I was delighted when Innovations in Digital Research Methods edited by Peter Halfpenny and Rob Proctor recently crossed my desk. Whilst many research students believe Research Methods to be a necessary but boring compulsory element of their studies I am doing my utmost to promote the exciting times we now live in in terms of digital’s positive disruption to how and what we research.
A wide range of contributors from British, Australian and American based academics have co-created the insight in this useful textbook published by Sage. Like me, the authors believe that the landscape of research has fundamentally shifted with the advent of digital technologies and they set about outlining the new e-social science landscape. Acknowledgement is made in chapter 2 of the increasing blurring of qualitative and quantitative data and the trend in treating qualitative data quantitatively in the analysis stage. Warnings about a potential overreliance on computer driven analytical tools and algorithms that lack transparency is an apposite reminder in chapter 3 with an interesting discussion on text mining in chapter 8. The new sources and types of data are outlined in Chapter 4 with explicit consideration of the dangers of the ubiquity of data and its convenience in collection versus the need for rigor. There are sensible suggestions made for future directions, such as an increase in use of mixed methods – which I am definitely seeing in my PhD students and in some conference presentations.
The nascent state of how we ‘show’ data through visualizations including real time geo-mapping of people’s movements in urban areas, citizen science creation of Open Street Map provides practical illustrations in chapter 11. Unsurprisingly, ethical issues within digital research methods now have greater complexity than ever before and the grey areas and abuses are presented through case studies in chapter 12 including the infamous Facebook experiment.
This text book is a well balanced and considered response from active researchers grappling with the realities of researching and justifying their research in the digital age. The reference list and the online resources at the end of each chapter are valuable to the novice and experienced researcher alike. This book will be marked as ‘essential’ on the reading lists for my Research Methods and for Digital Marketing Strategy courses.
Oxford Brookes hosted a particularly interesting open lecture recently given by the futurologist Chris Yapp who spoke most engagingly on the societal impact of digital technology. Are we facing a distopian reality as opposed to our rose-tinted expectations? What is the real societal impact of house prices achieving a 20% price premium if they have a good broadband connection?, as suggested by Rightmove (an online estate agent).
Dr Yapp’s underlying premise is that value does not lie in the technology but rather in the information facilitated by the technology – thus IT becomes It as the information (I) dwarfs the technology (t) with its impact. Further key points in the talk included; people may not be adopting technology any faster than in previous centuries despite what the media tells us, innovations in technology face challenges when scaling up for societal usage, and understanding the connective tissue and over arching possibilities of digital technologies for society is proving very difficult as subject silos continue.
Sectors likely to face significant hurdles as the impact of technology takes hold include professional services such as law and accountancy as much routine regulatory work will be completed automatically, for example, real time business audits. Healthcare and education sectors will also be affected for much the same reasons of automation, thus professionals in these sectors need to reappraise their ‘value added’ contributions.
On a more upbeat note the concept of Smart cities elicited murmurs of excitement from the audience. Chris gave Barcelona as an illustration of Smart city technology, using microprocessors in rubbish bins which monitored levels of use and then refuse trucks would be sent only when the bins were full, saving petrol, human resources, traffic on streets etc. Further to Smart cities, energy security and stability was highlighted as a critical issue for society, the ramifications of a solar flare knocking out GPS and internet services would have devastating effect on a city or country.
3D printing was also mentioned in terms of its impact on patents and copyright issues and the ability of 3D printing to change global business owing to the availability of printing locally as opposed to importing goods and materials.
In this highly dynamic and topical lecture Chris Yapp gave us the highs and lows of digitalisation and what it means for our society, several interesting questions were asked by the mixed aged audience and the attendees left with much to reflect on.