söndag 22 november 2015

Spotify loves sustainability?

A few days ago (Friday), my colleague Elina Eriksson and I gave a 45-minute talk about "ICT and Sustainability" at Spotify. They organised a student event during the weekend under the moniker "Make IT Matter" and they wanted a guest speaker to introduce the topic and build up some enthusiasm among the participants.

The event was more specifically organised by the Spotify student "street team tech" (they also have a "street team business" or some such). The street team consists of two students each from three technical universities; KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology (Gothenburg) and Linköping University (Linköping). One of the two KTH students is actually one of our media technology students and she took mine and Elina's course about ICT and Sustainability earlier this term!

I'm not exactly sure what the point of the event was. It was sort of inspired by the hackathon but was rather focused on "product development". There was a schedule for the weekend with workshops, but I'm not quite sure what the students were supposed to accomplish or deliver in the end except that is was supposed to be a product (concept?) of some kind. Me and Elina just helped with the kick-off and then left (Friday evening) before the event properly started the day after. What we do know is that no less 400 students had applied and only 40 were invited to participate. These students were selected based on their skills in programming, (interaction) design, business as well as their interest in sustainability-related topics. Part of their applications consisted of writing a one-page cover letter and  they also submitted a URL to further impress the street team tech (who made the selections).

Before we gave our talk, we had a beer and the chance to schmooze some with the street team tech and the participants and we met no less than three more students from our engineering programme (media technology) of which one other had just taken our course. Some of the information here comes from our conversation with "our" students (Caroline, Niklas, Gabriella and Emil). The forty students came from three different universities and Spotify paid for all their expenses during the weekend including the trip to Stockholm and lodging. I think the setup was interesting and I would definitely have wished to participate in something like this when I was a student!

While Spotify supported and paid for the event, most of the planning and implementation was carried out by their street team tech. This also seems a win-win as the biggest expense for Spotify would be employees' time rather than (monetary) expenses. As it is, Spotify foots the bill but the six students in the street team tech puts in the majority of time needed to organise the event. These students will of course be on the fast track for writing their master's thesis at Spotify or even for later applying for a job there.

As to our talk, it consisted of three parts. The first part was a general background about the challenges humanity faces during the 21st century; climate change, overshoot, species extinction, energy crunches (peak everything) etc. The second part made the connection between these topics and ICT and the third part was totally adapted to the Spotify event. The general theme of the Spotify event was "Make IT Matter" and this was broken down into four themes that were all more or less connected to (ecological, social) sustainability of some kind. The four themes were:

  • How to decrease unnecessary consumption.
  • How to reduce resource use through the Sharing Economy 
  • How to reduce techno-stress
  • How to better integrate immigrants to the community (I wilfully added "and help refugees" to that theme)
The third part of the talk thus consisted of our take on these four themes and some suggestions of ours for how the themes could be understood and interpreted. What we didn't quite understand when we planned the lecture was that it turned out to be us rather than Spotify who unveiled these four themes (challenges) to the students so we really had their attention at that point. See the example slide on techno-stress (including my lecture notes) below.

Except for the four Spotify themes/challenges, Elina and me also had some additional challenges for the students. Notice that we used the term "hacks" rather than "products" below since we thought of the event more in terms of a hackathon than a product-development-thon.

  • How can your hacks change values and norms?
  • How can your hacks strengthen social ties and communities?
  • How can your hacks encourage positive change?
  • How can your hacks help us use less but achieve more?
  • How can your hacks help us to think globally but act locally?
  • How can your hacks avoid rebound effects?
All in all it was great fun and it seemed the students, the street team tech and the Spotify employees that were there were all very happy about out contribution. The only thing missing is a little more information about the outcome of the event! Elina also wrote a short blog post about the event on our team blog.

- We spend a lot of time and attention learning how to use, upgrade, troubleshoot, manage technology. That is stressful. 
- Slow technology: ”a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.”

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