Learning, Digital & Education from Oliver Quinlan.
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This week: Atomic legacies, bitcoin philosophies & 'life in likes'

Happy new year! What with taking my main annual holiday in December and the holiday season, I ended up being off for over three weeks. It was great to spend time with friends and family and re charge from what has been a hectic year. I hope you all managed to take some time to switch off and enter with energy what is in the northern hemisphere the dark start to the year.

Just before I went away the new book I've edited with Natalia Kucirkova came out. 'The Digitally Agile Researcher' has essays from a whole range of wise and experienced people on using digital tech for research, for learning and for sharing your work as an academic.

If you enjoy this newsletter, feel free to spread the word by just forwarding the email to a friend. If your friend forwarded this to you, you can get your own copy each week by heading to and adding your email to the list.

How the atom bomb detonations both hindered and helped science

I've been quite negative about twitter recently, but one nice development I've noticed recently is the use of threads to explore interesting things to learn about. This one was fascinating on the perverse effects of the detonation of atom bombs both for war and testing over the last many decades. It started with the assertion that certain scientific instruments have to be made from steel scavenged and recycled from pre 1945 ships. Anything more recent can cause distorted reading due to levels of radiation in atmospheric gases used in the creation of steel ending up in the instruments.

Cue people chiming in with all sorts of examples of how this phenomenon has both helped and hindered science, from benefitting the process of detecting art forgeries to causing errors in the operation of computer processors. Who knew?! 

The fate of the bitcoin

Bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies have really hit the mainstream media over the last couple of months. Most of the stories are driven by the astronomical price increases seen by owners of bitcoin. Even if you dig deeper onto the reddit communities and other forums focused on this subject you may still think that money making off the back of a novel technology was the main point of the whole thing.

I first became aware of bitcoin in 2011 or 2012. I haven't worked out how much I'd have if I bought £100 of it back then. It's quite possibly millions. But I didn't put money into it, because back then the discussions of the whole thing were all about the technology and it's potential rather than making enough money in a year to retire. That and I was probably naive and shortsighted about it ;).

The author of the article above shines a very different light on the whole blockchain and cryptocurrency phenomenon to that we are seeing in the mainstream. In fact, the price speculation and attention it's getting are seen are broadly negative to the long term prospects of the technology. As more and more people inexpert in both investing and new technologies pile in, they could be due for a crash which causes great harm to the perceived legitimacy of the technology in at least the medium term. I've seen these concerns even from those mostly concerned with investing for gains too - it's growing too quickly to be sustainable. As well as losing some people a lot of money, a crash (or significant 'correction') in price could also result in a backlash in public opinion that could hold us back from realising the wide benefits of this often misunderstood technology for some time.

For some ideas on what these wide benefits could be, check out this relatively short video from Vinay Gupta on 'Blockchain beyond bitcoin'.

Life in Likes

As adults increasingly build out their lives into digital spaces, what effect is this happening on how children's lives are shaped growing up? The Children's Commissioner for England this week published a challenging report about 8-12 year olds use of social media. The children involved raise some really difficult issues, particularly around how social media interacts with big transitions in their social lives such as moving up to secondary school and becoming more socially aware.

Some of the themes on the addictive nature of the media, the focus on likes and getting attention, and the social pressure to be constantly connected are, sadly, quite predictable. There are also some less talked about themes, such as the concerns children raised about 'sharenting' and how their parents shared images and details of their children's lives with the world, often without considering consent. 

There have been some criticisms of the report. Most I've seen have been about the relatively small number of young people consulted to draw these conclusions. It's worth bearing this in mind when considering whether the experience described can be generalised. However, what's valuable about this kind of work is presenting to us narratives that might have resonance with what parents, families and educators are seeing. Where we feel that resonance is where we need to start having conversations about how we can best start to support young people with issues that are in many ways unique to their generation.
... and finally...
Thanks for reading.
Until next week,


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