The street is where innovation happens

Jan Chipchase at TEDTalks

Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase investigates the ways we interact with technology — a quest that has led him from the villages of Uganda to the insides of our pockets. Along the way, he’s made some unexpected discoveries: about the ways illiterate people use their mobile phones, the new roles the mobile can play in global commerce, and the deep emotional bonds we share with our phones.

TEDBlog: Our cell phones, ourselves: Jan Chipchase on

Loved these 15 minutes with Nokia researcher, Jan Chipchase. I’ve got some loose thoughts and reactions to this, loosely joined – recommend you watch it if you haven’t already! If you have, what did you make of it? I’d be interested to hear from those who attended Mlearn2007 in Melbourne or the Handheld Learning conference whether you have some points to add here? Chipchase starts off with an idea about what we carry on our person and why. He uses this process to outline our behaviours.

Chipchase slide depicting ownership, to usage

He discusses this in relation to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which helps illustrate our behaviour as we go about our daily lives, interacting, connecting and generally surviving. Chipchase also notes the three things we carry most on us 9and how maslow’s hierarchy of needs might be applied to these): 1) keys (for shelter), 2) money (to buy food) and 3) mobile phone (excellent recovery device, and I’d add connecting device).

Chipchase then discusses then phenomenon of ‘the street’: a place where innovation occurs in true fashion and out of necessity. Jan asks: as designers, what lessons can we learn from the street?

  • what does the street say about trust and confidence in (financial) interactions (that we could apply to online and other services)?
  • how might we better design such services?
  • should we be thinking about Personal Area Network (PAN) designs, clothing and integrated wearable technologies, seeing as we are emotionally connected to tools like our mobile phones?
  • even our homes are being identified not by house numbers but by our mobile phone numbers (Jan gives an example of a Ugandan front door inscribed with mobile phone numbers as an identifying feature) – what does this say about our identity? (Alex, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!).

Then Chipchase wraps up with some thoughts and ideas related to these lessons (or questions) from ‘the street’:

  • we must consider the speed at which ideas go around
  • if we are to embrace ‘big’ ideas we must embrace everyone (and 300 billion is getting there!)
  • small and speedy (like mobile phones) highlights the immediacy of objects – we can capitalise on this if we think creatively
  • design – no matter what we intend of a design or object, the street will take it and innovate it further beyond our thinking – how do we create room for this in our designs?
  • with another 300 billion people connected in the future we really must learn how to listen, because these people will want to be part of the conversation!

I like ‘the street’ phenomenon: it conjures up metaphors like ‘streetwise’, ‘street ready’, ‘taking it to the street’, and so. I like the thought too (and practice) of a mobile phone being an ATM! I also liked the notion of illiteracy being managed by some via the ‘art of delegation’. An interesting and useful concept worth exploring further in this rapid-changing world that demands more from us in less time than we’d like: think rapid protoyping, accelerated learning approaches, etc, etc!

In all, I reckon it’s the edge at which we live that pushes us to innovate. If we’re too comfortable what’s the urge? How do we then create the discomfort or disruption to continue to feed that urge in positive ways? Move to Nepal perhaps?

Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea: pushing something like FLNW2 in Thailand, for example, is a big move towards this type of disruption, just as working in the Western desert is (having just had my buddies from Jigalong visit Canberra recently), or “the Bronx”, or with prisoners, or in fact with anyone and anything that disrupts our status quo thinking about the world! That’s a big call for most – how about you?

5 comments so far

  1. Alexander Hayes on

    Guess what my anti-spam word was …..blocked !


    I’m not reading anything more interesting here Marg sorry than I read on two years ago save for the mobile phone number as household identifier however even thats old hat in a marketplace where phones are RFID readers and passport holders and coke machine operators etc.

    The one thing I know for sure that mlearn07 did not get down to and that was the mobile marketeers Smart Mobbing pel-mel that we are seeing in Europe at the moment.

    I wanna see funky examples of use – I repeat – the always on classroom – not the PDA mediated learning experience.

    Check this out ;


    Did you see Alfie there at Mlearn ?

    and why not ?

    Our innovators may well be hob nobbing but the Jan Chipchases of the world arent doing much except for spruiking.

    I agree. FLNW2 could do with some mobloggin’ up.

    Fact is that I cant seem to get my phone working in SL yet 🙂

  2. Alexander Hayes on

    Here’s another cultural artefact missing from the equation –

  3. Toni Twiss on

    Hi there
    I just found the link to your blog on twitter.
    I have just started a new blog about mobile learning as I will be spending next year researching the potential of this in the classroom – and outside of the classroom naturally! ( Not much there yet though!

    The TED video was my first post on my new blog.

    I wasn’t able to attend handheld learning or mlearn so I can’t comment on some of the things that you are referring to, but I did think that what Jan had to say was fairly straight forward for the first half. The second half – particularly in regards to adaptations on ‘the street’ was what I was interested in. I saw what he had to say about the street kind of being in parallel with our students. They are finding new ways of using this technology in a far more ubiquitous manner than we as teachers – or they as phone designers are.

    I disagree largely with the digital native tag, but I do think that our students are so much more open to the potential of this technology but don’t really talk about it so much as it is not so much of a big deal for them… It just happens and the technology isn’t ‘cool’

    On another aside… I spent the afternoon at the gym listening to K12online conference podcasts which I had downloaded to my phone… now I just need to work out how to blog via my phone – while running on the treadmill… 🙂

  4. Marg on

    Hi Toni, nice blog 🙂
    You make a good observation about the iPhone situation too…
    …and I was wondering who the ‘Toni’ was who was following me on Twitter – now I know!

    …Alex, I guess I’m not all that interested in the technology part of the debate here, but more how we are reconstructing (if at all) our identity around technology. Where and why are we losing the message in all this? If we’ve been hearing for a number of years now – where’s it all going?

    As for FLNW2, i see that it’s about the disruption part and how we value that element in the lead up to it, for me. Love the Big Art Mob too. 🙂


  5. colinsimpson on

    William Gibson has a great line in Neuromancer that seems to sum this up – “the street finds it’s own use for things”

Leave a Reply to Alexander Hayes Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: