of social innovation into your ITC podcasts, so they have a flavor of technology as well as social innovation and responsibility.”

    Yes, that’s what I am doing. In a way, the channel’s label and branding has always been (to my mind) overly IT-centric, given that a lot of the stuff — from Moira Gunn, from PopTech — has been of broader interest.

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